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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Writer in Westchester

If you're interested in local history, I will be doing a reading of 3 essays about Westchester County's writerly inspirations this Saturday, October 26, at 3:00 PM in the New Rochelle Public Library. It's part of a performance called, Where the Heart Is: Reflections of Home in Westchester.



In addition to my essays, there will be historical tours of our various villages (with photos!) and personal stories of settlers.  

the details!

What: Where the Heart Is: Reflections of Home in Westchester (staged reading)
When:  Saturday, October 26, 3:00 PM
Where: New Rochelle Public Library, 1 Library Plaza, New Rochelle, NY, in auditorium

Tutti Bravi Productions in collaboration with the New Rochelle Council on the Arts presents "Where the Heart Is: Reflections of Home in Westchester". Four Westchester writers explore the places they call home in the county of Westchester, highlighting many of its most appealing attractions: modern cityscapes co-existing with historic treasures; neat and serene neighborhoods; winding parkways; pastoral scenery as well quirky landmarks.

Tutti Bravi Productions, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the history of Westchester.


Sande Chen is a writer and game designer with over 15 years of experience in the game industry.  Her writing 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 is the co-author of the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, and was a contributor to Secrets of the Game Business, Writing For Video Game Genres, and Professional Techniques for Videogame Writing.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Rewiring History: Hacking the Past Through Games

In this article, game designer Sande Chen reports on a New York Comic Con panel about using entertainment games for history classes.

I had recently started looking at the Gaming the Past website and so, I thought this panel called "Rewiring History: Hacking the Past Through Games" at New York Comic Con on October 8, 2019 might be insightful on the issue of counterfactual histories. The panel was targeted towards teachers who were thinking of using games to teach history in the classroom.

But on the whole, what was presented was more of a "You Were There" flavor rather than parallel universes.  For instance, students can witness the 1772 incident, Burning the Gaspee in VR or be immersed in the events leading up to the Boston Massacre in Mission US: For Crown of Colony? (I worked on that game, btw!)  It was great to see Leah Potter from Electric Funstuff put up a list of how students can demonstrate historical knowledge in Mission US games rather than answer essay questions. Violence was briefly discussed, as it might be unavoidable when studying wars, but it was deemed acceptable if appropriate and tastefully done.

The panelists repeatedly stressed the importance of primary sources visible in the game, something commercial developers might not have, and noted that older games might run better on school computers.  A game that had versions for tablets and computers was also preferable since sometimes, students are using whatever devices they can bring to school.

Raul Carvajal, Production Manager at Games For Change, recommended the game Papers, Please even though the game is set in a fictional country and not based on any historical event. The game has an Eastern European/Soviet feel, he said, and gives players an impression of what it would be like to live in that environment.

Other games discussed were 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, Valiant Hearts, and Assassin's Creed: Origins Discovery Tour.

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.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Public Science Literacy Through Entertainment Games

In this video, game designer Sande Chen discusses how public science literacy is cultivated through game-based learning, simulations, citizen science games, and game creation.

Last year, I was honored to speak at the 2018 World Conference on Science Literacy in Beijing, China.  It was an amazing day to hear from colleagues and analysts about their work in serious games, game-based learning, or gamification. Many thanks to TenCent Technology, who hosted and organized the forum.

You can view the video online here:  https://v.qq.com/x/page/j0930tmm9c5.html




A summary of the day (in Chinese) is posted here.   


About Me:   

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer with over 15 years of experience in the game industry.  Her writing 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 is the co-author of the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, and was a contributor to Secrets of the Game Business, Writing For Video Game Genres, and Professional Techniques for Videogame Writing.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Second Annual Interactive Fiction Creator's Conference

Hi!  I'm pleased to share with you that I will be a keynote speaker at the Second Annual Interactive Fiction Creator's Conference, presented by Decision Fiction.  I will be talking about game design and interactive fiction on Saturday September 28th at 11 AM.  The conference is free to attend and online.  Simply sign up at the link.

I hope you will tune in to hear what writers, technologists, and game developers have to say about the state of interactive fiction. The theme is "Interactive Fiction For Everyone!"

I am especially delighted about this event because this will be my second time as an remote speaker. I'm certain it won't be as complicated as the last time when I used an avatar in a virtual world to present a lecture about how technology is changing storytelling. There was no Microsoft Powerpoint in that virtual world, lol!



the details! 

Second Annual Interactive Fiction Creator's Conference
When: Saturday September 28th & Sunday September 29th
Where: Online!
Sign Up Here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/second-annual/register?session=1

About Me:   

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer with over 15 years of experience in the game industry.  Her writing 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 is the co-author of the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, and was a contributor to Secrets of the Game Business, Writing For Video Game Genres, and Professional Techniques for Videogame Writing.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Preview: Decision Fiction

In this article, game writer Sande Chen gives a preview of the upcoming choice-based story app from Decision Fiction.

Now that the TV viewers have experienced interactive choices on NetFlix's "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch," start-up company Decision Fiction is hoping it's time for prose lovers to fall in love with choice-based stories.  The app will be available on iOS, Android, and messaging services.

Unlike other companies in the CYOA marketplace, Decision Fiction's focus is not on visual storytelling or even gamers, but on writers and readers. Writers don't have to write cinematics or learn scripting. They can submit in Twine or whatever is easiest for them. Meanwhile, readers have Avatars and are guided through the interactive fiction experience by gamification.  There will be Missions, similar to Achievements, that can unlock special badges. Artifacts, a type of power-up, can be bought, won, and used in-game. One example of an Artifact is the Reverse Motion Potion, which allows a reader to undo the last decision. Avatars can be dressed up with costumes, which can also be bought or earned in stories.

While gamification to an extent has been used before in reading communities such as Goodreads, Decision Fiction aims for more than just lists and reviews by the addition of these virtual goods.  This approach is unique among the reader-centric apps.  Even Galatea, which brands itself as "immersive fiction" or "addictive fiction," does not require virtual goods because its interaction consists of ARG-like character text messaging, sound effects, and visuals.

Decision Fiction considers itself an aggregator and distributor of interactive fiction gamebooks. It's a space not quite visual novel and not quite novel. Among its ambitions, Decision Fiction aims to be the one to create a new literary genre for mainstream readers.

To do so, Decision Fiction will include analytics so that writers can see what's working and what's not working for readers. This ecosystem of writers and readers is of utmost importance to the company.

This philosophy comes from a collaboration between an interactive fiction writer and technologists. Last month, I had the opportunity to speak with Sir Robinson and Tejas Bhatt about the genesis of Decision Fiction.  Bhatt had never heard about interactive fiction before meeting Robinson in an Internet chatroom, but was excited by the idea of building a platform that would solve this question: How can interactive fiction be monetized successfully?

Decision Fiction's route of gamifying interactive fiction and using virtual goods may be the answer.

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.