Boston FIG Talk: Good Co-op Bad Co-op

On January 8, 2017, the Recasting Player Two crew headed to the Boston Festival of Indie Games to give a FIG Talk on our research on the gendered dynamics of co-operative play. We spoke to a crowded room of developers, games critics, academics and fans about the passive play and spectatorship, the dynamics of playstyles and roles, and new and more inclusive themes for co-operative game design.

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Posted in Events, Research

Recasting Player Two Workshop #2: Dynamics of Involvement in Cooperative Play

The Recasting Player Two project aims to find ways for academia to collaborate with the development community to promote diversity and equity in game development and gaming culture. In particular, we’re interested in the gendered dynamics of co-located cooperative games; in order to tackle a series of gendered issues in current design practices, we have hosted two workshops bringing together people from the game development community to prototype games and discuss these issues. We wrote about the first workshop Boston Game Maker’s Guild Workshop.

The second Recasting Player Two workshop took place on November 18th at the MIT Game Lab. Building on insights from the first workshop, we resolved to bring together a diverse group of game industry professionals, developers and academics to tackle the more specific issue of passive play and asymmetrical cooperative games. We opened the day by asking our attendees: how can we create games that afford different levels and types of interaction, investment, difficulty and specialization? And in doing so, how can we create more inclusive spaces not just for women, but for other underrepresented groups in gaming as well?

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Posted in Events, Research

Boston Game Maker’s Guild Workshop

 

A while back, a group of fourteen board game developers from Boston’s Game Makers Guild attended an evening workshop that was jointly organized with the MIT Game Lab. The event was a part of an ongoing project called Recasting Player Two which aims to find ways for academia to collaborate with the development community to promote diversity and equity in the game development and gaming culture.

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Posted in Events, Research

Applications open for Play Labs 2017 – summer accelerator for MIT alumni & students using playful technologies

Applications are open to companies founded by MIT alumni or students for the inaugural edition of PlayLabs, a new summer accelerator for MIT students & alumni using playful technologies, taking place on MIT’s campus, hosted by the MIT Game Lab, and operated by Bayview Labs.

Play Labs is a private venture run by Bayview Labs, and its executive director is Riz Virk, MIT ‘92, a successful entrepreneur in both video games and enterprise software, and angel investor in many playful companies. Play Labs is hosted by the MIT Game Lab, whose faculty and researchers will be involved hands on with startups, and will take place on the MIT Campus.

From the press release:

The focus of the first batch will be Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies and applications, though the incubator will also consider startups using other playful tech, including 3d modeling, rendering, streaming, gamification, artificial intelligence, machine vision. The applications of playful technology can be in any industry, including online/mobile/VR gaming, esports, entertainment, education, healthcare, finance, etc.

During the program, startup teams will be mentored by the Executive Director, and by faculty and staff from the MIT Game Lab. Additional speakers and mentors for the accelerator will include many successful entrepreneurs and experts in product design, sales and marketing, and fundraising, drawn from MIT alumni and Seraph Group.

Startups that are accepted into Play Labs will each receive an initial investment of $20,000 from the Play Labs Fund in return for common stock. Startups that graduate from the program and meet certain criteria will be eligible for up to $80,000 in additional funding from Play Labs and its investment partners.

More information, including the application, can be found at playlabs.tv

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Playful and Social Interaction Design Returns in Spring 2017

Playful and Social Interaction Design (CMS.842) is the latest addition to the MIT Game Lab’s course offerings. It debuted in the Spring of 2016 and will be offered again Spring 2017. The best way of conveying what we do in the class is to show the results of previous student projects, so follow the link below and explore the online portfolio.

Playful and Social Interaction Design 2016 Projects

projects

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Playing at Real Estate Development in China!

Originally posted at the Samuel Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab blog

Since August, the MIT Game Lab has been developing a game about real estate entrepreneurship and socially responsible development for the Samuel Tak Lee MIT Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab. This past April, Sara Verrilli and I visited China to test our game with undergraduate students in urban planning, architecture, real estate development, and landscaping. We also wanted to get a sense of the scale of real estate development currently in progress there. Our first stop was in Hohhot, at the Inner Mongolia University of Technology.

An incoming graduate student and an instructor at IMUT gave us a two day architectural tour of Hohhot. We saw construction sites in every phase of development, along with a healthy mix of new and old architectural styles. Outside the city, we visited villages in various states of renovation – some being rebuilt, some occupied after renewal, and some still in use, awaiting work. Those two days inspired new ideas for our prototype game’s look and feel – our title screen is now a picture from a district of Hohhot designed by our host, Professor Rong. The ever present blue gates at each construction site became the new icon our artist, Miranda Cover, created for the game.

The night before we met with the students, we taught the game to the instructors and graduate students who were our guides. They enjoyed the game, and were a great help with translating and assisting the students in learning the game the next day.

For the actual test, we played the game twice. The first game was a shorter introductory one, and the students played in pairs, so they could aid each other in learning the game. While they learned the rules, they also discovered translation errors both in game and on our reference cards. Fortunately, we had IMUT instructors who knew the game, and could both translate and make suggestions for future improvements.

After lunch, the students played again, and this was our main test. We divided them into two groups of four, and each group had an IMUT instructor and an MIT staff member to answer questions and observe their game. To keep the game competitive, we offered an MIT logo tshirt to the winner from each group. While this inspired more competitive games, the students still helped each other out. The games were played on a single shared tablet, and while the students could choose to keep the tablet private on their own turns, they tended to keep it on the table, in public view. The students clearly enjoyed the game both times they played it, and the second time, turns were much faster and scores higher.

As designers, we want a player who makes poor decisions early in play to be able to recover if they notice their mistakes. We saw this happen in Hohhot; players changed their strategies mid-game, and were rewarded with better results. We also wanted to know if the game mechanics gave the players the ‘feeling’ of being an entrepreneur, or a real estate developer, or an urban planner – and the students confirmed that yes, they did. Different playstyles did cause different roles to feel more or less expressed in the game.

After leaving Hohhot, we conducted another test with students from Tsinghua University in Beijing. They quickly mastered the gameplay and made nuanced observations about how the systems in our game compared to the real world. Describing what they wished the game could do, these students asked for features and mechanics we had already started designing — confirming we were on the right track!

Based on the feedback from these tests, our student team spent the remainder of their Spring semester at MIT making changes. The user interface and the in-game symbols received significant criticism, so we revised the game’s appearance. We also updated building names and did another game balancing pass. We want players to consider their social responsibility to invest in public infrastructure to help the city thrive, but we also want them exploring the system of debt and profit within the game, to wisely use capital and take calculated risks, as entrepreneurs must.

The game is currently being tested as part of the comprehensive curriculum of the MISTI-STL Summer Camp experience being run in China this summer. In July, I will be observing the camp in Qingdao and Xiamen, as well as conducting tests in Shanghai and these two cities with other interesting types of players: high schoolers who might consider real estate development as a career and professionals who are already practicing real estate development. We have another year of prototyping and design research after this summer and are excited to continue introducing more systems of real estate development and entrepreneurship into our game!

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Tickets on sale for “Einstein’s Playground,” our demo at the Charles Hayden Planetarium

Produced with the Museum of Science Boston, on February 11, we’ll be projecting live visuals from our OpenRelativity game engine onto the dome of the Charles Hayden Planetarium to demonstrate the theory of Special Relativity! We originally developed OpenRelativity as a toolkit to produce a wide variety of learning experiences, so we jumped at the opportunity to take our work from the desktop monitor to the giant dome down the river.

This show combines the Master’s thesis work of Zachary Sherin ’15 with the teaching skills of Dr. Gerd Kortemeyer from Michigan State University, both of whom worked with us on “A Slower Speed of Light” in 2012. “Einstein’s Playground” is a new show designed specifically for a live, narrated presentation, using the flexibility of interactivity to adjust to the needs for a large audience.

Tickets are on sale now! Admission: $10 (Feb 11, 7:15pm)

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Open House & Game Testing – Wednesday, July 22nd from 4-6pm

The MIT-Shenkar Summer Game Development Workshop has four games in early development this summer that are in need of your feedback! We invite everyone – young, old, MIT community, game playing, game developing, or even never touched a video game before in your life – to come, play our games, and give us the feedback we need to complete our games by the end of July.

Our doors are open on Wednesday, July 22, from 4pm – 6pm; you are welcome to drop in at any time during those hours and play as many (or as few!) of our games as you wish. Each game takes around ten minutes to complete; some are longer than others. We do recommend that if you want to play all the games, you arrive earlier rather than later! During the Open House, our development teams observe your game playing, answer any questions you may have, and record your comments and opinions about the games you are playing.

There will also be light snacks available, to keep your game playing strength up!

Our games will be in their fifth week of development, but will still have some placeholder artwork and user interfaces (player controls) will still be in development. By testing them now, we intend to get feedback we can use, with time left to use it. This is your big chance to actively influence our games in development!

While we welcome testers of all ages, some of our games are intended for middle school children while others are for older children and adults; children under seven may have difficulty playing our games alone, but might enjoy sitting on a parent’s lap and watching.

Our summer studios are in MIT’s Building 7 on the 4th floor, rooms 7-403 and 7-404. Enter from the 77 Massachusette’s Ave entrance, go straight, and take the stairwell on the right to the fourth floor (across from Student Financial Services). The closest elevator is near the ‘Under the Dome’ sign in Lobby 7 – take it to the 4th floor and follow the signs from there!

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A Perspective on PAX East and the Escape Room Game Jam

As a fledgling graduate student in media studies, much of my time is spent doing readings and work for class. Much of this involves catching up on the literature and history of the field, learning about related disciplines and media, and becoming versed in the processes and vocabularies that will mark me as a scholar in my adopted field. This is really rewarding work, but sometimes it can be difficult to spend some time on my long term work, the stuff I’ll be researching and writing about for my thesis and that, at the end of the day, is why I work so hard yet love what I do. Thus, getting the chance to dive into that work is a rare and fantastic opportunity.

In this past month and a half, I have found fantastic opportunities to do just that: immerse myself amongst the people and cultures around games. I was lucky enough to bounce around from a panel on the lifestyles of popular livestreamers to PAX East, then to MIT’s Sandbox Summit, and finally to the Game Lab’s own Escape Room Game Jam, making for a busy but awesome March. Now I’m looking forward to a summer chock-full of games bliss, including a Distant Worlds Final Fantasy concert, two premier games research conferences, and a number of game design workshops. Needless to say, I’ve been a happy camper on that front, and attending all these events ever, let alone within a few months of each other, seems like a dream come true.

At the top of March, I made my way to the biggest of these events, PAX East, Boston’s branch of the Penny Arcade Expo gaming convention. PAX’s various branches are somewhere between cons (fan-centered) and trade shows (industry-centered). For three days, publishers’ huge booths, with mostly unreleased games set up to be played, were lined with enthusiasts sporting branded gear or cosplay (a portmanteau of costume-play, wherein fans dress up as a game/anime/etc. character). The show floor is, in essence, a playground— fans play the next hottest game while chatting with friends old and new, united by a passion for the games they’ve come to play and display.

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Click for more PAX East photos!

 

I haven’t been to many cons in my life, and PAX is definitely the largest I’ve attended. Not only that, but its reputation precedes it; I’ve been wanting to go to PAX ever since I first heard about it in Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine (R.I.P.), my portal to the pulse of the gaming world as an adolescent. Yet, I feel like my experience of PAX would’ve been very different had I gone then, or at least before I began studying games and their communities.

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So cute! >.<

The funny thing about transforming from a fan to an academic in a given space is the fluidity of the “aca-fan.” The line “separating” my identity as a lifelong fan with a gaming history, favorite titles and genres, and ways of engaging with other fans and my identity as a budding academic with research questions, short- and long-term professional goals, and obligations to ethical and sound research practices is not so much a line but rather a permeable, shapeless boundary that is often only really defined by my approach to certain situations. At PAX, I found that boundary stumbling over itself. Although I wore my markings of fandom and belonging proudly, I also found myself looking around through the lens of what I might call “academic distance,” trying to see the people and events around me as opportunities to ask investigative questions rather than only squeeing about the newest Square Enix games and merch (which I also did).

So cool! ^_^

So cool! ^_^

Contrast this with my work at two game jams as hosted by the Game Lab, through which I began from a place of academic distance and found myself feeling more and more like a participant. The more recent jam, the Escape Room Game Jam, took place over three days (totaling 26 thrillingly exhausting hours for me) in late March. We asked jammers to design escape rooms focused on a narrative/prebuilt world and that could be played competitively. As discussed elsewhere on this blog, the jam’s participants’ designs needed to be interesting, comparable, scaleable, cheat-proof, feasible, and competitively stable to be considered for the grand prize— a trip for the team to San Diego Comic-Con and the potential reality of their designed room.

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Working hard

Game jams can seem quite daunting, particularly one with prizewinning stakes and constraints as difficult as what’s needed for a competitive escape room. However, as much as I saw hard work at the jam, I also saw people having tons of fun playing with ideas. Thanks to that unparalleled creative energy, the game jam was crazy fun to run. My work at the jam was mostly logistical (herding people, materials, and food around), but I did get the chance to listen in on a few brainstorming sessions, including sharing lunch with one team as they began diving into their design. I listened to their ideas weave together, offering additional things to consider or a way in which two seemingly conflicting concepts could be bridged.

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Exploring ideas

I wasn’t a participant, but I was there in part to help spur ideas and make sure teams were happily working. This was fine by me; I’ve never considered myself a game maker, or even capable of being one worth any salt. Yet, being in a room full of people catching ideas out of the buzz of generative conversations, sculpting them into elaborate and fascinating puzzle rooms, it occurred to me that maybe I could do this too. That maybe I belonged in that space, not just for logistical help, but as a creative someone who really could add something to one of these teams. As I moved between Mover of Useful Things to Lab Representative to Theoretical Scholar, another identity was added to my pile: Rising Game Designer.

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Our own Philip Tan pitching a design

Although I enjoyed my experience at PAX, there was something even more magical about the Escape Room Jam. Take away the huge booths, the spectacle of the lights and sound and cosplay, the glitz of the industry’s big names, and PAX distills down to people celebrating a shared identity, as enthusiasts of the current trends in the games industry, which in that space needn’t be squashed for their other identities. But at the Escape Room Jam, beyond the long days, cool materials, and setup/takedown, I found people pooling their strengths and knowledge into building upon their shared identities, as game makers becoming as cutting edge, professionally recognized game makers.

For me, turning my hobby in and passion for games into a career didn’t sap away the the fun and excitement I get from them. Instead, becoming a graduate student in games has gifted me a fluidity of identities that draw upon each other. Like those at PAX, I am able to savor what particular identities mean to me, and thanks to the participants and fellow organizers at the Escape Room Jam, I have opened my horizons, both professional and personal, to all sorts of approaches to and experiences in spaces that I once wouldn’t have even considered myself worthy of.

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A design well-jammed

Note: Photos taken at PAX East by Kyrie Caldwell. Photos of the Escape Room Jam courtesy of Michael Rose.

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MIT Undergraduates: Make Games with Us this Summer as a UROP!

The MIT Game Lab, MIT Education Arcade, and “Shenkar – Engineering. Art. Design” (of Tel Aviv, Israel) are partnering up this summer to run a Game Development Summer Workshop!

We are hiring current MIT or Wellesley undergrads, eligible for an MIT UROP, to participate in the workshop and to make video games with us!

We are looking for enthusiastic students who want to practice their game design, production, and programming skills in a challenging environment!

Students will work full-time (40 hours/week at the standard $10/hour UROP rate) during the Summer (early June thru late August). Part-time work is also available in the Spring if you are free then as well. Students from both MIT and Shenkar will work together in multi-disciplinary teams to make games for social change. The work will take place on MIT campus, guided by staff mentors from the Game Lab and Education Arcade (our games: http://gamelab.mit.edu/games & http://education.mit.edu/projects).

Does all this sound interesting to you? Are you ready to make some amazing games? This is a great opportunity to network with other like-minded students, to add a completed and shipped project to your portfolio, and to possibly even find folks you might want to work with in the future!

Candidates will be able to demonstrate applicable skills depending on the type of role we’re hiring (design or programming). Students who have done a UROP to create new software or games, or who have taken game design classes taught by the Game Lab or the Education Arcade, will be preferred.

Please send the following to Sara Verrilli, MIT Game Lab (gamelab-request@mit.edu) by April 15th:
– Updated resume/CV
– Cover letter (statement of interest: why do you want to work with us? what kinds of games have you made?)
– Link to portfolio of work if you have one (previous games made, applicable classwork)

Interviews will be given through April 25th with all positions filled by the end of April.

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