Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Serious Games and Museums in the 2012-2013 Academic Year

Ron Morris and I are starting an exciting collaboration with the Indiana State Museum. In the Fall, we are teaching an honors colloquium on the theme of serious games and museums. Each student in this colloquium will create a physical (i.e. non-digital) game that incorporates an aspect of the Indiana State Museum—its collection and its mission. At the end of the semester, Ron and I will select the game most amenable to digital adaptation, and in the Spring, we will be leading an interdisciplinary team in the creation of the digital version. The Spring production will take place in a six-credit-hour development studio, with students recruited from both the honors colloquium and my regular Fall game programming course, and potentially other sources. This structure is an attempt to take the best of what we did in 2010-2011 for Morgan's Raid and integrate it with what I learned from my fellowship at the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.

We are currently working on the plan for the Fall colloquium. When we led a similar colloquium to kick off Morgan's Raid, I think we may have moved the students too quickly into production. At the VBC, we spent the first week on a game design workshop, and this helped the team to develop some common understanding and vocabulary. One week at the VBC is equivalent to half a semester in a regular three-credit course. I don't think we can invest quite that much time this Fall, but I'm sure there's a happy medium. My current sketch for the semester is split in so that about a third of the time is spent on background and fundamentals, and two thirds spent on studio-based design processes, emphasizing short cycles.

With Morgan's Raid, we tried to produce one high-quality physical prototype with initial digital prototypes in one semester, but this led us to invest too much in too few ideas from early in the semester. I hope that this semester's approach allows us to more carefully explore the design space. Additionally, it allows each student to create a concrete artifact to represent their efforts, and each of these has value regardless of whether it is chosen for digitization. This approach does introduce an unlikely but significant risk that all the students' projects may rely too much on the affordances of physical reality to be digitized; however, I'm confident from my past experiences leading student teams that the Spring Team will be able to make appropriate modifications in this eventuality.

If you have any tips or suggestions for the project or course structures, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

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