Patrick Shaw is not only a faculty member at Michigan State University. With 15 years of industry experience, Mr. Shaw has worked on games such as Star Wars and The Sims. He is also an alumnus, with a Master’s in Digital Media and Technology that he received in 2008. Only a few years later, in 2011, was he employed at MSU, where, as an instructor of the video game summer camp, he created design challenges and games for kids to play. From there, Mr. Shaw taught several online courses and eventually became an integral part of the online serious games graduate certificate. But teaching isn’t Mr. Shaw’s only career.
In 2012, Mr. Shaw founded Triquetra Games, a small boutique game company specializing in creating serious games and entertainment games. Currently, they are working on their first entertainment game, Modabots, which aims to inspire young women to get into STEM fields. I got a chance to sit down with Mr. Shaw to discuss Modabots and its goals.
Modabots is a strategy simulation game where players can use robots to explore an alien world. By building and improving robots for different situations, players can solve problems or satisfy their curiosity in a procedural, randomized world. Mr. Shaw says it’s the “opposite of Minecraft. In Minecraft, you go out and customized the world to enable your creativity. We’re giving you a world and letting you focus on your team of robots in order to express your creativity and explore the world.”
The idea came from a talk Mr. Shaw gave at another college in 2009, about games as art. His main argument was that game developers believe their games stand up against movies and books, but in reality, books and movies have very important messages and emotions. He said “What are games bringing to the table? Zombies.” And it was during the Q and A session of this talk that a women asked if it was an issue of diversity. Mr. Shaw remembers answering that it is a problem, but that he was more focused on games as art. Looking back on his answer later, Mr. Shaw became disappointed with his answer and realized that the problem of diversity in gaming is important to him, and thus, the idea of getting more young women involved in stem disciplines was born.
“We imagine that we’re creating up with games that are fun and entertaining but we also know that we are, as game designers, teaching people and we’re choosing to teach them something we feel is positive.”
Over the years, Mr. Shaw has interviewed many programmers, and he says he might have interviewed about three female programmers. But it’s likely that the industry is not screening them out—it’s that none are applying. Throughout his classes, Mr. Shaw has encountered junior and senior female students who say they don’t want to program at all. He went on to say “when you have most women saying that they hate it, that’s a problem.” And with a female mentor and female protagonist, Modabots enters the scene as an entertainment game with a serious purpose in mind, a stealth change game.
But unlike most educational games, Modabots isn’t aiming to teach any common core content. It’s more concerned with teaching women that they be engineers, computer scientists, or programmers. However, Modabots is marketed as an entertainment game, not a serious game. And even though you may be able to classify it as such, Mr. Shaw is afraid that it may diminish its audience. It’s a question that many serious game developers struggle with—to tag or not to tag a game as serious. Mr. Shaw said “I think it’s the same thing as if you tell someone ‘Here’s something healthy to eat.’ I think it’s the connotation that something’s not going to be fun or interesting.”
And when you think about it, we don’t have serious movies; we have dramas. And Mr. Shaw made a very interesting point in that the industry should mold itself to become more serious, more responsible for the content they put out.
“There’s not a lot of variety [in the industry], especially in the commercial space. And I think we sort of say we’re serious games as a way to say, ‘Well, we’re kind of different from the rest,’ but what I think needs to happen is that the rest needs to be like us, more like us, and we need to stop trying to dream up a label for us.”
It’s important that game developers own their games and consider them art, but we should be moving towards an era of development where developers consider what they’re putting out there. Mr. Shaw believes that all games are education, and just a matter of what developers are teaching their audience. He says “Mario inspires creative thinking, creative problem solving, and other aspects for life.” Modabots is an example of a fun, engaging game with developers who realize the potential of the medium and the message they want to send.
(The deadline to apply to begin your fully online graduate certificate in serious games this fall is June 15. For more information visit http://seriousgames.msu.edu/ma-certificate/. Submissions of games and research presentations for Meaningful Play 2014 are not due until July, but start thinking about your submission and planning your travel so that are part of this exciting co-mingling of meaningful play, game design, and research October 16-18 in East Lansing, Michigan. For more on submissions, visit http://meaningfulplay.msu.edu/submissions.php.)