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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.

Week 3: Mon 06/17 – Sun 06/23

Come on and slam and welcome to the (game) jam. I’ve been reflecting on itch.io’s visual novel and narrative game community, which is largely made up of amateurs who want to tell stories about themselves – exactly what the goal of the Toolkit is. Some of my favorite itch creators include graeme borland, Angela He, and Nicky Case!. I’m also happy to announce that the first few trials (ie, people I will be making into my Unity guinea pigs) will be run next Tuesday! They’ll be asked to take a “before” survey, perform a creative task using Unity and the Toolkit, and then take an “after” survey.

Week 4: Mon 06/24 – Sun 06/30

I’ve finished drafting the first few sections of the paper (Abstract, Introduction, Related Works, and Methods). For the next couple weeks before I have enough data to analyze, most of my work will consist of brute-forcing my way into finding experiment subjects.

Week 4-5: Mon 06/31 – Sun 07/07

This week, I performed my frist trial! The one subject I’ve worked with picked up Unity and the Toolkit a lot faster than I thought people would, and this person was on the less technically inclined side, so it can only be up from here. Plus, now I have at least a couple images of that subject’s creation for the paper.

I have thirteen (!!!!) more subjects lined up, as well as some candidates I need to get in touch with, so I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about my sample size and confidence levels! In a perfect world, I’d like to have somewhere in the ballpark of 25 subjects, but honestly, fourteen isn’t too bad.

Hunter College
City University of New York
695 Park Ave
New York, NY 10065

Telephone: +1 (212) 396-6837
Email: oo700 at hunter dot cuny dot edu

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