Get Your Girls Into Game Design

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Jane McGonigal
Jane McGonigal at SXSW – Photo by Marziah Karch

Let your girls play more video games. That is, if you want them to grow up to be rock star game designers like Jane McGonigal. Yes, we can enjoy games like Half Life and Angry Birds Space, but games and gaming techniques can go beyond the entertaining app or console title and be used to educate ourselves and influence real world behaviors. Besides, there’s good money in a career in game design. Now that women are such heavy video game players, it’s time we started being video game designers and developers, too.

I recently was contacted by Elena Bertozzi, PhD about the new Game Design & Development program at Long Island University. She’d like to see more women enroll in their program. She pointed to recent graduate Courtney Aiello‘s serious game meant to put women waiting for a breast exam at ease about the experience and Lauren Perugini’s game for an Advanced Placement history teacher.

OK, the first thing you need to understand when you look at those examples is that there’s a big difference between game programming and game design. Programmers write the code, but designers are concerned with the flow of the game. A game can have the slickest graphics in the world and flawless code and still be a big dud if the mechanics are bad, but a well-designed game could use your spare change and some cheap printouts and be loads of fun. That’s one of my big beefs with a lot of the current “educational” games out there. Slapping generic game mechanics on something doesn’t suddenly make it educational. Often these games are neither educational nor fun because the mechanics are just some variation of memorization flashcards. Boring. That’s why we need more quality game designers.

Not all of us are ready for college or have kids of that age, so I asked Dr. Bertozzi what she’d recommend we do to prepare our younger girls (and boys) for a career in game design. She suggested we let them play a lot of games. She says they cover a variety of both digital and analog games in the program, so understanding all of those is great. Preschoolers could enjoy games like Cut the Rope on their parents’ phones and then work their way up to more complicated games as they were developmentally ready for them. Her suggestions for the high schooler and above:  Braid, Journey, Metroid, Assassin’s Creed, Dragon Age, Dead Souls, Half Life, and Trine. Yeah, that’s right. Playing Half Life might be job training.

Now that my daughter is old enough to enjoy a fun strategy game, we can pull out the old choking hazards analog board games we tucked away when she was born. We’re playing a Talisman game tonight.  What are you playing?

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