NASAGA ’05 Trip Report

I was at the NASAGA conference, and posted this quick report (onto the NASAGA list).

It’s always nice to start by running into old friends & making some new ones. Then I get into my fundamental problem I – there’s so much going on, it’s hard to choose what to do.


Wednesday, Les Lauber and I hosted a workshop on "rapid game remodeling." We had a small group, but a good time. We started by playing a number of games, then deconstructing the elements at play. We followed with a blitz of quick demonstrations of a bunch of games, then some theory, and finished by exploring a design of a game to fit someone’s work needs.

The workshops were followed by a reception. Brian Remer (our host) had arranged for some wonderful musicians to help us learn contra dancing, which is sort of like square dancing. It was fun, but exhausting. I had thought I’d be playing games afterwards, turns out I was just going to go fall into bed.


The first keynote was from Ron Roberts, a game designer and professor. He spoke on "The Power of Games in Accelerated Learning." My takeaway from that was to focus more on the "context" of what I’m teaching as well as the "content." The talk got pretty frenetic near the end when we had to toss stuffed animals between tables.

I followed this with a much milder session, "Can P-conferences teach e-conferences?" Chris Saeger created a simulation of an online conference where we used sticky notes to communicate in simulated chat rooms and work areas.

Then Matthew Richter helped us explore "Incorporating Motivation Theory into Games". He uses a model from amotivation (apathy) through extrinisic motivation of various types (doing it because of outside incentives), to intrinsic motivation (doing it because you want to). We had good discussion around the demotivating aspects of extrinsic rewards.

Dr. Clue (David Blum) gave us a taste of using and building treasure hunts. We ended by designing our own clues, and having other teams try them out. They were pretty tough to solve, but very fun to create.

After dinner, Ron Roberts, Clark Quinn, and Charles Phillips had a panel discussion, hosted by Les Lauber, where they discussed game design and marketing.

The evening ended (late) with a group of us playing a number of games. Somehow they tended toward a grisly theme: Give me the Brain, Guillotine, and Middle Management. Guillotine in particular was very fun.



Friday was a bit more relaxed of a day.

We started Friday with a talk by Clark Quinn on "Designing E-Learning Games". He comes from a cognitive design background, and has the goal of "using technology to make people wise." His brief demo showed a couple games, one a simulation of a hospital, the other of project management. Both used a cartoon style; the interaction reminded me of "Monkey Island" (if you’re old enough to remember that), but it’s built around a particular model and rules engine.

He pointed out that, "Learning is difficult; engagement is difficult. Doing both together is doubly hard – but more than doubly valuable."

The programs rely on "one of the robust results of cognitive science": people don’t make mistakes randomly – there’s usually a logical, sensible reason that is both wrong and hard to extinguish. People tend to patch their model rather than adjust it substantially. By focusing on where decisions lead, we can get to the crux of them in the games.

Quinn has a number of tools to help in the design and development of his games (such as storyboards and concept documents), but points out that tuning can be a large and tricky part of the process. He also pointed out that we can build in metrics to assess how well usability, education, and engagement goals are being met.

To close out the morning, I went to Kat Koppet’s session on "Improv Designs for Inspired Teaching." We tried (and debriefed) several games. My favorite was a "word toss" where we tried to keep two sets of words passing around a circle. We also saw an example of "telephone" – where a story gets passed along by people who try to imitate the content, tone, and gestures. We ended by creating a few stories using a "story spine", by going around the table and having each person add a sentence.

The afternoon was "lazy" – a leisurely lunch followed by game time. (Some other folks decided to try the low ropes / high ropes course, which also sounded like fun.)

During the evening, there were some simulations being run, but Raja Thiagarajan and I used that time to do a little programming on a small game project.

We joined back in on the evening games. My two favorites were "Guillotine" and "Tutankhamen"; a couple people said they had enjoyed the "Bux" game even more (whose inventor was at the conference). Gaming wimps like me only made it a bit past midnight. The hard-core ones were at it till 2:30 AM:)


Unfortunately, at least from the perspective of enjoying the conference, I wasn’t able to stay for Saturday’s events.