GDC 2008: Serious Games Summit Sessions to Watch

Today starts the Game Developers Conference and part of the conference is the Serious Game Summit. Last year there were quite a few sessions with educational applications. Matthew Weise, one of the designers of Revolution spoke last year. I'm looking forward to a couple of sessions at the Serious Games Summit and the conference overall. GDC usually posts conference materials and even video from the conference on their site (here are the proceedings from previous years).

Here are 3 sessions from the Serious Games Summit that I'm looking forward to reading more about:

Greg Trefry spoke at last summer's GLLS about big games and libraries. GAMESTAR and looking at teaching students to how to design games could have applications in helping students create games around content from the curriculum. Any game that helps teach game design could also be useful for librarians interested in designing their own games and learning the basics of design.

GAMESTAR MECHANIC: Learning through Game Design
Speaker(s): Katie Salen (Parsons School of Design), Greg Trefry (Gamelab)
Time: 10-10:30am
This session takes on serious games from the perspective of thinking, creating, and learning through making games. GAMESTAR MECHANIC, a commercial online game produced in a unique collaboration between Gamelab and the GAPPs group at University of Wisconsin at Madison, is designed to teach players the fundamentals of game design. Designed to teach young people how to design games by giving them the tools and learning space in which to do it quickly, collaboratively, and easily, GAMESTAR proposes a model for learning that extends traditional notions around game-based learning.

In GAMESTAR players are invited into a narrative world situated within a social network to design, trade, and modify their own small, web-based games. In building games in this environment it is hoped that students not only learn about game design but about how to essentially build literacy about the systems and/or content that their games are based upon.

This session will demo the game and discuss strategies for assessment of the design-based skills that emerge from game-play, offering models for understanding what and how players are learning.

I've talked about The Redistricting Game and how well it hits the actual practice of redistricting right on the head. The creators are talking about their experiences in two different parts and will be adapting the game based on feedback from the audience. It should be interesting.

Make this Game Better: THE REDISTRICTING GAME (Part I)
Speaker(s): Chris Swain (University of Southern California)
Time: 10:30-11am
In 2007 Chris Swain lead a USC Annenberg School team to design a serious game with the purpose of helping the public understand the process of legislative redistricting and reforms related to redistricting. Redistricting is the process of producing defined geographic boundaries of population which are represented in Congress or the state legislature. As more and more powerful demographic systems and mapping software have become available, redistricting has grown into a very elite game of optimization also known as gerrymandering. Each side in the process (essentially the two major political parties) attempts to push a slate of designed districts it feels are advantageous to their party's candidates through the legislative and negotiation process. The results can sometimes be astoundingly bizarre shaped districts and ultimately result in voter confusion and disenfranchisement from the entire process.

THE REDISTRICTING GAME tries to capture the core yearning for optimization process that exists in redistricting but then attempts to show users various proposed reforms in the process as new constraints on the rules of the game. Users are then given links to various reform sites as well.

The game is now out and fully playable. Like all games there are many ideas that never made it through the final cut. In this session, Chris will present the full version of THE REDISTRICTING GAME. Two leads from the audience will be announced and then each lead will have over 24 hours to compile ideas into a quick presentation for the following day detailing an imagined 2.0 version of the game and associated project. The goal of this session is not to just make the game itself better but to figure out new ideas the potentially improve the impact of the project's mission. After the presentations the audience will be given a chance to respond. Chris will then offer some rebuttal and comments to the efforts allowing insight into why certain ideas may or may not work from his standpoint as the team lead.

Finally, I don't know much about this application of NeverWinter Nights, but I'm looking forward to learning more about another application and mod of the game.

Being Brian Crecente: Using an Off-The-Shelf Role Playing Game to Teach Journalism
Speaker(s): Nora Paul (University of Minnesota)
Time: 5-5:30pm
This session details The University of Minnesota's efforts to develop a role-playing game to teach journalism. Working together, professors Kathleen Hansen and Nora Paul lead a team that modified Bioware's NEVERWINTER NIGHTS to teach interview techniques and more to budding journalism students.

The process of using an off-the-shelf game engine offered unique challenges and insights into how others might attempt to build future serious games. Matching common RPG play (especially Bioware ones!) to journalism was a perfect fit. In the game, students move around Harperville and cover the story of a toxic spill caused by a train derailment. Students must investigate and find their angle to the story and file it. NPCs will offer no comment and react to your style of questioning as well.

After detailing the project, discussion will turn to lessons learned and how the next version of the project is moving along providing insight into the iterative learning process many serious game designs require of their proponents.

all session descriptions from Game Developers Conference 2008