Welcome! Seriously! Playfully!

The Media and Information department at Michigan State University offers an undergraduate specialization in game design and development, an MA degree with concentration in HCI and emphasis on games and meaningful play, a PhD in Media and Information Studies, and a 3 course graduate certificate in serious games that can be completed on campus or fully online. November 15 is the deadline to apply for Spring 2016 admission.

The Games and Meaningful Play group of faculty and students and the GEL Lab (Games for Entertainment and Learning) bring together diverse experts who design and study meaningful play and serious games.   Our motto is, CHANGE THE WORLD WITH US.  If you’re interested, we’d love to have you join us.

MSU Graduate Certificate in Serious Games: Now with BADGES!

The MSU Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Games now comes with badges. You earn one badge for each of the three courses, as soon as you successfully complete the course. And you earn a composite badge when you complete all three courses and earn the certificate.
Serious Game Certificate BadgesYou can post the badges you earn directly on your personal web site and your linked page, with a link to this web page describing the badges and criteria. We also award the badges through Mozilla’s Backpack badge system.

Instructions on how to obtain the digital badge will be provided upon successful completion of each course. If you already completed a course or the certificate but did not receive instructions on how to claim your badges, contact Carrie (heeter@msu.edu).

In fall 2012, MSU launched our fully online graduate certificate program in serious game design and research. We were experienced online teachers and we were clear about what courses to offer and key concepts, skills, and theories that would provide a great foundation for serious game design.

I didn’t realize how amazing it would be to get to teach passionate, diverse, incredibly expert “students” from across the US and around the world.

• Many are K-12 teachers or university professors.
• Some are doctoral students.
• They teach or study computer science or english or history or art or math or  education or HCI…
• Some work in the game industry.
• Some are corporate trainers.
• Some work in Fortune 500 companies.
• One designs exhibits for a science museum.
• Another creates visitors experiences for fisheries and wildlife centers.

As the program enters its third year, we’ve learned a lot.

• We’ve been fine tuning ways to encourage each learner to approach class assignments to optimize their personal learning goals.
• We’ve been refining ways to connect classmates with each other so they benefit from each other’s ideas and experience.
• We’ve refined assignments and approaches to ensure that our courses, along with being full of content and projects, are sensitive to busy professional’s lives.

Wizard CarrieSo, if you’re passionate and awesome and interested in learning more about designing and studying game to change the world, apply to our program. Find more information here. If you have questions, email me, Professor Carrie Heeter, heeter@msu.edu.

The deadline to apply for admission for Spring 2016 is November 15!

It’s Time to Apply!

The deadline for online, certificate-only applications for spring  2016 admission to the Michigan State University Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Games is November 15, 2015.  That means you need to get started now!

Here is a link to information about the program. And here is application information for online students.

Please contact me for more information.

Carrie Heeter, PhD, Professor of Media and Information

Serious Game Alumni #11: Lissy Torres


This is me! My face, right here.

I’m Lissy Torres, the graduate student who has been the social media “voice” of the Michigan State University serious game graduate certificate program for the last 2 years. I’m graduating this week! Carrie Heeter, director of the graduate certificate program, thought it would be appropriate to end the semester by having me interview myself! (Thanks, Carrie?)

And with that short intro, a bit about me, Lissy Torres, and my adventures in serious gaming at MSU.

Let’s start at the end. I defended my MA project last week, and I’m pretty sure it made at least one of my committee members blush.

I certainly didn’t set out to develop an R-rated game (for mature audiences only).  I’m actually a shy person. Trust me, I am not someone who regularly (or ever) uses pickup lines to meet people at a bar.  So how is it that I came to create Activists Looking for Action, a hilarious game that invites players to create pick-up lines based on serious issues? It all started with #activistspickuplines on Twitter.

I was inspired by all the great, funny pick-up lines that were being generated by the hashtag, which were also occasionally witty and contextual. I took the inspiration to one of my last classes, Implementing Interactivity, where I prototyped it for the first time and realized that it needed a somewhat close-knit group of friends to be successful, as well as a few other tweaks.

Affirmative ActionPolice Brutality









A couple of the cards from the game. A judge draws a card and players write and perform pick-up lines to each other.

Taking from my Serious Game and game design courses here at MSU, I created this awkward, potentially offensive, educational card game that kept players intrinsically motivated to continue. In my three playtests, all players enthusiastically played through the game. And with a little prodding, it seemed possible that the opinions of the players were slowly changing to view serious topics as something to be discussed and explored, one of the major goals of my thesis.

The best part is that the closer the group of friends, the more outrageous the pick-up lines became. And some players frowned upon them, and wagged their fingers, while other players laughed uproariously. It was clear to me that my thesis was successful, thanks to the help of my amazing committee, and also what I took with me from each class.

During my first semester, in Theories of Interaction Design, I developed a curiosity for background research and for designing games. In Understanding Users, I learned the tools for testing and interviewing. In my second semester, during Foundations of Serious Games, I discovered many theories, such as scaffolding, but also concepts of fun and how to build them into an effective serious game.


Looking back, it’s easy to see just how my thesis started. Activists Looking for Action is my solution to introducing the fun that can come with learning about topics that are typically not so fun. It encourages players to talk about them and discover them among friends, in a safe environment. The idea of Activists Looking for Action is to make people comfortable with the uncomfortable, and learn to like exploring issues and maybe someday even doing something about those issues.

Activists Looking for Action is being submitted to IndieCade, hopefully for showcase and more playtesting in October. In the meantime, feel free to make your own card set, submit your pick-up lines, or tell me how the game goes!

I’m grateful for my experiences here in the serious game certificate program and the Media and Information program. I’ve absorbed a lot from professors and my peers, online and in person, and even though I will miss being a student, I aim to take what I’ve learned and make something seriously fun.

INTERVIEW: Video Game History, Expression, and Art in World 1-1 with Co-Creator, Jeanette Garcia

world 1-1 This week, we met with Jeanette Garcia, co-creator of World 1-1, the first film in a documentary series on the history of video games. The film focuses on the rise and fall of Atari in the 1970s and 1980s, featuring interviews with the major players of the time—Nolan Bushnell, Al Alcorn, Dona Bailey and so on—as well as several other commentators.

We sat down to discuss how games are portrayed in the film and to gain a deeper insight into the fascinating advent of video games.

Why do you think it’s important to learn the history of video games?

Just like the art of the novel, the invention of photography and later the emergence of moving images in film, video games is an art form that has influenced our culture and identity. It’s important to know where and how it all started, especially given that video games have such an interesting history emerging out of war. It came out of experimentation, a desire to amuse and entertain after some very dark times, and grew to become one of the leading forms of art and entertainment. Not only that, but like any other art form, it has changed and taken many shapes and I think it’s vital to document that evolution.

Speaking of changing shapes, it seems like a lot of the developers from the film thought of games like software instead. Why do you think that is?

Well I think that the main reason some of them continually refer to the games as software was because as creators, they were the programmers and dealt with the code. Although they were dealing with very limited hardware, especially by today’s standards, they pushed to create quality programming that could operate on the system that they had to work with. To me, I think they use that vocabulary because to them, it was more than what most consumers saw. They viewed the games as intricate programs that required a lot of patience and creativity in order for them to work properly.

How do you feel that might have impacted how games were made?

I think the way they thought of gameplay was very limited and in order to challenge gameplay further, you needed more help from the hardware.

I don’t think it would’ve changed what they made if they had considered them games. A lot of them tested them and enjoyed playing them, so I do think that a part of them did view what they were creating as a game. In their creative process, they definitely approached it in more than one way. They saw it as art, expression, the technology that made it all happen, a challenge, but it was also a very fun end product that was meant to draw people out of the humdrum and suck them into the screen. I think they attempted to be as immersive as possible, which comes across in a lot of the statements from those in the film. They wanted people to be mesmerized and drawn to their game, not only in terms of the aesthetic, but also because players had fun and wanted to keep playing.

You mention that they saw their games as art. What do you think they were trying to express?

Some expressed their imagination whether by taking every day common events or concerns, like Dona Bailey’s Centipede, and transforming them into vivid and entrancing experiences. Or by building a world with portals and warps like Franz Lanzinger’s Crystal Castles. Or by creating a complex backstory like Howard Scott Warshaw’s Yars’ Revenge. Others wanted to build on what was done and give it their twist or their own vision as we see with Garry Kitchen’s port of Donkey Kong. There were also programmers that wanted to show how creative they could be with the technology by pushing its limits and creating something unique and fun like Owen Rubin’s Major Havoc’s game within a game and idle animations. Or Adventure from Warren Robinett with his rooms and items, which had not been done before. We can see just how incredibly creative and innovative this group was, which I think is part of every generation and it’s one of the things that I admire from them the most. They were not only artistic, but behind that visually appealing presentation was also a lot of technological ingenuity.

A lot of the developers also didn’t classify themselves as gamers, then or now. Why do you think that is?

Although it was part of their jobs to play them, many of them enjoyed making games far more and really spent the majority of their time on the technological side of it rather than playing games as entertainment. Others gravitated later on in life toward developing other forms of technology like Joe Decuir’s interest in the internet and later Bluetooth technology and Steve Mayer’s interest in film editing software. We spoke to some of them who expressed that they no longer see games as they did then and had sort of grown out of it or had chosen to make very particular types of games such as mobile games or memory games because of their practicality and how they might benefit people. One person in particular admitted that the last video game they played was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which they were really captured by, and they loved it so much that they were afraid to get hooked on games and not leave their home or do anything else. None of this comes across in the film because we had to focus on the history then, but we do have a lot of more content that didn’t make it in there and plan on including in future disc versions.

Did anyone else mention if they’ve been working on any serious games?

Well, Nolan Bushnell has a company called Brain Rush that works on learning games and actually partners up with schools and faculty to make them. A few others were working on other projects but they weren’t ready to really talk about them publicly yet. We are excited about the prospect of them making more games and seeing them released.

So what’s next for World 1-1?

We want to move forward in the history and look into what came next. A lot of people turn to Nintendo as the savior of the horrible crash of 1983 that appeared to have permanently destroyed the video game market. We would love to tell that story, but as we all know, Nintendo does not let just anyone in. We know that they would want the right person to tell their story. Nintendo wouldn’t be the only thing we would cover, since PC gaming was also a huge component to that era. And with Nintendo’s grand entrance, we also have its major competitor, Sega, an epic rivalry for superiority in consoles and games. What will happen in terms of production of World 1-2 really depends on the support of viewers and the success of this film. We are passionate filmmakers who also love video games. We want to continue to tell this story, but we want to be sure that we do it right and unfortunately that will take funding, the trust of some very important people, and a bit more time. For now, we are focusing on getting World 1-1 out there by having it screened at as many conventions as possible and chatting with people about it. Ultimately, we want to bring the film to disk, but it is available digitally on VHX right now.

Final comments?

This film is in part very close to our hearts. Although we aren’t game developers, we are independent filmmakers (a total crew of two people). Seeing the determination, ingenuity, and resilience of these pioneers and how humble their beginnings were, really speaks to us. It shows us that if you are truly passionate about what you do, retain that creative free spirit, and give it everything you have and keep going no matter how hard it might be or how impossible it might seem, you can make it happen.


To learn more about World 1-1 and keep up with the series and other fascinating video game news, visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can also currently purchase the film digitally at VHX or, if you’re in the mood for travel, see a screening at the Sacramento Indie Arcade Gaming Expo this April.

Serious Game Alumni #10: Bryan Novak

4965657af186b9092c7a96976ffe881c_XLBryan Novak’s time in the Master’s program and serious game certificate was marked by many interesting events and games. During his time here, he created an endless runner about harassment towards woman in the gaming community, a cool action platformer inspired by Megaman Legends, and a series of brain training games as part of team at the GEL Lab to help rehabilitate children in Uganda who were recovering from HIV and malaria. Bryan even got to travel to Africa and test it on location!

Novak also met Craig Tucker, the CEO of Tucknologies, a web design and software development company in Lansing. The two took TC 830, Foundations of Serious Games, where they co-created an anti-bullying game with another student. Now working as Chief Technology Officer at Tucknologies, Novak is in charge of selecting development platforms for projects, performing task estimations, delegating work to interns, and programming as well. As CTO, Novak has had a chance to work for OIC Movies, an American Sign Language company, and Compass Health and Technology Institute, who provide professional training for nurses and veterans, as well as developing software for Wealth and Wisdom.

“We’ve been fortunate to connect with people who also want to help make life better for others and the software we develop for them helps make those dreams a reality.”

While the company doesn’t exactly focus on games, Novak believes “we have been able to make use of a lot of the design theories and gamification techniques. On some of our more interactive applications, we try to find ways to encourage user participation by reinforcing positive behavior.” As a student in the serious game program, Novak explored the sphere of violence in video games and harassment of players in online games. Recalling his favorite course, TC 497, Game Design Studio, Novak says “I got to work with a really awesome team and we really wanted to push ourselves to make it a great learning experience as well as a fantastic game.” “

As project lead and designer [in TC 497], I learned a lot about managing time, breaking down and delegating tasks, getting regular updates, and coordination with the team when it all came together. It made for an incredibly creative and rewarding experience.”

A screenshot from Novak's TC497 game, Mechabots

A screenshot from Novak’s TC497 game, Mechabots

Piggy Scramble, an indie game in the making by Novak and several other alums.

Piggy Scramble!

On the side, Novak and several other MSU alums are working on a small indie game, Piggy Scramble. While most of his technical skills were gained as an undergrad at UW-Stevens Point, Novak says “Nearly all of my design knowledge came from my two years at MSU.” He hopes to put these skills to work, not only as CTO, but in Piggy Scramble and several other game projects.


“I’ve found that tabletop RPGs are a fantastic way to learn about game design and how players respond to those design. A lot of systems out there make for very fluid play, letting you adapt to your players as they adapt to you.”

As far as words of wisdom for current and future serious game students, Novak says it’s important to do task estimations and record hours. “At any job,” he says, “you will hear the words ‘How long will that take?’ Practice now so you have an answer then.” Novak is also positive about the present as a great time to be making all types of games. He says “It’s become a much more accessible medium to both develop for and to be appreciated by the public. Just keep making, testing, breaking, revising, patching, upgrading, sharing, and playing.”