RCID Serious Game Colloquium, a report

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Serious Games Colloquium

This fall the RCID Serious Games Colloquium opened with a talk by Cynthia Haynes entitled “Muddy Waters/Serious Games.” The talk dealt with Jacques Derrida’s essay “Structure, Sign and Play.” Cynthia used this particular essay to explore theoretical aspects and implications of serious games. About half the talk was delivered inside the Massively Multiplayer Game World of Warcraft, something that served as an excellent example of how games can be used as platforms for delivery as well as for “story telling engines.” Another theoretical starting point for our colloquium this fall was Stuart Moulthrop’s essay “After the Last Generation: Rethinking Scholarship in the Days of Serious Play.” Both of these works gave us an important epistemological framework within which to situate the discussions that followed.

The Serious Games Colloquium has always been concerned with both theoretical, practical, and gameplay aspects of games. Last semester we offered viewings of several different serious games such as

– ReMission, a game that is designed for kids with cancer;

– America’s Army, which is the US Army’s newest training & recruiting tool;

– Second Life, as well as a mixed bag of smaller web-based political games.

sg3.jpgThis semester we took a more in-depth look at Second Life, which, as many people2ndlife.jpg already know, is a virtual world on the Internet with more than 1.5 million regular users worldwide. At the time of this writing the average number of simultaneous users are well in excess of 40,000. This fall Second Life got a lot of attention in the media; e.g., one episode of the popular TV show CSI New York took place partly inside Second Life. Also Second Life has gained a lot of interest lately in academia . Clemson University is also on board with at least two development projects, one by CCIT and one by the Graduate School. One of our meetings this Fall took place at the graduate school’s virtual Clemson campus where we were given a tour of the virtual facilities.

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Serious Games at Clemson Island

In a second session on Second Life, Jan Holmevik talked about avatars and how to customize appearance, animations, clothing and more. Both of these meetings were well attended and showed that there is a big interest in Second Life and how virtual world may augment our educational missions. Next year, therefore, we will continue our focus on Second Life with the aim of continuing our exploration of the serious sides of that medium. One of the focal points for these discussions will be a creative inquiry project that Holmevik is developing on community development in Second Life. This project will collaborate with Elisa Sparks and others to develop a Virtual Bloomsbury for Virginia Woolf scholars and others who share an interest in her literary work. In addition to being an excellent opportunity for colloquium participants to get involved in shaping a virtual curriculum, we see this as a good opportunity for joint sessions with Spark’s Space/Place Colloquium, and also as a vehicle for collaboration between MALit and MAPC within the English Department in general.

One of the goals of the RCID colloquia is to develop courses for our students in the PhD program. Early in the semester several students expressed an interest in seeing a seminar on video game design coming out of the Serious Games Colloquium. Based on student input, Holmevik, therefore, developed a proposal for a course aimed at introducing students to video game theory, design, and production. Here is a part of the seminar description:

sg4.jpg“The course centers on a single project: Making a video game from initial idea to final product. The production platform will be Blender, a free open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems under the GNU General Public License. The Blender platform includes tools for 3D modeling and animation, scripting and rapid prototyping in Python, and comes with a fully functional game engine for play testing and demonstration. In addition, Photoshop, Illustrator, and other appropriate software tools will also be used in the production of assets for the game. Students will gain proficiency with these tools and their use in video game development.

The beginning of the semester will deal extensively with readings and discussions of game theory: From the works of Johan Huizinga to Espen Aarseth through Ian Bogost and Ralph Coster, as well as others, we will study games in a theoretical perspective and analyze what makes them fun, playable, immersive, persuasive, and addictive.

Based on the theoretical understanding of games, the second part of the semester will be devoted to the design of a complete game from start to finish. Students will be divided into groups based on their areas of interest and expertise, and will work on different aspects of the game production process: The Game design document, 2D modeling and textures, 3D modeling and animations, level design, game logic scripting, and much more.

The last part of the semester will be devoted to a critical analysis of the game that has been developed. Theory reinserts itself and, coupled with experience from actually having worked on a real game development project, students will reflect on the design and production process, write structure programs for future projects, and rationales for conducting game design projects/courses themselves (both inside and outside of academic settings).”

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~ Jan Holmevik

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