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December 08, 2014

Giving Back

My good friend Michael Abbott hasn't said anything as yet, but I know it's alright to let the cat out of the bag now, so I'm pleased to announce that I will be spending the first semester of 2015 as an artist in residence at Wabash College, as part of the Digital Arts and Human Values Initiative (DAHVI). DAHVI is supported by the Mellon Foundation and in its first three years will be sponsoring residencies for a broad class of "digital artists," which in my case means game design.

My residency will be partly virtual; I will spend five discrete weeks on the campus helping to teach a course in game design to undergraduates. When not on campus, I'll be available to students and faculty via email and I presume Skype and IM and whatnot. The point of the residency is both the class but also to be a sort of partnership between myself and students and faculty in my work -- I'll be designing and testing stuff in public, getting feedback, that sort of thing.

This came about from a visit to the campus about a year ago -- I went to give a lecture to Professor Abbott's freshman class about indie games, had a more targeted discussion with some especially motivated students, and also sat for a Q&A with an open audience¹. At the time, the DAHVI project was still in the proposal phase, and I read a draft to give feedback not long after my visit. It never occurred to me that I might be asked to be the first DAHVI artist, and I was really honored and a little bowled over when Michael extended the invitation this past August.

About a month ago now, I visited the campus again, this time to give a lecture and specifically give students a sort of teaser about the sorts of things I think about as a working game designer. I focused on how games deliver meaningful human experiences, drawing first on very well-known games and then narrowing to smaller games of the last decade and finally to my own ongoing work and some recent design problems I've had to overcome and how I thought about them. I talked a lot about the MDA framework but touched on other lenses for meaning as well. I also sat in on discussions in some other classes and met with faculty and staff about this and other initiatives going on at Wabash right now. Beyond that, I also saw a lot of very good theater, including Guys and Dolls and some wonderful short one-acts, acted by students and the wider Wabash community. I felt really welcome there. It was a wonderful, full, exhausting and exhilarating week.

Students in the course will be making games; we'll definitely offer Twine and for the more technically ambitious², other freely available engines. We may remix some board games. We'll do a bunch of reading, and we'll play each others' games.

I'm really grateful for the opportunity; it's a way for me to give back to higher learning. I am myself the product of a liberal arts education. I've found that background to be hugely helpful in my professional life; it gave me a broad base upon which to build different ways of learning and thinking about problems. I think students of a liberal arts tradition have much to offer to professional and civic life. I also think it enriches my personal life, and of course in a creative profession that all tends to blend together a bit.

In any case, I'll be in Indiana a lot come this springtime and probably somewhat more public about my work generally starting then. I've got a little game I've been working on this autumn and another, much more ambitious game in progress that has lots of moving parts. Although my first year out of AAA development has been moving along slowly (by design), I'll be pushing the pace a bit more come 2015. I'm really proud and excited that I'll be doing that at Wabash.

¹I also got to sit on a memorable mix of the acting and directing classes, which had some very game-like exercises to help directors loosen up their actors. Interesting stuff.
²There are no coding prerequisites for the course.

Posted by Brett Douville at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)