Creating Compelling Computer Games

Creating Compelling Computer Games

Gail CarmichaelA team of Carleton researchers is trying to find out why so many computer games shy away from using nonlinear storytelling techniques – that is, techniques that help present stories out of chronological order. Traditional media like films and novels use all kinds of interesting nonlinear techniques, like those found in Run Lola Run, Groundhog Day and Memento. Many games tend to stick to fairly simple techniques like flashbacks, but more sophisticated approaches could result in more games with critically acclaimed stories.

Team member Gail Carmichael, a PhD candidate in the School of Computer Science, says: “Through our research, we eventually want to develop techniques, tools and technology to help game writers create and run more interesting stories in their video games.”

Carmichael’s thesis supervisor, Carleton Associate Professor David Mould, is a network investigator for GRAND, a federally-funded Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) project called Believe that is looking at believable characters, behaviours and stories in story-based games. “David is one of the major reasons I chose to do my PhD at Carleton, given his interest and knowledge of games” says Carmichael. “Plus, everyone in the School of Computer Science is extremely friendly and supportive from the staff to the professors.”

As a founder of Carleton’s Women in Science and Engineering group and a blog called The Female perspective of Computer Science (http://compscigail.blogspot.ca/), Carmichael was interested in developing her own game designed to encourage middle school girls to consider computer science as a good career choice while teaching them real computer science concepts.

The result is Gram’s House. Originally developed by a team of Carleton researchers, Carmichael is now working with researchers and an international educational games company on a grant application to fund professional development of the game prototype.

In the game, a player takes on the role of a computer scientist who is trying to outfit a room in a retirement home with appropriate technology for her aging grandmother. The player collects and activates the technology by solving computer science-related puzzles.

“As research has shown that middle school-aged girls have a preference for puzzle games and that they care about making a social difference, our prototype incorporates both of these ideas,” says Carmichael.

Carmichael recently delivered a talk about the role of women in technology at the Sandy Hill Women TEDX Talk event. TED is a nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”. “It was an honour to be asked to speak and to share my love of computer science,” Carmichael says.

Carmichael, who is a contract instructor, teaching assistant and avid photographer (you can check out her work on Flickr) is also a mother. Baby Molly was born a year ago in  December.

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