College of Computing and Digital Media Dissertations

Date of Award

Winter 3-15-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Computing

First Advisor

Cynthia Putnam


Brain injuries (BI) are a major public health issue. Many therapists who work with patients who have had a BI include games to ameliorate boredom associated with repetitive rehabilitation. However, designing effective, appropriate, and engaging games for BI therapy is challenging. The challenge is especially manifested when considering how to consolidate the different mindsets and motivations among key stakeholders; i.e., game designers and therapists. In this dissertation, I investigated the ideation, creation, and evaluation of game design patterns and a design tool, GaPBIT (Game Design Patterns for BI Therapy) that leveraged patterns to support ideation of BI therapy game concepts and facilitate communication among designers and therapists. Design patterns, originated from the work of Christopher Alexander, provide a common design language in a specific field by documenting reusable design concepts that have successfully solved recurring problems.

This investigation involved four overlapping phases. In Phase One, I interviewed 11 professional game designers focused on games for health (serious games embedded with health-related goals) to explore how they perceived and approached their work. In Phase Two, I identified 25 therapy-centered game design patterns through analyzing data about game use in BI therapy. Based on those patterns, in Phase Three I created and iterated the GaPBIT prototype through user studies. In Phase Four, I conducted quasi-experimental case studies to establish the efficacy and user experience of GaPBIT in game design workshops that involved both game designers and therapists.

During the design workshops, the design patterns and GaPBIT supported exploration of game design ideas and effectively facilitated discussion among designers and therapists. The results also indicated that these tools were especially beneficial for novice game designers. This work significantly promotes game design for BI rehabilitation by providing designers and therapists with easier access to the information about requirements in rehabilitation games. Additionally, this work modeled a novel research methodology for investigating domains where balancing the role of designers and other stakeholders is particularly important. Through a “practitioner-centered” process, this work also provides an exemplar of investigating technologies that directly address the information needs of professional practitioners.



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