You've found my secret Play Design page!
Play Design? What is that?
If you're on this page you're either quite curious, you work in a game studio, or you're a learning designer or UI designer of some sort. If you like what you see, hire me or at least chat with me. Let's create wonderful things together!
The Quest: Eons ago, an epiphany of epic proportions inspired a brave adventurer named John to embark upon a perilous journey. His goal: to help people learn through playing. In his travels he encountered nearly insurmountable obstacles, obstructionist administrators, and doubting peasants. What amazing event led John to set out on this difficult crusade, and where would it take him?
Learning through Playing - The CUBE Project
I’ve been interested in Virtual/Digital Learning since 2000 when I played the EverQuest MMORPG for the first time and even more so since early 2003, when I started building in Second Life. With every game, with every hour spent playing, with every raid, or new friendship formed, my interest in the benefits of digital play has grown stronger.
I’ve always been of the opinion that online virtual spaces are perfect for learning and development, especially if those can take place in the context of a game. See, video games have an AMAZING opportunity to change life as we know it, and in FAR more ways than merely entertainment.
There are absolutely many benefits to playing online games, from socialization to relaxation. Improvement of hand-eye coordination and even team organization improve with games. There’s one benefit however, that not many MMO game designers are utilizing - education.
Sure, there are a ton of education games and apps now, especially for younger children, but not many of them utilize story-driven content in an open-world experience. When they do, it’s usually in the form of isometric, top-down characters confined to a room. None of them use an open world the likes of EverQuest or World of Warcraft. The closest thing to that would still be Second Life’s attempt to get people to hold virtual business meetings and teleconferences in their open world sandbox. Even though it’s a novel idea and it is admittedly playful, that isn’t really play-based learning. That’s more of a channel through which to communicate.
Video game designers and digital learning developers have an opportunity here, to create the best and most fun learning tool, ever – a MMORPG focused on educating those who play, with real-world knowledge through the use of motivational story-driven quests and engaging avatar development (leveling). I have some fantastically creative thoughts on this. After all, I’ve been consistently thinking about this type of game design since early 2000! Now, I simply need a game studio to get behind my idea and HIRE me as a design leader. I have other skills, too. Look at my portfolio!
I had the good fortune in late 2003 to build a virtual world to represent data – and interact with it. I did this in a device at the University of Illinois called “The CUBE,” located inside the Beckman Institute, an engineering applications powerhouse.
To see & interact with data, you’d put on 3D glasses and go into a 10’x10’ frosted glass cube. Projectors projected images on all walls, ceiling, and floor so you were completely immersed (this is before modern 3D goggles were mass produced).
Typically, The CUBE was used by engineers, chemists, and surgeons, in applications such as molecular modeling or CAT scan consultations, applications in the sciences which utilize true 3D imagery. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded us a grant to develop engineering applications for the humanities. I did this by designing a communication quality & quantity analysis between groups, completing surveys to collect data, then designing a virtual world to represent that data.
My “forest,” which I designed at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign using iKnow knowledge network analysis software and AutoCAD, displayed communication data in the form of pathways through the forest and towers which rose above the trees. Each tower represented a group at the university (undergraduates, student services, upper administration, graduate students, etc.). The height of the towers indicated “prestige” of each group in the network, using an analysis algorithm. The pathways themselves indicated quantity of communication, and the pathway decorations indicated quality of communication.
As an example, if you were an administrator who wanted to see what graduate students thought of their communication with student services, you’d put on those glasses then go stand under the graduate student tower. You’d look toward the student services tower. If there was no pathway, there was no perception of communication at all, according to the surveys.
If the right side of the pathway between towers was dirt, graduate students thought there was infrequent communication with student services. If the right side was built of pavers, graduate students answered there was very frequent communication with student services. There were four levels of frequency of communication total (none = no path, infrequent = dirt, somewhat frequent = dirt with pebbles, very frequent = pavers).
If the right side of the pathway edging was decorated with big boulders and weeds, graduate students had indicated in surveys that they thought the communications with student services were very poor quality. Weeds = poor quality, empty planters = fair, planters with flowers = good quality communication.
For the opposite data - what student services thought of communication with graduate students, you would simply look at the left side of the pathway instead of the right side (or you could go stand under the student services tower and look back toward the graduate students’ tower, on the right side). You could also fly up above the forest and look down to get an overall visualization of the data. Watch out for the clouds, though, as my name is sky-written in them.
The Coming Revolution
I’ve been telling everyone since then that Virtual and Augmented Learning (and work) is the future. I truly believe that a platform such as an MMORPG can change the entire field of education and as a result, lead to a new world revolution in how we learn. Already, mobile apps, digital learning games, online interactive education programs (through some online degrees), podcasts, and even YouTube, have made huge differences in how we learn, and the fun we have while learning. I think we can take e-learning a step further and I look forward to contributing to that in any role I can!
That is my quest, to land a job through which I can make a difference in the lives of others, by either increasing the joy they have through playing, or by helping them learn through playing. Either way, they'll be improving their lives with play and I want to be a part of that.
When I tell people I focused my Master’s degree on “digital entertainment and organizational communication,” their response is usually, “what does that mean?” If I told a traditional employer I did a content analysis on teamwork and organizational task competency in relation to transactive memory (shared team memory for faster data access), in EverQuest guilds, digital communities, and dragon raids, they'd immediately kick me out of the building.
They can easily enough understand how “the psychology of teamwork” benefits them but employers for years have passed me by because they often didn’t realize the full value of my focus. Imagine for a second though, how useful it would be in ANY industry, to not only increase learning and teamwork, but to motivate and inspire your workforce to WANT to learn. One terrific way we can do that is by learning through play. There are a great many types of play. Even small things such as incorporating engagement strategies in meetings and in corporate communications content (where appropriate) can be considered “play.” The more “play touch-points” you have, the more inspired the workforce will be to engage.
Now you know more about my journey. and what motivates me.
Mark my words, I will slay that corporate dragon, yet!
Thanks for reading!
Here is a diagram of “The CUBE” at the University of Illinois.