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MIT to Collaborate With Singapore on Game Lab

By Angeline Wang

MIT and the Singapore Media Development Authority are currently in the contractual phase of establishing the Singapore-MIT International Game Lab, a collaboration that will work toward furthering digital game research and developing academic programs in game technology.

William C. Uricchio, a professor of Comparative Media Studies and one of the primary investigators of SMIGL, describes the price tag of this initiative as “very significant.” “I think it’s fair to describe it as the single largest investment in a non-military sector university gaming environment,” he said. Uricchio declined to give a specific amount because contractual negotiations are still taking place.

The contractual phase should be complete by January, Uricchio said. It will be followed by a five-year initial research and training period. During that time, the project will be centered at MIT, as the program grows in Singapore. Most undergraduate involvement will also take place at MIT through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

This new project is one of many that involve MIT-Singapore collaboration. Other projects include the Singapore-MIT Alliance and SMA for Research and Technology, a project that is currently being developed. According to Uricchio, Singapore’s new National Research Foundation was exploring ways to intensify collaboration with MIT. A series of mutually beneficial proposals were submitted, and “we’ve been collaborating ever since,” he said.

The Singapore Media Development Authority expects about 300 “of our best talents from the industry and academia” to become involved in SMIGL, MDA’s Michael Yap said to the MIT News Office. The MDA also believes that the collaboration will improve Singapore’s competitive advantage in education and tourism.

The benefits of the partnership for MIT includes increasing the level of MIT’s game research, adding “a significant international dimension to our thinking about games,” and increasing collaboration between CMS and the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, Uricchio said. Working with Singapore will also allow MIT researchers to think about games from an Asian perspective and consider cultural specificity.

SMIGL will have offices in Singapore and at MIT that will oversee the projects activities. Henry Jenkins III, also a CMS professor, is the other primary investigator.

Nicholas R. Hunter ’06, who is currently a producer for Electronic Arts, a video game company, was brought into the SMIGL program when he was an undergraduate as a student consultant.

“My goal then (and now) is to make sure that SMIGL provides opportunities to the students involved to get to do work that will help prepare them to enter into the games industry,” Hunter said.

According to Hunter, this project is something that has been considered for a long time. “However, it’s hard to get projects going without a common cause. The chance to cooperate with Singapore served as a catalyst for multiple departments at MIT to come together.”

The project, which draws from earlier conferences and research efforts, officially got off the ground during the spring. Many trips to Singapore were made to find the right partners for the project and to develop relationships with the Singaporean government, industry, and academia, Hunter said.

“This is a broad collaboration across industry and academia,” Uricchio said. “Singapore seems to have embraced the concept of the network more insightfully than any country that I know of. They partner with top universities from around the world both by sending students out, and by welcoming institutions to set up shop in Singapore.”

Uricchio said that gaming was looked at specifically because of the untapped economic and creative potential. Gaming is one industry that is experiencing huge growth, Uricchio, in comparison to the publishing, film, and music industries that are either stable or shrinking.

“We see a lot of potential at looking at games as a medium instead of just as entertainment,” Uricchio said, citing education as a specific platform where games could be useful.

“With games, you can model things in physics and you can’t really show with a video or with photographs,” he said. “With an interactive platform, you can have people experience certain aspects of physics that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

Uricchio describes SMIGL as very different compared to past MIT-Singapore collaborations, as it is based in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as in engineering and computer science subjects. The other major MIT partnerships with Singapore center around engineering.

“It’s something that we’re all very excited about,” Hunter said. “It seems only appropriate that the birthplace of ‘SpaceWar’ has another major research effort into games.” ‘SpaceWar,’ developed in the 1960s, was one of the first computer games.