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Amateur Confidence in Creativity with the Community Game Development Toolkit

Lance Cheng (he/him), University of Massachusetts Amherst

Week 1: Mon 06/03 – Sun 06/09

Hi! A little bit about myself: I’m Lance, I use he/him pronouns, and I’m a native New Yorker. I just finished my first year at UMass, where I study data science, CS, public interest technology, and comparative literature. Besides academics, I also love volunteering as a notetaker, working as a TA and at UMass’s queer resource center, learning languages, and playing guitar.

This summer, I’ll be working on the Community Game Development Toolkit with Professor Daniel Lichtman. The Toolkit is a set of tools for the Unity game engine that allows you to make collage scenes, and it was particularly developed so people without technical game development skills could still create games – otherwise, we’d miss out on so many of their unique perspectives! I hope this blog can be useful to future applicants to the REU who want to see what the experience is like or future students who work with Dan and want something to reference.

I spent most of the latter half of the week doing some literature review and coming up with different experimental designs, with the goal of the experiments being to determine if the Toolkit’s features help people feel more creative and in touch with themselves. It was great meeting Dr. Wole (who organizes this REU), the mentors, and the other interns so far, and I’m excited to work more with all of them in the coming weeks! I’m also excited to bring together the artistic and quantitative aspects of computation and figure out how to design something that maximizes creative possibilities.

Week 2: Mon 06/10 – Sun 06/16

Second week completed! The biggest event of this week was finalizing the basis of the experiment I’ll be running. Dan wanted to see how the Toolkit could help diverse communities tell stories about themselves, and to make that benchmark a little more measurable, I’ve decided to investigate if the Toolkit’s collage-style approach makes people more confident in their creativity compared to other tools. Most of my time was spent brainstorming experiment structures, doing even more literature review, and drafting the introduction and related works sections of my paper. This was also my first time using LaTeX, which was much easier than I thought it would be, thankfully.

Something else that’s been really helpful: reaching out to Dan’s former interns! Two people have worked with Dan before me (Amelia Roth and Habin Park, both of whose publications are linked on this REU home page), and both of them are lovely people who gave thoughtful advice when I discussed some of the problems I was running into. It sounds obvious, but to anyone in the future, please do reach out to past REU cohorts; it made me feel much less isolated to know they encountered the same issues and published successfully despite that.

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