Having conducted my 'system analysis' of a 4 lane highway, Clay set me another challenge: This time to design an actual functioning game, rather than just coming up with an idea for one. Whenever he sets this task for students, he always imposes certain constraints that limit the physical materials that can be used and, in my case, we agreed that I should design a game using a deck of cards. So i set to work by asking myself what I might make the game about. Clay and I had been discussing students' fixation with academic results and earning 'extra credit' and I'd been thinking about an idea for a game/drama about school, so I decided to make a game on this theme.
In the same way that I had done a system analysis of a highway, looking at the objects it contains (vehicles), their attributes (slow/fast etc), their objectives (get from A to B) and their relationships with each other (steer clear of crashes and cops!) - I thought about the constituent parts of a school system. Obviously, 'school' is a massive subject that could comprise parents, politicians, teachers as well as students, but I decided to keep it relatively simple and look at teachers and students. The conventional goal of students is to do well in their classes to earn academic attainment, but there is also the possibility of doing well in sports and other extra-curricular activities, not to mention the social question of popularity, being cool or uncool, being a bully or a loner.
After looking at the parts within a simple school system, I had a look at the deck of cards to see how the various aspects of the school could be represented. The deck has four suits, so I broke this down into 4 subject areas (Arts, Science, Sport and Social Period - represented by Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades). The school day is measured by 10 classes represented by 10 cards lying face down in a row. The first one is turned over and that's the first class of the day. Let's imagine its the 6 of Hearts - that means its Arts class. Players score points if they can play a heart card. If they can't play a heart, they get a penalty for non-completion of the assignment. They can also score 'popularity' points by playing a spade which means they 'rebel' against the class, or steal someone else's work by playing a card of the same number of a previous player. Last but not least, players can 'bully' someone else by playing a spade of higher value than the card their victim has played. I could go on explaining the minute detail of the rules, but you get the idea. Basically, I wanted to create a system where players could achieve positive things for themselves, but also act destructively towards other players who gain too much of an advantage. There's also a 'Teacher's Pet' penalty for players who do 'too well' in their classes which, I think, reflects a real phenomenon that talented students often face if they're seen to outshine their classmates.
It was good to take the 'system analysis' process forward into the design of an actual game and the next step will be to test it. I suspect that the game I've made will be a bit too complicated and will need simplification, but Clay and Lien have both said that its good to try out a flawed prototype early, then made adjustments and continue iterating.
Yesterday, we play tested another of Lien's games, 'Make a Move' which is a serious game about immigrant youth in the United States and the choices they can make to help them stay in the country legally. We tested the game with staff from the Immigrant Children's Affirmative Network (ICAN) who work directly with young people who are being 'processed' by the authorities after gaining illegal entry to the U.S. They are keen to use the game to educate these children about their options and, in addition, to looking at the formal properties of the game, it was really good to look at a piece of work that can potentially have a direct and beneficial impact on some very vulnerable young people.
We also discussed the possibility of doing some Forum Theatre and/or drama games as a way for these kids to tell their story and explore their aspirations for the future. I'm hoping that next week we'll be able to organise a workshop with some Acting students at the University of Miami to show Lien and her colleagues from ICAN how improvisation games can work as a means of exploring a problem or as a means of developing narratives. The extent to which this work will integrate drama with game design is unclear but I'm excited at the prospect of making a contribution to the project, even if its a small one. They're having a Thanksgiving event at the Immigrant Youth Hostel next Friday and I'll be going along to play a game or two with the kids. Hopefully, it'll be a good way to conclude this visit to Miami.
Thanks for reading...