A Long But Rewarding Summer

This summer I was pulled and pushed in more ways than one, and in the moment it was a lot, but now as I reflect I’m grateful for it, and I expect Future Me to be so as well.

I took on the position of Production TA for CMU’s NHSGA (National High School Game Academy) over the summer, where 16-year-old teens interested in making games get to spend six weeks learning and making computer and VR games with each other.  It is very similar to BVW in there being teams of five needing to work together to make something great.

By far, the most rewarding aspect of this process were these students.  Looking that their experiences from the other side, I could see their expressions and mannerisms shift from being worried and scared to being proud.  I got the chance to mentor five of these students (each TA had five mentees), and getting to hear their own thoughts about the design process, or narrative ideas, or interpersonal values, was fantastic.  There is actually a scientifically defined term Naches which is the joy you feel when someone you mentor succeeds, and I felt that a lot.  The students gave all the TAs personalized posters set to the format of the Aidyn Chronicles, a game by Chris Klug (the director of the program) that was shown to the students.

           

One of my mentees, Gilbert Fan, was a soft-spoken, kind individual who always seemed to see the best in people, was always bringing his teams together, and believes if we do something or make something and it helps even one person, then we can be happy.  In his own way, he inspired me.

Which was good.  I felt like I did the best I could as Production TA, and there are certain aspects of the job, like the interpersonal elements, that I indeed found rewarding.  But I also felt very removed from the true creative process, so going forward I will be prioritizing my narrative and design skills, as these are closer to where I feel the most at home.

Here’s to a great fall semester.

 

A Game That Can Actually Make the World a Better Place

As we close on the spring semester of 2018, I am left wondering what will happen with the discussion-based board game, Kairos, that my team and I spent the last 16 weeks creating.  Our prompt was simple: help translate Theater of War’s stage performance reading + discussion model into a more accessible and all-reaching medium (more about the game can be read here).  Through this prompt I think we managed to create the framework for something very special.

Difficult conversations (about PTSD, mental illness, death, etc.) are hard to discuss about to begin with, but maybe even more difficult to discuss with those close to us.  In an open, spacious performance room (like the kind Theater of War does it’s readings in), there is a sense of warm anonymity – one could in theory, pour their soul out into the room and help, as Bryan Doerries quotes, “purify negative emotions” and then leave and continue life.  With those close to us, talking about these difficult things will be remembered forever by these people, which makes it scarier, but also potentially more rewarding.  The potential for help in this setting is huge.

Is our game a little rough in some places?  Sure.  The questions will probably always need tweaking, and timer mechanic, while much improved from its inception, still could be worked on.

But the framework is there.  If not Women of Trachis, then any other meaningful piece of art.  Shakespeare?  Sure.  Poe?  Why not.  If a piece of art or a story carries difficult, yet universal, themes that have the potential to help people feel less alone, it can be used in Kairos if further adaptations are made.  Want to have a difficult conversation with a family member, but need to be discussing it through these characters in a structured space?  Kairos can do that.

It is said so often that “this or that” will make the world a better place, but Kairos actually can.  If people give it a chance and the game undergoes further work to perfect some of the way the content is used, it can actually help a lot of people.  The human condition, that of struggling with our emotions and often doing so alone, is universal.  All we need is a little help to realize that we don’t have to struggle alone.

We don’t know where Kairos will end up, or whether Theater of War will market it themselves.  With all of us going onto different projects after this, there won’t be time to perfect it ourselves, at least for a little while.  But at the very least, we don’t want Kairos to drift away.  We’ve worked too hard and its potential is too great.

Many thanks to the team I worked with.  It was filled with some of the most caring, passionate, and dedicate people one might have the pleasure of working with.  The game is what it is because we all genuinely cared about the prompt we were working with.  I’m gonna miss working you all a lot.

The West Coast

Early this month, I spent a week on West Coast, visiting some pretty incredible companies (and thus fulfilling some childhood dreams) and taking in the majestic aesthetics of LA and San Francisco. There is a sense of wonder when you walk around the colors of Disneyland or the tranquil peace of the San Francisco Bay. We should all be making an effort to appreciate nature when it is around us.

But more than that, I’ve spent the time surrounded by amazing people.

An alumnus I spoke to in San Francisco said that the friends he met at the ETC are people that will be friends for life. And I surely hope that that holds true for us. Being around y’all gives me a sense of peace and hope. More than anything, I like to think that we all feel alive when we’re around each other.

This group is special. Here’s to a wonderful week and to a wonderful future. Thank you, ETC Class of 2019!

The End of BVW

Reflection

The end of the semester comes with a lot of reflection.  In working on BVW, there are things I wish I had done differently – at times, I admit I could became too cranky or too pushy when brainstorming sessions were going long.  At other times, I think I allowed my own ideas to take a backseat, even if they were the best ideas.  Either way, I had a blast working with the people on my teams, and I think we made some pretty great stuff.  I’ll give a special shout-out to my “My Name is Joseph” team – at 11:00 on Monday night October 30th, an hour before the deadline, our build wasn’t working.  At 10:00 this past Wednesday, we completed the showcase of our game in festival, turning an orange-and-yellow office into a dark forest in the process.  Somehow it all came together.  And it is a memory I’ll always be grateful for.  Thanks folks.

Photos courtesy of Nicole Wan