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University Pours $7.7 Million into Immersive Gaming Research

student using virtual reality headset

A New Zealand university is committing $4.5 million alongside $3.2 million in government funding to research immersive gaming. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch is using the money to assemble an international team of academic experts for its new Applied Immersive Gaming Initiative.

The government investment comes from the country's Tertiary Education Commission's Entrepreneurial Universities fund, which is used to attract "world-leading entrepreneurial researchers" who can build "stronger and more relevant links" within business. In this case, the project will bring three "entrepreneurial academics" to the Human Interface Technology Lab New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ) at the university, with the expectation that they'll be able to accelerate the research and public use of gaming applications while breaking new ground on the effective use of game immersion for use in learning and industry.

For example, the research will study how the motivation that games provide can also help people tackle tasks that might otherwise be boring or difficult, such as learning at school, picking up virtual spiders or practicing piloting skills. HIT Lab NZ Director Rob Lindeman said subjects include virtual reality, augmented reality and other social and artistic aspects that blend digital content with the physical world.

"This is an exciting development for the [university] and the whole of New Zealand," he explained in a statement. "This type of immersive gaming is used in training and education, as well as for remote collaborative activities using this technology. It's proven to be useful in rescue situations and other health-and-safety scenarios."

It's also obviously used in entertainment, he noted, which is becoming "an increasingly important contributor to the [country's] economy. By supporting technical innovation research through this project, we can help address the skills shortage in New Zealand's growing and lucrative gaming industry."

The visiting academics will primarily work with postgraduate students in the HIT Lab NZ and help with the new institution's School of Product Design, which offers a bachelor's degree in Applied Immersive Game Design. They'll also work with the university's Centre for Entrepreneurship.

Besides Lindeman, the core team includes Delft University of Technology's Heide Lukosch, head of TU Delft Gamelab; Delft's Stephan Lukosch, a researcher in mixed reality and applied gaming; Andrew Phelps, founder of the Rochester Institute of Technology's Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity (MAGIC) as well as the associated MAGIC Spell Studios, a public-private cooperative model that links academic research with commercial production; and Simon Hoermann and Thammathip Piumsomboon from the university's own School of Product Design.

The grant will also support the hiring of three Ph.D. students and a postdoctoral researcher, as well as a game artist to help create content. A basic idea is to create a pathway to commercialize student and staff projects in applied games that are created as part of the initiative.

Local industry welcomed the news, according to the university.

"We are really excited about the fantastic team that UC and the HIT Lab NZ are bringing together," said Nadia Thorne, general manager at game studio CerebralFix. "We appreciate how closely they've worked with industry to understand the challenges we're facing, and their program not only addresses our current knowledge gaps but also inspires an approach to innovation that we need to stay at on the cutting edge of technology."

"[We are] always searching for creative and innovative talent to help grow our international business, added James Tan, director of Digital Confectioners, a Christchurch game studio. "I believe that this initiative will help produce and promote those vital, locally developed innovators who are so integral to our business."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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