The Simulation and Game Applications (SAGA) Lab, formerly the Digital Media Institute, began at UT’s Center for Teaching and Learning where we specialized in the creation of educational technology including interactive math and chemistry applications starting in 2006. SAGA Lab has spun-off from CTL and is now a collaborative partnership between the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Arts and Entertainment Technologies under the leadership of Dr. Paul Toprac, head of the GAMMA Program. Our broadened focus has shifted to research using games, mobile apps, simulations, and VR/AR/XR due to a high demand for those services at UT Austin and beyond, a recognition of our strengths and interests.
What We Do
We partner with faculty to perform research projects requiring engaging and interactive digital experiences. Our lab has a long track record for creating high-end multimedia solutions, including educational applications and games.
SAGA Lab investigates with faculty one or a combination of the following genres:
Educational and Training
Educational games promote active learning and high-level critical thinking and decision making skills. It also forces players to view complex problems in a cross-disciplinary way. Furthermore, games have been found to be highly motivational (intrinsically) to play, based on numerous research findings. Two examples of intrinsically motivating game environments at UT Austin are Alien Rescue and Environ. Games can also be used for the development of expertise in different skills, such as those acquired and exercised by playing a fight simulator.
Sometimes a game is just to be experienced, like art. Games can target specific audiences and engage large numbers of people with memorable experiences that they can share. Or a game can help facilitate audiences to appreciate or enhance aesthetic experiences. Currently, the SAGA Lab is working on a LIFT grant with the Blanton Museum to create a mobile app and iBeacon system to enhance the learning and aesthetic experiences of students and patrons based on what art piece that they are looking at.
Health and Wellbeing
Games to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and groups of people. These games include games for psychological therapy, cognitive training, emotional training, or physical rehabilitation. For example, SuperBetter, is a game to help overcome debilitating after-effects from a concussion injury. And, exergaming, which are games that are used as a form of exercise. Currently, SAGA Lab is working with UT’s School of Nursing to create games to change the behavior of the chronically ill so that they can better self-manage their condition, such as heart failure.
Often individuals gain a new perspective when interacting with a new system. Simulations and games can empower the players to explore beliefs, attitudes, and values surrounding an issue. Two examples of persuasive games are September 12, a game about civilian casualties in the war on terror and the resulting proliferation of terrorists, and America’s Army, a first-person shooter game that promotes adherence to the U.S. Army’s seven core values for the purpose of recruiting civilians to become soldiers.
Games can help you improve your own productivity or focus the energies of groups of people to work on your initiative or project. For instance, HabitRPG turns your to-do list into a role-playing game. Similarly, ChoreWars is a game where family members compete against each other to gain experience points by completing chores. The bigger the problem, the larger the number of individuals are needed to solve it. For example, Foldit is a massively online puzzle video game about folding the structures of selected proteins where more than 50,000 players have provided results that matched or outperformed algorithmically computed solutions.