Friday, January 25, 2008

Topic: Game Design

I developed Collaborative Writing Practices: Game Design after reading Richard Louth's The Game Project, which describes how his students designed games as a collaborative writing exercise in a technical writing course back in the 1980s. It seemed to me that such a course would be especially exciting and interesting today with our much expanded ability to use technology in the classroom. Everything involved in the course is much easier to teach than in the past, since there are so many good tools now to aid with design, collaborative writing, and game development.

Teaching design and collaboration are aided tremendously by new technologies. Whereas Louth's students were presumably limited to what they could accomplish with "arts and crafts" design, our students today can use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and a host of other programs to produce a professional looking final product. And with new Web 2.0 technologies (especially Google Docs, Google Page Creator, Blogger, and Zoho), they can generate professional-quality marketing and support materials (including webpages, blogs, online collaborative documents, wikis and a host of other documents) using easy-to-learn, free, and web-based software. I am especially pleased with Google Docs, which makes collaborative writing easy and universally accessible -- as described in the wonderful YouTube video Google Docs in Plain English.

Meanwhile, teaching games is much easier than ever before -- even if the definition of what counts for games (which now includes many more video and computer games) is much broader than it was in the 1980s. There are now a wide range of textbook options to support designing and making games, and "Game Design" has become an increasingly popular college course topic -- taught in courses devoted to art, education, English lit, computer science, engineering, and even (of all things) architecture, so there are even model syllabi on the web. There is even a blog devoted to teaching game design. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's books Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals and The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology have practically laid the theoretical groundwork for game design as a new academic discipline, drawing on ideas from such fields as sociology, psychology, literary criticism, film studies, semiotics, cultural studies, art, computer science, etc. The book I chose for the course, Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games by Tracy Fullerton (soon to be in a second edition), sets forth a very practical program for designing games. And there are a number of other texts on the market.

In my original plan, as I conceived it years ago, I was going to make the focus of the course "Communicating in Small Groups," using the expensive and widely known textbook of that name. But the theory they offered seems now so generalized and abstract (as is typical of any "textbook") as to make it practically unusable. Besides, I think you learn collaborative writing by doing it in a very realistic and engaging setting. I can't think of a better topic than game design for creating that realistic setting in a way that really engages students.

The classroom, however, is the most important setting of all -- and teaching in the unique "collaboratory" of the Writers House at Rutgers completes the picture. This computer lab is not only designed for collaboration, it practically insists on it. While each student is able to have a Mac laptop to do individual work, they are also seated at six tables with a collaborative computer and screens so that they can literally compose together. It's an amazing space and makes collaborating easy and even fun.

I have put together my syllabus and met my first class. So far, so good. I'll keep everyone posted (including my students) in this space about what we've done and how things are going. I hope I also have a chance to show off some of their work for other audiences than just ourselves alone.

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Game Design (01:355:375:01)