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CHAIN REACTIONS 
A Reacting Blog

  • May 26, 2021 12:23 PM | Anonymous


    By: Traci Levy
    Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Gender Studies
    Adelphi University 


    Even though I have been running role-playing games in my classes for more than five years and studying the Reacting pedagogy 
    for longer than that, I felt daunted about designing my game. Sure, I had written a mini game that my students played in one class period. But, the new game will run for weeks and eventually, I hope, be used by other instructors. Motivated by the anxieties around this new project, I created a writing accountability group for game designers.

    Writing accountability groups (or WAGs) are a well-known mechanism for helping scholars develop regular and effective writing habits. Making and sharing writing goals with other writers, can help people develop good writing habits and be more productive. People who are designing games can benefit from the same incentives and support structures as people writing chapters, articles, or books. At least this has been my experience after organizing two WAGs for game designers and participating in one. 

    The positive aspects of writing accountability groups for game designers are important and manifold. A supportive group of people struggling with similar issues can offer valuable perspective, feedback, and encouragement.

    Sharing relevant knowledge about games is another benefit. Forming a WAG with other Reactors who are designing games, for example, allows members to pool the knowledge of all the games we have played at Reacting conferences and run in our classes. That can be incredibly helpful when trying to figure out different game devices and mechanisms for your own game. Which games have mobs or crowds? How have games handled accumulating resources? Which games rely less on voting? Chances are others in your group will know.

    Helpful support can even spill outside of assigned WAG meeting times. WAG members become aware of each other’s challenges and interests. We sometimes email each other ideas. One of my WAG members has written a game that uses artefacts. After hearing a podcast talking about teaching through sensory experiences and objects, I made sure to send her a link. Another time, a WAG member emailed me after group time. After talking about ways to help students in my game feel like they were working in the same company, a group member emailed me satirical corporate promotional videos that made me chuckle and helped me think through this game design challenge.

    Besides the shared knowledge and support, the pressure of participating in a WAG can be helpful, too. Harnessing the discomfort that goes along with missing publicly-shared deadlines can increase productivity. We don’t like to break our word, so we are more motivated to stay on track. 

    Here’s a quick guide on creating a writing accountability group for game designers:

    1. Find a group of people that you enjoy interacting with who are working on designing a game. 

    Are you part of a listserv, professional organization, conference, Facebook group, etc., where you could do outreach and find out who might be interested in forming a WAG? In the Reacting community, we have two very helpful Facebook groups--the Reacting Faculty Lounge and the Reacting Game Design Lounge

    2. Decide what kind of WAG you would like. 

    There are at least two different ways to think about WAGs. In one, you share goals at the beginning of an in-person or virtual writing session, everyone writes, then you share progress. The other involves sharing writing goals for a week or two, often using a shared document. Then, the group uses the weekly meetings to discuss what you wrote and the ideas you would like to discuss. Make sure the group is clear and in agreement on your WAG type.

    3. Organize into a group of three-to-five game designers. 

     If everyone is going to share and interact, and keep the time commitment reasonable, a small group is key. If you have more interest than you anticipated after making queries-- which happened when I asked in a Reacting reading group on Nicolas Proctor’s Game Designer's Handbook --one strategy is to help the group break into more than one WAG. 

    Bonus: If you create or become aware of another game design WAG, you can have an “exchange day” where each group sends some members to the other WAG, or a “mega-WAG session” where both groups join together. The two Reacting WAGs that evolved out of our earlier reading group have benefited from an exchange day and are preparing for a mega-WAG session. It’s great for intellectual cross-fertilization!

    4. Decide on the frequency of meetings. 

     Weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings are all fairly common. In the case of our reading group that evolved into WAGs, it was easy to divide. We had three game designers who preferred biweekly meetings and four who preferred weekly meetings. So, the frequency of meetings helped us figure out who would go into which group.

    5. Agree how long everyone commits to participating in the WAG. 

     3-months? One semester? Decide how long you would like everyone to initially commit to the WAG.

    6. Agree on a time and place to meet.

    Finding a good day of the week and time when everyone can meet is critical. You might use Doodle, Google Docs, or email exchanges to figure out availability. If your group can meet in-person, it’s helpful if you can find a suitable space that will reliably be available. If your group will meet virtually, someone needs to create and share the link.

    Sharing your game design challenges, triumphs, and processes with the same group of people over time can do more than help you design a better game on schedule. You get to know and enjoy the company of other people with similar interests. As a result of our group, I have joined a WAG member’s class to play an art buyer in the Art in Paris, 1888-9 game. Group members have shared readings, podcasts, and TV recommendations. (Some of us have finished watching The Crown; others were motivated to do so after an interesting discussion.) Meeting online, we have gotten to see and admire each other’s pets. And--a hallmark of life during COVID--we have cheered each other on as we received vaccine appointments and, then, vaccinations.

    From the point of view of productivity, shared knowledge, and all around camaraderie, creating a writing accountability group for game designers can be a wonderful experience.

    Traci Levy's Game Designer Writing Accountability Group meeting on zoom   (Alt text: Screengrab of four zoom squares featuring smiling Reacting professors who are writing education games and simulations, three women and one man)

    About the Author
    Traci Levy is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Gender Studies at Adelphi University. She is designing a role-playing game that focuses on the inequities of informal caregiving in the United States. The game is tentatively titled “The Challenge and Politics of Care.”

    Blog Author Questionnaire
    One word to describe faculty: Learners
    Two words to describe your school: Academic COMMUNITY
    Three words to describe students: Teaching's best part
    Four words to describe favorite games: Develop community through teamwork
    Five words to describe Reacting: Students arrive early, leave late

  • May 14, 2021 5:05 PM | Anonymous


    By: Kyle Lincoln
    Lecturer of History and International Studies
    Norwich University, VT, USA


    Having played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in college, finding a group to play with in graduate school seemed like an important way to cope with working forty hours a week and taking a full slate of courses. Every week, a classmate and I would drive out to one of St. Louis’s suburbs to meet with another classmate—who has since left academia—and play for hours into the night, eventually driving home in the small hours of the morning, chatting about the stress of our position and how we might get out of jams, both real and fantastical. It’s hard to say whether that was what made one of our faculty mentors, a Jesuit priest who studied the minutiae of canon law in the saecula obscura get involved, but when he took notice of our conversations about twenty-sided dice, he invited us in to help with one of his undergraduate survey courses. We were assigned the roles of metics that had recently been enfranchised to the Athenian polis; we were off to the races.

    Looking back on that bit of small fortune, I think of how the class in question was in a classroom that was at the engineering end of campus; it was in a building that, to that point and since, I have never stepped foot in. Perhaps that’s what made the experience so transformative and fantastical; Vonnegut says that “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Vonnegut was a humanist, but the punchline of travelling across campus to help with a Jesuit’s class would not have escaped him, I think.

    91% of American adults, in a clinical setting, have a longer attention span than I do. In colloquial terms, I’m somewhere between “moth” and “dead goldfish”—in several states, I may not be legally allowed to operate a toaster oven—and to say that traditional lecture courses were hard for me is an understatement. I drafted a fantasy baseball team in “Chemistry and Societal Issues” as an undergraduate, rolled characters in “Readings in Film” and only in Classical Language classes or Medieval History classes could I reasonably maintain any stream of focused attention. (The brain-eaters call this “hyperfocus” and it’s what the ‘H’ points to in AD(H)D.) The same was not the case for this Athenian assembly. I was hooked from that moment.

    They say that there is no zeal as white-hot as that of a convert. In my case, that might well be true. When sitting down to write this short introductory post for a blog that hopefully runs ad infinitum, I thought first about writing about the professional development workshops I’ve run and then about the multiplicity of Facebook posts that accompany any number of games. I then wondered how many different simulations that I had run in classes, including those in development. I got to fifteen before wondering how many more that I had played and realized that, in most cases, it doesn’t really matter how many were played.

    What matters is this: if the lord of Swamp Castle, in the 1974 epic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, admits to building three castles—the last of which was still standing—how many had he really tried to build? In concealing his failures to his son, whose marriage seemed as doomed by Launcelot’s intervention as it did the fitness of the match in question—no matter how huge the purported tracts of land might have been—how many of his other failings were covered up? In concealing to ourselves and our colleagues how many traditional lectures or formal discussions had not gone the way we wanted them, how much emotional energy were we emptying from ourselves to make the classroom as holy a space for us as it could be? It seems, to me, that my “dancing lessons from God” led me to build my own Swamp Castle after only two years of teaching on my own.

    If anything, the architectural triumph of Swamp Castle has been its staying power in so many different swamps. Community colleges in Fargo, North Dakota and the New College in Florida would not seem so similar, yet I know personally that both places have their own Swamp Castles. Jesuit Schools have Swamp Castles; the military academies—public and private—have Swamp Castles. There are Swamp Castles in Canada, New Zealand, and even in Indianola, Iowa, where one can buy a roasted cherry and goat cheese gelato for a reasonable price. The key was neither the swamp, nor the castle, but the determination to build where it seemed hopeless. Hope, though, is not just a college in Michigan, but rather a way of life for faculty in the Reacting community.

    As the first post that will go in this Blog, I pondered for quite a while what kind of post it should be, what themes I could point out, and how much of an editorial spin I wanted to put on any of these topics.

    Then, rather serendipitously, my dog’s tail knocked a copy of The Needs of Others from the textbook shelf in my home office. Having just finished teaching that wonderful simulation, I realized that even asking those questions was a set-up to a joke. One does not control a Reacting classroom, and an editor cannot control, influence, shape, smooth, cultivate, exfoliate, or provide reasonable and affordable home and auto insurance coverage for a Reacting Blog.

    So, what kind of Swamp Castle should we build next, colleagues?

    About the Author:
    Kyle C. Lincoln is a medieval Iberian historian. He has taught widely: at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, Webster University, Saint Louis University, and, most recently, at Norwich University (in Vermont). His publications have appeared in more than a dozen venues, and he currently serves on the Reacting Consortium’s Game Development Conference Committee and the Reacting to the Past Editorial Board.

    Blog Author Questionnaire:
    One word to describe faculty: 
    Convivial
    Two words to describe your school: Faculty Uniforms?
    Three words to describe students: Youths in Uniforms! 
    Four words to describe favorite games: Scheming within the Issues
    Five words to describe Reacting: GAME (Generally All-encompassing Masochistic Experience) 


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