Earlier today, Mark Barlet had a chance to interview Paul Pivec creator of the Digital Me App project. With the help of Paul’s Apps, the AbleGamers Foundation will be able to help even more individuals with disabilities at Expos around the country (and even the world) next year.
Mark Barlet: Paul, you have been a longtime friend to the AbleGamers Foundation, why is the cause of how people with disabilities interact with technology important to you?
Paul Pivec: I was doing a research project about 10 years ago, which involved designing games for students with Cerebral Palsy. I spent quite some time with these kids, some of them communicated with me through the use of a head-wand and voice machine, and I found the interaction and just getting to know them extremely moving and very emotional. I never did design any games for them. The results of my research highlighted that they just wanted to play the same games as everyone else. They needed the accessibility features, which back then, none of the games had. They wanted mainstream games to be accessible to them as well as everyone else. The same goals that your organization has today.
MB: I hear you have a new project in the works, what are you up to?
PP: I am still very passionate about using technology to help people, and being a software developer for many years, it was only natural that I still wanted to design games for something other than just entertainment. As you guys were addressing the issues of games for the physically disabled, my research moved in the direction of cognitive issues and how digital games fit in this area. For my master’s degree, I used Counter-Strike, a First Person Shooter, to demonstrate how immersive multiplayer games can accelerate cognitive learning. Then for my PhD thesis, I created a framework called recursive learning theory with enhanced game design. In simple terms, using a game-based framework, I can accelerate the improvement of your cognitive abilities 2.5 times over that of traditional methods. All based on scientific research and extensive trials. Hence, it follows that now I am done with all the academic stuff, I want to use this discovery where it will do the most good. That’s where the Digital Me project comes in.
MB: What is the end game with the project, what do you hope to accomplish?
PP: This technology could be used in several areas; to help kids with Autism, kids with ADHD, or even senior citizens with the onset of age, basically any area where people struggle with learning. However, because of the way it works, the design needs to be targeted to a specific audience. For the initial development, I have chosen children and teenagers with Cancer. Radiation and chemo therapy causes something known as late effects, and basically, the treatment that combats cancer also causes cognitive decline. These kids will struggle with cognitive abilities such as executive functioning and working memory skills. But with the Digital Me application and associated game framework, I can turn this around for them. These young people can use technology to boost their learning and do it in a fun way, and with no drugs.
MB: Is there a way that readers of AbleGamers.com can support this project, spread the word?
PP: As a society, we spend money in all the wrong areas. And as I am sure you know with your funding campaigns, it is not easy to change this trend. I have exhausted my own funds getting this far, but I need to finish what I started 10 years ago. We have created a crowd funding campaign in an attempt to make sure we get these apps developed and help kids now, not in the distant future. Many people believe and support what we are trying to accomplish, but getting the funds is always difficult. Crowd funding campaigns only work when they are promoted to a wide audience. We have a project website where people can donate (http://digitalme.piveclabs.com) and a Facebook page where you can spread the word, "Like" the project (http://www.facebook.com/DigitalMeProject), and help in whatever way you can. The project site details where the money will be spent, the timeline for development, the project supporters, and lots more. You can follow our progress from the development blog on the website, and follow us on Twitter (@DigitalMeApp). This is a worthwhile cause and I sincerely hope that others will believe in it too.
MB: What is next for you Paul?
PP: I am very passionate about making this succeed. If we don't get the funds, I will keep developing, but it will take a lot longer. Perhaps I can also get funding in other ways, I don't give up that easy and I will keep pushing. Ideally, this project will happen as planned, and then I can create new designs for kids with Autism and the other learning disabilities I mention earlier. Wouldn't that be wonderful?