Friday, June 24, 2016

Educational Games: The Big Picture & G4C

Hello!  Just a quick note while I am at the Games For Change Festival.  Thank you all for coming to my talk. It was great to share some of the key insights from my research last year.

If you are interested in seeing all 5 research reports that were published on Games and Learning, they can be found here:

Also, check out Games and Learning's recommended sessions at the Games For Change Festival.

And a quick reminder about my upcoming game writing workshop this Monday, June 27, at PlayCrafting NYC, which will focus on writing for social impact games.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Return of the GDAM Podcast

If you did not know, Game Design Aspect of the Month (GDAM) started in 2009 as an initiative of the nascent IGDA Game Design SIG.  Topics were submitted and voted upon each month and then the entire month was devoted to that one game design topic.  The reasoning behind this was to encourage responses from the community to each other's articles and to really delve into a game design topic seriously.  In addition, each topic was accompanied by a podcast, whereby members of the community would get together and discuss the topic.

GDAM Podcasts are available for the following topics:

July 2009: Mature Games
August 2009: Single-Play Sessions
September 2009: Gaming The Game Developers (Part 1), Gaming the Game Developers (Part 2)

Although the production quality was low, the podcasts were popular.  However, handling the organization of a podcast each month was too much for me to handle on my own.  If anyone would like to help out in this endeavor, please let me know.  I would like to get this started up again, in some fashion or other.  It probably will not be on a monthly basis, though!

As you have probably noticed, though GDAM has maintained its original name, the monthly focus is no longer.  I still welcome articles and topic suggestions from the community but there is no longer the monthly poll.  However, I'd like to put up this poll as to what would be the topic of the next podcast.  Please look to the right to put in your vote!  

Your choices are: Leveling, Copycat Games, Forces of Nature, and No More War Games?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Doll Like Me: Disabilities in Games

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explores the nature of disability in video games.

After seeing this emotional video of a young girl receiving an American Girl doll with a prosthetic leg, I can see that character representations in games and toys do matter.  "A doll like me," the girl says, overcome with tears of joy.  It's only natural that a girl with a prosthetic leg would want a doll with a prosthetic leg.  Those with disabilities want their favorite toys to reflect their own lives.

Though this particular doll was modified pro bono by a different company, American Girl is no stranger to petitions to include the disabled.  In 2012, American Girl released a line of accessories such as wheelchairs, seeing eye dogs, walking canes, and crutches.

When I've had occasion to play with children online in games with character creation tools, I've found that they like to make characters that look like them.  They adjust skin tone as much as eye and hair color.  They want female characters to be in the game world as much as male characters.  I have never seen disabled characters as an option.  Granted, it might not fit in with the narrative fiction, but most games have fantasy elements (I'm counting even power fantasies), so why not an avatar in a wheelchair?

I know that there have been games made especially for the blind or for those with learning disabilities.  There have been games that try to make us feel like a schizophrenic or a depressed person.  A lot of developers are recognizing the need for accessibility options, whether it's a different color scheme for the colorblind or a way to customize keys.  These options concern disabled players, but what about disabled characters in games?

Among disabled game characters, there's been amputees who gained a high tech appendage or characters who viewed their disabilities as something to overcome.  I think I would prefer it if the stories didn't focus too much on their disabilities.  Perhaps the disability is even an advantage, much like in the movies Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral.  Those characters do have a back story about their disabilities, but they don't dwell on it.  Although their disabilities are obvious, they have accepted the way they are and the way life is for them.

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.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Upcoming: Games For Change Festival and Game Writing Workshop

Last year, the Games for Learning Summit was only open to a select number of invitees.  This year, it's a full-fledged track at the 13th Annual Games For Change Festival.  There'll be 2 days of panels, presentations, and workshops about game-based learning.  The Games For Change Festival will be held in New York City on June 23-24.

I'm pleased to announce that I will be speaking about the market for educational games on Thursday June 23, 2016 at 2:30 PM.  I feel so thrilled that I will have this opportunity to present research that I did for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

If you're a student, you're in luck because for a limited time G4C is offering a special discount for students, a price of $89.  The regular price is $379.  Go here and enter code ST89 if you're interested.

Indie developers can apply for the same discount here.  These will be awarded on a need basis.

And if you'll be sticking around for the weekend, I will be holding a special "social impact games and learning games' edition of the Game Writing Portfolio Workout the following Monday, June 27, 2016 at 6:30 PM at Microsoft NYC.

Register here for early bird tickets of $25.

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. Her game credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner, Terminus, and 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, Serious Play Conference, and Serious Games Summit D.C.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Forced Failure in SPENT

In this article, game designer Sande Chen examines the role of agency in the social impact game, SPENT.

Last year, an article in Psychology Today made the rounds, declaring that social impact games may have a less than desired effect.  Based on her study of adult players of SPENT, a text-based poverty simulator made by ad agency McKinney with input from the Urban Ministries of Durham, Yale researcher Gina Roussos found that some participants ended up with increased negative feelings towards poor people instead of empathetic concern.

On the surface, this would seem to contradict an earlier study on SPENT that did show that SPENT increased affective learning in students.  Affective learning involves feelings, motivations, attitudes, and values.  However, that study was not about measuring negative or positive attitudes, but rather about active engagement.  The game encouraged these students to think about issues, which in turn had the possibility to engender attitude adjustment or a change in behavior.

Roussos attributed her surprising results to the agency, or choices allowed, in video games.  Because players have agency, she reasoned that players might feel that poor people have control over their life situations, even if in reality, they don't.  However, while she may feel that there's agency in SPENT, I found that there's examples of forced failure all over SPENT.  For example, just because I talked to a union rep in the game, I was illegally fired from my warehouse job. Forced failure is extremely tricky in game design, especially since the end result is that it usually pisses off your players.

Moreover, I did not feel that SPENT was entirely accurate.  Most states would have Medicaid for the indigent, so why would I have to pay for health insurance?  If I went to college, why are my job options so limited?  If I just abandoned my car, why would I need to pay for car insurance?  I spent more time pissed off at the game than caring about poor people.  Factoids pop up frequently, making SPENT an extremely preachy game.  I did "win" in that I ended up with $72 at the end of the month, but the game then reminds me that my $808 rent is due tomorrow.  Um, forced failure?

One resentful user wrote:
"Why do I have a student loan? Was I unaware of the Pell Grant? Was I not good enough for scholarships? Did I refuse to live with my parents until graduation? 
Where did this child come from? I’m not married, and I don’t seem to be getting child support. I can’t fathom why I apparently have this kid. 
Why do I HAVE to have a car? Why is my cell phone so expensive? Why is my landlord above the law? Why am I not just living in Section 8 housing? 
This game is absolutely ridiculous, and all it showed me was that the average person is trying to live beyond their actual means."
Rather than too much personal agency, SPENT doesn't have enough agency. It doesn't have enough choices.  It doesn't have enough depth.

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, May 4, 2016

Adventures in Game Writing PAX East Panel

In this video, game writer/designers Leah Miller, Cohen Edenfield, James Pianka, Sande Chen, John Ryan, and Nicole Kline share stories from the frontlines of game development.

Did you miss the PAX East panel, Adventures in Game Writing?

Adventures in Game Writing Panelists

Adventures in Game Writing
PAX East, April 22, 2016

Ever wonder what it’s like to write for games? Join us for a conversation about the methods and philosophies of writing and narrative design. Our eclectic group of panelists have worked on giant AAA titles like Destiny, The Witcher, and the indiest of tabletop games, in roles that include everything from Lead Writer to Customer Service Representative. We’ll talk about the realities of the industry today and speculate wildly about the future of storytelling.

Leah Miller [Writer and Designer, Independent]
Cohen Edenfield [Lead Writer, What Pumpkin?]
James Pianka [Narrative Designer, Firefly Games]
Sande Chen [Writer and Designer, Independent]
John Ryan [Writer and Narrative Designer, Independent]
Nicole Kline [Game Designer, Cardboard Fortress Games]

I found this recording from Blackman 'N Robin and if you know of other podcasts or recordings of the panel, let me know! This video had some technical issues and got cut off, and I think maybe my microphone wasn't working. Oh no!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Upcoming Workshop in Game Writing May 2!

Woo!  Who would have thought there would be a fifth installment for Game Writing Portfolio Workout?  I know, I thought last time would be the last one, but now I have an upcoming workshop on May 2nd at Microsoft NYC in Times Square.  If this keeps up, I may develop this into a longer series.

If you'd thought about writing for video games or even if you are a practicing game writer, come join me in this fun community event. No experience is required, though it is helpful. Participation in the earlier workouts are not needed to understand what's going on, but you do get a broader sense of what is the craft of game writing if you have attended the earlier sessions.

As always, the event is held through Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development. Early Bird tickets start selling now.  Please bring a laptop or notepad, some way to do some writing!

About Me 

My background is a mixture of theatre, film, journalism, economics, and writing. I received a S.B. in Writing and Humanistic Studies (now the major of Comparative Media Studies) at MIT and then I specialized in Screenwriting at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. My first published game as a writer was on the epic space combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival. Afterwards, I worked on the episodic fantasy series Siege of Avalon, MMO Wizard101, and the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher, for which I was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. I currently head the WGAE Videogame Writers Caucus and am SIG leader of the IGDA Game Design SIG.