The SAGA Lab, formerly the Digital Media Institute, began at UT’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) where we specialized in the creation of educational technology including interactive math and chemistry applications starting in 2006. SAGA Lab spun-off from CTL in 2015 under the leadership of Dr. Paul Toprac in Computer Science, head of UT’s eXtended Reality Alliance, Game Development and Design Program, and Principal Investigator of the lab. Our broadened focus has shifted to research using games, mobile apps, simulations, and VR/AR/XR due to high demand for these kinds of applications at UT Austin and recognition of our strengths and interests.
What We Do
We partner with faculty to perform research projects requiring engaging and interactive digital experiences. Our lab has a long track record for creating high-end multimedia solutions, including games, mobile apps, simulations, and VR/AR/XR. Read a news story about what we do here. Here is a hyperlink to the news story Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time
SAGA Lab investigates with faculty one or a combination of the following genres:
Educational and Training
Interactive, engaging computer applications promote active learning and high-level critical thinking and decision making skills. It also forces players to view complex problems in a cross-disciplinary way. Furthermore, interactive computer apps have been found to be highly motivational (intrinsically) to use, based on numerous research findings. For instance, two examples of intrinsically motivating game environments at UT Austin are Alien Rescue and Environ. Interactive computer applications can also be used for the development of expertise in different skills, such as those acquired and exercised by playing a fight simulator.
Sometimes a digital environment is just to be experienced, like art. Games can target specific audiences and engage large numbers of people with memorable experiences that they can share. Or a game can help facilitate audiences to appreciate or enhance aesthetic experiences. For example, the SAGA Lab has worked with the Blanton Museum to create a mobile app and iBeacon system to enhance the learning and aesthetic experiences of students and patrons based on what art piece that they are looking at. Another example is RAIN, an interactive experience that combines spatial sound design, poetry, and VR technology to create immersion into music and text: a music video that can be truly played, rather than just watched; a poem that can be explored, not merely read. (See Research for more details).
Health and Wellbeing
Games to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and groups of people. These games include games for psychological therapy, cognitive training, emotional training, or physical rehabilitation. For example, SuperBetter is a game to help overcome debilitating after-effects from a concussion injury. And, exergaming, which are games that are used as a form of exercise. For instance, the SAGA Lab has worked with UT’s School of Nursing to create a game to change the behavior of the chronically ill so that they can better self-manage their condition, such as heart failure.
Often individuals gain a new perspective when interacting with a new system. Simulations and games can empower the players to explore beliefs, attitudes, and values surrounding an issue. Two examples of persuasive games are September 12, a game about civilian casualties in the war on terror and the resulting proliferation of terrorists, and America’s Army, a first-person shooter game that promotes adherence to the U.S. Army’s seven core values for the purpose of recruiting civilians to become soldiers. At the SAGA lab, we have developed mobile apps to persuade individuals to vote (see BeVote in Research) and for father’s to engage in the prenatal process (see Father’s App in Research).
Interactive, engaging computer applications can help you improve your own productivity or focus the energies of groups of people to work on your initiative or project. For instance, HabitRPG turns your to-do list into a role-playing game. Similarly, ChoreWars is a game where family members compete against each other to gain experience points by completing chores. The bigger the problem, the larger the number of individuals are needed to solve it. For example, Foldit is a massively online puzzle video game about folding the structures of selected proteins where more than 50,000 players have provided results that matched or outperformed algorithmically computed solutions. The SAGA lab is building a citizen science videogame to address the question: how do individual proteins fit together to form larger multi-protein complexes that carry out a number of functional roles in the cell? More details see Protein Puzzles in Research.