Saturday, May 20, 2017

In 2 Days! Designing Games For Impact

My class, Designing Games For Impact, continues on Monday, May 22.  In the previous classes, we have concentrated on emotional impact and persuasive techniques.  As I alluded to in recent articles, "VR: The Ultimate Empathy Machine?" and "Issues About Impact," we'll be discussing the quality of empathy and impact we are trying to achieve.  For us to even think about measuring impact, we need to first agree what it is we want! You'd be surprised how often goals can get mixed up and target audiences can be overlooked.

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:  Monday, May 22, 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.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

When It's Not Punny Anymore

In this article, game writer Sande Chen explains why puns, cultural references, and jokes in games are not always appreciated.

[Warning:  This article contains spoilers for The Secret of Monkey Island and Game of Thrones.]

As writers, we love our wordplay, our rosy-fingered dawns, our puns, alliterations, similes, and metaphors.  They can breathe life into an otherwise dull descriptive passage.  However, culturalization experts in games know that localizing these efforts can be a difficult process.  A lot can get lost in translation, especially if a game's solution hinges upon this wordplay.  A very famous example comes from The Secret of Monkey Island, which not only had to be altered to avoid offending Japanese dairy farmers, but also stumped Brits who had no idea what were monkey wrenches. (They are called gas grips there.)

Professor Clara Fern├índez-Vara points out in her article, "The Secret of Monkey Island: Playing Between Cultures," that the phrase "red herring" has no added meaning in Spanish as it does in English.  In another passage, she explains why the "root beer float" joke falls flat because there is no root beer in Spain.  Understanding these cultural references would have aided in her gameplay.  Unfortunately, the cleverness of the wordplay was not able to be conveyed through literal translation.

Recently, in my Game Writing Primer class, we discussed the character Hodor and the circumstances of his Hodor-ing that came to light in the Game of Thrones episode, "The Door."  It's certainly an a-ha moment when heard in English, but how did the other languages fare? Some translators had it easy.  "Hold the door" sounded like Hodor in their languages.  Others were able to find similar Hodor sounds but for different phrases such as "Block the horde" or "Don't let them go outside!"  But in some countries, like Japan, the wordplay was simply too difficult a task and was not included in the translation.

Although books, movies, and TV shows are routinely translated and subtitled, it's different in a game when a narrative puzzle can depend on a pun the player does not understand.  Even when it's not gameplay sensitive, I still tell my students to carefully consider localization efforts when writing a 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, April 27, 2017

Upcoming Workshop: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Writing


Writing For Sci-Fi Fantasy Horror Game Worlds











Hi! We're now in the second week of the longer PlayCrafting NYC course, Game Writing Primer, and I am looking forward to playing all the story-based games produced in the course. Since it's been a while since the last Writing For Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Game Worlds, I'd thought it would be fun to do this workshop again.

If you're interested in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror and want to populate your game world with monsters, creatures, aliens, fantastical beasts, and otherworldly cultures, you can benefit from this participatory workshop. Tickets sold here.

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, has Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price.
 
Come and write!
Date:  Monday, May 1, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM 
Place: Microsoft NY, 11 Times Square

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 am a founding member of the IGDA Game Design SIG.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Serious Games vs. Gamification

In this article, game designer Sande Chen illuminates the differences between serious games, edutainment, and gamification. 

Recently, I read an e-learning industry expert's opinion on "games disguised as a teaching method" and why the tried-and-true colorful comical characters of edutainment might work better for Pre-K. Studies on distraction and attention do point out that young children have difficulty focusing, but I wonder, does edutainment distract children more than it educates? And while there are no doubt popular sites serving up chocolate-covered broccoli, I think it's important to note that there is a distinction between game-based learning and edutainment-type games or even gamification.  Not all educational games are drill and practice, i.e. "games disguised as a teaching method." 

An example of a leaderboard
In 2013, at the Serious Play Conference, I explained the differences in the presentation, "What's in a Name? Serious Games vs. Gamification." Serious games, and all its variations on a name, such as social impact games, games for good, persuasive games, learning games, etc, is not a term interchangeable with gamification. There is confusion and understandably so, because both appear to be methodologies that incorporate gameplay mechanics to increase user motivation, to solidify learning objectives, and to encourage overall engagement.

However, while serious game makers use game technology, processes, and design to solve problems or explain issues in traditionally non-entertainment markets, gamification experts are interested in the motivating power of game elements, like leaderboards, badges, and a points system, usually as a way to promote engagement with a product or service.  These game elements would be tacked on without regard to an overall game. There may be no game at all. For instance, on a gamified site, a user might receive 30 points or a badge for posting a note on the site's forums as a way of onboarding. On a learning site, a child may have to do 10 math problems for a badge or prize.

Edutainment is merely dressing up what would be a problem set, usually with an animated cartoon character. Math Blaster even has math problems inside the game, which the student would have to solve in order to save the galaxy. It doesn't explain the math problems or explain why there are math problems in space or how math problems save the galaxy. In short, the gameplay itself is not about math, but window dressing to make a math problem more palatable.  This is very different from a resource management game like Dragonbox BIG Numbers, which tries to explain the process of subtraction through gameplay.

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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Our 2nd GDSIG Mentor AMA next week!

IGDA Game Design Special Interest Group News!


We will be holding our 2nd GDSIG Mentor AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Saturday, April 15, from 6 PM to 8 PM Eastern time zone. Game Designer Daniel Harrison, who worked on Naughty Dog's Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, will be on hand to answer questions about system design, breaking into the industry, maybe even AI! Daniel Harrison has bachelor degrees in computer science and psychology and a masters in game design.

This time around, the GDSIG Mentor AMA will be held on Discord, since we thought it would be better for the guest to be speaking rather than typing (like last time on Slack).

If you want to participate in the GDSIG Mentor AMA events, you'll need to join the IGDA Game Design SIG Facebook group for the event notifications. It's free and open to everyone, provided you follow the guidelines.  The IGDA is an international, non-profit organization whose mission is to advance the careers and improve the lives of game developers. GDSIG has weekly game design exercises and houses game design documents from various games. Keep up to date with current competitions, submissions, and news.

We are continually striving to improve the Mentor AMA event.  Let us know if you have any feedback or if you'd like to participate as a mentor!


Friday, March 31, 2017

VR: the Ultimate Empathy Machine?

In this article, game designer Sande Chen recognizes the issues with using virtual reality to promote empathy and social impact.

Virtual reality has been hailed the "ultimate empathy machine." Teachers and researchers certainly believe that the immersive VR experiences will make players empathize with the plight of others, such as that of refugees, the disabled, or other disadvantaged groups. However, as Yale Professor of Psychology Paul Bloom cautions in "It's Ridiculous to Use Virtual Reality to Empathize with Refugees," the type of empathy VR generates in players may be misleading.  For one, he points out, while VR may be good at simulating environments, it doesn't replicate the psychological forces of powerlessness, despair, and oppression.  A player can step out at any time and doesn't have to face a reality where the country has been torn apart by war and none of the player's relatives have made it out alive.

In fact, the player can have a level of comfort in knowing that the unpleasant situation is short-lived. Journalists who volunteered to be waterboarded reported that the experience was unpleasant, but their experience was not accompanied by imprisonment and torturers who won't stop when asked. Other times, short-term experiences give a flawed impression to players. As Dr. Arielle Michal Silverman related in "The Perils of Playing Blind: Problems with Blindness Simulation and A Better Way to Teach About Blindness," players wrongly projected their own negative feelings of suddenly becoming blind to the daily experience of living with blindness.

Of course, there have been simulations without VR or even digital applications. There have been games about blindness, such as Blindside, and games to simulate what it's like to have schizophrenia or depression. It's natural to be excited about the next big thing and the level of immersion that VR gives could lead to amazing educational experiences. VR can certainly help in depicting different countries and scenarios, but will it translate into social impact? Research is ongoing.

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, March 23, 2017

Panel Tonight and Next Monday Game Writing


So many things happening this week!  As part of PlayCrafting NYC's celebration of Women's History Month, I will be on the Women in Games panel tonight at Microsoft NY.  Free admission and pizza.  Come see and play demos from local female developers.  We will be talking about inclusivity for women in the game industry.

Next week, of course, I will be part of the free information session and mini-expo next Thursday, March 30 on PlayCrafting's longer courses, including the new 4-week Game Writing Primer.

But let's not forget about Game Writing Portfolio Workout happening Monday, March 27! If you want to see what the life of a free-lance game writer is like, come to this workshop for a deep dive into typical game writing tasks.  These sessions were considered the most valuable of this series.  You'll be writing continually, so be sure to bring a laptop or notepad.

Here's what a former student has said about Game Writing Portfolio Workout:
"This is so far best one of the Playcrafting workshops. The teacher was funny, incredibly knowledgeable and shared the best insider's secrets!"
Come and write!
Date:  Monday, March 27
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM 

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

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.