Science and fiction at Neuro Game Jam

Whenever you mix science with fiction the results will be surprising. This month Champalimaud Foundation and Lusófona University will challenge game developers and scientists to work together in mixed teams in order to create games that can be applied in scientific research.

Known by the immersion value in entertainment, the truth is games have been used all over the world to several other purposes – teaching, learning, interacting, advertising, creating team spirits, challenging in competition, and this time the main goal of this jam is to provide an immersive enough environment for research that will allow scientists to test their variables in a controlled setting while patients are immersed in different worlds and worries, so they don’t get focused on research achievements.

I was there last year and that is what I have to offer with the announcement: On the last weekend of May, 24th to 26th, there will be a second edition of Neuro Game Jam, by the same entities and characters – Wilson Almeida, Gautam Argawal, Tiago Quendera and Filipe Luz, in what can be even a bigger success.

Everyone can go and participate, registrations are open here. It will be at Lusófona University and I’m crossing my fingers to see what comes out of this one.

How it was last year

The first thing that happens at this event is an explanation, by the University on the rules and conditions for development and Lusófona, then Champalimaud foundation gives a tour over the research their bringing to the table – which means they give the jam a few ideas on ongoing research that might benefit from games and on the parameters that would make those games useful and good science tools.

Last year went amazingly well! Neuro Game Jam was the first game jam in Portugal bringing together neuroscientists and game developers. Although both groups develop interactive environments, neuroscientists do so as experiments to provide answers to several questions and focusing on the analytic and precision capability of games, while game developers are focused on the opportunity to create immersive and emotional experiences to their audiences.

This was the challenge – bring them all together to create game prototypes within 48 hours that might be used and research tools in ongoing scientific projects.

It felt just like a game!

Last year the three available researches were:

1 ) In which ways can we measure and alter the individual perception of time?

2) How can we know and manipulate movement dynamics in groups?

3) How can we communicate effectively our trust?

Teams appeared out of the jam’s ice breakers and proposals and scientists soon started to accompany game design to check out whether the game logics were useful in terms of research.

White and magnetic boards started to be surrounded by teams, white paper sheets and drawings appearing everywhere, everyone talking at the same time and the room came alive. If there is a moment in a jam where sound gives a hint on how good it will be – game designing is that moment.

Game Concepts? At least one or two per team and scientist coordinated by Tiago Quendera and Gautam Agarwal (from Champalimaud Foundation), were keeping teams on track and making sure every team had a good concept to work with.

Out of this Neuro Gam Jam, 9 games came out, some playable, some needing a few adjustments, most needing a project for development. The repository still holds that memory –

There were monetary prizes for the games that were more in tune with the research and Eva Vital, Isaque Sanches and João Pedro Costa won with an incredible Gazelle.

And if last year was a success thanks to Wilson Almeida (host and master of ceremonies), Gautam Argawal and Tiago Quendera (Champalimaud Foundation), and Filipe Luz (Lusófona University), and they appeared on Facebook on the 3rd of May to announce this year edition – 5 minutes later there were already some registrations and it will surely be booked way sooner than they expect.

Amongst the games that come out of a Neuro Game Jam there are always fantastic and scientific fiction worlds. Not by chance, this was ours – Singularity. Somewhere in a future not so distant, travelling through an animated outer space, this small robot was used to get an accountability for individual time measurement, since each monster needed a different charging time from the set of weapons. This individual time perception was altered by techno music, encounters speed, visual chaos on the background when running inside.

I would say the big novelty in this game, for us, was the programming focused on the present – registering the players actions, the reactions in each moment, facing each event and transmitting all the data through the cloud for an observer, in real time. As such this game is also a data collection session and the posterior analysis of behaviours and choices is facilitated.

And now…. For some more science, for some more fiction…. “Stand as one”.

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