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Sue, for more than three decades, ran a national PR agency that focused first on tech and then on the game industry. The Bohle Company was Microsoft’s first PR agency. She launched Epson America. And then she turned to games, helping create the Game Developers Conference, promoting Penny Arcade Expos and working for most of the big video game companies.
Along the way, Sue realized that there was something addictive about gameplay. Those kids would forget about everything else and just spend hours playing games. She began to wonder if the same gameplay elements could be used to engage students.
In 2007, she launched the first Serious Play Conference. Attendees include teachers interested in using games for K12, college faculty, game developers and instructional designers, corporate and health care training professionals.
In 2014, Sue gave up her agency and now just focuses on promoting game-based learning.
She is into this because she feels it will revolutionize education and training. It is not a job, it is a mission! For her, it all started back in the day in her agency when she saw some of her team members spend hours playing games, even after spending all the day working on games from the PR side, which made her start wondering what if… All of a sudden someone came in asking for her help with a game that was not for entertainment but to teach kids math. That was when it started for her and she realized how much could be achieved. When she started out there were just a handful of teachers using games and now there is serious research backing up the fact that it is actually great for their learning. From those humble beginnings, this is now a very large and growing industry!
We can find all the information for the Serious Play Conference at seriousplayconf.com, which will happen in two places: First Montreal, Canada and then in Orlando, Florida! Sue feels that what is different about Serious Play Conference is that they are crazy enough to address so many of the different markets in serious games. They have tracks for education (both K-12 and Higher Ed), Military/Government, Corporate Training, Healthcare, Game Design, Instructional Design, Prototyping/Modeling, Simulations and so much! The fact that in less than a month it is happening in two separate locations is also quite interesting. She mentions that it has come out of strong interest from these two, as well as all the previous ones. For example, in UCF in Orlando there is a simulation center that has been doing great things, show what they’ve been doing and wants to continue to evolve in the space! Between the two locations, she is expecting to have near to a thousand attendees! She claims that it should not be surprising how large this is getting, as she recalls how this happened a while ago with the Game Developers Conference, with which she was related to from the PR perspective from the start.
Sue is really excited about the evolution of serious games. As an example at the start she had a biology teacher looking for engagement through games. The next year she came back and said she had started, the third year she said she was asked to create a game-based program by her district, next year a curriculum for the entire state and is this year coming back to talk about what is being achieved not only in sciences but in other disciplines, in fact a multi-disciplinary approach now that they’ve seen how this has increased the engagement and achievement of so many students. She is also excited about the diversity, which goes from a speaker that is nine years old and is coming with her mom to talk about how she creates an escape room based on her backpack to a woman from Norway t otalk about what it took to create a game that would be instructional and consider prejudices and others, and it is about children of women who married soldiers in the wars of Afghanistan and Syria! She is excited about all of the sessions, with speakers coming literally from all over the world.
There are several types of people who should certainly come to Serious Play Conference, and it goes track by track, for example in K-12 the largest group is of middle-school teachers. In higher ed there are speakers talking about both how to have a career in serious games or how it is being used in higher ed to teach all sorts of subjects. In the corporate world there are developers talking about how to do this successfully, how to use certain platforms and much more. In healthcare there is all sorts of things, from how to approach the creation itself to how to sell it to stakeholders. It is a conference where it is actually possible to get to meet the speakers over dinner or in many other ways. There is also a track for a high-end use of simulations especially in the military. You can also decide to skip between tracks to learn from what is being done in the different spaces.
Sue tries to make the conference really affordable, so if you can’t afford the registration she invites you to volunteer so a part of the fee can be waived to make it possible for everyone. She suggested people like Ann Damarle, Steve Isaacs, Paul Darvasi, Peggy Sheehy, Tammie Schrader and many more that will be speakers in the conference. Her final advice for the conference is to get a lot of sleep! The conference is very intense, so people finish a bit exhausted. She also recommends that we look at the abstract not just the titles because there is a lot of great information.
Thanks again Sue for the invitation to Serious Play Conference and for this chat!
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