Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Podcast: IGDA GDSIG Mentor AMA Game Writing


Greetings!  Our 3rd IGDA Game Design SIG (GDSIG) Mentor AMA (Ask Me Anything) in conjunction with the National STEM Video Game Challenge focused on game writing and featured questions from mentors and students around the United States, such as:
  • What is your biggest challenge in developing a video game, both in storyline and in general? 
  • What are some key differences between a good and a bad narrative?
  • Where do you see virtual reality and augmented reality going, and how do you think this technology will change games and storytelling?
  • What are some ways a designer can tell a story in a game that gives the player opportunities to make real choices that genuinely affect the outcome of the game?
  • What would you say is the #1 pitfall in the design of serious games?
A full transcript of the questions, transcribed by volunteer Jam Blute, is available on the IGDA Game Design SIG Facebook group Files section, as well as sample game design documents. The GDSIG group is a closed Facebook group, but 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.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge is a multi-year competition whose goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passion for playing and making video games.

With Felix Wilhelmy as moderator, the guest panelists for the 3rd GDSIG Mentor AMA were Sheri Graner Ray, Bobby Stein, and Sande Chen.

Sheri Graner Ray is an award-winning game designer and CEO of ZombieCat Studios and worked for such companies as Schell Games, Origin, Sony Entertainment, and the Cartoon Network.

Bobby Stein is the Associate Narrative Director and Narrative Design Lead at ArenaNet, the maker of Guild Wars.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer best known for her work on titles such as The Witcher and Wizard 101.

We are continually striving to improve the Mentor AMAs.  Let us know if you have any feedback or if you'd like to participate as a volunteer or mentor!  Follow GDSIG on Twitter @IGDAGDSIG or on YouTube.  We will be moving to video soon.

Listen to the full AMA panel below or on Soundcloud.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Making Sense of Children's Educational Apps

In this article, game designer Sande Chen relates advice to parents and developers alike on how parents find age-appropriate and educational apps for children.

The latest research report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, "Discovering Kids' Apps: Do Family Strategies Vary By Income," centers on the decision process parents make in downloading educational apps.  With so many free apps with dubious educational value, how is a parent to decide which apps are worthwhile? On the flip side, what information can educational app developers provide to aid in discoverability?

As indicated in What's Wrong with Pre-K Game Apps, the majority of children's apps do not have any kind of educational benchmark. Highly rated apps on sites like Common Sense Media, Parents' Choice, and Children's Technology Review may not correspond with app store rankings, consumer reviews, or featured app lists.  Parents desire to know an app's age range or developmental stage focus, information that is often lacking in app store descriptions.  Because of this, many parents, in particular those in middle and higher income levels, engage in "app trialing," in which they download the app first and play it before the child ever sees it.  Lower income parents in the study tended to choose the educational apps to download whereas higher income parents were more likely to involve the child in the decision making process.

Whether due to virtual good concerns, freedom from ads, or a perceived higher educational value, higher income parents were more likely to purchase paid apps. Though there is no evidence that quality corresponds with price, many highly regarded apps do cost more.  Lower income parents downloaded fewer apps overall and tended to prefer free apps.  They also were more likely to depend on app store information rather than seeking out information on other sites.  Among all income levels, parents relied heavily on "word of mouth" reviews from other parents, relatives, teachers, and friends.

Higher income parents expressed frustration with app store descriptions, feeling that they needed more guidance from educational experts.  They wanted assurance of efficacy, which could have come from more prominent notice of research or recommendation.

With so much competition in the app store, particularly in Pre-K educational apps, developers know that they need to appeal to parents as well as kids.  They can send off their apps for review to parent-friendly sites and they can provide the necessary information for parents to make informed decisions.

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, October 26, 2017

The Love Triangle

In this article, game writer Sande Chen discusses the necessity of interesting choices in the realm of romance.

In the book, How Games Move Us: Emotion By Design, by Professor Katherine Isbister, discusses the dating sim Love Plus at length as an example of emotional design with non-playing characters (NPCs). Love Plus traces the journey of a budding romance, but unlike in real life, there's no fear of actual rejection. The player will always end up "loved" because the NPCs, even when snippy, are always in love with the player.  As in romance novels, lovers rejoice after many trials and tribulations.

The player has a choice of 3 different girls, who will react differently according to their personalities. During the initial phase, the Friend Zone, there may even be Jealousy Events as 2 girls discover they both share affection for the same person, the player.

Alas, this brings us to that popular conflict in the realm of romance, the love triangle.

Within the mindset of "a series of interesting choices," we wouldn't want each potential lover to be the same. We want a fulfilling love but not the same one. Each branch of the narrative should lead to love, but because of who we are and our personalities, the journey is not the same. I wrote about this relationship distinction in Interchangeable He And She when discussing a hypothetical change to replace all female pronouns with male ones to include a gay romance option.  If the story doesn't lead to love, then it's a tragedy, but one that should be brought forth by clear decisions driven by character traits.

Otherwise, the ending feels forced. The author hadn't taken the care to find a logical means for breaking up the love triangle without making someone act out of character or become a sudden, unmotivated asshole.  In the world of linear storytelling, I feel cheated out of a good story when the prince who had been such a caring and devoted childhood friend suddenly becomes a backstabbing fiend so that the girl can fall in love with that other guy in the last 10 pages of the novel.

I find the most interesting love stories are when I'm not sure where the story will go.  Both potential lovers are good choices and therefore, it's a very hard choice for the protagonist.  I'd be equally happy with either choice as long as it's understandable.

That's often the problem with OTP (One True Pairing) stories. There may be a love triangle, but there's no comparison to the OTP. The other person is such a bad, bad choice that who in their right mind would prefer that person? We start to wonder what's wrong with the protagonist that he or she can't see the obvious. By recasting the protagonist as player, it's easier to see that we would want each potential love affair to be a serious potential love affair.

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, October 11, 2017

Fantasy Worldbuilding Tips for Beginners

In this article, game writer Sande Chen sums up advice from a 2017 NYCC panel about fantasy worldbuilding.

At last week's New York Comic Con, top comics writers dispensed cautionary fantasy worldbuilding tips during the panel, Wizards and Fairies and Spells - Oh My! After recommending beginners read over dungeon master manuals, writers Kel MacDonald, Brian Schirmer, Dani Colman, Si Spurrier, Sebastian Girner, and Skottie Young proceeded to explain some of the pitfalls awaiting new fantasy writers.

Primarily, several panelists expressed the opinion that worldbuilding shouldn't take precedence over story, or any other activity.  Worldbuilding should not become a full-time job.  It's far too easy for beginning fantasy writers to get caught up with the process of worldbuilding and end up with a beautifully realized world without a story.  In fact, the world can enrich the story, and even become an externalization of a character's emotional life.

Next, the panelists discussed magic and magic systems, and urged writers to think about the cost of magic, as I do in my class, Writing for Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Horror Game Worlds.  If magic didn't have a price or penalty, then what's to stop people from using magic all the time?  One panelist talked about the Harry Potter universe having 2 magic systems, one without cost and one with cost.

Finally, writers were asked to think carefully about the choice of POV character.  If Gandalf had been the POV character in The Lord of the Rings, then the story would be very different.  The reader would miss out on the feeling of wonder in regards to magic because Gandalf, as a wizard, would know all about the intricacies of the magic system.

Although this was a panel of comics writers, their advice applies to more than just comics writing.  But if you're interested in learning what game writers might have to say about the topic, I along with Dalton Gray, Sharang Biswas, Jennifer Estaris, David Kuelz, and David Tiegen will be speaking on the game writing panel at GameACon Atlantic City on October 28. Hope to see you there.

A writer and game designer, Sande Chen has over 10 years experience in the industry. She studied science fiction and science writing at MIT. Her first published game was the epic space combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival. She was later nominated for a 2007 Writers Guild of America award in Videogame Writing for the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Upcoming Workshop: Game Writing Portfolio Workout

In addition to the Writing for Video Games panel at GameACon Atlantic City on October 28, I have an upcoming game writing workshop through PlayCrafting NYC, which will be 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 Tuesday, October 10.  I haven't done this workshop since June of this year.  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:  Tuesday, October 10, 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, September 28, 2017

Podcast: Game Design Tips from Sande Chen

A few weeks back, I did an interview with AppMasters. Their podcasts are full of valuable information intended to help you succeed in the mobile app business.

Link to the Podcast: Game Design Tips from Sande Chen

Listen on to hear about the issues with designing for VR, educational game design, narrative design, and about transitioning into the game industry as a writer.

Podcast Description

Today’s guest is one of the Game Industry’s Top 100 Most Influential Women and she shares her tips on educational and VR game design. You will also discover her process for writing game narratives and how freelancing while at her full-time job allowed her to be completely on her own.

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, September 21, 2017

How playing games can advance science

In this response, Claire Baert describes her fascination with citizen science games and poses some questions about the practice.

This morning, like most days, I woke up early, had a latte, turned on my computer and opened Gamasutra. Like most days, I'm looking for articles discussing how games can help advance scientific research. But this morning, for the first time, I found the article I was waiting for. A blog post by Sande Chen, featured by Gamasutra, and [re]titled: Why designers should embrace 'citizen science' . This was the trigger for me to start this blog, to write about citizen science games and share my passion with the Gamasutra community. In this first post, I will introduce many of the citizen science games everyone can play to advance science, and briefly introduce the different topics I will cover in the next posts.

My story with citizen science games began in 2013, in a small game studio in the UK. I was researching free to play, casual browser games, and was doing a quick play through the tutorials. Between Farmerama and Grepolis, I had listed a game I had never heard of: Foldit. First surprise, it's a client game. Second surprise, I'm taught how to mutate a protein to form more hydrogen bonds, not that casual. Third surprise, I'm doing real science. (Fourth surprise, first thing I did when coming back home was downloading Foldit on my laptop.)

I quickly became fascinated with the concept of citizen science games and started searching more of them. Not any kind of serious games, but specifically games that allow us, players, to contribute to authentic scientific research, without any scientific background. Games in which we provide valuable scientific data, accelerate research by analysing data, or solve complex scientific problems. Games that help diagnosis and cure diseases or that can answer important scientific questions.

After learning how to fold proteins in Foldit, I learnt how to fold RNA molecules in EteRNA and DNA molecules in Phylo. By playing these puzzle games, we are helping eradicate diseases. On my phone, I shoot at parasites in MalariaSpot to diagnose malaria in blood smear, I'm growing a microbe colony for Colony B. I'm mapping the brain in Eyewire and Mozak, advancing the field of neuroscience. I also dared join the quantum computing field, moving quantum atoms in Quantum Moves, optimising quantum algorithms in the prototype of meQuanics and solving quantum error corrections in Decodoku. All these steps are important to build quantum computers. Recently I've been showing off my navigation skills (ahem) in Sea Hero Quest, (and in VR!), to provide data to scientists researching dementia. With almost 3 million players, Sea Hero Quest is the largest dementia study in history.

Screenshot from Sea Hero Quest -VR
I loved the concept of citizen science games so much that about 2 years ago, I launched a website dedicated to them. It's called… well… Citizen Science Games. For the content, I contacted many scientists and journalists, which led to the opportunity to join one of the team. I am now bringing my experience from the game industry to Stall Catchers, in which we annotate blood vessels to help answering questions about Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists have started harnessing our love for games to conduct scientific research, sometimes on their own, sometimes with game designers and developers. As Sande Chen reported in her post, they have been using different design approaches: integration, gamification and separation. Most of the games mentioned above are examples of integration. The gameplay was designed around a scientific problem. Stall Catchers uses game elements: we get points, accuracy feedback, climb leader boards and participate in punctual competitions. To illustrate the separation approach, I will use the example of EVE Online. EVE Online is the first (and only) mainstream games that integrated real citizen science activities, Project Discovery, to the game. We are looking for exoplanets by analysing luminosity measurements of stars. By reaching more than one million contributions in one day, Project Discovery became one of the most successful online citizen science project. This is also one of the rare citizen science game having a few articles on Gamasutra, which recently covered the launch of the second round of Project Discovery and an awesome GDC talk by CCP and MMOS.

Project Discovery
There is an increasing number of citizen science games. They generate tangible results and publications and can lead to important discoveries. Scientists write about design, mechanics, difficulties, pitfalls, discoveries, results, recommendations. They try to understand what motivates people to engage with these games. There is also some controversies. Do games attract or retain participants in citizen science project? Shall citizen science be gamified? Are games compatible with serious and rigorous traditional scientific research?  All these questions find some answers in papers and will be discussed in future posts.

How could more studios embrace the concept? What scientific problems could be brought to existing games? What game genre would be best fitted for citizen science projects? What would be the best ways to integrate them? By starting this blog, I'm hoping to raise awareness about citizen science games. I'm also hoping to establish contact and start discussions with designers and developers interested in the genre.

And finally, I'm a big fan of this quote so I have to share it. It was written by Dara Mohammadi who was a scientific adviser on Sea Hero Quest:
"As a planet we spend 3 billion hours a week playing online games. If even a fraction of that time can be harnessed for science, laboratories around the world would have access to some rather impressive cognitive machinery."
 [This article originally appeared on Claire Baert's blog on Gamasutra.]

Claire Baert has 10 years experience in the video game industry and now focuses on citizen science games. She launched the website, Citizen Science Games, in 2016.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Upcoming Workshop: Designing Games For Impact

Next week, on September 20, I will be holding another workshop through PlayCrafting NYC called Designing Games For Impact. While I have explored issues of concern to social impact games in past classes, my primary research focus has been broader and more centered on deepening emotional impact and meaningfulness in games.  I relate findings from related disciplines like advertising, cinematography, and social psychology.  Thus, I believe these classes are of interest not only to serious game developers but to entertainment game developers.

As I mentioned, I was 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.

These emotional memories from one's life can also be tapped for stronger narrative.  If you can learn to access the emotion from a past event, then you convey the same emotion in a fictional story.  The focus of the next class will be on using personal autobiographical elements to create an emotional connection.

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, September 20
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.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Citizen Science and Knowledge Games

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the concept of citizen science, and how it can be embraced by game designers.

On Monday, August 21, 2017, residents of the contiguous United States witnessed a total solar eclipse for the first time since 1979.  Because of the rarity of the occurrence, which will not occur again in the U.S. until 2024,  hundreds bought special eclipse glasses to watch, but some members of the public, as citizen scientists, aided in scientific research by sending temperature data to NASA or by recording animal behavior in a citizen science app like iNaturalist. Amateur photographers contributed to a time-lapse photo spread of the eclipse. Through the combined efforts of researchers and the public, a large amount of data was able to be collected about the total solar eclipse.

Total solar eclipse August 2017
Citizen science, which engages the public to participate in scientific research, is not a new practice.  Communities of citizen scientists have been active in mapping the stars, counting butterflies, watching birds, and monitoring coral reefs.  Could such communities be galvanized as game players, who through the process of playing games further scientific knowledge?  Associate Professor Karen Schrier, Founding Director of the Games & Emerging Media program at Marist College, asks this very question and more in her book, Knowledge Games.


FoldIt, the protein folding puzzle game, is the most well-known example of this type of game. As documented in the article, "FoldIt Gamers Solve Riddle of HIV Enzyme Within 3 Weeks," the results from FoldIt players has led to scientific breakthroughs, research papers, and in improvements to AI algorithms. Yep, it turns out humans are better than computers at solving certain types of puzzles, especially those requiring intuition and a basis in cultural understanding.

In the past, I had an interesting challenge:  to design a game to generate data about obesity rates and general health indicators over a period of a year.  The project at first had more of a gamification focus and then morphed into the ARG Lumeria.  It provided insights on designing and writing for wearable technology, which would serve as the main way of data collection.  But Schrier argues that these games are more than just about gathering data, but about increasing knowledge, which is why she uses the term, knowledge games, instead of other terms like "crowdsourced games" or "citizen science games."  Data needs to be contextualized, analyzed, and interpreted.  Games like Happy Moths and Galaxy Zoo, which involve classification and categorization of images, do seem to be more about data sets, but as mentioned above, FoldIt and experiments like bullying sim SchoolLife have demonstrated that the intuition shown in human thought processes may be used to improve algorithms or model behavior.

At present, there appears to be three design approaches for knowledge games.
  • Gamification  -  In games like Happy Moths, players receive scores based on tasks.  The common highlights of gamification are present: leaderboards, high scores, badges, game elements rather than gameplay.
  • Separation - In some games, like Reverse the Odds, the gameplay is separate from the knowledge-producing task. Instead, players in Reverse the Odds classify cancerous cells in order to earn potions to continue or better gameplay. 
  • Integration - In games like FoldIt, the gameplay is essential to the knowledge-producing task. FoldIt players use the same tools as scientists would, but that is not necessarily the case. In Play to Cure: Genes in Space, players pilot a spaceship and by doing so in an optimal way, DNA microarrays from breast cancer research are analyzed. However, Schrier states that not all of these games are integrated fully or well, which may make the game feel like a construct, or wrapper, for the knowledge-producing task.
Besides the design of knowledge games, Schrier tackles many issues in her book concerning knowledge games, including the ethics of possibly profiting from such volunteerism (would they be player laborers?), or even the ethics of creating such games since they may not even be created for social good. Do knowledge games need to promote social change?  There is also concern over who exactly is contributing and playing and if this "wisdom of the crowds" is acceptable.  "What if," Schrier muses, "players work through the possible scenarios to tribal peace in The SUDAN Game, and the resulting finding is that two of the tribes need to be decimated?" These are interesting questions for interesting times.  We may need to continue our exploration into knowledge games by creating more knowledge games.

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, August 17, 2017

A Double Standard for Female Characters?

In this article, game writer Sande Chen implores others to think about how female characters are portrayed and developed.

Women in fields like high tech can feel like they're pushing against a double standard. They have to prove that they're beyond qualified for the job while at the same time, receiving a lower pay. They may feel like they're treated differently or belittled, their ideas claimed by male colleagues who fail to even let them finish speaking. I sometimes feel that female characters must feel the same way.  Think about how you treat your female characters.  Are they given the same opportunities as male characters?

For a long time, in film, the prevailing thought was that movies with female protagonists would never be major successes so why bother?  (Though recently, Wonder Woman smashed box office records.)  This same mantra seems to be repeated in the video game industry.  According to the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Design and Research Report, only 3% of top console games from 2005 to 2013 had female protagonists and publishers had very low expectations, as reflected in the low marketing budgets of those games. One game developer with a female-fronted game commented on how hard it was to get publishers to change their views: "We had some [companies] that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that."

TERA
This had led to the male character being the default playable character, especially in mobile games, with female playable characters falling into the optional "pay extra" category or simply non-existent.  Despite it all, female players still clamor to be heard. They want female playable characters.  Repeat, this is just about the mere inclusion of a female playable character!  Even when female playable characters are included, they may be hypersexualized just like non-playing female characters whose only value seems to be their physical attributes.

If your game doesn't have a female protagonist, maybe you have a female character in a supporting role?  Let's hope she's not a badass there just to support the male hero as a plot device, much like the character Trinity in The Matrix. Give her a fully realized story of her own that could function as a subplot.

Does your female character have strong opinions? Careful now. Here's where criticism may come. Maybe she's too brash. Or too unlikable. Comes off as "too male."  These are charges that probably wouldn't ever be leveled against male characters.  Male characters tend to get away with all sorts of off-putting personality tics.

Male characters also don't tend to be threatened by sexual assault.  Yes, sexual assault is a concern for women and pertinent to some stories, but don't use it for shock value or as a plot device for the male hero to seek revenge.  Sexual assault shouldn't be the "go-to standard" for a female character's traumatic childhood. Don't use rape or attempted rape as a way to make a story "edgy." I'm sure there are other ways to insert danger into a female character's life story.

Female characters are deserving of better treatment. They too can have deep, intriguing back stories. We don't have to turn them into seductresses or subject them to sexual abuse.  We can attribute more value to them than their physical appearances.  Let's make sure we aren't applying a double standard and create stories that celebrate female characters.

In an idealized society, I wonder what female characters will be like, and if you would like to join me, I will be holding another writing workshop in New York City, Writing for Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Horror Game Worlds, next Wednesday, August 23rd, at Microsoft NY.

the details!
Date:  Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017
Time: 6:30 to 9:30 PM
Place: Microsoft NY, Times Square
Tickets sold by PlayCrafting NYC

A writer and game designer, Sande Chen has over 10 years experience in the industry. She studied science fiction and science writing at MIT. Her first published game was the epic space combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival. She was later nominated for a 2007 Writers Guild of America award in Videogame Writing for the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher.








 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Great Narrative Stories are the Answer

In this article, game writer Sande Chen explains how a narrative story's themes can have an everlasting impact on its readers or viewers.

For several months now, I've been exploring issues regarding social impact and meaningfulness in my PlayCrafting NYC classes, Designing Games For Impact (coming up soon on September 20).  I spoke about the difficulties of measuring impact recently at the Serious Play Conference.  Does impact mean increasing awareness or changing beliefs or changing behaviors or all the above?

As I've mentioned before, convincing someone to change one's beliefs is a very hard task. Because of confirmation bias, even new evidence to the contrary will cause a person to cling more fiercely to those beliefs.  As Christopher Graves, founder of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science, noted in his keynote at the 2017 Games For Change Festival, arguing the facts simply makes it worse. People who believe differently will just reject those newly discovered facts.

So what's the answer?  How can we convince people who don't seem willing to look logically at the facts?

Graves points to the theory of narrative transportation whereby people become so enthralled with an immersive, narrative story that their attitudes change to reflect that of the story's, even when the story is known to be fictional.  In fact, neurophysiologists have discovered mirror neurons in the brains of the storyteller and the people listening to the story.  Mirror neurons may even be the basis for empathy.

Christopher Graves speaks at the 2017 Games For Change Festival
Storytellers, did you realize that your story's themes could be this powerful?

But not all stories trigger mirror neurons.  The listener needs to feel so enraptured by vivid and concrete imagery that the listener feels like this is a living world filled with believable characters and situations.  In essence, great narrative stories may be the way to change people's hearts and minds.

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, August 3, 2017

A Brief History of Game Jams

The following is reprinted from The Game Jam Guide, available from ETC Press. Download your copy now for free.

At any given weekend, there is a game jam happening somewhere in the world. Professionals and students alike converge on these game jam sites to further their skills, to foster community, and to experiment with game design. These game jams may focus on a social cause or a specific technology. The developers may want to explore a theme and use a word or some starting point to spark creativity. No matter the direction, the goal of the participants is to create a playable game within the constraints in a relatively short period of time.

The earliest known game jam, dubbed the 0th Indie Game Jam, was founded by Chris Hecker and Sean Barrett in March 2002. Intent on encouraging innovation and experimentation within the game industry, they invited a select crowd of well-known designers and programmers to develop games for a specialized engine. Indie Game Jam, which continued in subsequent years, tended to focus on technology-driven constraints. Participants worked on their own, on multiple projects, or in a team.

The following month, in April 2002, Ludum Dare (from the Latin "To give a game"), the first virtual game jam, was launched. The idea for it had grown organically from the Internet forum of the same name. Ludum Dare, which now has solo and team tracks, challenges participants to create a game based on a theme rather than conforming to a technological constraint. Themes are suggested and voted on by the Ludum Dare community. Its community also determines which games are the winners, according to various judging standards. Though source code is required to be uploaded, participants retain all rights to their games. In more recent years, participants have broadcast livestreams on Twitch or created a time-lapse video of their game development progress during the event.

These early examples from 2002 were informal affairs. Nordic Game Jam, which would later grow to be one of the largest single-site game jams in the world, began in 2006 as a collaboration between the Denmark chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), IT University of Copenhagen, and local game companies. The organizers there emphasized the spirit of collaboration and sometimes would not release the theme until teams were formed. Once given the theme and restrictions, teams had just 48 hours to complete a working prototype. Participants of all skill levels were encouraged to come, stressing the educational aspect of the game jam.

Inspired by Indie Game Jam, Ludum Dare, and Nordic Game Jam, Global Game Jam (GGJ) holds the Guinness World Record for the largest game jam in the world. Founded by Susan Gold, Ian Schreiber, and Gorm Lai in 2008, GGJ is a multi-site game jam with many of the same characteristics of its predecessors. Participants may work alone, though teams are more common, to create a game based on a theme and optional diversifiers. In 2017, over 36,000 participants in 702 sites in 95 countries attended, making over 7000 games in one weekend. The games, all available for play on the GGJ site, range from tabletop games to virtual reality, Kinect games, handhelds and tablets, console games, and traditional PC games.

It's clear why educators often recommend that aspiring game developers attend game jams. Not only do the events foster creativity, collaboration, and community, but they also instill the fast prototyping and iterative design culture found in many game companies. Participants learn the lessons of "failing early" in order to perfect a game. They must work with teammates within a time constraint and are exposed to a diverse set of skills and personalities. They come face to face with production realities, which force them to decide which game features remain or must go. There may not be any monetary gain from game jams, but the entire experience of completing a game and learning from others may be priceless.

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, July 27, 2017

The Viability of Spec Game Scripts

In this article, game writer Sande Chen weighs the primacy of gameplay inspiration over story, and story inspiration over gameplay, to opine on whether or not the game industry would ever accept spec game scripts.

While the game industry may share some terminology with Hollywood, its business practices for story development are not that similar.  Therefore, when I've been asked on occasion if game companies routinely accept spec scripts or game ideas, I usually remark that if that happened, it would be very rare.  In a recent article, "Could there be a speculative script industry for narrative games?" writer Hannah Woods explored the possibility that this might change for interactive story games.


In general, I have found that most game companies start with tech or gameplay or a theme, but I've also seen games that very obviously were created story first, gameplay later.  In those cases, the game may seem like a collection of ideally related mini-games made to support the story.  For example, in Missing, a game about the tragedy of human trafficking, the gameplay goes in very short order from choosing branching narrative to an action mini-game and onward to resource management.  Cynically, I thought that even though the game appeared to have a way to escape the traffickers, I knew in deference to the story that the player-character would not be allowed to go free because otherwise, the full story of what happens to girls forced into prostitution would not be revealed.

Even when the basic gameplay is of primary concern, this does not necessarily mean that the story has been ignored.  Game designers often think about verbs associated with activities, so it may very well mean that the story elements have been the inspiration behind gameplay actions.  When the gameplay can become more interesting and complex in progression while also dovetailing with an exciting story, then the chances of ludonarrative dissonance are lower.  Our challenge is to have gameplay and story development working in concert.  My best experiences as a game writer have been when I've been treated as part of the team, leading to gameplay inspirations from the story, and vice versa.

Many game writers have complained that the gameplay first, story later methodology presents issues and as I pointed out above, going story first, gameplay later faces similar challenges.  Moreover, video games can be very different in their gameplay.  For this reason, how one approaches writing one game versus writing another game may be radically different. Therefore, for most games, especially the AAA games that most aspiring game writers would like to write, a spec game script would not make sense. But what about narrative-driven games?

Even within the umbrella of narrative games, there are different engines and different gameplay.  A text-based Twine game won't have the running and shooting actions that Mass Effect has. The only way I see spec game scripts working is if there's specificity for a particular engine and particular type of game.  That's how it is right now with companies like Choice of Games but if a writer wrote an entire spec game in ChoiceScript, I doubt another company would want it as is.

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.

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.