When journalists at National Public Radio are preparing a story about the social and emotional aspects of gaming, Associate Professor Katherine Isbister is one of their go-to experts. Isbister, who also directs the School of Engineering’s Game Innovation Lab in addition to her work in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, could be heard, for example, on a segment of the program Science Friday entitled “Can Gaming Make Us More Social?”
During the show, Isbister described to host Ira Flatow one of her latest projects—Pixel Motion, a movement-based game built to explore the premise that surveillance cameras, now widely used by law-enforcement agencies in many public areas, could be used by ordinary people to play games, make souvenir photos, and for a variety of practical, daily purposes. The game, which has been displayed at New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center, among other venues, calls upon players to join in “wiping” pixels off a video feed by moving around within camera range—waving their hands, jumping, or any other active gestures they prefer. Pixel Motion, which was created with the sponsorship of Bell Labs, encourages the type of collaborative play that Isbister sees as the future of gaming. “The beauty of face-to-face interaction is that we’re [naturally] social creatures,” she told Flatow.
On the horizon for Isbister is an upcoming book from MIT Press, Gut-Wrenching: How Games Move Us, and a highly competitive fellowship at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science (CASBS), awarded to those deemed the world’s most promising, provocative and productive scholars.
Isbister--who worked in Japan and Sweden, among other locales, before coming to Brooklyn--plans to return from Stanford with a myriad of new curriculum ideas and networking possibilities. After that, who knows what the next big thing to emerge from her research might be? Her students are already working on a wide variety of exciting projects, from opening doors with gesture authentication to creating wearable game controllers to designing more intuitive and playful work environments. “Technology is meant to make our lives better,” she says. “And the School of Engineering is a major part of that movement.”