August 25, 2005
green team

Well, yesterday was pretty fun. After work (which I can't really ever talk about because the stuff we do is Very Important and Top Secret or something) I headed over to Enspire Learning for a SIG meeting of the Austin chapter of the American Society for Training and Development. I hadn't been over there in a couple of years - they've obviously been doing pretty well for themselves, because they've moved to some sweet new digs over on Guadalupe since I saw them last. Anyway, I met up with some of my AGD pals (David, Quoc, Eva, and Mikey) and another fify or sixty folks in the e-learning and game development business.

After some general milling around and a brief introductory presentation, the organizers broke us up into about eight groups of around six people each (according to the color of a little dot on our nametags), and gave us a design task and twenty minutes to come up with something. We had to put together a little instructional game to teach "personal financial planning to professionals in their twenties", and were provided an envelope of props to work with - dice, poker chips, play money, and so on. Our specific tasks were:

  • Choose at least one learning objective for the game.
  • Assign at least three game objects (tokens, or game elements) to be used in playing the game.
  • Determine at least two actions that the learner can take.
  • Construct at least one choice or tradeoff that the player must make.
  • If there was time, determine what the structure of the game space looks like, choose a duration or time structure for the play period, and determine a concrete "win" state for the game.

I actually wound up in a group with Mikey Lubker and a guy that I've worked with before here in town. After throwing a few ideas around, we decided that we'd make a game called "Financial Planning For Losers", where the object is to save enough money to move out of your parents' basement. We eventually came up with some card-based match-or-beat play, and added a "relationship points" mechanic, where you could choose between going for making money all the time, or work on collecting chips that you could use to get a significant other to move in with you, effectively cutting your rent or cost to move out in half. The design wound up being a little more on the competitive and entertaining side than I think was intended, but I think it came off pretty well, regardless.

After time was called, all the groups made brief presentations of their designs, which were all fairly decent, and the rest of the meeting was all questions/comments/discussion about the designs, and the meta-learning game that we all just participated in. One interesting thing that I noticed was that our game was the only one that didn't really rely on chance - most of the others used the dice at some point to determine starting debt, salaries, success at various tasks, the motion of the stock market, and so on. Also, although we were supposed to be teaching about financial planning, about half the groups added some measure of "happiness" or "relationship" to their games. Overall, it was a great experience, and I think everyone had a good time, and learned a little bit about that whole intersection of e-learning/game design stuff.

It was funny that the meeting turned out the way it did, because beforehand I was talking with David Markum about a panel he wants to put on at the upcoming Linucon. It's basically the same thing we did at the SIG, only with a few professional game designers up on stage, with an improv type of setup, where we take suggestions from the audience, and go through the process of designing a game within those constraints in the hour or so that we'd have for the panel. I think that sounds like a whole lot of fun - we've got a couple of people lined up (Brian Urbanek from Ninjaneering, James Ernest from Cheapass Games, and maybe Wes Jenkins, who I think is working with Critical Mass and teaching at ACC) and it should be pretty entertaining and instructional for the audience, so it looks like we're a go. Totally looking forward to doing that.

(Doing something along those lines was mentioned by some Foo Camp attendees, and James Earnest tells me that he has put on a similar panel several times in the past, so I have high hopes for this coming off well.)

Afterwards, Bernie picked me up and took me home, where I had presents and a birthday dinner waiting. I got a bunch of nerd toys (a bunch of EL wire and a radio frequency scanner and some blinky things and whatnot), and then Bernie cooked up some kind of super-tasty beef tenderloin and mushrooms and some kind of fancy potato thing and sauce and salad and wine and general tastiness, which was eaten. There was coffee and tiramisu for dessert, but I was whupped, and crashed out on the giant beanbag shortly after the main course. So, that didn't suck.

(August 25, 2005 07:48 AM)
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