Postgraduate Lives: 'I like to escape virtual reality into the real world'

Zsuzsi Pek is a mature student conducting a research PhD entitled Exploiting Entertainment Technology and Serious Games at the University of Warwick

I've done two MAs in different fields of study - in Eastern European studies and in screenwriting and screen research - and an MSc in IT for manufacturing. The area of research I have now moved into is where these subjects converge. Luckily, because Warwick is such a multidisciplinary place, people are receptive to new and exciting ideas, especially the engineers that I work with in the Warwick Manufacturing Group.

My PhD is about creating educational computer games that give people a chance to experience new things in a safe environment - programmes to teach young firemen how to deal with a terrorist attack, for example. The firemen can get some idea of how to cope in such a situation, and if they make a mistake, the worst thing that happens is the death of an avatar - a virtual character. It's a new form of training, which can save a lot of money. The US military spent $250 in 2002 on a three-week battle simulation. Now they've developed a computer game system that replicates this battle that cost $7m and can be reused.

These are games with non-entertainment goals. There is an HIV/AIDS prevention one from Switzerland called Catch The Sperm; there's one about a dinosaur called Bronkie that helps children and teenagers to manage their asthma. There's also a game that helps government workers in Massachusetts with budget planning.

We're interested in developing similar games, and programmes that can be used as emotional tools, for example to help you process the different stages of mourning.

People learn from the games in the same way that a child learns - by experience. A child may be told not to touch fire, but only really learns the lesson by getting burnt. Instinctual learning is deeper than book learning. The games are databases of human experience. Although the main objective is serious learning, the programmes work partly because they are entertaining. There now exists a game-literate generation for whom it's natural to learn in this way.

My expertise is narrative. We have links with major gaming companies. They develop prototypes, which I then test out. These projects need a mix of professionals - screenwriters, animators and psychologists. I teach as well, so I am able to test out some of my ideas on my students.

But my life isn't all based around research. I live in Birmingham and commute to Warwick. I like to get out of the virtual world and escape into the real world. In the evenings I go salsa dancing and at weekends enjoy hill-walking in the Cotswolds. I've also written a couple of screenplays: a historical epic about Hungary in 1956, and a dark comedy with a lot of CGI animation, from which my interest about the virtual world stems.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam