Friday, October 21, 2016

GHC16 / Lyndsay Pearson on Valuing Inclusive Game Design

Invited technical speaker Lyndsay Pearson spoke at Grace Hopper this week about inclusive game design. Lyndsay has, as she puts it, grown up with The Sims, having working on the game in various capacities since nearly the beginning of the franchise. She shared some universally applicable advice on inclusive game design while sharing examples from The Sims.

By Dinosaur918 (Own work)

The first lesson, of course, is that the players are out there. Long gone are the days of believing all players are high-volume males in their late twenties whose central hobby is gaming. With such a huge diversity in players, there's an opportunity to develop games for even more inclusive audiences. To do that, we need to expand beyond the current factors most values in games: time, money, and number of games played.

So what can we do? Respect all players, invite different opinions, and intentionally build relatable experiences.

Respect All Players

Respecting players means truly recognizing them and their diversity. Coming to a game for a different reason that "most" gamers doesn't make you less valuable. Designers should ask themselves: how can I continue to connect with that player and relate to them? First impressions matter, which is why The Sims offered more options for body type and so on in their character creation.

Invite Different Opinions

The thing is that you have to do this even when it's uncomfortable. "We need to help bring people in and help them not bounce out," as Lyndsay puts it.

One example of this is ensuring you tune yourself to cultural sensitivity. For example, the Sims team learned that women were not allowed on game boxes in Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact they really didn't want to, they created a box with all men so that the game could be sold, and still be accessible in all the same ways to people in that country (especially women!).

Another example is religious sensitivity. They thought The Sims was good at avoiding overtly religious objects, but they later realized that the ghosts and voodoo dolls they included in the game also have religious origins. Thus, they realized were actually consistently inconsistent in this area. They had to own the fact they had no clean line and try to make decisions as consciously as possible.

The bottom line is that you need to get uncomfortable with these kinds of conversations. Do know that you get better at it the more you do it, though.

Build Relatable Experiences

Connect, relate, and interact with current world experiences. What's going on in the world that can be incorporated into the game? A nice example is finally incorporating women's team into the FIFA game. When they decided to do that, they became fully invested, considering all kinds of new possibilities, like a player leaving partway through a season to have a baby. The Sims also now has much more fluidity in its gender selection, helping break gender norms as we are trying to do in real life.


Lyndsay gave us a lot to think about when it comes to designing inclusive games, but as she pointed out, the lessons apply to all software design. Let's all make sure to keep these things in mind in our own endeavours.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

HLF2016 / Spotlight on Preethi Srinivas: HCI Researcher Improving Coordination and Communication in Hospital ICUs

This blog post originates from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Blog. The 4th Heidelberg Laureate Forum is dedicated to mathematics and computer sciences, and takes place September 18-23, 2016. Abel, Fields, Turing and Nevanlinna Laureates will join the forum and meet 200 selected international young researchers.

Meet Preethi Srinivas, our next featured young researcher in a series about some of the women attending this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum in September 2016.

Photo courtesy of Preethi Srinivas

Preethi is currently wrapping up her PhD at Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing and is originally from Chennai, India. She is also a Senior UX Designer at Regenstrief Institute Inc.

Preethi’s dissertation work has the potential for making a huge impact on communication in hospital intensive-care units. Notes made on paper and synchronous communication in ICUs can lead to issues in awareness and coordination. Preethi proposes a method for “rapidly generating, managing, and sharing clinical notes and action-items among ICU providers” as well as a “visual and tactile notifications system that induces minimal interruptions to an ongoing activity.” Long term, her research provides novel guidelines for mobile communication tools for ICUs. She says she is “proud of this little accomplishment although this research is a small, design-based contribution to the medical and HCI communities.”

As for many graduate students, Preethi’s ultimate success comes from learning to embrace failure. She also learned that it’s ok to switch projects if you aren’t engaging sufficiently with your current research direction.
I started my PhD program working on a research project that seemed to work well, but I soon learnt that I was not meant to be working on the project since I did not really find myself interested, even though I was working hard. This experience taught me that one of the huge factors to research is involvement or drive to being committed to a project. I soon moved onto another project that kept me committed, without which I would have never made as much progress as I did.
As someone who switched topics completely between Masters and PhD, and who went through a few project ideas before settling on a thesis topic for my PhD, I can relate to this completely!

Preethi is excited for HLF for the opportunity to interact with some of the world’s best and most passionate researchers. The forum’s interdisciplinary nature is also very appealing. She hopes to receive some great advice from fellow researchers on how to embark on independent research post-PhD, and is “looking forward to making new friends with whom I could potentially collaborate in future.” Plus, she loves to travel, and who wouldn’t want to visit such an interesting city as Heidelberg!

I believe you won’t be disappointed in the city nor the forum, Preethi. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Stay tuned to meet other young researchers, a special post about mentors, and the advice our featured women want to share with others.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Low-down on Speaking at GHC

So you're speaking at GHC16. What do you need to know? How can you prepare to be the best you can be? How do you calm your nerves?!

Although I wasn't lucky enough to have any submissions accepted to this year's conference, I have spoken at Grace Hopper before along with many other venues. Let me start by reassuring you that this is one of the very best places to present. I have rarely found a more wonderfully supportive audience.

Let's get some of the official stuff out of the way. As a speaker, you need to thoroughly read through everything on the speakers section of the conference website. In particular, note the quick references on the right.

I'd like to draw your attention especially to the Speaker Ready Room info. There, you'll learn about uploading your slides before your presentation, and you'll see a link to the slides template. Please take the time to design your presentation using the template right from the get-go. Trying to shoehorn an existing presentation into the template tends to look unprofessional, and not using the template at all even more so. Also make sure to leave plenty of time to upload your presentation and test it. You'll want to make sure any embedded media is actually embedded, and that your fonts and colours look ok.

The conference website also includes some tips on speaking. I'd also like to share another amazing resource that brings you weekly inspiration and advice on speaking: a newsletter called Technically Speaking. Subscribe now and you will benefit leading up to your talk, and check out the archives as well.

Finally, I have a few tips of my own:

  • Design your slides with as few words as possible. Convey the main idea through pictures and a short phrase.
  • Add speaker notes into the notes section of the slides. When practising, you can simply read the notes at first. This should make you familiar enough to be able to improvise more day-of.
  • Practice in front of colleagues at some point with enough time to receive feedback. Provide them with a written feedback form they can use to give you anonymous ideas for improvement.
  • On the day of your talk, arrive in the room early to give yourself time to calm your nerves.
  • Make sure you have access to water during the talk.
  • Before you start, take some deep breaths, maybe with your eyes closed. Think yoga breathing.
  • Invite the audience to chat with you after the talk, and stand somewhere where it's easy for the audience to actually do so.
Good luck with your talk – I'll know you'll be awesome!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

HLF2016 / Spotlight on Hana Khamfroush: Research Associate in Wireless Communications and Networking

This blog post originates from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Blog. The 4th Heidelberg Laureate Forum is dedicated to mathematics and computer sciences, and takes place September 18-23, 2016. Abel, Fields, Turing and Nevanlinna Laureates will join the forum and meet 200 selected international young researchers.

Meet Hana Khamfroush, our next featured young researcher in a series about some of the women attending this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum in September 2016.

Photo courtesy of Hana Khamfroush

Originally from Sanandaj in north-west Iran, Hana has a PhD in telecommunications engineering and currently works as a research associate at Penn State University in the United States.

Hana’s PhD focused on applications of network coding for geographic communications in dynamic wireless networks. Her Masters was on reducing energy consumption of routing protocols in wireless sensor networks. Hana’s current work looks at security and recovery issues of interdependent networks. More specifically, she says, “I work on modelling and analyzing cascading failures in interdependent networks and network recovery after massive disruptions.”

Hana’s proudest accomplishment is impressive indeed: she was named as one of the rising stars in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) by MIT in 2015. But despite such an amazing background, success did not always come easily. It was, at times, difficult to maintain motivation and perseverance as a graduate student.
I think the biggest lesson I learned from my PhD was to stay patient and work hard toward your goals, and be sure that “Hard work pays off.” I learned not to get disappointed by defeat, instead to learn from them and always have hope for better results. In the first two year of my PhD, I was not getting very promising results for my research and I didn’t even like what I was doing. I kept working harder and changed my research topic. The last year of my PhD was the best; I got many papers accepted and it felt like everything changed! I learned a lesson: I am the only one who can help myself, so I solved my problem by finding a more interesting research problem! Don’t wait for others to help you, change your status by yourself.
For HLF, Hana is particularly excited about the positive energy she finds at any conference or academic gathering. HLF is an even more amazing opportunity since she’ll get to meet some amazing new role models. She says, “it is very exciting to meet with those who were internationally known for their scientific contributions, and who actually made a change to the world.” She expects to learn a lot and bring back the positive energy when she returns home.

Hana is also looking forward to meeting other young researchers in her field. If you share research interests, don’t be afraid to reach out and say hello!

Keep up your amazing work Hana, and see you in Heidelberg!

Stay tuned to meet other young researchers, a special post about mentors, and the advice our featured women want to share with others.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

HLF2016 / Spotlight on Helen Wauck: HCI Researcher Studying Spatial Skills Training with Games

This blog post originates from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Blog. The 4th Heidelberg Laureate Forum is dedicated to mathematics and computer sciences, and takes place September 18-23, 2016. Abel, Fields, Turing and Nevanlinna Laureates will join the forum and meet 200 selected international young researchers.

Meet Helen Wauck, first to be featured in a series about some of the women young researchers attending this year's Heidelberg Laureate Forum in September 2016.

Photo courtesy of Helen Wauck

Helen is a PhD student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where her work centers on human-computer interaction. Her research, as she explains it, is on the cognitive side of a rather broad field.
I study how to use video games to train spatial skills. Spatial skills are crucial for success in STEM disciplines, so figuring out the best way to train them is very important for lowering the barrier to entry into these fields, especially for populations that typically have lower spatial skills, such as women and ethnic minorities. Some existing commercial games are very effective at training spatial skills (Portal 2 and Tetris, for example), while others, including cognitive training games like Lumosity and Dual N-Back, are completely ineffective. The goal of my research is to determine what specific game features contribute to the effectiveness of a video game for spatial skill training.
Helen's proudest accomplishment so far was to win the "United States' National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF), a prestigious fellowship that grants recipients three years of generous funding and international research opportunities." The application process included a proposal for a multi-year research project, and despite not winning the award the first time she applied, she worked hard and won the second time around. As Helen says, "It's really encouraging that not only my advisor but the NSF has faith in my ability to carry out this research topic and that it's worth researching."

Of course, life as a graduate student hasn't been without its challenges. For example, Helen attended a liberal arts college and therefore took fewer computer science courses than many other undergraduates would have. At first, this left her feeling like a second-class citizen in her graduate program, but over time she came to realize that, in fact, everyone has come from wildly varying backgrounds. Even better, she eventually saw how her multidisciplinary background gave her an edge when it came to communicating her research effectively.

Like all participating young researchers, Helen is very excited for her upcoming trip to HLF:
I'm very excited to meet the other young researchers from around the world and hear about their experiences in their programs. Human-Computer Interaction is a very different field from many of the more systems- and math-oriented computer science subfields. The perspectives I get from researchers coming from all sorts of different backgrounds in computer science and mathematics will be very different from the perspectives I usually have access to in my field, especially given the heavily international nature of the HLF. I hope to meet lots of fellow researchers whose experiences can give me new insight into how I might direct my own graduate school experience, and who I can hopefully maintain contact and friendships with after the conference is over! I'm also very curious to hear this year's laureates speak about their research process and how they overcame the challenges that were thrown their way; it's so rare to have an opportunity to meet these incredibly successful researchers face-to-face and hear their personal stories.
Congratulations on your accomplishments, Helen, and we look forward to meeting you in September!

Stay tuned to meet other young researchers, a special post about mentors, and the advice our featured women want to share with others.