The Games We Use to Teach
José P. Zagal
Assistant Professor, DePaul University
Best in Class ≠ Best for Class
As an educator, I hate these books.
Game Design Curriculum Deathmatch
What are the top 3 games you reference
when teaching game design?
As seen at GDC 213 Edu...
Top games for learning game design?
● The critically acclaimed games.
● The influential games.
● The popular games (of yor...
What games should we expect
our students to learn and
understand?
Dumb question.
Why?
● Arguing over criteria
● How do you measure success?
● How do you trace influence?
● How do you account for personal...
Nerd Fight
vs
vs
Most important
RTS?
Main focus is on
the games
Main focus is on
the games
Game Design Curriculum Deathmatch
What are the top 3 games you reference
when teaching game design?
From the Curriculum Deathmatch
…a game I played a lot...
…game I played a lot when I was a kid…
…because I love the game…
Top games for learning game
design?
● The games I loved playing when I grew up.
● The games I’m a fan of.
Focus on the games Focus on your
attachment to
certain games
What games should we expect our
students to learn and understand?
What do I want my students to learn
about game design.
W...
Students come first
Games that are
useful for
learning game
design
“Important”
games you
should know if
you don’t want
to be
considered an
ign...
Games that are
useful for
learning game
design
“Important”
games you
should know if
you don’t want
to be
considered an
ign...
Games that
are bad
for learning
game design
“Important”
games you
should know if
you don’t want
to be
considered an
ignora...
Best in Class ≠ Best for Class
Why?
3 examples
(the rest are homework)
1.
Preconceived notions of
“important” games can interfere
with critical reflection.
2.
Social conventions can curtail
critical discussion.
Your character is a sleeper agent
Aerith Dies (Final Fantasy VII)
The princess is running from you
● Oops? Sorry?
3.
Students may lack the skills to
play these games.
(especially older titles)
Michael Abbott
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2010/09/unplayable.html
“Gradually my students have
grown less and less capable of
handling one particular
assignment: Ultima IV.”
Michael Abbott
“…in the past I've found it
useful to […] let them
struggle.”
Michael Abbott
“… the required skill-set and the
basic assumptions [Ultima IV]
makes are so foreign to them
that the game has indeed
beco...
3 Reasons (there are more!)
1. Preconceived notions can limited critical
reflection
2. Social conventions can inhibit crit...
We need discover our assumptions
about game students.
● What do they know?
● What don’t they know?
● What game experience do they have?
● How do they feel about and understand
...
We need to challenge our
assumptions.
What if?
YMMV
(but you need to find out)
So, what to do?
You Should Use
1.
Games designed to
support learning game
design
A few examples:
● Stone Librande’s Board/Card Games
● http://stonetronix.com/
● Ian Schreiber’s Harmony CCG
● Ask him abou...
You Should Use
2.
Games that are:
Unimportant
Non-Influential
Non-traditional
Non-mass-market
Thank you!
● Contact Info
jzagal@cdm.depaul.edu
http://facsrv.cdm.depaul.edu/~jzagal
Images used in this presentation are ...
Want more info?
“Why a Game Canon for Game Studies Education is Wrong”
(2012) Fromme, J. & Unger, A. (Eds), Computer Games...
Images from
● http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1001_Video_Games_You_Must_Play_Before_You_Die_-
_soft_cover.png
● http://w...
The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant
The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant
The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant
The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant
The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant
The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant
The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant
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The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant

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Slides from my rant at the game education summit at GDC 13. I made a few changes to that the slides are easier to follow just by reading.

You can watch the entire rant session here as well:
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/194850/Video_Game_educators_rant_about_design_diversity_and_jobs.php

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  • Hi my name is Jose Zagal, I’m on the faculty at DePaul University where I do most of my work, teaching and research, in the context of our game program. So, before I get started I just wanted to start with a question – so, how many of you teach game courses or work in a game program? Ah, cool. Nice. I hope you don’t hate me too much by the time I’m done…
  • So, I’m going to start my rant by spoiling it. What I want you to take away from this is basically the idea that the best games aren’t the best games for class. So, if you hate me already you can tune out and ignore me, that what I’ll rant about in a nutshell..
  • Ok, so, I have a lot of books about games. And there’s a subset of these books that I like call the “bucket list books”. You know, I love them. I spend hours looking at them and keeping track of how many of the games they highlighted I’ve played.
  • They also help me not forget games I should try to play.
  • Before, you know….
  • I DIE.
  • As an educator – I hate them. This focus on “the top X” is probably one of the worst things to happen to games education.
  • Just yesterday, during the game design curriculum deathmatch – one of the questions that panel was asked was “what are the top 3 games you reference when teaching game design?”
  • So, it’s a dumb question because it’s mostly non-productive. You end up arguing over criteria – which is more important critical or commercial reception? Influence? And so on. And these arguments – are in essence what I like to think of as the game educators version of a nerd fight.
  • You know, like this one.…who would win?
  • Or this one. Who is responsible for the most amount damage to the irreplaceable cultural heritage of ancient archaeological sites?
  • So the game educators version looks kind of like this. Hey, we totally need to have our students play Warcraft because it was the first major RTS game.But then someone else jumps in and says no. You idiot. You need to be looking at Dune II. Because IT was the first one. And then someone else jumps in and says – no, starcraft because of assymetrical factions and battle net, and esports… or NO, Utopia because I really loved it as a kid..NO.. Bokosuka wars because it’s from Japan…..and…while you’re at it, why not every single game that’s mentioned on the wikipedia page for “RTS” games.Every single game on this slide is important for some reason or another. And the time we spend arguing about which ones deserve to be here or not…is time we are distracted from what we really should be asking.
  • Just yesterday, during the game design curriculum deathmatch – one of the questions that panel was asked was “what are the top 3 games you reference when teaching game design?”
  • And if your answer to that question has anything to do with the games that you personally love – well, then you need to get off your butt and do some more work. You…lazy person.
  • If were to look at the set of “important” games on the one hand, and then the set of games that are useful for learning game design. And if you were to ask – I wonder what the overlap between these two sets is… you’d see the following.
  • Oh. There is no overlap.
  • Now. If you were to take the set of games that are bad or counterproductive for learning game design and were to compare that to the set of “important” games you’d notice – after much analysis and careful deliberation that. Oh. Will you look at that…
  • There’s an incredible pressure to, on the one hand, go along with what everyone else says…But on the other, perhaps more importantly, to regurgitate that.
  • I like to call this the Samuel L Jackson effect.
  • If you pick a famous game, you run into this problem…
  • I’m sorry, was that too late.. Was that inappropriate? How can you expect students to have a meaningful and deep discussion of a game when some will purposefully not go down certain paths, others will get annoyed if you do, and so on. I mean, if you’re upset about what I did on those last three slides – I rest my case.
  • First, using a random assortment of simple and unremarkable games with nothing much in common helps us avoid a genre-based exploration of games. This kind of exploration (e.g. the best RPGs, the best shooters, etc.) tends to disguise the commonalities of design principles that are shared by all games. Starting from genres also tends to encourage a certain way of thinking in which games are already compartamentalized in static and distinct groups. We want our students to think and hopefully create games that are “outside the box”, pushing their limits of understanding regarding what games are and can be.Second, using unremarkable games can encourage students to question, push back, and think critically in productive ways. Unremarkable games are those that you can tear apart and really figure out. They won’t be oppressed by the weight of popular opinion, historical sales figures, and the critical adulation of canonical games. The cost of failure is also greatly reduced. It’s ok not to fully understand how a game’s gameplay is relevant when the game isn’t a famous best-seller that “everybody knows”.Third, simple games tend to be more accessible and transparent to understanding. Many of these games tend to express or focus on a single idea that is easier to see, analyze, and discuss than is usually the case with large and complex titles.This means that you can also encourage students to play a greater number (and diversity) of games. Fourth, studying unknown games provides students the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills. Perhaps more importantly, it gives them the chance to connect these “unknown games” with their prior knowledge and experience. There is plenty written and said about famous games. From a student’s perspective, it could be more productive to discuss the unknowns in terms of shedding light on other issues.Fifth, and finally, using unremarkable and simple games can encourage students to assume a more active role in their education. Learning is, of course, not a passive activity. Providing students with “ready-made” knowledge for them to consume robs them of the opportunity to engage more deeply and more actively in their learning. We should encourage our students to leverage their own knowledge and create their own lists. Which are the games that define them? Of the hundreds of games they played for class, which are the ones they think are most notable. Why did they choose the ones that they did and what kinds of experiences did they provide? Games education is fortunate. Most students already love games, play them in their free time, and have years of experience with them. This is an opportunity we should take advantage of. Providing students with selections of the best games for them to play and study is a disservice to them. Encouraging them to engage with the unknown, the simple, the un-remarkable, and the non-famous, encourages them to think more deeply and to connect what they know with what they’re learning.
  • The Games We Use to Teach - GDC13 Game Educators Rant

    1. 1. The Games We Use to Teach José P. Zagal Assistant Professor, DePaul University
    2. 2. Best in Class ≠ Best for Class
    3. 3. As an educator, I hate these books.
    4. 4. Game Design Curriculum Deathmatch What are the top 3 games you reference when teaching game design? As seen at GDC 213 Education Summit…
    5. 5. Top games for learning game design? ● The critically acclaimed games. ● The influential games. ● The popular games (of yore). ● The exemplars.
    6. 6. What games should we expect our students to learn and understand? Dumb question.
    7. 7. Why? ● Arguing over criteria ● How do you measure success? ● How do you trace influence? ● How do you account for personal preferences? ● Not that productive, and easily leads to…
    8. 8. Nerd Fight
    9. 9. vs
    10. 10. vs
    11. 11. Most important RTS?
    12. 12. Main focus is on the games
    13. 13. Main focus is on the games
    14. 14. Game Design Curriculum Deathmatch What are the top 3 games you reference when teaching game design?
    15. 15. From the Curriculum Deathmatch …a game I played a lot... …game I played a lot when I was a kid… …because I love the game…
    16. 16. Top games for learning game design? ● The games I loved playing when I grew up. ● The games I’m a fan of.
    17. 17. Focus on the games Focus on your attachment to certain games
    18. 18. What games should we expect our students to learn and understand? What do I want my students to learn about game design. What are the best games for learning game design. What games should we expect our students to learn and understand?
    19. 19. Students come first
    20. 20. Games that are useful for learning game design “Important” games you should know if you don’t want to be considered an ignorant fool Overlap?
    21. 21. Games that are useful for learning game design “Important” games you should know if you don’t want to be considered an ignorant fool. No Overlap
    22. 22. Games that are bad for learning game design “Important” games you should know if you don’t want to be considered an ignorant fool. In fact…
    23. 23. Best in Class ≠ Best for Class Why?
    24. 24. 3 examples (the rest are homework)
    25. 25. 1. Preconceived notions of “important” games can interfere with critical reflection.
    26. 26. 2. Social conventions can curtail critical discussion.
    27. 27. Your character is a sleeper agent
    28. 28. Aerith Dies (Final Fantasy VII)
    29. 29. The princess is running from you
    30. 30. ● Oops? Sorry?
    31. 31. 3. Students may lack the skills to play these games. (especially older titles)
    32. 32. Michael Abbott http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2010/09/unplayable.html
    33. 33. “Gradually my students have grown less and less capable of handling one particular assignment: Ultima IV.” Michael Abbott
    34. 34. “…in the past I've found it useful to […] let them struggle.” Michael Abbott
    35. 35. “… the required skill-set and the basic assumptions [Ultima IV] makes are so foreign to them that the game has indeed become virtually unplayable. ”Michael Abbott
    36. 36. 3 Reasons (there are more!) 1. Preconceived notions can limited critical reflection 2. Social conventions can inhibit critical discussion 3. May lack skills to play games
    37. 37. We need discover our assumptions about game students.
    38. 38. ● What do they know? ● What don’t they know? ● What game experience do they have? ● How do they feel about and understand games?
    39. 39. We need to challenge our assumptions.
    40. 40. What if?
    41. 41. YMMV (but you need to find out)
    42. 42. So, what to do?
    43. 43. You Should Use 1. Games designed to support learning game design
    44. 44. A few examples: ● Stone Librande’s Board/Card Games ● http://stonetronix.com/ ● Ian Schreiber’s Harmony CCG ● Ask him about it (@IanSchreiber)
    45. 45. You Should Use 2. Games that are: Unimportant Non-Influential Non-traditional Non-mass-market
    46. 46. Thank you! ● Contact Info jzagal@cdm.depaul.edu http://facsrv.cdm.depaul.edu/~jzagal Images used in this presentation are the property of their respective owners. Their use here qualifies as fair use under US copyright law for educational purposes and critical commentary.
    47. 47. Want more info? “Why a Game Canon for Game Studies Education is Wrong” (2012) Fromme, J. & Unger, A. (Eds), Computer Games and New Media Cultures: A Handbook of Digital Games Studies, Springer (ask me for a copy)
    48. 48. Images from ● http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1001_Video_Games_You_Must_Play_Before_You_Die_- _soft_cover.png ● http://www.bookcloseouts.com/Store/Details/Game-On-From-Pong-to-Oblivion-The-50-Greatest- Video-Games-of-All-Time/_/R-9780755315703B ● http://sega.ludost.net/boards/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2526&start=0 ● http://theqqqe.blogspot.com/2011/02/red-herring.html ● http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/Fist.svg

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