GDC 2014

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Teaching Games with Games: 7 Exercises in Play

Naomi Clark  |  Game Designer, Brooklyn Game Ensemble
Sean Duncan  |  Assistant Professor, Learning Sciences Program/Research Scientist, Center for Research on Learning & Technology, Indiana University
Mary Flanagan  |  Professor of Film and Media Studies, Dartmouth College
Katherine Isbister  |  Associate Professor, NYU
Stone Librande  |  Creative Director, EA/Maxis
Colleen Macklin  |  Associate Professor, Parsons The New School for Design
Phoenix Perry  |  Adjunct Professor, Code Liberation Foundation/NYU Poly
John Sharp  |  Associate Professor, Parsons The New School for Design
Michael Sweet  |  Artistic Director Video Game Scoring, Berklee College of Music

Location: Room 3020, West Hall

Format: Session
Track: GDC Education Summit
Vault Recording: Video


One of our best tools for teaching games are games themselves. Name a facet of college-level games education and there is a way to teach it through gameplay. Want to explore continuity and consistency in storytelling? How about shuffling a deck of story cards. Want to think about gender dynamics? Maybe run a street game mod around gender stereotypes. Through ten short talks, each on a single classroom exercise used to teach a different facet of games, seasoned and new faculty alike will share their best programming, design, art, story, sound, game studies, history, sociology and criticism play-based exercises.

Exploring Social Dynamics - Naomi Clark
Students can play almost any multiplayer game together to learn about how dynamics arise between players, but it's possible to produce interesting lessons out of less fully-designed activities as well. From virtual field trips to quick classroom exercises, we'll look at a few examples.

Metagaming at Two Corners of Games Education - Sean Duncan
In this talk, Sean will discuss two disparate approaches he has taken to using the Metagame to teach both game studies and game design, with quite different goals for different populations of students. First, how does one capitalize on students' existing knowledge and interest in games, while also pushing them to develop well-justified arguments about games' systems, mechanics and experiences? He has used the original, argumentation-based version of The Metagame as a classroom "icebreaker" with undergraduate game studies students, many of whom have a difficult time formulating reasoned arguments about the games that they love. After watching and judging others' arguments through the game, students took "broken" arguments provided by other students and attempted to "fix" them through written papers, building off of their existing gaming interests and expertise while also considering justifiable critiques of games. Also, Sean has used The Metagame productively with master's and doctoral level education students who have next to no interest or expertise with games, as a way to teach game design and playful approaches to instruction. He has successfully used the new Culture 2.0 Metagame deck with these students, as a deck to use in creating new variants that instruct on some element of media and/or culture as represented in the deck (e.g., art history, media history, etc). Novice educational game designers who were alienated or otherwise intimidated by digital games were able to connect with the Culture 2.0 deck's wide range of cultural content, and develop new games on the fly. In both cases, The Metagame serves as a modifiable and flexible instructional tool, one that can be used as a window into the content and/or as a space for beginners to develop game design skills.

Hyper-Gendered Hopscotch - Mary Flanagan
Players will quickly craft radically new versions of Victorian hopscotches. Players will get into teams and choose to make "hyper-gendered" games: Male, Female or Transgendered hopscotch. The game will reveal the curious assumptions that designers unconsciously make about people and their play styles, as well as cultural assumptions about gender.

Dance to Learn: Doing Game User Research Through Play - Katherine Isbister
In Katherine's course, there is a unit focused on how to tell if a game is succeeding at creating social fun. The students play Dance Central and Just Dance in her lab - everyone has to play at least one round of one of the games before the class period is over. We record all this from multiple camera angles, and they go back later in teams and analyze the video log. They look at what kinds of social play happen, and build an evidence-based argument about how the games' design contributes to these interactions. Being both players and observers gives them a rich understanding of how design contributes to player experience. Students also often say it was the funnest class session they ever had.

World of Rulecraft - Stone Lebrande
Since 2007, Stone has been running a large group exercise called, "World of Rulecraft" in Marc LeBlanc's Game Design Workshop at GDC and in his own classes at Cogswell College. The exercise takes about an hour. The more people the better. Select a small number of participants to be the developers and the rest become the players. You'll want at least two developers, but add more as the number of players increases. (There is no exact ratio, but one dev for every six players should be fine). The players then self-select into one of three guilds: fighters, wizards and thieves. For some odd reason, the players usually balance themselves equally, but if they don't it won't matter, as long as there are at least two players in each Guild. This exercise is intended to generate discussion about balancing live game systems. Instead of having a pre-planned agenda, Stone asks open-ended questions and lets the students guide the conversation. The devs are trying to monitor and change a game while it is in motion. This is a fairly standard practice these days with most online games. What are the challenges with live design? How do you know if the information coming in is correct? How do you know if the changes are effective? The players are also contributing to the game's evolution, but they tend to be more self-centered. How can they make their case to the devs? How can they manipulate them?

The Leftright Game - Phoenix Perry
Phoenix stands at one side of the room and splits the room into 4 teams. She then tells the students they can move her right or left toward the wall one step per turn. The game ends when she gets to the other wall and the team that gets her there wins. The winning team gets cupcakes and 5 points on their final. They earn the right to step her towards or away from the way the wall by answering a programming question correctly. This meta-game drives home the point that computer programming is simply instruction-based operations directed by the programmer.

Deconstructing Musical Scores - Michael Sweet
Many modern video games utilize interact scoring techniques to manipulate and change the music in real-time based on player choices. Because QA teams know little about music scoring, what should be a bug in an interactive music score is never fixed when the game is released. In many games, you can break the "physics" of the music system by not playing the game as originally intended, thus making the musical score break, and make it sound not as it should. As an example, have you ever played the original Space Invaders and chosen to play a pacifist (not shooting any of the invaders)? The four note iconic melody that we are used to hearing increase in tempo (and escalating the suspense) remains static and never changes. In this play-based exercise, the object is to have the students play these games, trying specifically to break the music score by making it do something that the composer and game development team never intended.

Takeaway

The audience will walk away with ten new methodologies for teaching the various aspects of games, through a variety of disciplines and teaching styles. They'll see how other disciplines use games to teach different aspects of how games are made, played and circulated in culture.