There are few academics who can say they started their research before even learning to read, but Kimberly Voll, a professor of game design and software engineering at the Vancouver-based Centre for Digital Media, can trace her academic passion back before preschool. “I was really lucky to be exposed to computers and games at a very young age. I was about two when I played my first video game on the old Atari 2600,” recalls Dr. Voll. “And when I was about five or six, I taught myself to program, just sort of pecking away, line by line.”
Today, Dr. Voll teaches game design, user experience and project management as part of the Centre for Digital Media’s Master of Digital Media program. The centre is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia Institute of Technology and Emily Carr University. Her current research is looking into virtual reality, particularly interface design. “How do you create presence? How does our brain work in such a way that we can trigger the feelings that allow us to situate ourselves in this room right now but in an artificial ways?” she asks.
As Dr. Voll pushes at the forefront of game design, she hasn’t forgotten her roots. An independent game developer, she released in May an early version of her new game ROCKETSROCKETSROCKETS with indie studio Radial Games. The game “is basically an arcade style, two-person shooter,” says Dr. Voll. “There’s a lot of my childhood inspiration in there.” Despite still being in development, the game won a Destructoid Best of PAX Award at Seattle gaming festival PAX Prime in September.
Dr. Voll also founded the organization iamagamer, which holds “gamer jams” that bring together game developers around issues of equality and diversity. Their first jam, in 2013, had developers make games that featured strong female protagonists. It proved far more popular than she anticipated: several hundred people from around the world participated both locally and remotely.