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Northeastern professor talks video games at White House

In a White House conference last week, Magy Seif El-Nasr, an associate professor of game design and interactive media at Northeastern University, discussed the importance of creating educational video games through interdisciplinary collaboration.

The meeting, which included industry leaders, policymakers and about 20 academics from institutions nationwide, was part of the Academic Consortium on Games for Impact and organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The experts examined ways to leverage their individual areas of expertise, share resources and build networks aimed at sparking interdisciplinary collaboration among academia and industry in the area of “games for impact” — video games that yield significant societal benefits in areas such as education and health.

“We’re trying to advance basic research in game design and advance the current application of games in areas like education, health and sustainability,” said Seif El-Nasr, whose research focuses on enhancing game designs by developing tools and methods for evaluating and adapting game experiences.

In recent years, millions of people have developed a strong reliance on mobile technology. Many people — particularly youth — regularly plug away on their smartphones or portable video game consoles while eating, waiting for the bus or walking down the street, Seif El-Nasr explained; she added that it’s critical to capture the attention of the tech-savvy public through the most popular media.

The bulk of last week’s meeting focused on the importance of pushing the video game field forward by fostering collaborations between academic researchers and industry partners and by designing strategies aimed at improving the chances of receiving government funding for these projects.

Since 2004, Seif El-Nasr has conducted research on using game design as a medium for education, including the development of a series of engineering and technology workshops for middle- and high-school students.

Seif El-Nasr, who holds dual appointments in the College of Arts, Media and Design and the College of Computer and Information Science, is also working with a Vancouver-based company called IgnitePlay on a project that uses games and social networks to foster behavioral changes that promote healthy lifestyle habits. The project uses real-time behavior tracking and selective information visualization as motivational tactics to encourage behavioral changes and sustain long-term healthy living.

The company, she said, is expected to launch the product within the next month.

Seif El-Nasr’s participation in the White House meeting built upon her international prominence as an authority on digital game research. In May, she chaired the Foundation of Digital Games 2012 conference, which took place in North Carolina. Then in June, she delivered a keynote address in Greece at the 5th International Conference on Pervasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments, which explored how social and cooperative games can be leveraged to enhance quality of life.