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Serious games and #womenintech (EN)

While during my studies there were many female fellow students, women are in general still a minority in the tech industry and research. This has many different causes, often including stereotypical thoughts. By telling young girls (and boys!) about my work, I hope to give a broader view on AI. It’s more than making Google smarter, it can also be used for many societal problems. Therefore, it is so important that teams in tech are diverse, because this gives more perspectives on a problem and more groups of users will be taken into account when designing something. There are also many jobs in tech available, a lot of them with a good salary. Girls should not miss out on this opportunity! In my Twitterbio, I describe myself as #womanintech because I think it is important to show that there are women in tech. And to all women/girls that read this blog and doubt whether AI is something for them, I would like to say: reach out to me on Twitter! I am happy to talk about the choice for and the opportunities of AI.


During my studies Artificial Intelligence (formerly called Lifestyle Informatics) at the Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam, we focused on the combination of the human and the technology: how can we use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make people’s life smarter, healthier, or more fun? I found this a nice and interesting combination. We learned how we can think using different perspectives: what do you want to make (the content) and if it is possible, how can you make it (technically). One example from my studies is a project in which we had to make a training program that adapts to an athlete. To do so, we had to research how efficient training works, and we had to know how to build an app and which sensors to use to measure heart rate for example.


I am specifically interested in this combination of content and technology. I also really like to do research: you take another step after developing, by looking at the opinions of users about your applications and to see what effect your application has. After my studies I was able to stay at the VU to work there, and right now I am almost in my final year of my PhD trajectory.


During my masters I became interested in serious games and gamification. Serious games are (video)games in which entertainment is not the sole purpose of the game. In a serious game you try to teach the player something that can be used outside the game. Examples of such games are games for soldiers to learn how to perform certain actions, or for children to learn mathematics. Gamification means that you enrich a task with game elements, often with the goal to motivate users to work on the task. Loyalty programs of stores are maybe the oldest and most known examples of this: earning points for discounts that motivate you to buy more. Nowadays, gamification is used in many apps, for example in the form of points, achievements, competitions or levels, to engage users more in using the app. Examples are Duolingo, Fitbit, Nike+ or Headspace. My PhD focusses on using such techniques as a form of empowerment for vulnerable target groups. Serious games and gamification are often designed for a large group, for example for children to learn mathematics or athletes to register their activities. I however want to look at how these techniques can be used for much more specialized groups, and how it can help them.


The first project I worked on was a serious game for older adults to learn how to be verbally resistant in the case of a doorstep scam. By playing different interactive scenarios, players learn what they can say when someone approaches them with a possible doorstep scam. Moreover, participants could read their choice out loud; a voice analysis could then determine the assertiveness in the voice of the player. With this, participants do not only learn what to say, but also how to say it. We specifically targeted older adults in our research, as they are more likely to become a victim of a doorstep scam. During so called focus groups we talked with small groups of older adults to listen to their wishes for the game, and to learn about their experiences with doorstep scams. With such conversations we ensure that our serious game suits the target group as well as possible.


At this moment I am working on a project with a totally different target group, namely young adults. I am interested in the double role that social media has gotten in the lives of people, especially for this target group. On the one hand it is very popular, but on the other hand it makes young adults insecure. Although there are certainly movements in the other direction, we still see that many users mainly post (manipulated) perfect pictures. This can make you question yourself, for example about your appearance or the way you are living your life. Self-compassion is about being nicer to yourself, you basically learn how to treat yourself the same way as you would treat your best friend. This can help you to look at social media in a different way, but it can also be helpful in other situations. I want to work on a training with gamification that participants can use independently, so that they do not have to go to a group therapy session but instead use short exercises to work on their self-compassion on their own. The project is currently in its first test phase. During this phase a small group of participants uses the training and we will study their experiences and data to improve the website of the training further. For example, I want to study how I can adapt the exercises to the user, but to do this I first need to learn more about the way that participants interact with the training. After this phase, we will test the training with a larger group and we will also have a focus on the effectiveness.


Would you like to participate in this research? More information can be found at www.zelfcompassie.labs.vu.nl; you can sign up there for the new training that will start in May 2021!


Laura van Der Lubbe


University: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Faculty: Computer Science - Social AI group

Favourite beer: Liefmans Fruitesse/Kriek

Want to know more? Find Laura's research profile and publications here.

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