Constructing new architectural designs is a game to one U graduate student

Benjamin Lindau uses video games to create interactive buildings and structure plans.

Jenna Ross

Benjamin Lindau began researching his master’s thesis by playing video games.

After buying, playing and comparing games, the graduate student chose the best game engine for his architectural studies.

“Basically, my work explores the possibility of using games as a tool for design,” he said. “It’s about taking an already-existing technology and innovatively using it for our purposes.”

Using the Unreal Runtime program, Lindau created a 3-D digital environment of Northrop Mall and inserted his design – a student pavilion – in the setting.

The game environment, besides allowing the architect to evaluate and redesign structures, makes the design process more accessible to the public, Lindau said.

“Unlike other architectural representations – the model, the perspective, the plan – this technology allows the average person to participate,” Lindau said. “Architecture is something you move around in and experience.”

Lindau worked with the Game Research and Virtual Environment Lab and its partner, the University’s Institute for New Media Studies, in his research.

The gaming research lab, created about a year ago, explores the academic utilities of computer and video games in many dissimilar departments at the University.

“It’s important that people with an academic tradition research this huge arena of digital games,” said Nora Paul, the Institute for New Media Studies director, who spearheads the lab. “The area is still being dismissed by a lot of the old guard as something frivolous.”

Those who are open to the applications of gaming, however, have found that the media can make dry subject matter more engrossing, Paul said.

“Games have an engaging quality we need to acknowledge and utilize,” she said.

To promote academic study, the game research lab awarded $2,500 grants to five pairs of researchers using digital games in their research.

Computer science and engineering professor Maria Gini, one grant recipient, will study games’ artificial intelligence – their ability to interact, appear independent and make choices. The research addresses the broader issues of decision making and social interactions.

She said the grants provide her with funding and collaboration.

“The grant recipients met last Friday to share our ideas,” Gini said. “It’s a way of starting; a way of creating community.”

Gini said the project, which she is working on with graduate student Steven Damer, is her first experience with gaming.

“He’s the one who knows all about the gaming. This is why it’s good to have students,” Gini said. “But I am interested in making something more engaging. It’s fun.”