Group Assignment 2: Design-a-Game Experiment (60%)

Many of you are no doubt already aware of the Chicago Library's innovative new youth program, YOUmedia. The program is now being used as a template for similar initiatives across the US, while comparable programs and ideas are also being tried out and/or discussed here in Canada. 

Within the realm of digital games, there is a also considerable interest in harnessing DIY participation, user-generated content (UGC) and player customization. Emphasis on player-generated content is currently growing and finding new form in game titles and tools that allow increasingly younger and non-expert players to participate in game design and distribution. The PlayStation 3 game LittleBigPlanet and its upcoming sequel LittleBigPlanet2 are particularly noteworthy examples of toolsets that allow players to develop amazingly innovative and unique game levels. LittleBigPlanet is easy to learn and manipulate, and provides a very broad spectrum of options and creative tools. So far players have made and uploaded over 3 million levels. The game, along with EA's Spore, was also at the centre of a recent competition (Game Changers) funded by the MacArthur Foundation - a segment of which was specific to children and youth:
However, these games and their systems are also quite expensive, which introduces important financial barriers to their possible integration into library settings and programs. They also require an internet connection for full participation and distribution of player creations, which the TPL (for instance) is not currently providing on its console systems.  

On the other hand, there are a number of alternative titles that purport to offer the same (or at least similar) level of engagement and creativity. Computer programs such as Microsoft's Kodu, online forums such as GameStar Mechanic and Scratch, and free downloadable software such as Alice, are just a few examples of the many WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) game design tools currently available, which might offer an alternative (more accessible) means of constructing new DIY Game Creation programs for kids and other patrons. Some of these titles are already at the centre of ongoing research into possible educational applications (see Background for sources). 

Could they also be used for YOUmedia-inspired programs aimed at promoting, facilitating and/or supporting other forms of cultural participation through the creation (or remixing) of digital game content? What new issues might these tools introduce, in terms of the library's existing concerns (e.g. ratings, mature content, etc.), as well as in terms of the new roles they introduce into children's gaming culture...roles such as producer, writer, designer, etc.?

In groups of 4-5, choose one of the WYSIWYG game level programs made available to you in this workshop to create a game level, world or "experience". Approach this assignment as though it were part of a larger test or experiment, which would ultimately help determine whether or not these tools might be useful in constructing a library-based program promoting DIY game design for kids (NOTE: it is possible that this program may also to youth and adults as well or instead - that can be part of what you consider in conducting the assignment).

Programs that you can choose from include:

I'm also open to alternative proposals.

Grades will be given based on the following deliverables:

1)    Presentation (10% - group shared mark): In-class presentation of the group's experiences tinkering and testing out a particular program. If a game level or world is ultimately created, please present this as well, by giving us a description, walkthrough and explanation of choices made (or made "for you" by program limitations, group compromise, etc.) (Week 6).

2)    “Developer Log/Postmortem” (30% - group shared mark): 1000 word (min) debrief on your exploration of the tool, the design process, etc. Try to answer some or all of the following questions:
a.      What worked, what didn’t?
b.   Do you think that there is any role for this tool in a YOUmedia type game design program, or similar type of initiative, particularly within library settings? Why or why not?
c.      Would you recommend this tool for further experimentation? As the basis of a new children's program? Why or why not? 
d.   What would you change, if anything, about the tool to make it more accessible, or relevant, or useful, or fun?
e.      What new opportunities and/or challenges does this WYSIWYG game design tool "introduce"? What do you think it introduces into children’s digital gaming specifically?
f.   From your own experiences with these tools, course readings, in-class important is it to support children's "production" of digital games? 
g.       Did the process of learning and using the tool teach you anything new and important about digital games as a technology, medium, art form, experience, etc.?
h.   Additionally (or alternatively), could this tool be used in any other way? For instance, as a way of educating information professionals, librarians, parents or children about digital games? About cultural participation? Production and copyright? Programming?

+“Statement of Individual Contribution” (20% - individual mark): Each student must also complete a 1-page, single-spaced, individual statement of their own contributions to the group project, to be submitted with the Postmortem [Due Week 7]