Ludology, Ph.D. Adventures!

Good News Arrives! Sometimes Slowly… (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Wrap-Up)

After pitching a class I’ve been wanting to teach FOR YEARS it was REJECTED at near instant speeds because it was too technical (the need was for general games undergrad, not technical grad). My advisor had already kindly offered to help me co-design a class in case that one got rejected. So that’s what we did: created a brand new, never been taught before course, I pitched it to the director of EAE, and then we waited… and waited… and waited (there was also some praying involved)! I waited NINE long days post when I was told I would hear back. So maybe nine days doesn’t seem that long to you, but it is long when you are waiting (and praying) for good news! Well… it got ACCEPTED!

I am teaching Psychology of Games at the University of Utah for my favorite program: EAE! (Shhh! Don’t tell CS I said that!)

I’m like legit faculty! Just call me Professor Blackburn!

I am super stoked!

Since the class is new we get to play with the design of it quite a bit, but we already have the syllabus and readings down. Still a lot of work to do but it is going to be a killer class!

If you’re a student at the U definitely look into it! It’s going to be a fun class as we discuss the inner workings of our mind and how to use that knowledge to design stellar video games! We already have enrollments and it was just posted this morning!

More info is on the course webpage. To enroll use Class #19047 which will enroll you in EAE 4900-006 (all Special Topics courses have the same course number:4900, but different sections. Psychology of Games is section 006).

See you in class students! (That’s fun to say!)

Ph.D. Adventures!

Honoring My Accomplishments (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 6)


Decided to write. Caught up in grading for TA/TM responsibilities. Got very important house issues resolved. Helped kiddos with their schoolwork.

For the Interested Reader:


I considered skipping this week’s write-up because even though I did a lot, it wasn’t anything I felt I wanted to report on, and those things I would like to report on I didn’t get to. However, some weeks are just like that and I believe IT’S PERFECTLY OKAY! I want to acknowledge my accomplishments and honor my efforts.

There were several days last week that I woke up and knew I would just be on from morning until bedtime and that I didn’t have time for my self and goal dailies nor my workout. Some weeks and days are just like that! My advisor was clutch in helping me being able to manage my workload by taking on one of my shepherding teams for the VR course.

  • Research: read up on conceptual models and have considered a few for my theory.
  • TA: Completed grading of first large programming assignment — The professor thanked me for my hard work
  • TM: Did a bunch of assignment grading, course organization, project shepherding, and student calming.
  • Got our house warranty people to take us seriously. I requested a new representative who would take care of us and be professional and polite and now we get to work with their sales rep whom we’ve had very good experiences with. He got the important things taken care of for us right away.

I’ve been helping my daughter with her schoolwork, like helping her study for a test late last night. This last week I helped her make a board game and we both independently named it “Kittyland.” She’s a fairly good designer so I mostly helped her organize her ideas and get started. Here is her game design sketch and final product:

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Look into the publishing venue Rogelio mentioned to me last week.
  • Do grading for TM and TA
  • Return to my dailies and working out
  • Honor my accomplishments
  • Put these todos on my TODO board!


Right now I feel good, but I now motivation is difficult.

Learning how to organize my time so I can do my research, TA/TM responsibilities, goals, help with kiddos’ schoolwork, work on my projects/hobbies, and still have fun. I think I’m starting to hit my stride, and then I have to deal with a house crisis, or a kiddo school task. Being the mama is a lot of work. I’m kinda tired.

Here’s a serious roadblock though that I think is important to discuss: I have been very sad, dare I say depressed, this past week. I broke down and cried multiple times. There are some people in my house that are also very sad, possibly depressed, and as the leader I feel a responsibility to help them as much as I can. They are of course responsible for their own happiness, but I have felt it weigh very heavily on me this last week, and it made me very sad. It’s a roadblock because it’s important to deal with these serious emotions and that takes time too.

Game Dev Adventures!, Ph.D. Adventures!

I don’t wanna! (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 4)


PICKED A DIRECTION FOR MY RESEARCH THIS SEMESTER!!!!! I am going to work on writing a theory paper. I’m really excited. I also started doing 5 (instead of 15) minute goal dailies and continued my 3 minute self dailies which have really helped me manage my mood and stay a lot happier. I joined the GradSWE committee.

For the Interested Reader:


I realized late in the week that I didn’t want to do an assignment from my advisor, Dr. Rogelio, so it stopped me in my tracks on all things research. Finally, I decided to just start working on my research by doing what I want to do, doing something is better than nothing, and I got myself organized and started to get to work on my theory paper! It’s been so much FUN! I feel that my math degree was a long time ago, so I don’t remember a lot of details about how to solve specific problems. However, I am very good at how to solve problems and write proofs. It feels like I get to write one long proof which sounds very fun to me.

I had a math professor tell us that mathematicians spend months, even years or decades and a whole lot of paper trying to solve a problem, and then when they do they come out of their closets, he mimed a mathematician pointing to a paper, and they say, “See, it’s easy! It’s only six lines!” I’m in the closet phase of the research paper. That’s the fun part.

I also started programming again on a game which my Dad commissioned me to make back in 2014 (I made five whole dollars!). I made it in Unity 5, so I wanted to bring it up to date. I haven’t been able to get it updated to Unity 2019 LTS (Long Term Support), however after a week’s worth of work I was able to bring it up to 2018 LTS, though I am getting two errors in that version the game still works. It was quite the process. I tried porting it directly from 5 to 2019 but it was packed with errors. So then I ported it to 2017, made some updates, then 2018, made some updates, and finally last night I ported it to 2018 LTS, and made some updates!

My next step is to download an older version of 2019 and see if I can get the game working in that version of Unity. If I can do that it should be a much simpler task to update it to 2019 LTS. If that doesn’t work quickly I will be moving on to programming some new features for the fun casual game. I just heard about a competition that Unity is running and I might need to update it to 2020 even. It is unclear right now what I need to do for it, but I’ll make the changes as necessary.

I also took some time and drew out several design pages for the game. There is a lot I could add. So my next step on that one is to pick the most important features I want/need to add to the game, an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) if you will and implement them so I have something to submit to the competition.

I didn’t have a strong desire to participate in SWE, but when I heard about GradSWE, and after talking with the president, I decided to join the committee. I’m excited to see where it takes me.

What’s next

  • Do the programming assignment from my advisor
  • Theory paper:
    • Find papers for background information
    • Continue building my list of mapping items
  • Continue with 3 min self dailies
  • Complete all items on my 5 min goal dailies


I just need to do something I don’t want to do. I am kind of tired of writing algorithms that already exist in every game engine I will ever use, when what I really want to be doing is programming gameplay. I’m not saying it isn’t valuable to program these things, I’m just saying, I don’t wanna! Ha ha!


5 minute goal dailies

I just couldn’t get myself to even start on 15 minutes. It just felt so daunting. With six items on my list (research/writing, game development, learn interesting topic, challenge programming problems, a fun crafting project (I have a whole bin of started and want to start projects!), and then do ANYTHING F-U-N), doing 15 minutes each is 1.5 hours.

After not even doing a single thing on my list I finally decided to just start with five minutes, which would mean I would complete them all in 30 minutes, and voilà! I started on them! The idea is to spend at least five minutes and then up to 15 minutes on each item. However, I ended up spending 15, 30, even 60 minutes or more on the first two items and so found myself only getting to one or two of the other items on my list. But as the other items on my list were less urgent for me to get to, it was a good start!

The BEST news!

My daughter and son have been going to school on Mondays and Wednesdays and have been remote the other days. Well, next week my daughter starts M-Th in-person school, and the following week my son will be doing M-Th in-person school as well. I’m super excited! My daughter said she was more excited than me, but I’m not so sure… 😉

Ph.D. Adventures!

Starting Spring, in the winter… (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 4)


I started working with Dr. Eliane Wiese on designing and now jumping into a research project for the semester on how to improve educational technologies’ design. Rogelio helped me craft an awesome HPC-enabled long-term research project and apply for the DOE CSGF. I applied for an EPIC internship, I would like to apply for more local opportunities. I also moved my semester plan to Asana: making my weekly tasks and semester-length goals all visible in one place. 

For the Interested Reader:


Winter break was really fun, despite being ill for the entire month of December. I am feeling well again. Probably it was a side effect of being burnt out at the end of the last semester.

Eliane has been great to work with. She has taken into account the work I started with Rogelio last semester (the lit review) and has encouraged me to continue onward with that. We both discussed research goals for the semester and were able to create a research plan that satisfies both of our research goals and interests.

I was helping my little brother apply for full-time jobs and came across an internship opportunity for myself and so applied. I would like to get a local summer internship if possible or get research funding for the summer.

I applied for the DOE CSGF! It was a race to the finish line and there is no way I could have done it with my advisor’s, Rogelio’s, help, who is a CSGF alumni. I haven’t met anyone else, maybe Julian Togelius?, who has the combined expertise of game design, AI, and HPC knowledge to have helped me craft the research project that is HPC-enabled for the CSGF fellowship. Since I majored in math Rogelio let me choose my math courses for the plan of study. I wasn’t sure what would be best (having already studied probability and numerical analysis) so I gave my brother Elijah a call who got his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Turns out… Elijah is also a CSGF alumni! WHAT?! My mind is freaking blown!!

My semester plan is now digital. Last semester I had tasks and goals in at least three places digital and handwritten. It got hard, and a bit tedious to keep track of some things. I just did it last week. So far so good

I am really glad I decided to only take two classes this semester. Between being in two labs, course work, and important personal goals, I don’t have a lot of spare time. I had to tone down and reprioritize my goals for this semester, and with a maintenance goal of taking time each day to enjoy life (playing games, doing self-care), I am enjoying this semester much more than last. I have found that since I am so burnt out from last semester that taking time to play games has been very important. So I typically play games right when I wake up and have found I am waking up earlier because when I wake up I get to start my day with fun, and then I have time to do important tasks for the rest of the day. When I wake up and don’t let myself play I end up sleeping in instead, being unproductive, or worse, being grumpy. I also take a break when I get home, relax as much as possible between projects, and watch shows or read before falling asleep. It’s been working fairly well. 

What’s next

  • I have five readings from Eliane (one of them is from my lit review) that I need to glean design “theory” from (mostly hypothesis at the moment) this week
  • Course work
  • Celebrating my husband’s birthday
  • Update my website domain
  • Update my website portfolio
  • Apply more summer internships (looking local only for now)
  • Do some c++ prep since I haven’t been programming in c++ for a while
  • Maintenance goal: self-care and fun


Still recouping from burn out from last semester. Not sure how long that’ll take to recover from.

Not sure where to find local internships of interest for the summer.

Ludology, Ph.D. Adventures!

The AISL, Sickness, Arches, Campfire, and a Corn Maze! (Ph.D. Year 1, Fall Weeks 6-8)


AISL grant proposal won in the University of Utah competition. WAHOO!! Celebrate! Now we (Rogelio the PI and myself) need to write the full proposal. Need to complete my Hertz application, finalize my keywords for my systematic review, and lots of homework and an exam all need to be completed (or taken) all in the next eight days. Should be fun. 😉

Despite being sick, kept up with school work (at least the minimum required), and had a good fall break with camping and fires, Arches National Park, and a corn maze!

The Full Story:

An exam review, two weeks of sickness, and fall break made me miss the last couple updates. Here is my three-week catch-up.


I wrote up a draft for the AISL grant proposal for the University of Utah competition. Because we found out about it close to the deadline, my illness, and Rogelio’s own busy schedule, he took my draft and finalized it for submission (he is the PI on the grant as it is anyway). If you compare the two you can see my content throughout, just elevated, by a large margin. I’m excited to be working with someone who is such a good writer so I can learn from him. Oh yeah, our proposal was accepted! Now we write the full proposal. 😉 More on that later…

I did preliminary searches and read a previous literature review on educational game design and have found that no one has addressed my specific research question about educational game design, so I am moving forward with my research topic. It also fits very nicely into our AISL grant proposal.

I got sick but somehow managed to keep up with the MVP for my classes. My professors are all really kind and understanding. Hopefully, I will be nice professor one day.

Over fall break I specifically did not do anything school-related. I thought I might get bored, and I did start to, but then my husband decided we should go on an adventure after all, called his work and received the time off, and we headed down to Arches National Park for two nights! That meant we got to build two campfires! That was fun.

On Saturday we took the kids and their uncle Zeke, my younger brother, to a corn maze in Lehi, Utah. My husband’s favorite part was seeing how fast he could throw a baseball, my favorite part was seeing how good my soccer skills still are when kicking a ball at various targets, Mikey’s favorite was the zipline (despite hitting his head on the rope at the end), Uncle Zeke’s was lifting a 400 lb haystack (all by himself), and Chelsea’s favorite part was the corn maze. Gotta take time to have fun!

What’s next

In order of priority (for the next 1.5 weeks): finalize keywords for systematic review, finish Hertz application, keep up with classes (I’ve got a lit review, group project announcement, two-week homework assignment, multiple reading writeups, and an exam), and the AISL full proposal.

Also, try to get the rest of the way better. 


I’m still recouping from my two-week illness, still feeling sick, and having side effects from being sick so long and from all the medication. I’m back on herbal and essential oil remedies so the side effects should start subsiding. 

I really do not enjoy one of my classes — it is not related to my area of study and the class is mostly busywork. The professor himself even told me that last part before classes started– and it takes a very long time to do the homework assignments, so motivation is low.