Game design professor receives $25,000 grant from Epic Games

Grace McGuire, Contributing Writer

A Quinnipiac University professor earned a $25,000 grant from Epic Games for developing a video game, which shows middle school-aged kids the ploys used in vaping ads.

Gregory Garvey, Quinnipiac professor of game design and development, and Veronica Weser, assocaite research scientist at Yale University, developed a grant-winning virtual reality game called “Ad-Tacker: Media Literacy,” to confront the rising use of nicotine among teenagers.

“The (electronic) cigarette company has been really embroiled in this controversy, where many people claim that the advertisement they created for their product were specifically targeting young kids,” said Weser, who works within the center for health and learning games at Yale. “I thought it would be really valuable to make a game, something that would be really entertaining and hold teens’ attention, but also give them information about advertisements and how these advertisers were trying to reach kids through ads.”

Kara Kachmar

In this game that is primarily developed for research purposes, the player can analyze the Juul Labs Inc. ad to view its components with more objectivity.

“Someone wears the Oculus headset, the virtual reality headset, and you start in a virtual place where you look around and they’re giant virtual screens of ads,” Garvey said. “Then you would be able to enter a room with just the Juul ad and then you could start taking it apart and you would remove elements within the ad.”

Weser collaborated with Garvey and five students from his “Unreal Engine” course to develop the project in the fall 2019 semester.

“The students actually developed the code for it, which is the type of visual programming called blueprints, and they also developed the assets,” Garvey said. “Veronica (Weser) and I more or less guided the process.”

Garvey no longer teaches the “Unreal Engine” course, but this grant from Epic Games has allowed him to offer internships to his former students so they can continue to help with the project. Garvey also bought virtual reality headsets for all involved, so their meetings can take place virtually within their video game.

In addition to the internships, Garvey and Weser plan to redevelop an augmented reality version of the game using the grant money, so it can be used on mobile phones.

“So we’re thinking of an augmented reality version … or extended reality, where the ads are actually in the environment that you’re looking at,” Garvey said. “With augmented reality you combine virtual elements with what you see in the real world.”

According to Garvey, the ideal outcome would be that seeing the ads in the player’s actual environment will change the way the player views the ad.

Garvey, Weser and the five student interns started meeting last week to begin the new phase of their game designing and development.

“I think it’s going to be a really fun and interesting project, and it’s really cool to be working on this,” Weser said.

So far, a prototype has not been released, but all involved are ready to make a change in the community.

“The intent is to develop a game that leads to positive behavioral change,” Garvey said.