Welcome to our second week of Get Active month! Today we bring you an interview with Chad Toprak, an Honours student with the fascinating RMIT Exertion Lab.
Can you tell us a little about the Exertion Games Labs?
Sure! The Exertion Games Lab is a games-centric research lab at RMIT University. We focus on research in games that revolve around the body, technology and play. We create games that require intense physical effort as we believe it is important to play with our bodies. As we all know the obesity epidemic has become a big concern in many places around the world. We believe exertion games can help fight against this and aid us in keeping active and fit.
Ultimately we want to inspire the games industry to create more radical games that are fun, playful and interesting, but most importantly games that have a contribution to society.
How did you become involved?
I was part of one of the classes that Floyd Mueller, the director of our lab, taught at RMIT. It still stands as one of the most interesting and influential classes that I’ve ever had. We learned a tremendous amount, but most importantly that games were not restricted to keyboard and mouse experiences, and that physical games can be amazingly fun to play. This sparked curiosity in me, and soon the curiosity turned into interest, interest to desire and desire to passion. I wanted to study and learn more about these games, so I set out to do further studies and research in this field. Floyd insisted I do Honours and then a PhD – little did he know that that’s exactly what I had in mind.
Are there other places around the world investigating similar things?
There are quite a few labs and researchers around the world who do similar research. Some have visited our lab, others I plan to meet in the near future. But they all do very interesting things! Elise van den Hoven from Eindhoven, The Netherlands does research in physical interaction and tangible play. Kathrin Gerling from the Interaction Lab in Saskatchewan, Canada has recently done a study on exertion games for the elderly. Lennart Nacke from UOIT in Ontario, Canada does all sorts of research on games that use biofeedback as input. I also like the Copenhagen Game Collective who do very fun and interesting digital and non-digital games.
What is your favourite Exertion Games Lab game?
That’s a tough question. Every game in the lab is unique and addresses different things. For example, Bubble Popper explores the interaction between two players when playing a video game. Unlike the Nintendo Wii or Xbox’s Kinect where the players are discouraged from interacting with one another, Bubble Popper encourages body contact and is actually a core part of the game, you have to pop the bubbles that appear on the projected screen by hitting the screen with an augmented glove (which are oven mitts with sensors!), the player to pop the most bubbles within 60 seconds wins, and if you really want to win you’ll have to push, block or tackle your opponent!
There’s two recent games that we’ve built called Duel Reality, and ANTI-BODY. Duel Reality is a digitally enabled two-player sword fighting game played with foam swords and an augmented top hat. ANTI-BODY explores what it means for the body to be both the controller and the play space, the game is projected onto the body! But I think my favourite would have to be Joggobot, a flying quadcopter robot that acts as a social jogging companion for joggers! Social joggers enjoy jogging with a partner, but their partner may not always be available. This is where the Joggobot comes in. Joggobot uses a marker detection system that tracks a unique pattern the jogger wears, the Joggobot then flies in front of the jogger and motivates the jogger to keep running. I think it’s wonderful. ABC’s Catalyst TV crew recently visited our lab to take footage of and interview us and the Joggobot.
You’re attached to the Exertion Games Lab as part of your Honours. What did you study for your Bachelor degree?
I graduated from the Bachelor of Arts (Digital Art) degree at RMIT last year. We specialised in game design and development. It was a three-year degree packed full of vital games knowledge, lots of learning, and of course, fun and games. The Digital Art degree has now merged with the sister Games Graphics Design degree and is now taught under the new title Bachelor of Design (Games).
What are you planning to investigate as your Honours Thesis?
I have some interesting plans for this year. The games-centric research labs we have at RMIT have a common goal of raising awareness and appreciation of games. I believe one way of doing this is to bring more games into the public for people to see, interact with and participate together in. Inspired by the playdays and other lovely events that were hosted by Freeplay, I wanted to make something playful, something that makes people smile and want to participate in. As I mentioned earlier, I want to do something different, something that hasn’t been done or explored. And then it came to me. What about games in public transport?
I get so many mixed reactions when I mention that to people. Most reply with “Do you mean games like the PSP or Nintendo DS?”. But no, it’s nothing like that. I want to make, play, build or create a game that will encourage social interaction and get passengers and commuters participating. Of course, it’d be an opt-in thing, you play only if you want to, and the game wouldn’t be intrusive or bothersome if you didn’t.
Where do people go to find out more about Exertion Games Lab?
We have a website that we list all our projects on, some of which have awesome videos definitely worth watching. We have a mailing list for those interested in keeping up to date with the latest exertion games breakthroughs and opportunities. And we also have a Facebook and Twitter page that people can check out. Alternately you can just drop into our lab and say hi, there’s almost always someone at the lab that you can speak to. We can be found in Building 9 Level 1 Room 27 at RMIT’s city campus.