The Pixelkin Staff spent the weekend at PAX Prime looking at games and attending panels on a variety of topics related to family gaming. Here are the best panels we attended at the show.
Why Gaming with a Disability Should Matter to You
Panel Participants: Mark Barlet [Founder, AbleGamers], Craig Kaufman [Principal Events Coordinator, AbleGamers], Troy Hewitt [Senior Community Manager, Motiga], Keith Knight [Professional League of Legends Gamer with Disabilities], Linda Carlson [Director of Global Relations, Sony Online Entertainment], Lindsay Miller [Leading User Tests Expert, Behemoth]
For people who are disabled, gaming can be an incredibly challenging experience. This is something that many gamers (and game creators) simply don’t think about, because it isn’t a reality of their everyday lives. One in five gamers suffers from a disability that can make a video game impossible to play. Making games playable for these people is usually very simple, but as panelist Linda Carlson pointed out, you don’t know what you don’t know. Game creators won’t make the effort if they don’t understand why they should.
Gaming can be a vital reality escape, especially for people with disabilities. It’s frustrating that it is the people who need gaming the most who are the most likely to be denied access. It’s up to us to keep talking about accessible gaming, so that game developers can begin to plan ahead and create products enjoyable for everyone!
Family Game Night with a Twist: Make Your Own Video Game
Father and daughter John and Lily love family game night, but unlike most dads and daughters, these two don’t just play games. They make their own! The awesome duo ran down a list of all of their favorite game-building software, starting with beginner programs and going all the way up to some of the most advanced software on the market. These included GamePress, Scratch, Hopscotch, Hackety.com, RPG Maker, and GameMaker.
Don’t forget the golden rules of game-making with kids: be patient, experiment, encourage mistakes, and have fun!
Learning to Fail: Why Kids Should Make Games
Panel Participants: Lisa Castaneda [CEO, foundry10], Tom Swanson [Development and Implmentation, foundry10], Jared Gerritzen [VP of Publisher & Developer Relations, Major League Gaming], Steve Isaacs [Technology Instructor, William Annin Middle School]
This panel examined the awesome educational benefits of not only playing video games but of creating them in the classroom. Our current education system rewards those who do not take risks, which doesn’t produce great results in the real world. So Foundry10, an educational organization, worked with teacher Steve Isaacs and game developer Jared Gerritzen to measure the progress and reactions of 300 seventh- and eight-graders taking a game-design class. Since game creation inevitably involves many small failures before success is achieved, it was a great opportunity to see how the kids adapted their ways of thinking over the course of the semester. The results of this study will be released soon.
A follow-up internship program hosted by Foundry10 encouraged four teens to create a video game with limitless tools. It proved that the best mentors were those who were hands-off and let the students make their own mistakes. By the end, the game the teens had created was entirely their own, and that ownership made all the difference.
Level Up! Turning Your Geeky Hobbies into Geeky Careers
Panel Participants: Emily Jarrett [Graduate Studen, BST], Kathleen de Vere [Video Producer/Comedienne, LoadingReadyRun], Tally Heilke Petter [Craft Blogger/Plushie Designer, Tally’s Treasury], Andrew Ferguson [Photographer, Community Organiser, EA]
In this panel, an academic, a producer/actress, a maker of popular plushies, and a free-lance photographer talked about the ups and downs of making a career out of your creative passion—a thing a lot of kids are looking to do these days. Tips flowed freely. They included offering to do something for free for a group you admire—but not necessarily giving your services or goods away to people who approach you. Sometimes it’s good to accept a token payment (or honorarium), though, when you’re just getting started. Another tip is to have a body of work ready to show and have a website so you look legit. You should always treat your own work with respect. If you’re looking to make a career as an academic, you should think of your student years as part of your career. You should study harder and dress better than other students, because you need to make a good impression on professors, even as an undergrad.
Cautions? There were plenty. It can be stressful to run your own business because you have to pay your own taxes, manage your own time, and figure out ways to meet expenses in down times. It’s good to be prepared to “jump paths”; that is, be flexible about your career path and be ready to take advantage of opportunities. It’s often better—and less stressful—to keep your day job and do your creative work on the side.
Gaming in the Classroom: How Games Can Improve Our Schools
Panel Participants: Jeremy Bort, MAT, NBCT [Teacher, Federal Way Public Schools], Andrew Miller, MAT [Educational Consultant, Edutopia], Christian Knutson [ASB Student Director of Technology, Thomas Jefferson High School], Nik Davidson [Lead Game Designer, Wizards of the Coast]
A quick hand-raising survey at the beginning of this panel determined that there were many teachers in attendance. Lots of practical tips for introducing games into the classroom were offered, and all the panelists agreed that one of the benefits to games in the classroom is that kids study to win the game and end up doing well on the test. Games motivate kids to master the material. The panelists talked about the 4 C’s—communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity—and why games are great for teaching and encouraging these 21st century skills.
Educational games and off-the-shelf (commercial) games can be used successfully in the classroom. But sometimes technology resources are scarce. Jeremy Bort, the teacher on the panel, actually isn’t able to use video games much because he doesn’t have enough access to computers. So he designs paper-and-pencil games and card games, which also do the job of motivating kids to learn. In the Q&A, teachers asked for tips about which games to use, and they were advised to look for an “authentic scenario and just the right amount of challenge.” That’s what separates a good educational game from just an app that helps kids drill to improve skills.
Giving Through Gaming: Making the World a Better Place
Panel Participants: Kelli N. Dunlap [Psy.D., American School of Professional Psychology], Zach Wigal [Founder, Gamers Outreach], Jamie Dillion [Project Manager, Child’s Play Charity, Penny Arcade], Jean-Jacques Mott [Children’s Hospital]
Philanthropy in gaming is more common and does more good than you might think. (Child’s Play, a charity that raises money to buy video games for children’s hospitals, raised more than $7.6 million in 2013 alone.) This panel examined the work of Child’s Play and Gamers Outreach and included real-world examples of their impact. It turns out that video games are a uniquely effective way to reach kids who are in pain or frightened of medical procedures. Jean-Jacques Mott told a story about using a video game to distract a terrified child from a painful medical procedure so he didn’t have to be held down by orderlies. Kelli Dunlap, a therapist, said being a gamer helps her break through kids’ anxiety enough make headway in therapy: “For psychologists, knowing video games makes you a god.” Sometimes playing a video game is the best way—or the only way—to get and keep a child’s attention. And sometimes online games enable invaluable connections between hospitalized kids and the friends and family they have to be separated from.
Most of the funding for these charities comes from individual gamers, who raise money through gaming marathons and events or just donate some of their personal income every year. There are a few companies that also chip in (Astro Gaming and Microsoft were mentioned), but they could do more. The panelists pointed out that gamers can ask game companies to give too, and sometimes they’ll listen.
How Media Molecule Made the Immersive Papery World of Tearaway
Panel Participants: James Spafford [Community Manager, Media Molecule]
In this panel James Spafford, the Community Manager of Media Molecule, talked about the entire history behind the making of Tearaway—one of our favorite family games.
Tearaway was a very different game when Media Molecule first received the prototype of the PS Vita. They experimented with the idea of an dungeon-crawling adventure game with just the player’s finger as the main character. Spafford showed the audience a gameplay demo video of the player’s finger carving through the world, leaving holes that enemies would fall into. It didn’t quite work out, however, because no one outside the design team could play it. A main character, it was decided, would allow players to connect more easily with the world. The first protagonist of Tearaway was a boxy-looking character named Oola. At that point, Tearaway, which went by the name “Uncovery,” was a GPS-based game that would generate real-world locations. The game was cute and innovative, but it wasn’t quite coming together. So they scrapped it.
It might seem incredible that so many cool ideas get pushed aside when games are being designed. But one of the things that Spafford emphasized was that their efforts allowed them to focus down on what they really wanted to achieve.
Another great gem from the panel was an inside look at how they designed the sound of the game. Because Tearaway takes place in a world made of paper, they tried to make as many sound effects out of paper as they could. The roaring noises that the Wendigos make? It was adapted from the noise your fingernail makes when it scratches the edge of a cardboard sheet! The snuffling pig noises were actually the puff of air that is created when you put the top on a board game box.
This panel was a great chance to see how much work goes into designing a game. For the aspiring game designers in the audience it was incredibly educational. And for the Tearaway fans? It was a total treat to see behind the scenes of one of our favorite games.
Not Us, Not Here: Examining Bullying, Harassment, and Misogyny
Panel Participants: Stacey Weber [Psychotherapist / Gamer, Face the Sea, LLP], Joshua Neal [Clinician / Gamer, Sound Mental Health], Megan Spurr [Managing Editor, Dorkadia.com]
It’s fairly obvious to most of us that gaming has a problem with bullying, but it’s not always easy to know what to do about it, whether you’re on the receiving end or just a bystander. This panel explored ways we, as a community, can come together to understand and lessen the bullying, harassment, and misogyny that can run rampant in game culture.
Panelists first touched on the similarities between bullying in the physical world and bullying in the digital world. They made it clear that the effects and motives of harassment are the same across these spaces. In fact, making a distinction between the “real world” and the online world is really misleading—both are equally real. The reality of the situation is that bullying hurts no matter where it’s taking place.
The next important point that the panelists explored was that bullying hurts everyone. We often think of harassers as the bad guys of the situation, when it’s simply not the case—what bullies do is wrong, of course, but their actions often stem from their own feelings of inadequacy, pain, or discomfort. In fact, their behavior usually makes things worse for them.
So what can we do about it? A) Step in, say something. B) Reach out to the person being affected. Show support. C) Confront harassers privately—ask what’s going on with them, remind them that their actions are hurting real people, not just faceless avatars. D) Make it clear that the behavior will not be tolerated by your individual community, however big it is.
The panelists were also sure to remind the audience that just because many of us were targeted for our geeky passions when we were kids doesn’t mean that turning around and bullying someone else now is acceptable. Nobody is trying to take our games away, and we’re all here to have fun!