Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By Dr. Anthony Betrus
FCE Contributing Writer 

The Games, Learning, and Society Conference Meets SUNY Potsdam's "Cricket-in-a-Box"

 

Last updated 8/30/2015 at 6:57pm | View PDF



This past summer I had the honor and privilege of attending and presenting at the 11th annual Games, Learning, and Society (GLS) conference at the University of WIsconsin in Madison. I have attended every other year since the second iteration of the conference in 2006, and have seen it grow from a small, regional affair, into one of the top games conferences in the world. In attendance were representatives from all of the major games programs in the country, including the University of Southern California, the University of Utah, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and many more. It was great to rub elbows with some of the brightest games folks in the world, and to see the creative ideas that are emerging from the independent scene and university programs.

I attended and presented with two recent graduate students who studied with me in the Educational Technology Specialist graduate program at SUNY Potsdam: Nate Turcotte and Matt Leifeld. We presented the most recent version of Teaching Bad Apples (https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/teaching-bad-apples), a game they co-created with me while at Potsdam, and that was featured in a November, 2014 fourth coast article. We saw keynote speeches from Brenda Romero (originally Brenda Brathwaite, of Ogdensburg, NY) as well as her husband, John Romero, co-founder of the Doom/Quake series, and a game design legend. Brenda’s speech described her personal journey, growing up as a curious young girl in a small town, developing a passion for programming, attending and graduating from Clarkson University, and immediately going to work for the local Ogdensburg company Sir-Tech. While there she worked on a number of titles in the Wizardry series, Jagged Alliance, and others. She paid special attention to the recent problems with sexism in the games industry surrounding the Gamergate controversy, with her overall message a plea for diversity and inclusion. She finished to a standing ovation. I spoke with her after, and she said she recognized my “north country accent” immediately. She also mentioned that when she travels she always goes out of her way to travel just north enough to catch a Jreck Subs, and when she is through Potsdam she always grabs a Sergei’s pizza roll. She has fond memories of the North Country, and while her next home is at an “undisclosed island location,” it does go to show with a sound foundation with local roots, along with curiosity and passion, the sky's the limit. Overall, the major takeaway from the conference was that there has been, and continues to be, plenty of room in the games industry for small, independent players, not just the large producers with Triple-A titles.

For our part, I likened the game we presented to a “cricket-in-a-box.” That is, we were kind of like the kid who shows up to the science fair with only a small box, surrounded on all sides by people with colored liquids in fancy glass test-tubes, smoking solutions, and breath-taking transformations. And while what we did was not technically brilliant or graphically stunning, it proved to be a hit. You see it just so happened that events concluded on Dr. Kurt Squire’s birthday, co-founder of the GLS conference. Kurt went to graduate school with me at Indiana University, where he was a year behind me. In 1996, as I neared the end of my program, I convinced our department chair to offer the School of Education’s first simulations and games course. He agreed, and I taught it for a year before I left, and then handed it over my roommate at the time, Edd Schneider, who also taught it for a year. At that point he too was on his way out, and needed someone to carry the torch. We both knew Kurt well, and convinced him, against his better judgement at the time, to pick up the course. Kurt ended up focussing his dissertation on the game Civilization, studied in a post-doc at MIT working with Dr. Henry Jenkins, and is now one of the most respected college faculty working in the simulations and games field in the world. So as I was about to head out, I took one of the copies of my game, and approached Kurt to give him a copy as a birthday present. He was with his wife and GLS co-founder Constance Steinkuehler (and former games czar for President Obama). I explained the concept of the game (like Cards Against Humanity for Educators), and she immediately grabbed it and said “we’re going to go play this right now.” Post conference everyone meets on the Union Terrace for beer and brats, and this turned out to be the game of choice. We played for about an hour, with many laughs had by all. So, in the end, it was the little “cricket-in-a-box” that turned out to be a small, but delectable, cherry on top of what was a great time had by all.

 

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