Wednesday, May 27, 2020

GamerJibe How to Break Into the Gaming Industry Panel

In this panel, Hitmarker Managing Director Richard Huggan, Games Provision Manager Bradley Austin, and game designer Sande Chen dispense advice for aspiring eSports athletes and game developers interested in entry level positions and remote opportunities in the gaming industry.

This one-hour long panel titled, "How to Break Into the Gaming Industry," was streamed during GamerJibe's May 2020 Career Fest for Students and Gamers and covered a variety of topics including social media presence, networking, portfolios, development bootcamps, and university degrees. Learn what sectors are growing and how to get involved in the game industry.

Do you have to be a gamer to be in the game industry?




Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Social Distancing Game For Children

Apologies for not updating the blog! My area of the world is still in quarantine, but we are hoping to reopen soon. During this hiatus, I participated in panels at LudoNarraCon: A Digital Festival Celebrating Narrative Games and GamerJibe's May 2020 Career Fest for Students and Gamers. That event is still going on, if you want to hop in with an avatar and meet recruiters in a 3D world. Very neat!

I have been at home with a kid and like many parents, am wondering how to explain this new reality to my child. I've enjoyed the Kids' Edition of NBC Nightly News, but here's a way to explain the whys of social distancing in a cute, browser-based game called, Can You Save the World? 

Created especially for children by psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of  Hertfordshire, the free game has racked up more than 10,000 playthroughs in its first two days of release. The premise is simple: the player walks down the street while keeping away from other people, collecting face coverings, and avoiding sneezes. The score tallies up the estimated lives saved.

If you want to check out the gameplay, it's here:


As Professor Wiseman says in a BBC interview, "you're learning through doing, which is far more memorable than another doom and gloom message." That is exactly the promise of game-based learning!

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, March 11, 2020

Fight the coronavirus by playing this game!

In this article, game designer Sande Chen reports on the game industry's efforts to combat the coronavirus and solve the logistical fallout from the pandemic. 

As industry trade shows like E3, GDC, and SXSW are canceled due to concerns over COVID 19 and game production delays are occurring over supply disruptions, the researchers at University of Washington responsible for the game FoldIt have released a new puzzle aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus.

Such games are known as citizen science games because members of the public, as citizen scientists, can help scientific efforts. There are many instances, as in the game FoldIt, where humans are much better at finding solutions than computers.




As schools and colleges go online and employees work remotely, I hope that we will be able to see more virtual conferences such as not.GDC, happening at the same week as the canceled event.  Indie developers affected by the cancellations and the inability to pitch games can find assistance at the GDC Relief Fund.

The IGDA Game Design SIG had been slated to have a roundtable at the Game Developers Conference this year entitled "Designing Non-Toxic Communities (Presented by the IGDA)" and a social meeting. We hope that we can discuss this issue on the IGDA Twitch channel in the coming months.

There is also an effort to provide a back-up plan for the US election should quarantine be needed in November. If you'd like to participate, sign up at Save the Election.

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.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Your Opinions Wanted on New York Regents Exams

In this article, game designer Sande Chen wonders if game-based learning and assessment can replace or supplement standardized tests.

The standard in assessment for high school students in New York, the Regents exams, are up for review this month. Educators, parents, students, and the general public can give their feedback on whether New York should change its graduation requirements at meetings in March across the state. Those who can't make the meetings can offer their opinion on the online survey here. Of concern is whether or not the New York Regents exams should be replaced or modified.

Do the Regents exams even reflect the 21st-Century skills students need? Some attendees at a recent meeting wondered if portfolios or projects can be submitted in lieu of standardized tests, but how can these be fairly assessed? Others wanted students to be more aware of the global community and civic participation, pointing out that compared to students of other countries, American students are sorely lacking. Most agreed that a change is needed.

The American education system is heavily invested in standardized tests. Faced with preparation for the onslaught of standardized tests, high school teachers tend to avoid game-based learning.

However, game-based learning can provide the answers on how to assess project-based curriculum. Though many educational games compromise and include quizzes or assignments, a well-designed learning game should be able to assess understanding through completion. What that means is that a student needs to learn the required material in order to complete the game.

Moreover, if the project is done through a simulation or a game, it can be more objectively compared to an ideal since the program will judge each project by the same guidelines. Imagine, if you will, a game like Kerbal Space Program, in which students will build rockets. Some students will have rockets that succeed and some students won't. Those that don't succeed will be inclined to build and build rockets until they have better rockets.

If the educator wants to highlight civics or the global community, a game that encourages social responsibility or citizen science can be chosen.

Through game-based learning, students learn about systems thinking. They learn to adapt to changing circumstances. They aren't memorizing facts to do well on tests. The skills they learn through game-based learning will help them in the workplace.

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 been invited to the White House and has spoken at conferences around the globe, including the Game Developers Conference, Game Education Summit, SXSW Interactive, Serious Play Conference, and Games For Change Festival.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Promoting Creativity Through Art Games

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses how a different approach to teaching about art games spurred an outpouring of creativity.

In 2017, I began teaching a course that had been created as a result of a grant and therefore, was a hodgepodge of advanced topics. Others had taught it more akin to a cultural or game studies class with an emphasis on essay writing, but the college thought the class would be more appealing if each student had a game created by the end of the class. Because the only prerequisite was English 101, I had students who had never taken a game design class who now needed to design and create a game that would be considered outside of mainstream entertainment.

Administrators and principals often feel that if their students design these types of games, especially learning games, this is somehow more redeeming. Perhaps they feel that that the 'educational' part would balance out the 'game' part. They do not realize that merging learning with game design in a way that is not edutainment is not an easy task! Moreover, first-year students, and especially those without game design experience, generally do not have the interest in designing these games. They want to create the games they see and like to play.

Faced with these challenges, I began to view the course as a survey class, as an introduction to games outside the mainstream. The students would play analog games, learn Twine, and design games along these confines. This seemed to do well for the sections I had divided out as learning games, story games, and social interaction games.

But alas, art games, I felt, was always the section better suited for a paper but the students lacked the tools for game analysis. It soon began apparent that students were struggling. They didn't understand art games and they didn't want to play art games. They certainly did not want to write about art games. I had long before learned that even with entertainment titles, once it became about analysis, students viewed playing games as work.

I should explain that by art games, I do not mean games about art or about drawing. There are always a few students who do not get it. Rather, I am referring to the genre of "art games," those that regularly appear in indie fests and sometimes in art museums.

The Marriage by Rod Humble
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47603426
I was always striving to improve the course and revised the syllabus constantly. It was always the art games section that would get a complete makeover.

The last time I taught this course, we spent class time playing The Marriage by Rod Humble, Passage by Jason Rohrer, and several games by Daniel Benmergui. Some students were intent on "beating" each level. Instead of a paper, they were assigned a presentation on how they might approach creating their own art game. The focus of the section was not on analysis but on how these games were more personal to the creators.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of presentations pitching games based on deeply personal topics such as depression, work-life balance, feminism, and the importance of family. These were all topics that were important to the students and a couple brave students bared their souls about why it was so important that they had to make these games. In the end, although it was not required, several students wanted to make their own art games, even though they only had the means to create Twine or analog games.

I was amazed by the complete turnaround. Art games had gone from most-hated to well-received.

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 been invited to the White House and has spoken at conferences around the globe, including the Game Developers Conference, Game Education Summit, SXSW Interactive, Serious Play Conference, and Games For Change Festival.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Top Ten Most Read Articles of GDAM

Happy Holidays! I've just noticed that this blog was started 10 years ago! I don't think I've ever done a retrospective, so without further ado, here is the Top Ten list of the most popular articles on Game Design Aspect (according to Google stats):

1.  Great Narrative Stories are the Answer 

This article was the culmination of a series of blog posts about how to measure social impact and effectively change a person's belief system. I summarized Christopher Graves' keynote at the 2017 Games For Change Festival. This article was also cited in the report, "The Limits and Strengths of Using Digital Games as Empathy Machines," by Matthew Farber and Karen Schrier.


This article summarized IGDA GDSIG's roundtable at GDC 2018, which covered a range of topics, including government regulation, microtransactions, and gaming disorder. I was surprised by the 10000+ views, considering how lukewarm the topic seemed at the conference. Since then, Gamasutra has featured articles on ethical game design


This article by Gustavo Guida is about his reactions to the above mentioned roundtable. Gustavo Guida attended the IGDA GDSIG roundtable and the IGDA GDSIG Social Meeting at GDC 2018.  In his article, he divides the various positions held by attendees as Skeptics, Pragmatists, and the Concerned.


In this article, I reflected on my first experience at the Global Game Jam (GGJ). Even though we had less than 2 days to complete a demo, my team made a crowd favorite that was featured in Microsoft NY's recap of GGJ that year.


This was a promotion for my most popular class at PlayCrafting and it also included a link to an interview I did with SciFi Pulse. Since I'm no longer teaching at PlayCrafting, I'm looking to put some courses online.


In this article, I discussed ludonarrative dissonance, a topic that was touched upon by Omar Shakir in his session at the Creative Arts & Technology Conference in 2016. Omar Shakir is Game Director at Avalanche Studios.


Here's another one that surprised me with the amount of views. Perhaps people were searching for a review of John Yorke's master class on video game writing. Rather, this article is a reaction to a review of John Yorke's class, in which he stated that video game companies should look to hiring capable screenwriters.


This is one of my favorite articles on the blog. Several people have said to me that I was spot-on about my observations regarding this segment of educational games.


I became very interested in the topic of creating empathy and player emotion and one of the lectures I attended was from Professor Katherine Isbister, who wrote the book, How Games Move Us: Emotion By Design.  What was interesting about this lecture is that she didn't delve upon stories but rather game design.


Professor Ibrahim Yucel reported on IGDA GDSIG's roundtable at GDC 2019. I'm glad to see IGDA GDSIG hit topics of concern for both the years we were allowed to discuss game design issues at GDC. At previous GDCs, the SIG's roundtables have only been about SIG business.  Hopefully, we will have another successful roundtable next year.

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, December 7, 2019

Feedback That Leads to Excellence

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explains why accepted norms of feedback are counterproductive and what we can do instead to help others succeed.

As game designers, we are often asked to give or receive feedback. Some of us already know that there are better ways of giving criticism than vague or general feedback or mean-spirited comments.  Even with that knowledge, some biases can creep into one's feedback. For instance, women are often victims of "benevolent sexism" whereby feedback is withheld to avoid hurting their feelings. This can lead to situations whereby women don't understand why they didn't succeed until they hear behind their backs what the person actually thought about their projects.

So how do we give feedback that encourages others to succeed?  Presumably, that is the end goal of giving feedback.

Well, it turns out that research shows that the most commonly accepted way of giving feedback, whereby we tell someone what they're doing wrong and give suggestions on how to improve it, generally backfires.  This approach is based on erroneous theories about learning. Although it's easy to focus on what you see are the negative aspects of a project, bringing attention to weaknesses triggers the "fight or flight" response in the recipient, smothering any learning that may have been intended.

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

Even the language you can use can provoke this reaction. Think about how you are framing the feedback.  Instead of "Here's what you should do," you can say, "Here's what I would do." When someone comes to you for advice, let them talk it out rather than simply giving them your solution. You can say, "What do you feel you are struggling with, and is there anything you've done in the past that's worked in a similar situation?"

On the flip side, recognizing the specific positive action or positive aspects is not simply praise, but a way of highlighting and reinforcing patterns or behaviors. For instance, hardly anyone criticizes toddlers for not walking correctly. Parents don't say "You could have done that without wobbling" or "Stop falling down!" Instead, they celebrate and congratulate those first few tentative steps.

In addition, humans are notoriously unfit for rating the work of other humans due to our own biases. We know how we would do things, but that might not be how someone else would do it and succeed just as well.

As a recipient of vague positive feedback, we can stop and ask for clarification. Ask "Which parts made you feel that way?" or "Which parts worked for you?"  With negative feedback, it's crucial not to place too much importance on what others think, as the negative feedback tends to reflect more on the giver than the recipient.  This is especially relevant in creative fields like game design.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 15 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.