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Tue, May. 23rd, 2006, 11:12 pm
Warning: Kids At Play

Well, my second day of teaching is behind me, and I survived - mostly.

Actually, things went a lot better than yesterday. They had access to the arcade room for about an hour, which satisfied their “I have to play on the computer now!” jones. I ran several small design exercises of about half-an-hour each instead of one big one, and that helped them focus a lot. We started out with a discussion (begun by a student!) about “What makes a game good?” and ended up in an hour-long talk about why game designers need to have a philosophy and coherent design principles. Plus we did role-playing for about two hours, and these kids (many of whom had never even heard of D&D) were absolutely enchanted with the idea that you could pretend to be someone else having a crazy adventure.

Admittedly there were lots of fart jokes, too, and about half the kids wanted to make games about self-cutters or serial killers, but I tried to help them work through these things and look at the design principles they were illustrating, underneath. Tomorrow we’ll be talking about game ethics, and hopefully that will help too.

I’m getting a lot of really positive feedback from the group and from the administration of the program, and that’s helpful - particularly when I’m feeling wiped out! The program leader found me today and told me about how half these kids are failing out of school, and this is the first class they’ve ever taken where they go home and want to talk about all the things they’re learning. These kids are hugely driven to learn about games, and I can’t even tell which ones are the A students and which ones are the ones held back two times in the eighth grade.

I got these kids to stand up in front of the group and present their setting concepts for a game, and to talk with confidence about their ideas, when many of them haven’t participated in class for years. Half the class asked to stick around during lunch, instead of going to eat with their friends, so they could help me set up games on the computers and talk about the games we were going to play. They’ve already begged me to come back next year to teach them again, and one of them says that he’s going to apply to Columbia because he wants to study what I study. This is amazing, transformative stuff for these kids, particularly the ones who are learning-disabled or have family problems or have never succeeded in school. I watch these kids light up, whether we’re playing or designing or talking about play, and I know that I’m doing something worthwhile.

I also love it that their favorite game, of everything I’ve showed them, is Hex Hex. Despite all the fancy bells and whistles of technology, there’s really nothing like sitting around a table and trying to screw over your friends. I imagine Curt may be wondering why his game is suddenly selling remarkably well in Pensacola ….