Matthew Lee wants you to know that gaming can be good for you.
We featured the game designer and University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. student a few times before he won his Fulbright scholarship in 2015. In 2014, he was named an International Game Developers Association scholar and was a member of Tethys, a group attempting to fight water scarcity through gaming.
But that was five years ago. What’s been going on since the award? We asked Lee what he found in his Fulbright studies, how it impacted his healthcare work at Penn and what he hopes to do next.
Technical.ly Philly: What were the results of your Fulbright research?
Matthew Lee: I was onto my Fulbright in the entire year of 2016, based in Australia studying the social aspects of the video gaming community.
Some of the research I did was centered around online games as well as augmented reality games such as Pokémon Go, which is a small little thing you might have heard of. I was around for the launch of that, so I got to see just how many people were playing it. After work, you have hundreds of thousands of people come out and spend hours alongside the river in Brisbane, where they would go out, catch Pokémon often with strangers, talk about things, really feel like part of the community even if they were only there for that period of time. It was that perception that when they were there in that space, they could spend time with other people who shared their passions and they could feel a lot less alone.
And I wondered if, through what we do with healthcare, we could find ways to address this. To know that things that address social isolation are a really big deal for people. And it’s indeed [true] that social isolation is one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health outcomes in this nation.
How did that impact your research when you came back?
So, I came back in 2017, I ended up using and processing this information, using part of it for my dissertation. I’ve been doing some follow-up studies in other communities as well on Pokémon Go and how it encouraged exercise — why people chose to stick with it even if it was buggy, draining people’s batteries, people’s data plan. It turned out that it was, once again, that whole community thing. People felt more connected to the people around them, they felt more connected with the people they were playing with, which was often family and friends, and they felt connected with the past. There was a certain nostalgia in it.
And what we’re doing with healthcare, when we create apps and stuff like that, we don’t often think about things in terms of the whole person. A lot of the time we think about things as an intervention that will make people healthier. We don’t often think about what will motivate them to do the behavior.
What games and other [tools] people use do is it lowers a lot of cognitive burdens. It shifts the idea from one of health to other things — like Pokémon Go encouraged a lot of people to walk around a lot. They weren’t thinking, “I wanted to exercise,” they were being distracted by the camaraderie, they were enjoying seeing more of the city.
What else have you been up to in the meantime? What do you do on the day to day?
I am still [pursuing] a Ph.D. at the School of Nursing, I’ll be graduating in 2020. I am currently the vice president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA). My first year I came back, I was asked to work as a student representative for the School of Nursing’s doctoral students. From being a rep, I quickly became involved with the committee of student life, which deals with health and wellness, essentially, and I became the mental health deputy.
In fact, I worked on a mental health survey that GAPSA sent out last year to get a sense of what the mental health was like for students at Penn. We found that there were a number of variables that determined whether or not people were more likely to be depressed or anxious. It depended a lot on which school you were in, your financial stability and a lot of things like community aspects were very important.
I’ve also worked in innovation and design of the healthcare classes. I really believe that, as nurses especially, because we’re also on the frontline of providing care of the community and in the hospital, it’s a really good thing if we understand more about technology so that we shape how technology is designed for us. If we don’t understand health and tech, how do we design tech and the stuff enabled by tech to be able to help our patients?
What are your plans after your Ph.D.?
I’d like to work for probably Google as part of their digital health initiatives. Most people who do Ph.D.’s want to go into academia afterwards, go into research, but I’m interested in impact. I want to do things that will have the most impact on the most people, and I know that technology is how I want to do that.
How do you see the tech/game development community in Philly?
I’d definitely like to see a little more of it. Right now, I know the tech scene is growing. In terms of the video gaming community, I know there are a few small studios, mostly mobile and serious [aka games designed for a purpose other than pure entertainment] game studios. It’d be nice if we had a slightly bigger studio around, or just a more public presence.-30-
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