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.”

Serious Game Alumni #9: Culver Redd


The alumni series is back! Opening this semester with the talented Culver Redd, who is currently a Software Engineer at TechSmith. Redd’s path into the Serious Game Certificate is certainly a unique one. Stemming from an early interest in physics, his motivation arose shortly after completing his undergraduate thesis in Computer Science, a game for physics and astronomy education. His thesis advisor introduced him to Meaningful Play, where he continued research for his thesis but was also floored by the wide variety of serious game projects displayed. Redd said “It wasn’t until attending Meaningful Play that I realized how many people were working to that purpose.” The experience was part of the reason that Redd applied to the program.

Within the Serious Games Certificate, Redd gravitated towards games for education and social justice. This resulted in Redd becoming part of a graduate thesis team here at MSU who sought to create an infinite runner game commenting on the poor treatment of women in gaming communities. But he also found himself working on more traditional games, such as platformers, shooters, and fighting games.

Now as a software engineer, Redd writes and reorganizes code, which also requires working with UX designers, instructional designers, stakeholders and his team. Looking back on the Serious Game Certificate program, Redd believes it “really helped round out my design thinking and understanding of user testing/research. This is invaluable now that I need to communicate with people doing design and research on a near-daily basis.”

“The Serious Game Certificate really helped me in rounding out my academic coding knowledge with a lot of project experience.”

Redd’s favorite course, Dr. Casey O’Donnell’s Implementing Interactivity, allowed him to take principles of serious game theories and put them to the test of design, iteration, and analysis. And while Redd is not working in games currently, he recently finished a personal project in which he liveblogged a game programming by example book, 3D Game Engine Programming. He believes that the Serious Game Certificate has not only given him the tools to succeed as a future game developer, and the opportunity to build on his skills as a software engineer, but it has also given him the opportunity to “access and learn from some of the best resources and networking opportunities, such as the CA program.”

CA stands for conference associate, a type of volunteer at the Game Developers Conference. Redd recalls attending and working the conference as one of the most meaningful experiences of his life. “The experience of that week as a CA,” he says, “it’s incredibly difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t done it. But you arrive there, meet tons of new and incredibly friendly people. You work at the conference until you’re exhausted but every CA is just so enthusiastic that you’re infected with energy to keep on.”

“There are people there [at GDC] from every walk of life, with an amazingly diverse set of experiences and interests, with connections and experience at every level and in every job role in the game industry. And once you’re a CA, you can continue to enhance those friendships and professional connections throughout your career.”

Redd wraps it up with these words of wisdom for serious game students: “My biggest piece of advice is to make lots of friends in the program and to attend Meaningful Play and whatever other conferences you can get to. Doing as much networking and relationship-building as you can will really help in the long run. Other than that, I just suggest working as hard as you can on your games and keeping an open mind – don’t be afraid to use mediums and mechanics for your games that aren’t traditional. Breaking out of those molds can lead to great and interesting things!”

Games, Seriously Joins the Web as a Meaningful Games Podcast

Founded by Christopher Yap, games researcher and PhD candidate at Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Rachel Bazelais, Code Liberation teacher-in-training, Jon Padua, fiction writer and narrative expert, and Thomas May, Master’s and serious game certificate student in the Media and Information department here at MSU, Games, Seriously is a new podcast that seeks to advocate for games as a meaningful medium of expression. In short, Games, Seriously wants people to, well, take games seriously.

The idea for the podcast was born some time after the team met at PAX East, where Yap, Padua, and May gave a talk titled The Mythology In and Of Games: Why the Legend of Zelda is just as important as the Legend of Beowulf, during which they met future member Bazelais, who was one of the many people in the packed room. The presenters were inspired to give this talk to counter the stigma that “games and the greater concept of play have no substantive value, or are simply goofing off,” Yap said.

“Back in the day, sharing stories was by word of mouth. Now games are one of the more popular and expressive mediums to share narratives.”

-Thomas May, Rachel Bazelais

The audience during the team's PAX East Talk, The Mythology In and Of Games.

The audience during the team’s PAX East Talk, The Mythology In and Of Games.

The panel was successful in discussing the educational content that games can afford players, this being one part of the message Games, Seriously hopes to broadcast. Through monthly, hour long episodes, the podcast aims to discuss the encouraging and exciting capacity of games—such as for education and self-improvement— to make a meaningful impact on society. Games, Seriously will provide a safe space for people to discuss integral, significant issues in game, hopefully providing stimulation for future projects that will further the field as, Yap puts it, “an expression of human creativity, positivity, and progress.”

“The fact that MSU actually has a department for serious games is a testament to the progress of the field institutionally, a field that has really caught on to something special games can do for humanity.”

-Christopher Yap

Kick off the holiday break by tuning in on Sunday, December 14th for Games, Seriously’s first episode in which they discuss the factors which make games important, a intentionally general topic where each podcast member adds from their field of expertise—game narrative, indie development, traditional fiction and prose, and serious games. Future episodes boast an extensive list of game title discussions, including serious games, games for change, and entertainment titles such as Fable, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Metal Gear Solid, and more.

Stay up to date with Games, Seriously on their Facebook and Twitter!