PhD games research at Ulster

This year’s PhD games research at Ulster proposals are now available on our Computing Institute research web site (closing Feb 27th 2015):

I am named on four of these PhD proposals involving including the following two on games research that I would be first supervisor on.

Behavioural Change Models for Adaptive Learning in Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds offers learning support features that are unique to this setting including: immersive embodiment within an avatar to enhance agency and situated learning, constructivist activities within a simulated environment, and the potential to dynamically or procedurally alter the environment and learning content within the environment to suit the learning context and learner. Gamification is perhaps most meaningful within a virtual world as it provides more affordances to motivate learners in ways that reflect diversity of interest, personality, and motivational responses among groups of learners. The COM-B approach (Michie, 2011) considers capability, opportunity and motivation as three core aspects that are crucial to consider when attempting to positively impact behaviour. COM-B has strong relationship to the more established behavior models including an interesting correspondence to Fogg’s behavioural model (Fogg, 2009), often quoted in gamification literature states, which states that in order to trigger someone into action they need to both to have the ability and motivation to take that action. The study of game design patterns helps us understand how to create high quality learning systems with effective feedback mechanisms in order to deal with varying abilities/capabilities, and gamification research (rooted in psychology) provides insight into motivational rewards systems based largely around persuasive and coercive techniques. Online learning can help improve opportunities for learning. In this PhD the areas described above will be considered in the development of a new behavioural model for motivating learning in virtual worlds; affecting learner behaviour so that they can potentially become more effective learners. Out of this research the main contributions to knowledge are expected to be the development of this new model, the design of a novel adaptive system for managing virtual world content, and experimental results that demonstrate variation in behaviour in learners over time based on their exposure to the virtual learning world.

S. Michie, M. M. van Stralen, and R. West, “The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions.,” Implement. Sci., vol. 6, no. 1, p. 42, Jan. 2011.
Fogg, B. J. “A behavior model for persuasive design.” Proceedings of the 4th international Conference on Persuasive Technology. ACM, 2009.

Motivating Adherence to Exercise with Personalised Active Games and Technology Enhanced Interactive Systems

Regular exercise can have significant health benefits however reduced mobility can affect people’s capability, opportunities and motivation to engage in physical activity, particularly outdoors. A decline in mobility may occur due to a range of circumstances such as falls among older people, disability, and illness and can impact a person’s ongoing physical and mental health. For example, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is characterized by mobility factors such as fatigue, motor weakness, spasticity, and poor balance. MS symptoms may lead to physical inactivity which can be associated with the development of secondary diseases. People affected by MS (PaMS) often face a tough motivational challenge to engage in exercise, hindered as they are already by the loss of some functional capacity. However, there is growing evidence that exercise undertaken by people with mild-to-moderate MS can provide similar fitness and psychological benefits as it does for a healthy population (White & Dressendorfer 2004). MS carries physical and mental co-morbidities that together with adverse health factors such as smoking and obesity influence the progression of the disease (Overs et al. 2012). Exercise can play a part in reducing the risk of co-morbidities as well as in alleviating common MS symptoms and walking is often reported by PaMS as one of the key things that they want to sustain or improve on. This project will progress the group’s research in several areas: utilising new ideas on motivation including gamification typologies that we have developed at Ulster for improving personalisation, adopting new natural user interface controllers such as Leap Motion, Myo armbands, Kinect 2, and the Omni Tread, mapping game design patterns to physical exercise/therapy and user interest, and building models of users that can be used to track and adapt physical gameplay. We expect to show that personalised physical gameplay along with rewards systems based on user type can improve adherence to exercise for people with disability (e.g. people affected by MS) or infirmity (older people).

Overs, S. et al., 2012. Modifiable comorbidities and disability in multiple sclerosis. Current neurology and neuroscience reports, 12(5), pp.610–7.
White, L. & Dressendorfer, R., 2004. Exercise and multiple sclerosis. Sports medicine.

I am also on the supervisory team of a special PhD proposal on energy consumption in Cloud Gaming:

Cloud Gaming PhD Proposal

This PhD will investigate ways to simultaneously improve the QoS and energy use of cloud-based games by comparison of the performance of traditional IP Best Effort (datagram- non reserved to support burst traffic) services and virtual circuit (reserved and restricted access resources). The project aims to develop end-to-end models of QoS/QoE and energy consumption for the different network architectures and will investigate optimisation tools and methods to measure and predict energy consumption and intervention strategies for large scale game hosting and delivery.



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