Games Games Games

Playing for work, it turns out, is both rewarding and completely exhausting. I found this out first-hand after a double dose of games workshops this week.

First, I attended the “level up” workshop which focused on Aris, an open-source iOS game generator. I got to develop a game in a team with other profs. Our game was an intro to UMW aimed at incoming freshmen. Other teams went in different directions, with the win, in my mind, going to Walking Fred: zombies and explosives, what’s not to love? Working on game development, I was reminded how much I enjoy collaboration. That said, I was also reminded why I’m not made out to be a programmer: I was a zombie myself after those two days. (Mmmmmmm. Brains.)

I’m really impressed with Aris generally: having a free, accessible game development tool for educational institutions and nonprofits is wonderful. It’s challenging but not impossible to learn, and is flexible for a wide array of uses. That said, I don’t think I will be using a game like Aris in my courses anytime soon. First, the software is just too buggy for me. Second, the time needed to develop a game is not inconsequential. Yes, we made fun little demos in a day, but making a fully-functional game with any replay value would be much more time consuming. Most of all, as of right now, I think I can make fun and effective games for students in a more low tech way. In fact, I already do.

Game Camp
I got to design a t-shirt, too! Yay, “productive” procrastination.

After a day to try to catch up on other stuff, Mary Kayler and I led the second faculty game camp, focusing mostly on non-computer based games. After last year’s feedback, we changed the program a little, shifting activities from game discovery to more prototyping. On day 1, we had a LEGO build. This was the first time the (my?) new LEGO setup was used. So first, let me name this thing once and for all. “LEGO cart of awesomeness” is a mouthful and LEGO HOARD is a bit aggressive-sounding. What about “mobile build lab” or MBL for short? Too pompous? Let me know what you think in the comments. Anyway, workshop participants got about an hour to build whatever they wanted, preferably related to their field. I had already high hopes, which were blown away by the quality of the ideas produced. Some were basically ready for the classroom right out of the gate.

The afternoon of day 1 allowed me to do one of my favorite things: introduce people to Settlers of Catan. IMO, it should be required for all people to learn this game. Of course, as an urban planner, I’m biased, but I’ve loved the game since way before career choices came into the mix. What other game allows you to learn about resource management and growth while also encouraging childish riffs about sheep? None, that’s how many.

If day 1 felt successful, day 2 was more mellow but also more focused. Everyone worked on their own idea for an in-class game. Mary and I gave some ideas and direction, but let people explore their ideas. Again, the results went further than what I had expected, and I’ll look forward to see what faculty participants make of this in the fall. Looks like some of their ideas will be relatively easy to implement.

I’m now recovering from a week of nonstop games. Even my daily threes habit has taken a hit. I’m mentally exhausted, but also re energized: clearly, people are doing very cool gamification stuff at UMW. I’m feeling challenged to up my game, too. (Was that a pun? I must really be tired to resort to that.) This week, I start teaching HISP 101. The summer session format often allows me to experiment, so this year, I’ll try for even more games.

Game on! (after a nap, that is)

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