Transmedia Stories: Narrative Methods for Public Health and Social Justice

Transcript to "From Players to Makers: A Game Design Curriculum"

PATRICK JAGODA: I think traditionally when we talk about game-based learning, we’re talking about games that are designed for people to play to teach them something. But more and more, we’re seeing that the actual process of game design, the hands-on experience of that, can be just as productive. In the second two weeks, each team of players received the chance to create either a board game or a live-action transmedia game, and the only major constraint was that the game had to be on some kind of serious topic.

PHILIP EHRENBERG: One of the things we did with the game design portion of the S.E.E.D. program was bring in the Game Changer designers to lead a number of different workshops, and these workshops more or less fell along three different pathways through game design. One was around aesthetics and narrative. One was more strictly concerned with game design and mechanics, so thinking about how a board game might be balanced or the sorts of challenges that you would face in a transmedia game. And the last was thinking through their serious topics in more of a research capacity, or thinking through the procedural rhetoric of games, how games and their mechanics can say something about the world just through the experience of rules. And so it was really in these workshops that were a combination of lecture and hands-on activities that the youth were able to really start engaging with the nitty-gritty of the game design and think through how to really convey a type of experience through a series of rules or challenges.

MEGAN MACKLIN (GAME CHANGER CHICAGO LAB FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO; LEAD MENTOR COORDINATOR, S.E.E.D.): In having players fulfill different roles in game design, that itself, and assigning them different roles and having them work across teams before coming back to their own teams, I think that was demonstrating and setting up a model of collaborative working that is very relevant to how people work today. It’s not just about everybody doing the same thing and that resulting in a particular project; you really need to draw from everybody’s experiences, bring them together to produce something that’s speaking to what everybody knows, what everybody’s interested in, and what the group as a whole can feel proud of at the end of the day.

PHILIP EHRENBERG: One of the things that we really hit home or were trying to hit home in this curriculum was to make a successful game you need to have an initial design, you need to prototype that design, you need to playtest, and then you need to iterate. So, our youth in the course of two weeks, and this is absolutely amazing, were able to undergo this prototype, playtest, and iteration series of challenges numerous times, but it was always really stressful for them to put their game in front, put their game and put this creative project that they were working on in front of other people for critique and then have to hear that criticism and figure out how to iterate on it, and this is something that a lot of people struggle with, especially us as game designers.

MEGAN MACKLIN: In educational psychology you hear talk of something called a desirable difficulty, something that, it’s hard but just hard enough that learning happens and that learning is challenging and interesting and the learner is motivated, and I think that our workshop model really captured this idea of a desirable difficulty in challenging players to do something that they thought was so easy.

MICHAEL GORDON (TEAM ARACHNIS): Well at first, we thought it was, my team thought it was really easy because we had our first playtest in the second day of the game design, and we thought that this was too easy, and the game actually worked during the first playtest. Then we brought in other players to try and play, and they liked it too. But, they gave us feedback, they said it needs to be more job-oriented, so we had to go back to the drawing board and redo a couple of things. The game document was, I’d say, hard for one person, so we decided that everything should be split up equally because we all took part so we all know how the game works best in our own ways. And we, even though it was kind of hard, we had a lot of fun creating the game, and the feedback that we get from the game, and some of the things that people learning, like this actually made this worthwhile.

MEGAN MACKLIN: I think in the workshop, in asking our players to create games, they had opportunities to reflect on why things were difficult, and, instead of having that just shut down the process, they were able to work with their workshop leaders, with their teammates, with their mentors to really push past the difficulty and produce something at the end of the day that they were very proud of and that hopefully was a fun experience too.

PATRICK JAGODA: One of the things that I find really compelling about alternate reality games from an educational standpoint is that they’re often very rough around the edges, right. Alternate reality games are not polished products in the same way that videogames are, and therefore as players engage in alternate reality games, they start to think about how these experiences are constructed. So even at the moment where they’re still players they’re starting to become designers.

PHILIP EHRENBERG: So a lot of the challenges from the actual gameplay, we wanted to prepare youth for when they would be designing their own games. Ultimately when the youth entered their game design workshops, we were asking them to reflect on the types of challenges that they had to perform just a few weeks previously as part of a narrative, but this time we were asking them to deconstruct them and think about how they experienced them as players so that they could then design those sorts of experiences for other players. So when we had youth designing games around teen pregnancy, they were able to think about the sort of media that we showed them during S.E.E.D. and then ask themselves what are the media, what are the media assets that one might experience being a teen mom, what are the sort of experiences you would have to go through, what do those experiences make you feel like, and then how can we design a game around that.

CHINEYE OGBON (TEAM YUCCA): Our game is a transmedia game, and it’s called Knocked Up. And it’s about teen pregnancy and how stressful it is to be a teen who’s pregnant, like you have to run around do things that you shouldn’t do until you’re older, old enough to have a child.

TYLER HICKS (TEAM YUCCA): And I also think that it’s like a really great lesson for other people to experience the stress of balancing your schoolwork and the stress in all the situations of having a baby. So it’s a pretty decent learning experience.

CHINEYE OGBON: I was game designer, so I designed like the card, well, I didn’t design the card, like wrote the, what’s supposed to happen with the cards, the cards that they were passing out.

TYLER HICKS: I, too, was a part of game design. And I also helped on the editing of the voicemail in the beginning of the game, and Chineye was the actress.

CHINEYE OGBON: Yeah, I was the actress, I was the voiceover.

JESSICA GRAHAM (TEAM YUCCA): I was part of art design, so I worked on the narrative, like what each card would mean, like insurance and all that, and like the logistics kind of.

LAURA MARQUEZ (TEAM YUCCA): I was a researcher, so I did all the research for the, like all the information they used. Also, I helped around with what they were doing, and I, Dennis, he’s the one who drew this...

CHINEYE OGBON: He drew this.

LAURA MARQUEZ: ...and I gave him the idea to draw it…


LAURA MARQUEZ:, I was basically giving them ideas and helping around and stuff.

JESSICA GRAHAM: I think it actually turned out good in the end, and...


JESSICA GRAHAM: ...I think people would enjoy it if we just polished it up some, and...

LAURA MARQUEZ: It was such a race, too.


JESSICA GRAHAM: ...I think everyone would really like it.

CHINEYE OGBON: It was, like, a lot of improvising, because Dennis actually gave the wrong time to people, gave them 15 minutes instead of 45, so like their baby...

LAURA MARQUEZ: And some people didn’t return the timer.

CHINEYE OGBON: Yeah, their like, their baby bombs just like went off when they wasn’t supposed to.

KNOCKED UP PLAYER 01 (DOCUMENTARY FOOTAGE): “Whaaaat, I am having a baby!”


KNOCKED UP PLAYER 01: “I’m having a baby!”

CHINEYE OGBON: But we improvised, like we made it better. Some people had to have premature babies. That wasn’t really in our script, but we had to go with it.

MEGAN MACKLIN: In designing games, it was important for players to not only consider what they could bring to the table in game design, in considering themselves as potential game players, but they were also required to work collaboratively and consider other play styles, other motivations for gameplay. And together, that created a more robust, a more interesting, a more real game experience that I know that for us as game designers, it was really impressive to see what they came up with but I think that for the participants themselves it was a really meaningful experience as well.