Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Upcoming: 2017 Serious Play Conference July 18-20

https://seriousplayconf.com/

I've been collecting my thoughts on social impact games in blog posts such as "Issues About Impact" and exploring the nature of persuasion, empathy, and emotional hooks in my Designing Games For Impact classes.  Just as I had done with my research into educational games, I wanted to look at social impact games from different angles.  I learned about storytelling, as defined by marketers, and with my knowledge of cinematography, began to analyze commercials and PSAs.  Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform had briefly covered social commentary games or op-ed games and I was interested enough to revisit the subject and take a deep dive.

Next week, I will be presenting at the 2017 Serious Play Conference, a leadership conference for both those who create serious games/simulations and those who implement game-based learning programs.  Specifically, I will be talking about issues surrounding designing games for social impact and will be looking at techniques used in games and other media to further impact and persuade without preaching or browbeating.

It’s become apparent that it’s not so easy to convince others of a different viewpoint or to generate empathy for a cause. Within our social media bubbles, beliefs are constantly reinforced and entrenched. So how can social impact games break down these barriers? How can they go beyond preaching to the choir?

This year, the Serious Play Conference will be at George Mason University, on July 18-20, 2017.  Passes, including student tickets, can be purchased here.

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 10 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, July 6, 2017

Diverse Character Design and Representation GDoC Expo

In this video from Game Devs of Color Expo, panelists Amaryah Shaye Armstrong, Sande Chen, Yussef Cole, Tanya DePass, and Dina Abou Karam provide an in-depth look into the issue of diverse character design and representation.

Did you miss the Game Devs of Color panel, Diverse Character Design and Representation in Games?

We had a lively conversation about the portrayal of minorities in games, the lack of minority characters especially in fantasy settings, and how assuming the default character is white affects game development processes.  As a call to action, the panelists urged audience members to support minority game projects through Kickstarter or Patreon, to consider hiring a diversity consultant, and to look more closely at company hiring practices.

Diverse Character Design and Representation in Games 
Game Devs of Color Expo
, June 24, 2017

Five games industry professionals will further the case for diversity in character design during this panel. Topics to be discussed will include the portrayal of dark skin in games, representation of Arabs in video games, queer people of color in games, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation.

PANELISTS:
Amaryah Shaye Armstrong 
Sande Chen [Writer and Designer]
Yussef Cole [Writer and Visual Artist]
Tanya DePass [Director, I Need Diverse Games]
Dina Abou Karam [Artist/Game Designer]

Check out the video below:




Thursday, June 29, 2017

Upcoming Class: Designing Games For Impact

The day after July 4th, I invite those of you near NYC to join me in a class about Designing Games For Impact at Microsoft NY. Within these classes, I have been exploring a range of topics, including emotional intensity, social impact, and persuasion.  Learn to cultivate that spark within you and pass it to others.

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.

On the subject of change and empowerment, I was recently interviewed for the book, Empower Yourself Through Your Memories: Use the Lessons From Your Past to Create a Happy Present and Future by Frank Healy.  Healy, a counselor and life coach, has helped people deal with traumatic memories. 

I'd love to do a giveaway of one book at the upcoming class.

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, July 5
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.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Interactive Stories for the Masses

In this article, game writer Sande Chen delves into the history of interactive movies and how kids today might benefit from interactive stories.

In the 1990's, DVDs and laserdiscs made full motion video (FMV) interactive movies possible, but they never really caught on as mainstream entertainment.  In Tender Loving Care and other titles, a character would stop and ask the audience a question, which would help determine the course of the story.  Such scripts were much longer than regular scripts and no doubt, most of the footage was never seen.  Flash forward to today.  NetFlix has just announced interactive adventures for kids.  Based on existing animated kid shows, the new episodes will allow kids to dictate the direction of the story, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  As seen in the video, the protagonist directly addresses the audience and asks for input.


Mobile titles like Choices and visual novels also champion choice in stories but usually without FMV or even 3D.  There are interactive Twine stories that are more text-driven.  I think these interactive adventures will more closely resemble the short interactive films from eko or YouTube interactive stories made possible through creative use of the annotation function and video linking.  They are not necessarily games, though some people would call interactive movies games.  I know when I plotted out my YouTube interactive, "The Wish," I simply thought of the video sections as narrative fragments.  There were choices, but it wasn't a game. 

For instance, the first video in "The Wish" was an introduction whereby the protagonist met a genie and was urged to make a wish.  This led to many possibilities.  However, whatever wish was chosen would backfire spectacularly so that all of these videos always included a choice for a do-over.  This would lead to a third video, which would lead to the list of possibilities again.  Obviously, there could be a great deal of looping until the viewer chose to stop asking for wishes.  In that case, the viewer would get the outro video to end the story.

I don't think of these new interactive adventures as games, and they don't have to be games.  I'm interested in seeing how kids take to it and I applaud NetFlix for starting this venture.  I think since these interactive episodes are shorter and using licensed properties, they probably have a better chance than the interactive movies of yore.

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, June 15, 2017

Upcoming Workshop: Game Writing Porfolio Workout

In addition to the Game Devs of Color Expo panel on diverse character design and representation in games on June 24, I have some upcoming workshops through PlayCrafting NYC, which are held at Microsoft NY in Times Square.

To learn more about me, you can read an interview I recently did with SciFiPulse: "Sande Chen discusses her career, teaching, and video game design."




The popular Game Writing Portfolio Workout, which had been on hold during the longer 4-week Game Writing Primer course, returns on Monday, June 26.  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. 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 one of the best Playcrafting workshops. The teacher was funny, incredibly knowledgeable and shared the best insider secrets!"
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. 

Come and write!
Game Writing Portfolio Workout
Date:  Monday, June 26, 2017
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM

Each session is different and dynamic.  Existing story ideas are welcome, but not necessary, because writing prompts during class are intended to generate leads. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Upcoming Panel at Game Devs of Color Expo

Game Devs of Color Expo

I'm pleased to announce that I will be moderating a panel about diverse character design and representation in games at the 2017 Game Devs of Color Expo on Saturday, June 24, 2017, which will be held at New York City's historic Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  Panelists are graduate student Amaryah Shaye Armstrong, Tanya DePass of I Need Diverse Games, writer Yussef Cole, and game designer Dina Abou Karam.  In addition, there will be panels on music, sound, and choreography in game design, polishing and launching your game, and surviving the game industry.

Tickets are still available, including a low-cost student option!

Come see games from around the world at the arcade and listen to microtalks about breaking-in, crowdfunding, indie games, and VR game development.

I last talked about this topic at the Different Games Conference in 2015 and I am eager to explore more of these diversity issues on this upcoming panel.

The details!

Game Devs of Color Expo
Saturday, June 24, 2017, 2:55 PM 
Diverse Character Design and Representation in Games 

Five games industry professionals will further the case for diversity in character design during this panel. Topics to be discussed will include the portrayal of dark skin in games, representation of Arabs in video games, queer people of color in games, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Childhood Game Creations

In this article, game designer Sande Chen reflects on her childhood game creations and how they aided in her career.

The advice I often give to aspiring game designers is to join a game jam like Global Game Jam to meet other like-minded individuals and make a game.  Game designers aren't solo "idea people" who direct the game development process. Aspiring writers are urged to write, not to get others to write for them, and aspiring game makers should try to make games.

But if there aren't game jams near you, you can certainly learn on your own. There are many game creation tools out there, even ones directed at children. I have seen Scratch games that mimic the mechanics of high-end AAA games.


One of my childhood doodles.
For a recent feature on Polygon, "Veteran Game Developers Reveal Their Childhood Creations," I was asked to reflect on my childhood games and how the process of making them aided me in my career.  I have often spoke about making text-based adventure games at panels and interviews.  Prior to the text-based adventure games, I had programmed spelling, grammar, and vocab quizzes. I was familiar with computer programming so it presented no problems when I decided to make the games.

To me, the text-based adventure games felt like a natural extension of my creative writing pursuits.  The interactivity and branching narrative of text-based adventure games didn't seem foreign to me because of the games I played and the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks I was reading.

Besides digital games, I was fond of drawing elaborate mazes, writing crossword puzzles, and modifying multiplayer tabletop games like mahjong.

While I didn't expect to working in game development after college, I can see how my early interest in games led me to where I am now.  Fresh out of film school, I wanted to be where the frontiers were in new media and writing.  I had grown up with these interactive and non-linear stories and I had created my own.  I decided that I wanted a career in game development.

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, 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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Issues About Impact



In this article, game designer Sande Chen ponders issues about social impact and the difficulties regarding its implementation and assessment.

A study of the poverty simulator, SPENT, which resulted in players with increased negative feelings towards poor people instead of empathetic concern, illustrates the difficulties in pursuing attitudinal change among players. Entrenched within our own social beliefs and bubbles, we may not know how to best reach the other side and begin this empathetic exchange.  How do we create conditions for empathy?  While preaching to the choir reinforces existing beliefs, it doesn't achieve the desired social impact.

I wrote up my reasons why I felt SPENT failed to convince the "unbelievers" and have spent my PlayCrafting NYC classes on Designing Games For Impact exploring the myriad issues around persuasion, emotional connection, and TBA measurement. (Stay tuned for the next Designing Games For Impact class announcement.)  The Games For Change April 2016 report, "Impact With Games: A Fragmented Field," describes the different perspectives even in defining what exactly would be considered a game's "impact".

In my article, "The World According to Edu-Larps: The Analog Learning Games," I wrote about the difficulties of assessing play activities that cross disciplines.  The desire for assessment is well-known and is often a factor in determining the value of a project.  A game designer can certainly employ analytics to track a player's actions, but the full picture won't emerge without qualitative assessment. In addition, if the desired goal is a form of meta-gaming, with its intrinsic motivation, again, this benefit can't be measured with any on-board assessment tools.

However, through the use of qualitative and quantitative assessment, a game designer may be able to assess and make changes while a pilot project is happening before a complete rollout.  Using the iterative process, the designer can refine the game's message.  In this case, the art of survey design will be very important in order to erase biases and gain useful information.


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 9, 2017

New Course: Game Writing Primer


4 Weeks to Learn the Basics of Narrative Design and Build a Game
When:  Tuesdays and Thurdays, April 18 - May 11, 2017, 6:30 - 9:00 PM
Where:  Microsoft NY, 11 Times Square, New York, NY 10019

I am so pleased to announce that my longer 4-week course through PlayCrafting NYC is finally here!  Game Writing Primer was especially created for students who want to learn the process of story design and be on their way to a portfolio piece. I also wanted students without coding experience to be able to create a story-based game and be on a pathway to publication.

While any game creation method or engine is welcome, PlayCrafting has partnered with One More Story Games to provide StoryStylus at a discounted price ($15 for 2 years of hosting). StoryStylus is the platform used to create Danielle's Inferno, a game recently reviewed on this blog. Students using StoryStylus will have the opportunity for publication through One More Story Games. There are also options for privacy so that the student's game can be only be viewed by select individuals for portfolio purposes.

A special information session and mini-expo will be held on March 30. Sign up for this free session and play games created by students in PlayCrafting courses.

Hundreds of games have been showcased in PlayCrafting NYC's Demo & Play Nights.  Will yours be next?

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, March 3, 2017

Balancing Data and Design

In this article, game designer Sande Chen reflects on the relationship between metrics and game design.

This week, StoryForward NYC offered a fascinating look at the use of metrics in storytelling with the panel, "The Art of Data-Driven Storytelling: Creating Context in a Content-Driven World." Of course, I was fully aware that it was the other "storytelling," the one with marketing focus.  Still, the discussion was eerily similar to ones held at GDC about the importance of metrics in game design.

Metrics give a glimpse into the mind of the consumer and with A/B testing, designers can learn what functions better with an audience.  Often, after analyzing metrics, designers tweak the design.  Metrics is especially illuminating if it turns out if players are quitting the game after failing to complete the goal.  Was the learning curve too difficult?  Without metrics, the game designer basically has playtesting to fine-tune problem areas. Metrics delivers large quantities of data about actual users. Metrics tells you what players actually do, not what they say. An advantage to metrics-driven design is that the effects of changes to design are measured and the response time can be instantaneous.

I remember one story from GDC whereby a game designer tweaked the numbers to make the game harder, but because the metrics showed that the players were unable to advance with the new changes, it was immediately switched back.

I can see why metrics-driven design has appeal, but one problem may be that there's simply too much data collection and not enough knowledge to know which data is pertinent.  Or metrics may not capture the full picture, just like in that parable with the blind men and elephant. Data is only as good as your analysis.

In regards to storytelling, panelist Matt McGowan regarded data as a guidepost.  He said, "Start with what emotion you want to evoke, the story you want to tell, and then look at the data to see how you are going to do that."

That's the approach many game designers take as well. They already have a plan and metrics is just one tool in the toolbox. They don't need to base their entire design on metrics but metrics can inform their choices. In fact, designers can help analysts determine what to measure in a game that would be a good indicator of progress, or engagement, or learning, or whatever the analysts were after. 

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, February 24, 2017

IGDA Game Design SIG at GDC 2017!


The IGDA Game Design SIG will be holding its annual SIG meeting and roundtable at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next week on Friday, March 3 from 10-11 AM in Moscone North Hall, Room 110.

Join us as we discuss 2016 highlights and accomplishments of the IGDA Game Design Special Interest Group (SIG) as well as plans for 2017 and beyond. Come prepared to discuss potential SIG projects, have an anecdotal conversation on designing games, and see how you can get more involved in the SIG.

GDSIG RT at GDC last year
 Doug Hill, Senior Game Designer at Nexon, will be leading the discussion.  All GDC passes are welcome to attend the roundtable, which is under the Advocacy track.

Doug Hill began his 12-year career at a small developer working as a designer and producer on a variety of Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games. Since then, he has worked for Disney Interactive as a Lead Game Designer on Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War & Armies of Magic, and for Kixeye as Lead Game Designer for Battle Pirates. He is a founding member of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Specifically, our agenda includes a review of our initiatives, which include:
  • Upcoming GDSIG Webinar
  • Upcoming Mentor AMA with game designer Daniel Harrison
  • Game Design Resources Update 
  • Weekly Game Design Challenges
  • Weekly Game Design Discussion
  • GDAM Podcast
  • Game Design Study Groups
Volunteers are sought for all of these initiatives and any others that may arise at the roundtable.  As always, you may also submit an article or topic to Game Design Aspect of the Month.

To join the IGDA Game Design SIG: https://www.facebook.com/groups/gdsig/

Learn how the IGDA Game Design SIG can help you to become a better game designer.


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.