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Game Design Studio Kicks Off on Campus for Two Weeks

Game Studio Design participants learning about and playing a game to better understand the logistics.

July 10, 2019

The University of Northern Colorado Technology, Innovation and Pedagogy's Creativity Lab has partnered with iThrive Games to host Game Design Studio, a two-week summer day camp program, on campus July 8-19.

Above (from left to right): Designers Chris, Tanus, Drayden and Caymus playtest games to determine mechanics and rules they might use in their original game designs.

The program invites 20 teenagers, ages 13 to 17, to build a variety of games including card and board games and even video games. The goal is to offer opportunities for teens to recognize and apply their strengths while exercising their creativity in designing games and learning new ways to approach problem-solving.

“Being a teen is different than it once was because they are challenged with a huge world that they have to navigate, and games create as practice space,” said Mia Williams, Ph.D., an associate professor in UNC’s School of Teacher Education. “They’re engaging with complex issues now and will be responsible for them as adults, so games can be a way to have conversations about these social issues.”

One of the design teams playtests MarioKart 8 in order to analyzes the game dynamics to build ideas for their team’s game design. Students explore existing games, such as playing and relating to Mario Kart 8 (image at right) or Unstable Unicorns. Guest speakers include Game Designer Navid Khonsari, who worked on franchises including Grand Theft Auto and the award-winning 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. Celia Hodent, a game consultant involved in user interaction for the online video game Fortnite, will be holding a conversation next week. Attendees will design and make their own games over the two weeks and pitch game ideas to industry experts.

“Playing games can help youth understand complex systems including their own systems of thinking,” Matthew Farber, Ed.D., an assistant professor in UNC’s School of Teacher Education, said. “Going further, this program engages kids in making games, which helps them to think about their thinking.”

UNC Teacher Education students help the program attendees build and learn from games. In turn, the UNC students build confidence speaking and working with students as part of training for future careers as teachers.

Sam Ptak, UNC Secondary Education Major, works with one of the design teams as they begin their prototype of an original game.

Above: Sam Ptak, a UNC English Secondary Education senior, works with one of the Game Studio Design teams as they begin their prototype of an original game.

“Teachers have to be professional speakers, and to be a professional speaker, one has to actually get up in front of people and practice speaking to them,” said Sam Ptak, a senior majoring in English Secondary Education with an English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement. “In being able to facilitate different activities on a day-to-day basis, I’m able to sharpen and refine the necessary skills needed to convey messages clearly and with confidence.”

Along with diving into game design, attendees discuss social issues that they experience, said Rachel Gawlikowski, a senior majoring in Special Education Generalist K-12.

“The Game Design Studio has a goal centered around giving teens the opportunity to share their stories, experiences and struggles with the world via game design,” she said. “Games are an amazing platform to speak someone's truth about social issues they face, and teens have such a powerful voice in this world.”

During the last day of camp, attendees participate as an official site of Global Game Jam NEXT, where youth around the world engage in rapid prototyping of games based on a prompt that is revealed at the opening of the event. The game jam’s goal is to promote collaboration and creativity through game design.

The program is expected to evolve in the coming years by increasing the number of attendees and publishing the program as a teacher’s guide, so it can be led in any classroom or afterschool program.

UNC Engage logoThis work is an exemplar of UNC’s status as a Carnegie Classified Engaged Campus, which involves UNC establishing enriching experiences with the community.

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About iThrive Games:
iThrive’s Game Design Studio is a design-thinking and social and emotional learning co-design experience that engages teens in self-reflection and systems change using the framework of game design. Learn more: ithrivegames.org