MSU and Girl Scouts Come Together for Tech Day

Michigan State University’s Media and Information department welcomed a troop of Girl Scouts from Livonia this past Saturday, encouraging the girls to play and learn with technology. Led by Patrick Shaw, professor and owner of indie game company Triquetra Games, the girls partook in a day of robotics, animation, programming, and even a bit of game design.

As the day began, one of Shaw’s first questions included “What does a game programmer do?” One of the girl scouts excitedly answered, “He makes the coding that makes the game work!” Shaw smiled and added “Or she,” and the Girl Scout nodded in approval, adding “he or she” to her answer. It wasn’t surprising that she choose to answer this way. According to the 2014 Game Developer Salary Survey, only 5% of game design programmers in the US are women, and much of this has to do with the social and cultural view of STEM professions as male occupations. But this day camp sought to change that, and I had the pleasure of participating.

A couple of Girl Scouts are helping one another in Scratch, a visual programming tool.

A couple of Girl Scouts are helping one another in Scratch, a visual programming tool.


Saturday was all about dispelling the belief that boys are better at math, and by association, engineering, science, and the like. Math is hard for many of us, as one girl scout pointed out, and with Mattel authoring books that teach boys are better at math, it would seem we have a lot of work to do.  Math is hard, for some, but as another Girl Scout pointed out “girls can do anything boys can.”

Besides pushing down a negative narrative about gender, Shaw also sought to find out what these girls wanted most in a game, in order to better design Triquetra Game’s .BOT, an exploration and discovery experience for young women in which they can discover ancient civilizations, new technology, and build robots. Through two exercises—Be the Producer and Be the Engineer—we got an inside look at what young girls value in games.

Multiplayer, storytelling, and quests topped the list, with snapshots coming in last place. Even more interesting was a discussion within a group on whether cosmetic customization (changing the appearance of their robots) or 250 customizable robot parts would be the better feature. The discussion ended when one Girl Scout noticed that with 250 more parts, they could build many more robots, and also customize them. The girls agreed that more parts would be better than cosmetics. All of the Girl Scouts agreed that how well a game plays is more important than game graphics as well.

Interesting, right?

Game Developer Statistics

Image credit to Game Career Guide

From there, the girls went on to code dancing cats in Scratch, an online programming tool for kids. Like many of the other activities that day, this one let the girls create using technology, and I think it was the perfect tool for showing them one of the many possibilities that computers and technology hold for them. Every girl was engaged with the program, and many of them got the hang of the visual programming editor very quickly. Some Girl Scouts even made their own accounts!

And all this before lunchtime!

15 Characters You’ll Meet in the Serious Game Design Program



Every program attracts a certain type of person, but the Serious Game Certificate attracts all kinds of people. Even so, here’s a list of fifteen characters you’re bound to run into as an online or in person serious game design student at Michigan State.


The Domain Specialist

This particular student comes to us from a different field entirely. For this student, their goals tend to be about bringing games back to their field, on how to use games to educate or help players. A good example of a specialist would be a speech pathology PhD student, one of which is actually in the program now.

Person on a Mission

This character tends to come in to the program already knowing exactly what they want to do.  Often, they have a game idea they are passionate about bringing to life. They come in knowing how they want to change the world.

The Novice

The novice doesn’t really know much about video games. It could be that they only know about popular culture references or what friends have told them about the field. They see the value in games and are passionate about learning more. This character type may not consider themselves a gamer, but may enjoy game design exercises, the research aspect of games, or the user experience building behind game development.

The Expert Gamer

The complete opposite of the novice, the expert knows all there is about games and then some. They may have grown up with games, know the intricacies of several different games, and identify the term “gamer.” Their interest in the Serious Game Certificate is all about creating entertaining games with a higher purpose. They know well what is and isn’t fun, and have come to learn about the serious side of play.

The Non-Gamer

Yes, there will be fellow students who really don’t play or even like games.  What are they doing in the program? They know games are powerful and important, and they want to understand what makes games work, to adapt and apply those approaches to domains they are passionate about.

The Business Edge

As the business edge, this student brings a similar skillset as the specialist. They have extensive knowledge of the business field, sometimes marketing and advertising as well. They view serious games as a growing enterprise which has much to give, and also much to earn. For the business edge, they can identify where, why, and how a specific type of serious game will work. Oftentimes, they come from areas of high entrepreneurial markets, such as China. This student is looking for what users need and how they can fill that niche.

The Fortune 500 Employee

This person has convinced their company that becoming more expert in serious games would be useful.  They may be in communication or marketing or UX design, in HR or sales.  They bring their experience in the business world to class discussions and their own project work.

The Renaissance Person

When it comes to skills, the renaissance person tends to be less “T-shaped” than they are “pie shaped.” This student can make art assets, design a game, program, and more. They have many different skills and are here to implement them in a serious game manner, but also share them with others.

The Next Generation Researcher

If data is involved, then the researcher is nearby. This character type discovers that they love to do research, connect theories, and learn about serious game fundamentals. When it comes time to perform actual research, be it on users or games, the researcher’s passion for qualitative and quantitative data is likely to lead them to go on to pursue a Ph.D.

The Doctoral Student

We often have doctoral students, either at MSU or at other universities, who want to add the serious game certificate to their graduate curriculum. These people could be studying almost anything – English, Education, History.

The Game Industry Professional

We usually have one or more students who work full time for a game company.  They are looking to add an understanding of how theories can inform game design, methods for understanding their players, and MSU’s perspective on game design with a serious twist.

The Professor

Yes, it won’t be unusual to have fellow students who are actually already professors.  They want to add serous game design and research to what they teach, or to get ideas about how to teach different things.

The Corporate Trainer

This person may already have a job as a corporate trainer. They may use games sometimes for training. They want to know more about theories of learning, game design, and what’s possible, to be able to create more effective and more fun training.

The Online Learning Designer

This person works with instructors to create online courses.  It would be awesome to be able to add online game design to their skillset, and where appropriate, to incorporate games or gamification into online courses.

The HCI Professional

Book author John Ferrara is an inspiration to these folks.  Ferrara was an HCI professional who became interested in games while developing a game to submit to the Healthy Eating Game Design Competition. He ended up writing a book called Playful Design that draws parallels between HCI and Game Design.


This is by no means a complete list, but from what I have experienced, a popular character set in the Serious Game Certificate program. It’s not surprising to me that this program is so diverse in student types, passions, and goals. And it’s this incredible mix of people that generates fun, exciting, and personal projects, be they in the classroom or in an online space.

Professor Carrie Heeter asked me to add that this diverse mix is fascinating to teach, and makes for very interesting class discussions. You can see why we encourage students to personalize their assignments to fit their learning goals.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? And who do you think you’ll meet next year?

Meaningful Play Comes to an End

As the unofficial official photographer at Meaningful Play 2014, you might have seen me creeping around, taking sneaky candid photos, or straight out pointing a lens in your face. But from behind my lens, I had a great view of interesting people, fun discussions, and what seemed to be a good time.

Outside of the presentations and panels, conversations kept the hallways alive, as people recounted their current experiences, talking about the themes of games, race, sexism, and others. And oftentimes, these conversations made their way into the twittersphere, many of which illustrated the emotions, thoughts, and fun of my photos.

twitter 1a

Besides fostering discussions between conference goers, there was also a game room, packed with non-digital games and tables that people could play, somewhat similar to the poster and game session that occurred on the evening on the 17th. This event featured many displayed digital and non-digital games that attracted players. It was here where I saw a large amount of smiling and curious faces, probably what I remember most from Meaningful Play.


The poster and game session enveloped much of the same atmosphere surrounding the conference, which was that of friendly, safe spaces to talk about meaningful games and games in general.  It was during these few hours and days that conference goers (researchers, game industry professionals, faculty, students, and players) came together to celebrate current games and games as a medium for more than just entertainment.


For more Meaningful Play, visit the Meaningful Play flicker stream and check out the #Mplay tweets.

APPLY NOW: Online Graduate Certificate in Serious Games due Nov 15

November 15 is the deadline to apply for January admission to Michigan State University’s fully online Serious Game Graduate Certificate program for January admission.

The program consists of three graduate courses: Foundations of Serious Games (intro to the field, game design with a serious twist), Theories for Game and Interaction Design, and Understanding Users (approaches and methods for understanding players at all stages of the design process).  Together they provide you with a formal academic framework for thinking about and designing meaningful play.

Game Night at the Meaningful Play 2014 featured 33 digital games that offered diverse forms of meaningful play.

Game Night at the Meaningful Play 2014 featured 33 digital games and 9 non-digital games that offered diverse experiences of meaningful play.

Serious games are games with a purpose beyond entertainment.  They can be educational games, persuasive games, games for health, games to change the world, games for work, games as work, and more.  For example, MSU just hosted the Meaningful Play conference. Games exhibited included astronaut exergames, mental health games, games about mosquitoes, microbes, mathland, and surviving the zombie apocalypse, music games, calculus games, hero games, museum games, safe sex games, games to prevent violence against women, recycling games, Jewish culture games, saving money games, meditation games and making games. Continue reading

Meaningful Play 2014:  Get ready for radical transformation!

by Carrie Heeter

If you’re looking for answers to the challenges of racism, sexism, and video games: social justice campaigns and the struggle for gamer identity, you’ll find those answers embodied in the presenters and attendees of Meaningful Play 2014.  Lisa Nakamura begins the dialog with her preconference Quello Lecture and discussion Wednesday evening, October 15.

Meaningful Play MonsterIf you’re thinking Nakamura’s lecture is the only time such issues will be addressed at the conference, think again.  Opening keynote Mia Consalvo will discuss challenges such as marginalization of our work in game studies and an increasingly loud pushback against greater diversity. She’ll talk about moving forward and making play increasingly meaningful to all of us.

Megan Gaiser, one of the first female CEO’s in the game industry, will share her vision for contagious creativity and leadership.

Drew Davidson, head of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon will celebrate the creative chaos that emerges with a wide diversity of content experts.

Attendees will be treated to panels, papers, and roundtable discussions about affection games, empathy games, other people simulators, representing culture, community and identity, gender, inclusive game design, & gaming culture.  Don’t miss sessions on diversity, games for the blind, crowdsourcing games, online game fraud, and race/ethnicity/diaspora. And of course, games for learning, games for K-12, University games, and games for older adults. And much more. Continue reading