Saturday, January 21, 2012

THATCamp Games: Inform 7

THATCampImage via WikipediaSo, my circadian rhythms are all out of whack now, making me wake up at 6 am east coast time, 4 am in AZ. But that gives me time to write up first impressions on the bootcamp sessions at THATCamp Games. The unconference has been a blast so far. It's great being in a crowd of people who all like to play games and aren't apologetic or timid about it! The most fun I had yesterday was when we broke up into groups to try to solve a puzzle from the Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry project.  No one was shy or reluctant.  We just dove in and started working.  Got pretty far, too.  We would have solved it if we'd had more time!

I think that it is the hands-on  opportunities that are key here.  It's enlightening to hear about what other people are doing or of promising technology, but if you are interested in games in education, I think you're a hands-on kind of learner/teacher.  So actually DOING projects is the way to go.  And every bootcamp session, to some extent, allowed that to happen.

My first session was on Inform 7. and I could have spent all day  on it.  This is a program I ran across last semester and bookmarked as something I MUST try when I have more time.  After the 3D GameLab Narrative Games quest chain from last summer reminded me of how much I loved those old interactive fiction games, I was thrilled to find a program that would help me create my own.  And the lecture by Andy Brooks on using Inform 7 in an Icelandic history/archaeology course was very useful in demonstrating one way this program could be used.  So I was determined to hit the Inform 7 bootcamp meeting.  Everyone had their laptops and tablets out, tapping away to create as we listened and watched Bridget Blodgett demonstrate her own projects and those of her students.  And I think the demo and even more importantly, the links to those games to play later were the most valuable elements of this first bootcamp experience.  The nuts and bolts of creating a game in Inform 7 may be simplified for non-programmers, but they are still far too complicated to really learn in an hour and a half session.  And I'm quite sure that the rules that were covered in the power point I will have to look up again (and again and again) later anyway when I do start to play with this program.  But only at this meeting could I have gotten links to games created by students, to see and experience not only the program itself but the end product of that program generated in a class setting.  I haven't had a chance to try the games out yet, but I've got the links and files.  And now Inform 7 has moved several notches up my "must do" list.  I'm even more excited to try it out.

In fact, during the session my mind flashed back to my long-delayed and discussed critical thinking/haunted house game idea.  I first developed this idea while playing in Second Life and visiting virtual haunted houses there.  What if students could enter a haunted house, say the Amityville Horror house, and by making a series of well-considered choices that demonstrate critical thinking skills, demystify that haunted house?  Literally demystify it, as the spooky sounds and images fade a bit more as the student progresses.  After taking the first class in YC's video game design program last fall, my attention has moved to using Unity for this idea, much better suited to that game structure.  But I'm still nowhere near ready to take on such a complicated project in Unity.  And while I don't think Inform 7 would have the visceral impact of a graphics game (especially for students who don't have the reading skills to really get scared from mere description), I do think it would be IMMENSELY valuable for me to work out the game play via Inform 7, maybe get other instructors to play it through, to work on storycraft and the pacing of the game.  Stripping away the visual design challenges would force me to work on  the narrative.  And that, to me, is the heart of any game anyway.  So now I'm inspired AND I have a concrete plan to work on.  A productive morning!

And I have to add a shout-out to THATCamp central, which awarded me a THATCamp fellowship to make my attendance at this session possible. Thanks so much!  It was awesome!
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