Boma Jack

To many, the words “video game,” mean leisure, entertainment, even wasted hours sitting on the couch staring at a screen. Those individuals might be surprised at just how far “games” have come in recent years

That was true for Boma Jack, who went into the Simulation and Game Design program inspired by the role-playing games she loved as a youth. She imagined a career in traditional gaming, but her specialization as a 3D artist landed her somewhere unforeseen.

“There are so many things I’ve done that I never knew were possibilities before working in this field,” she remarks. “It’s been fulfilling to use my skill set in all kinds of different industries. My degree opened a lot of doors.” That work includes creating renderings used for historic preservation, real estate and film.

render of a character

As a 3D artist for Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Kata Project, Jack was part of an award-winning studio of engineers, game programmers, artists and health professionals learning how to implement gaming for stroke therapy. “We weren’t designing games for healthy people,” says Jack. “There’s a possibility of cognitive challenges, so simplicity is key.”

Interestingly, Kata’s immersive game experiences put players in the roles of animals, like “Lal the Dragon” (above). In one game, the patient is hooked up to a hand device, then is tasked with navigating a dolphin named Bandit through various aquatic environments. The idea is to engage various muscle groups and reconnect their links with the brain.

One of Jack’s favorite main characters is an axolotl. “She swims, she flies, she moves! I designed it to encourage patients to wiggle a lot, using a simple controller and joystick to stimulate different kinds of muscles.”

render of mushroom village

The aesthetic of the game, Jack mentions, borrows much from the famous world of Nintendo’s Mario Brothers (above). “Research shows that playful images and colors are more engaging—so we design our game with that in mind, for the look and feel. We want them engaged, even mesmerized, so they keep coming back for more.”

She believes other industries will embrace games moving forward. “Virtual reality and the metaverse have become increasingly important. Simulations are beneficial in so many ways because they save money and time. They can also potentially save lives.” She notes that games also provide a concrete system of rewards that can motivate users and reinforce their success, all on their own terms, and along the way, the experience is enjoyable.

For Jack, the memory of her first time seeing a patient experience a rehabilitation game is one she’ll never forget.

“They were genuinely smiling and having fun. Traditional physical therapy can be daunting, but if you can make it intriguing and entertaining, an hour passes like 10 minutes. That’s our goal. And seeing the patient’s face while I watched them play the game, in that moment I realized, yeah, I feel grateful for doing something that literally helps people get better and have fun at the same time.”

In addition to freelance writing, Tim Paggi works for Fusion Partnerships, Inc. in Baltimore and is a tour guide with Baltimore Ghost Tours.