Last Wednesday, Becky Palmer-Scott joined TC830, Foundations of Serious Games as a serious game professional to critique student serious game pitches. Having graduated in 2011, Palmer-Scott remembers the course fondly, but has also grown immensely since her time as a student. However, she wasn’t always in the serious game design track. Becky has a degree in journalism from MSU, a minor in English literature, and a background in music, and for several years, she worked as a technical writer. After recognizing the need for learning games in schools, Palmer-Scott returned to graduate school to study serious games.
Back at MSU, Palmer-Scott made several serious games. In Search for Samhain, players learn about the beginnings and history of Halloween through a series of mini-games. Later, she created a board game, Roots of Power, to help players increase their vocabulary by learning about suffixes and prefixes, with a Greek twist. Palmer-Scott really enjoyed making games as a team, and once graduated, helped found a non-profit to develop, study, and encourage use of games for learning.
Exercise is an activity that can be done either alone or in groups, but when we think of working out, it’s generally on an individual basis. Taiwoo Park, a postdoc researcher at KAIST university in Korea, spoke at MSU last week about social exergames. Park believes that the ideal form of exercise is group physical activity, for physical, recreational, and social benefits. Group sports are just natural. However, with busy schedules, most of the time we opt for simple, individual exercise, giving up social bonding and entertainment for the sole purpose of physical benefits. Park wants to return to group exercises by transforming individual exercises into group activities over a virtual space.
This week, Ian Schreiber, game programmer, designer, and co-author of Challenges for Game Designers, visited the Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media department here at MSU to discuss the field of game design. With many years of industry experience, Schreiber has produced open online courses on game development, produced games for two Fortune 500 companies, and taught game design at several universities. He enjoys mentoring game design students and helping them prepare for and connect with industry. Schreiber’s experiences culminate in a wealth of advice for game designers.
Game design is about planning, not building. Designers can be in charge of creating core systems, game writing, content design, level design, game balance, and rapid prototyping, these last two being the central focus of Schreiber’s talk. In such a young field, game balance is something that just happens for most game designers, who are generally self-taught in the subject. These designers often feel insecure about what they know on the topic, perhaps picking up a few things here and there from forums. And since there are no books on game balance, it’s challenging for a game designer to learn and put to work. Schreiber believes collaboration with other members of the team expert in different subjects can help designers grow in this area and find novel solutions, through programming, for example, to implement and create game balance.
Dr. Yu-Hao Lee
While cognitive bias can affect everyone, it is especially dicey among intelligence agents. Dr. Yu-Hao Lee, Michigan State University Media and Information Studies Ph.D. alum, is currently working with a team at the University of Oklahoma on a game to reduce cognitive bias among intelligence agents. For Yu-Hao, this is a match made in heaven, landing in his field of research—motivation and psychology of serious games. The two part game: MACBETH I and MACBETH II, is being developed for the International Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the research head of the intelligence community for the CIA.
Lee explains that the reason for the project evolved after 9/11, when intelligence analysts came together to try to figure out what happened, to see if anyone had caught any warning signs. They came to the conclusion that intelligence analysts may have trouble removing implicit cognitive biases from their work. Even though they need to make quick decisions, sometimes unconscious mental short cuts lead to errors. There are many well documented forms of cognitive bias. For example, “confirmation bias” is the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports or confirms your expectations. “Anchoring bias” is the tendency to place too much weight on initial clues. To address the problem, IARPA contracted experts in the field of psychology and games. And so, MACBETH—or Mitigating Analyst Cognitive Bias by Eliminating Task Heuristics—was born.
Catchy name, huh?
Much like his twin brother, Daniel, Derek DeMaiolo’s roots began somewhere other than gaming. DeMaiolo has been working with creative tools from an early age, eventually enrolling at Youngstown State University to study Media and Interface Design. “The transition from web design/graphic design,” he said, “really meshed with software development.” It was his solid background in several related fields that helped him prosper once he enrolled in Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media MA program, as well as the serious game graduate certificate at MSU.
Derek feels that the people in charge of the serious game courses work well together to open the world of game development. While he had acquired multimedia skills before, the program fostered within him higher level thinking and concepts. Many of the courses, specifically Game Design and Development II and Foundations of Serious Games, taught him the core principles of game design and how to embed educational content within game mechanics, while also undergoing quick, sometimes sleepless development cycles, crucial “survival” skills for his job at Circle 1 Network.