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Serious Games with AI 2020

About This Course

This course will introduce students to the process of game design with the application of Artificial Intelligence to game play. Very specifically, the course will focus on unconventional approaches to understand and address real world problems (e.g., designing a game about zombies to study the effects of public health policies with respect to chemical or biological terrorist threats.).

The recent interest in gaming as a method for acquiring data on human-machine interaction, decision making and human factors has helped establish an emerging area of research called “Serious Games”. Examples of Serious Games can include:

  • Training for dangerous, expensive, or rare situations
  • Evaluation of critical factors in decision making
  • Cognitive assessment for injuries and diseases that affect the brain
  • Systems analysis

Wait... Did you say Zombies?

Since part of the course will focus on the impact to public health of disease, zombies are a well understood vehicle to model the propagation of infectious agents. They also provide the added benefit of being quantifiable units which can be measured in terms of position, velocity, and albeit limited decision making capabilities. Thus zombies and their attributes make an excellent structure around which to examine a wide variety of decision making scenarios. Students interested in getting a head start on the reading are encouraged to review materials in the Zombies! section of the online content.

Course Outline

The program will consist of a one month, intensive dive into the key aspects of serious gaming including: experimental design, game design, and application development. The course will examine and categorize different types of games, how to extract useful data, an introduction to User Interface design, rules development and play testing.

Students will be provided a basic introduction to Agile management, and coached as they follow the timeline for development. Completing the course will provide students with an understanding of software development, project management, human factors, game design, and technical collaboration as well as the emerging fields of artificial intelligence and serious games.

Expectations

Students will focus on coding both a portion of the game back-end as well as self-designed extensions. With the assistance of instructors and Teaching Assistants, participants will learn about how Artificial Intelligence can impact the design of experiments and contrast with natural, human-centric game play. All students will participate in both back-end development, within a game-ready python framework, as well as coding of their own extensions. Introduction to supporting topics, including software development best practices for small teams, how to create user interfaces, bug and issue management, data visualization, public health and disease control, and technical presentation will be included.

Tentative Game Theme (May be subject to tweaking)

A single player game, which can also be played as by committee, describes the outbreak of a highly-contagious disease threatening a densely populated, urban area. Individuals who have contracted the disease have formed a zombie population which can be categorized into different architypes. These architypes may have different capabilities, propagation models, needs, and goals. The objective of the game will be to explore the efficacy of public health policies designed to deal with traditional disease outbreaks as applied to different infection models, methods and rates. Data analysis, such as the rate of infection compared against the implementation of different human or AI-enabled policy decisions, will provide an opportunity to visualize the results of different decision-making styles in remediating the humanitarian disaster.

Requirements

In addition to completing the questions provided in the online portion of this course, the BWSI Python Core 2020 is mandatory. All students will have to have started and made progress with this module before being considered for Serious Gaming and AI enrollment.

Course Staff

Rob Seater

Robert Seater

Technical Staff in Group 45: Homeland Sensors and Analytics at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Robert has several decades experience in the design and application of Serious Games for a wide variety of topic areas including: UAVs, air traffic control, public health and bio defense, emergency response, military logistics, war games, and many others.

Joel 'n Amna

Joel Kurucar and Amna Greaves

A former US Coast Guard officer and graduate of the Naval War College, Joel has considerable expertise in game applications and AI. Amna has 30 years of industry experience in controls and robotics, specializing in Human Systems Interfaces. Both are very serious gamers and apply their interest and talents for cooperative online gaming to technical practice in the Homeland Protection Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Teaching Assistants

Chris Vanderloo Athreya Murali Nicole Lane Andrew Uhmeyer
Chris
Athi
Nicole
Andrew

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should take this class?

This class is best for those who want to learn more about how games are built and applied within academic and government settings. This is not a general game design course focusing on entertainment (although some aspects of that are included), Instead, the course focuses on using games within experiments as a systems analysis tool. In addition to an introduction on serious games applications, this course will cover some of the common interdisciplinary research fields including AI, data science, experimental design, and user interface development.

What would I get out of this class?

The primary takeaways from this course are basic skills in game design and an appreciation for how games can be applied in real world settings. In addition, students will be exposed to many of the common interdisciplinary skills leveraged in applied gaming research. Finally, the course's capstone will prepare the students for presenting and communicating their work to a crowd.

What if I really, really want to take this class?

Since this is the first year the class is being offered it will be limited to a fairly small group (probably under 20). To be selected for this class you need to have started and show progress in the core python module as mentioned above. Aside from that, helping us to get to know you through the Piazza website, asking questions, starting conversations and interacting with your fellow applicants is the best way. Everyone can apply, but we will be selecting from what we learn about you from the module questions and discussions.

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