University of Skövde held a workshop at School of Digital Media, Jiangnan University, Wuxi
By Games Researcher Per Backlund from the University of Skövde
Palle Rosendahl Ehmsen, Henrik Engström, Marcus Toftedahl and Per Backlund from the Game Hub Scandinavia project team arrived in Wuxi March 17 to give a 1-week workshop at Jiangnan University.
The theme of the workshop was serious games (functional games) for food production. The workshop had around 30 participants consisting of students from computer science, media technology and food sciences respectively.
Streamlining the workshop for the Chinese audience
Monday to Friday was packed with activities. We started early and stopped late, and the participants even more so. We wanted to make the week an exciting experience for the Chinese students, where we combine theory with as much practical experience as possible.
During the 1-week workshop, we tested a concept for teaching game design “Scandinavian style”. We knew Chinese universities structure their studies differently from the Scandinavian tradition. And, we were about to introduce something that would probably be a bit out of the norm in Scandinavia as well.
To our minds, this meant teaching creative game development in an open and friendly atmosphere with a strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and project-based learning. For example, we highlighted creativity, multidisciplinary teams and active student participation as especially important things.
Introducing and teaching serious games
One of the unique features we tried out at the Jiangnan University workshop was working in teams that mixed students from computer science, media, media technology and food sciences.
The aim of having this mix was to show that in order to develop a good serious game you need all aspects to be in place. You need to understand the topic you are going to convey, you need to understand how to design the playful experience that encompass the topic and you need to be able to implement it in the digital game.
Throughout the week, we introduced basic concepts of game design, serious games, development practices and testing in mini lectures of 30 minutes. We decided to show as much as possible through examples since we were aware of the very diverse backgrounds of the participants. Some had very limited experience of games whereas others had even developed games themselves.
In some sense, it turned out that the mini lectures was a way to even out some of these differences, but also a way for us to convey what we considered important to focus on.
Challenges of game design
We wanted the Chinese students to have as many hands-on activities as possible: a study visit to the food production school; playing and improving existing games; and making their own games. The game development activities were at the core of the student activities and they developed improved versions of an existing game. This was as an exercise in understanding game mechanics, i.e. what should the player do in a game.
Understanding player behavior is one of the fundamental challenges of game design. The way we taught it was by letting the students produce paper prototype versions of the Tic-Tac-Toe game, where we asked them to include new elements of skill and chance to make the game more challenging and fun.
We wanted the students to make connections between game design, as in producing fun and challenging games, and utility, that is to convey a message or some learning through the game.
Prototyping reduces technical complexity
Connecting fun and challenging games with messages, values and emotions is a very difficult challenge. We let the student start with paper prototyping to come up with creative ideas.
We promoted creative idea generation and then a development process in which they used paper prototyping strategies to develop the idea in some depth before they went on to prototyping in Unity.
The students found that this way of working was very beneficial as it reduced a lot of technical complexity in the creative process.
Ending the workshop
Throughout the second half of the week, the Chinese students delved deeper and deeper into developing their games. On Friday afternoon, we invited fellow students, who had never seen the games, as play testers.
The external visitors put some pressure on the teams to deliver a playable prototype and the last hours before the guests’ arrival was very hectic.
However, all teams came up with great games and the play session became a huge success with much laughter.
We perceive the workshop as a huge success. For us as instructors it was very interesting to meet with students from a different culture in an unfamiliar context. We were met with great respect and huge enthusiasm.
The Chinese students were also very happy and proud of their games. They expressed that the week had been really intense, but also very fun and rewarding.