Friday, February 17, 2017

"Learnification" vs. Gamification

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explains the process of "learnification," as opposed to gamification.

In my last article, I described a reversed process for connecting emotionally with an audience.  Similarly, in my research reports, "The Merging of Entertainment and GBL" and "Facing Edutainment's Dark Legacy," published on Games + Learning, I approached learning games from another point of view, namely entertainment.  Rather than gamifying learning, we would be, in the words of Kuato Studios, engaged in "learnification."

What does this mean?  As I mentioned in my chapter on serious games in the book, Writing for Video Game Genres, subject matter experts are under no obligation to make the material "fun."  Often times, an educational game developer is given a set list of learning outcomes that need to be covered.  However, creating a game straight from a lesson plan may lead to poor gameplay.  If the game's not fun, then how is it going to get kids to play?

Prioritizing education over entertainment may not be the answer, but the reverse, prioritizing entertainment over education, may be the key.

It's ironic, but true:  Like I wrote previously, "Kids would rather play an entertainment title over an educational one, even if that entertainment game makes them learn astrophysics."

Hence, "learnification" is about ensuring an enjoyable game has teachable moments.  I find that it's also important to note that one game may not be able to hit all of the listed learning outcomes.  It helps to focus in on what's the most important point to be conveyed in this game and make sure the gameplay reinforces this point.

So, while gamification may have its merits, "learnification" may get better results.  Just remember, if our intention is to have kids play learning games to learn, then first the kids have to want to play the game.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Emotion, Reverse Engineered

In this article, game designer Sande Chen looks at how storytelling is used in marketing to create emotional connection with audiences.

What does 'storytelling' mean to you?

It's curious to parse the exact meaning of words, but as we know from comparing the game industry to the tech sector, even job titles don't exactly mean the same from one company to the next.

I noticed a similar disconnect when I attended a storytelling event last year.  The first speaker was a game design professor who spoke eloquently about storytelling in games while the second speaker, a marketer, spoke about storytelling in a very different way.  A marketer is more interested in how the audience connects with a brand and it's the brand story that needs to be repeated.  But, both game designers and marketers recognize that storytelling has the power to connect with an audience through emotional means.

I think most writers strive to connect emotionally on a universal level. By that, I mean even if the nitty gritty details are about life in a slum, people can still recognize a story about perseverance, about rising above poverty and succeeding.  Marketers, though, tend to craft a message or story based on the preferences of the target audience.  A marketer asks, "What already resonates with my audience?" rather than trying to elicit emotion anew.  Then, the marketer provides the story that fits the target audience.

For example, AI software can analyze social media texts to determine personality traits like "adventuresome," "achievement striving," and "openness to change."  If the brand's story is about "achievement striving," then targeting the "achievement striving" results in 30% more engagement and sentiment.  If the target audience now associates the brand to an "achievement striving" lifestyle, that's a success.

In fact, social psychologists say that it may be hard to connect with audience members with different viewpoints from the author.  In analyzing liberals and conservatives, Professor Matt Feinberg and sociologist Robb Willer found that liberals value benevolence, nurturance, equality, and social justice whereas conservatives prize highly group loyalty, authority, and purity.  So, the thought of garbage left in a forest resonates more strongly with a conservative than the devastation on wildlife due to deforestation. By understanding these differences, a writer can reframe the message to the audience's moral values.

By writing this piece, I don't mean to suggest that we should all start writing to the audience.  After all, creative work can have different audience interpretations.  I just think it's interesting to note how a related field tackles the issue of how to create emotional connection in storytelling.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

GDSIG Mentor Ask Me Anything

IGDA Game Design Special Interest Group News!



Last weekend, we held our first GDSIG Mentor AMA (Ask Me Anything) with game designer Ian Schreiber, who currently teaches at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).  He is the co-author of 2 books,  Challenges for Game Designers and Breaking Into the Game Industry.  Ian Schreiber was also a featured speaker during our Webinar series in 2014.

You can find some of his writing here, on Game Design Aspect of the Month.
The transcript for Mentor AMA event is currently housed here, but we will be seeking a more appropriate location, most likely within our Facebook space or on the GDSIG page on the IGDA site.

I encourage all of you to visit or join the GDSIG Facebook community.  Starting this year, we have weekly game design exercises and game design discussion questions.  In the Files section of the group are game design documents from various games.  We'll be holding our yearly roundtable at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March 2017 and will be posting agenda items.  Keep up to date with current competitions, submissions, and news.

If you are interested in being a mentor, please let us know!  We will be planning the next Mentor AMA in the coming months.




Monday, January 23, 2017

Danielle's Inferno: To Hell and Back

In this article, game designer Sande Chen takes a look at the game, Danielle's Inferno, from One More Story Games.

Greetings!  So sorry for the delay.  I was not among the souls who boarded Flight 666 bound for HEL on Friday the 13th, but I did get to visit a personal hell of sorts. The 9 levels of hell, to be exact, depicted in Danielle's Inferno, the game adaptation of the short story by Olivia Rivard. Released last December by One More Story Games, Danielle's Inferno was adapted by William Hiles and Blair Leggett using the company's proprietary software, Story Stylus. Luckily, I already had some experience with existential journeys from visiting the Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa, a Singaporean theme park about Chinese mythology.

Pudding the hellcat

The quirky vision of hell's circles portrayed in Danielle's Inferno is not as gruesome as the Ten Courts of Hell, which (students beware!) vividly prescribed eternal evisceration for exam cheaters and plagiarists.  Rather, aided by no-nonsense spirit animal Pudding, the player descends into the 9 circles of hell of Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery, featuring demon waiters with Poors Light, the Lucifer-approved beer of Hell, and upwardly mobile demon workers ho-humming through BDSM whipping, gluttonous force-feeding, metamorphosing sinners into shit, your basic flaming pyres, and the like. The player must solve a puzzle and get through fart and elimination jokes to get to the next level.

It's a point-and-click adventure, but I would call Danielle's Inferno point-and-click adventure lite, because so much of it is text instead of AWSD action.  It's the next step after a visual novel and seems geared to players who are taking the leap from linear to non-linear media.  For instance, the limbo level gently guides the player through a hidden object clickfest to introduce the basics of what players need to do in further levels, but to the more savvy player, this is rather tiresome, especially when the interface with its inventory and Combine Items functionality clearly indicates that the platform has a lot more potential than a hidden object game.  There is mostly branching narrative that goes to the same outcome no matter the choice, but new conversations open up based on player actions and the branching does lead to additional dialog.  The key to Danielle's Inferno is exploration and that's really where the game shines.

So much of the enjoyment of Danielle's Inferno is from reading item descriptions.  Click on rocks, signs, clouds, whirlpools, oil slicks, etc. The background is full of new surprises. The limited sound effects and music also add ambiance.  I especially enjoyed the puzzle where I had to find Cerberus' doggy toys.  I played detective as I badgered demon waiters for clues.  In a later level, there is a logic puzzle. 

While Danielle's Inferno does not showcase the interactive dialog or the combine items puzzles of a traditional adventure game, the Story Stylus platform has that potential and indeed, there are other games from One More Story Games that go in that direction. Danielle's Inferno is more simple in story structure and may have more text than necessary, but what it does, it does well. For players who enjoy visual novels or point-and-click adventures but want a short complete game to play in an afternoon's time, Danielle's Inferno fills that void.

I would also add that I don't think Danielle's Inferno is appropriate for children. Even though it's mostly text, there are sexual themes and violence. And Hitler.  It's rated age 13+, but parents should play through first and decide.

For teachers who may be interested in using Story Stylus in classrooms to teach Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, check out One More Story Games' pilot program. Games in Ye Olde Classroom.

[Disclaimer:  I received a download code for the game from the developer as a gift. I was not obligated to provide a review. The above is my unbiased opinion. I may have future affiliation with the developers since I am evaluating the platform for my own game development purposes and may be listed on the site as a storyteller.]

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Upcoming Class: Designing Games For Impact

Photo: Lalesh Aldarwish
My class, Designing Games for Impact, continues next Wednesday on January 11.  Last time, we discussed PSAs, social impact games, and the art of persuasive messaging.  This second session will focus on how to deliver emotional impact and create more meaningful games. 

Whether you are an entertainment developer who wants to add another layer to gameplay and story or an activist or educator who wants to reach out through video games, together we'll discuss different methodologies to achieve your goals.

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, offers Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price. 

The details!
Designing Games For Impact
Date:  Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM

About Me 

Sande Chen is the co-author of Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. As a serious games consultant, she helps companies harness the power of video games for non-entertainment purposes. Her career as a writer, producer, and game designer has spanned over 15 years in the game industry. Her game credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus, MMO Hall of Fame inductee Wizard101, and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher, for which she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. She has spoken at conferences around the globe, including the Game Developers Conference, Game Education Summit, SXSW Interactive, Serious Play Conference, and the Serious Games Summit D.C.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Game Designer at the Game Jam

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the role of the game designer at game jams and describes her first experience at Global Game Jam.

Happy Holidays!  As 2016 winds down, let's look forward to renewing our commitment to becoming better game designers in the New Year.  Specifically, I encourage everyone to attend Global Game Jam (GGJ), the world's largest game jam event.  It's happening January 20-22, 2017 and is the perfect opportunity to meet people in the industry and to challenge yourself.  If you're in New York City, then PlayCrafting NYC and Microsoft are again teaming up to serve as an official site. Be sure to take a look at this advice on how to be successful at game jams.

Although Global Game Jam has been around since 2009, I admit last January was my first time there. I guess I had always been intimidated.  I had heard stories that teams were pre-formed or that if you were a game designer or writer, you might have some difficulty latching on to a team.  Definitely, if you are a designer who knows your way around Unity or other applications, you'll have an easier time of it.  As it happened, I saw a friend at the game jam and while there was some "Oh I already promised I'd be in this group" going on, my friend and I still were able to form a team.  We didn't have a phalanx of programmers and artists, so I just had to design based on what were our capabilities.

In actuality, I think everyone on the team contributed to the design and the polish.  On the first day, after the introductions and discussion, I knew we had to lock down the basic idea and go with it.  I did research on the idea and wrote an initial game design document.  The plan was to make a functional demo in less than 2 days (because we would not be staying overnight and working non-stop.)

Although some game design questions did crop up in the remaining time, I did see that my role made a transition to producer, as I became more involved in making cuts to the design and reminding teammates to keep focused.  I was very careful to keep the vision intact.  I wanted very much to get the game on a tablet but in the end, we made do with a laptop that had touch functionality. 

After the demo night, I was asked to put together a little segment on the inspiration behind our GGJ 2016 demo for Major Nelson's Recap of the NYC Global Game Jam Microsoft site.  Here is our offering, Dance of Love, based on the word "RITUAL."

 

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Choice For Female Characters Part II

In this article, game writer Sande Chen looks at new data from a study on gender representation in media and again calls on content creators in the game industry to make a choice to include more female characters in their games.

It's been a while since I wrote this post about gender diversity in games. I remember a certain pushback from members of the game development community who felt somehow that a call for gender diversity, or any kind of diversity, was impinging on their personal expression.  They felt like they shouldn't have to sacrifice their creative vision for the sake of diverse representation.

However, I didn't quite see how deciding that a bit-part NPC Doctor #2 would be a female doctor or composing a crowd scene to have more female faces would make much difference to their original vision.  It's simply about reflecting the real world and in the real world, there are female doctors and there are females in crowds.  Yet, in the strange skewed zone of pretend worlds, as the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has shown, females are underrepresented.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it makes an impact on the psyches of young girls, who subconsciously get the message that females are invisible.

On the flip side, when there are empowering female heroines in media, young girls respond with emulation.  Because of the popularity of The Hunger Games series, Brave, and Game of Thrones, the sport of archery has seen a boost among teenage girls. Archery memberships purchased by women shot up by 105% in 2014.  As the Geena Davis Institute says, "If she can see it, she can be it."


Photo by Hayden Beaumont
Photo by Hayden Beaumont
At the 4th Global Symposium on Gender in Media on September 22, 2016, held at Google in New York City, a new software tool developed by researchers at USC Viterbi School of Engineering using Google's machine learning technology was unveiled.  This automated system, known as the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient (GD-IQ), tracks speaking times and screen time using face-tracking algorithms and audio analysis.  It allowed researchers to quickly and efficiently analyze the top grossing (non-animated) films of 2014 and 2015.

Their research showed that in 2015, male characters generally spoke twice as much as female characters and received twice as much screen time.  Specifically, in box office hits with male leads, male characters spoke and appeared three times more often, and even in films with female leads, male characters spoke and received as much screen time as female characters.  In films with both female and male leads, male characters still received significantly more screen time.

But was this because male characters bring in more box office revenue?  Not exactly.  On average, 2015 films with female leads earned 15.8% more than films with male leads.  Films with both female and male leads earned 23.5%
more than films with male or female leads alone.

I'd like to emphasize that no one thinks that creators are purposefully creating male-dominated crowd scenes or actively trying to exclude female characters.  Rather, it's a subconscious societal bias that we as a community can start to notice and rectify.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.