Some happenings from the past four weeks:
This year, for the first time in a long time, Mindful Mammoth did not participate in the Santa Monica Mountains Science Fest. A sad deal. The 2013 SAMO Science Fest was a sort of coming-out for us, so the Science Fest always felt like a special event. It’s also been a consistently rewarding event, where we have been able to provide information and inspiration to hundreds kids, and also to do some useful networking with adults from other outreach organizations.
This year, the Science Fest was scheduled for May. However, this May, I was teaching two wholly new classes – classes which I had designed over the previous two months, but which still needed quite a bit of on-the-spot tweaking: Rocket Science – a middle school class on Newtonian physics and model rocket construction; and Critical Game Studies – a class on media, messaging, and game design at the Los Angeles Film School. In combination, those two things were more than a full-time job, and there just wasn’t time left to organize and staff a Science Fest dealeo. Sad. Very sad. Hopefully we’ll return there next year.
Once those two classes were sorted out, I took the time to write up Fire Tag, an ecological experiment/game that I created for the 2012 Science Fest, back when I worked for the NPS. I’ve already shared that process, but what I haven’t shared is that I then submitted the game to IndieCade 2016. One of the great things about IndieCade is that they welcome games of all sorts – digital games, board games, card games, and playground games. Being a playground game, Fire Tag is totally within the scope of the festival. With a little luck, we’ll get a nod again, and have the opportunity to share Fire Tag with this year’s festival attendees. Keep your fingers crossed!
While all those things were going on, I was also plugging away at my quota of entries for the 2016 Serious Play Awards (a part of the 2016 Serious Play Conference). The entries were a very divided bunch. Some were playful but shallow, just games with a pinch of educational value. Others were deep but unfun, powerfully interesting simulations but with little imagination or whimsy. Very few entries were in that sweet spot of being both deep and fun. It was a little disappointing, but also intriguing.
Everything we know about game design, education, and learning says that learning happens most and best when people are 1) emotionally engaged, and when they are 2) as directly as possible practicing the things to be learned. Most of the SPC games did one or the other, providing either engaging play or opportunities to apply skills, but not both. For sure, it’s terribly hard to do both those things well at the same time, but we (the serious games community) know that this is the thing to do. What can we do to make that happen more often? To get more educators and designers to aim for the big prize instead of settling for the same-ole strategy, the strategy that has made ‘educational game’ into a phrase that evokes rolling eyes and disappointed sighs.
Well, we can have more things like the Serious Play Conference, like IndieCade, and like GLS. We can have people like me out in the world, beating the drum, sharing games/information/inspiration. Perhaps there are other things we can do too. It’s worth thinking on.