The Opposite of Disaster Project


When most people think about the aftermath of a natural disaster, they might imagine a situation similar to “The Walking Dead”. They think of an environment where survivors have an “every man for himself” attitude. However, this is not what actually happens. Decades of research show that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the majority of people help each other, come together, and experience positive community.

The misconception about how people respond in times of crisis informs how the government and other relief organizations make policy and send aid. For example, if someone was expecting a “Walking Dead” scenario, they might send police instead of food, or riot gear instead of hospital supplies. This misalignment of perception inhibits recovery and relief for those affected by these disasters.

Games can have the power to change player’s perspectives, challenge assumptions, and influence thought processes. Our research team made a transformational game that employs metaphors to change this misconception about how survivors respond to disasters. In addition to exemplifying how metaphors can be used in transformational games, our hope is that the game could positively influence people who inform policy and relief efforts.  


Amy Cook
Jessica Hammer
Geoff Kaufman

Role-Play for Interactive Learning


Role-play games can create a powerful experience for players. When conducted outside of the classroom in a playful environment, role-play games inspire people to have meaningful interactions with their peers and learn more about their game setting or character. Role-play is also an effective interactive learning technique proven to help students deepen their learning in class. However, teachers wanting to incorporate interactive role-play in their classrooms have trouble not only finding or developing appropriate activities but also facilitating a real-time amorphous activity. In typical in-class role-play activities, many of the learning and socio-emotional benefits of role-playing games are lost.

We interviewed role-play gamers and instructors who use role-play in class to discover how they view role-play differently and how they use technology in role-play differently. We are investigating how facilitators manage role-play activities differently so that we can help teachers find benefits from role-play more like the benefits of role-play games. We are also exploring the possibility of using technology to help teachers conduct role-play activities. Our research revealed two primary ways that educators can draw on role-play game expertise to improve the quality of classroom role-play: group cohesion and preserving the spirit of the experience.


How role play games can inform interactive learning systems, CHIPlay 2017


Amy Cook
Jessica Hammer
Steven Dow

Sensing Curiosity in Play and Responding (SCIPR)

First to Launch.JPG
First to Launch




The SCIPR (Sensing Curiosity in Play and Responding) project focuses on designing tabletop games that work as interventions to empower marginalized youth. Our games are specifically designed to increase curiosity as a way to increase comfort and skills for students who are marginalized in STEM classrooms and inoculate these students from being prematurely off-ramped from potential futures in STEM.

For this project we have iteratively prototyped four different playable tabletop games, each with different but interrelated transformational curiosity goals.

  • Outbreak – a collaborative question-asking and hypothesis-building board game about comfort with failure
  • First to Launch –  a competitive team game about hypothesis building and comfort with voicing uncertainty
  • Combinations –  an asymmetric card-matching logic game with hidden information designed around misattribution of arousal and uncertainty
  • Alter Egos – a role-playing game about growth mindset

In designing these games, we used a method we developed called Tandem Transformational Game Design (learn more about Tandem here which leverages the strengths of interdisciplinary teams and has a dual focus on theoretical and physical iteration. Specifically, we spent three months play-testing and co-designing these games with local middle school students in Pittsburgh. These students were of diverse backgrounds, with socio-economic status, race and gender being the main axes of diversity. We worked with students at the Homewood YMCA, Carnegie Science Center and PRYSE. As a result of this work, Outbreak was presented with two game design awards at Meaningful Play 2016.

Finally in addition to these methodological and artifact contributions, we have also had theoretical contributions arise from this work including pulling together game design and curiosity theory as well as creating design models for curiosity.

If you are interested in working on this project, please reach out to Alexandra To.


  1. Modeling and Designing for Key Elements of Curiosity: Risking Failure, Valuing Questions. In Proc. DiGRA 2017. To, A., Holmes, J., Fath, E., Zhang, E., Kaufman, G., Hammer, J. (2017)
  2. Scaffolding Conversation through the Design and Implementation of Board Games. In Proc. DiGRA 2017 Boardgame Studies Round Table Workshop. To, A., Kaufman, G., Hammer, J. (2017).
  3. Designing Affective Supports for Curiosity in Games. In Proc. CHI ’17 Designing for Curiosity Workshop. To, A., Kaufman, G., Hammer, J. 2017.
  4. Tandem Transformational Game Design: A Game Design Process Case Study. In Proc. Meaningful Play 2016. To, A., Fath, E., Zhang, E., Ali, S., Kildunne, C., Fan, A., Hammer, J., Kaufman, G. (2016).
  5. Treehouse Dreams: A Game-Based Method for Eliciting Interview Data from Children. In Proc. CHI Play 2016. To, A., Fan, A., Kildunne, C., Zhang, E., Kaufman, G., Hammer, J. (2016).
  6. Integrating Curiosity and Uncertainty in Game Design. In Proc. DiGRA/FDG 2016. To, A., Ali, S., Kaufman, G., Hammer, J. (2016).


Best Student Non-Digital Game, “Outbreak”, Meaningful Play 2016
People’s Choice Game, “Outbreak”, Meaningful Play 2016


Alexandra To
Jessica Hammer
Geoff Kaufman
Elaine Fath
Safinah Ali
Jarrek Holmes
Catherine Kildunne
Anny Fan
Allison Mui
Arlex Gole
Eda Zhang
Justus Hibshman
Daniel Hua
JiaQi Wang
Siyuan Tu


MultiComp Lab


Heinz Foundation

Audience Participation Games (APG)

The reach and popularity of livestreaming platforms, such as Twitch, Youtube Gaming, and Hitbox,  is on the rise, with 292 billion minutes watched on Twitch alone in 2016. These platforms allow users to stream themselves playing games while interacting with a live audience. While most audience interactions are purely social, a small but growing number of games allow for livestreamed audiences to participate in gameplay. This project investigates these Audience Participation Games (APGs) technically, socially, and through game design.

We are developing games that use livestreamed audience participation, at a range of fidelities from design sketches to fully-playable prototypes. See our games under development.

We are creating technical tools that support the development of APGs, as well as curricula to help new designers work in this space. See the tools we have developed; see our curriculum and course materials.

We are studying player motivation and behavior in APGs, including understanding the impact of participation on streamer popularity and reasons why audience members choose to participate. Read our papers.

The APG project is led by Jessica Hammer in collaboration with Chris Klug, Jeff Bigham, and Saiph Savage. The project is funded by Amazon.