Abstract Details

Game Design As A Writing Exercise

Work on games and simulations in the classroom generally focuses on
pre-made games as environments to teach a topic; however, the process
of game design itself can also be a radical pedagogical tool.
In this presentation, I will discuss my use of game design in courses as
a medium for student writing, where the game replaces the classic
undergraduate research paper, particularly in the humanities. In Salen
and Zimmerman’s “Rules of Play”, one distinguishing aspect of
games is that they are systems of information. Given this fact, games
can provide a unique platform for presenting, discussing, or critiquing
topics which are themselves highly systemic in nature. I challenge my students to not simply describe something in text, but to create a
dynamic, interactive, rule-driven experience based on the elements
and relationships of a subject that they research. As with a
traditional written essay, their projects can amount to a report on a
survey of the literature, or a research ‘paper’ expressing a novel thesis.

I will discuss specific methods of using games as essays in the
classroom – teaching the formal elements of games, and the use of rapid
prototyping techniques and high-level design tools. My students have
created projects both as boardgames and digital games. When working
digitally, I introduce simple, free game-making tools such as Twine and
Bitsy, although some students are motivated to learn more advanced tools
such as Unity on their own. On the actual research side of their projects,
the approach is very similar to a traditional paper – students are
required to identify a topic, develop a bibliography of reliable,
academic sources, and turn what they learn from these sources into the
final “product”. I have made use of this model both in first-year
general education seminars and in upper-level game design courses. The
first-year seminar includes a number of “introduction to college”
expected learning outcomes, such as time management, notetaking, and
using research university resources such as the library. A game design
project works particularly well with these goals, grabbing students’
interest without seeming like yet another boring paper assignment.

Examples to be presented from my students’ work may include projects on
Western New York history, abusive families, American colonialism, and
Chinese folklore.

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