Games are about learning through failure with Karen Schrier | Episode 090

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Dr. Karen Schrier is an Associate Professor and Founding Director of the Games & Emerging Media program at Marist College. She is also the director of the Play Innovation Lab. Prior to Marist College, she spent over a decade producing websites, apps, and games at Scholastic, Nickelodeon, BrainPOP, PBS/Channel 13, ESI Design and SparkNotes/Barnes & Noble. Dr. Schrier has authored or edited over 80 scholarly publications and educational materials. She is the editor of the book series, Learning, Education & Games, published by ETC Press (Carnegie Mellon), co-author of a UNESCO whitepaper on empathy and games, and co-editor of two books on games and ethics. Her latest book, Knowledge Games: How Playing Games Can Help Solve Problems, Create Insight, and Make Change, was published in 2016 by Johns Hopkins University Press and has been covered by ForbesNew Scientist, and Times Higher Education. Dr. Schrier has co-created many digital properties, such as Awesome Upstander, an anti-bullying mobile game and the Daytime Emmy-nominated Mission US: For Crown or Colony? For the 2018-2019 year, she worked as a Belfer Fellow with the ADL’s Center for Technology & Society. She holds a doctorate from Columbia University, a master’s degree from MIT, and a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College.

On an average day takes everything new and forgets everything she’s done the day before. But a typical day for her is waking up with her son, usually snuggled with her arms, and then her daughter jumps in. Getting the kids ready and getting them out the door is a focus, she only has a few hours to do work before her son comes home, he’s only at school for a few so she tries to make the most of the time. She does everything from checking emails and other everyday things to a lot of writing. The last few months she’s been working on a book and working on a white paper for fellowship that she’s doing with ADL (anti-defamation league) and every day she’s been trying to write a lot. Luckily, she is on sabbatical from teaching so is happy to have the extra time to focus on writing.

Karen feel’s as a game designer it’s always about failure. Failing and learning from failure and iterating and continuing to grow from those mistakes in everything that she does and that’s why she teaches. A lot of what Karen does is facilitating students, a lot of times her students will make something, and it won’t be fun, or it really won’t meet what they wanted to meet but they get stuck in this idea that it’s perfect. She has them do a lot of non-digital game design and really encourages them to let go of their designs and to be open to whatever didn’t work because that’s how you learn, that’s how you grow and that’s how you make a better experience for other people.

With Karen’s experience design class, it’s thinking about how to create experiences for other people that really empathizes with your imagined audience. The first step is Karen finding a client, for example, this past year she worked with the EDL center for technology in society and they were looking to find ways to create digital versions of our online understandings of, for example, ‘what do we do about hate online’. So, she was trying to create all different kinds of apps games that websites that could support that. The first thing the students had to understand was the problem, do a lot of research, and they had to really understand who the audience is.

The next step is doing different kinds of design and empathy exercises, really getting inside the heads of the audience and understanding how we best design for them. Next, they start to create a feature list and then start prototyping, having their audience look at their prototypes and give feedback. Then just continuing to iterate and revise those prototypes based on that feedback and finally, they will finalize what ends up being a huge design document. After that, the students will present to the original client, a real stakeholder. Her goal is to try to get her students to work on as many projects as possible especially with real-world components but also to do it on their own and show their work.

Karen worked with lucky orphans, a horse farm where they pair horses with kids with special needs to help them grow and develop. Students worked on a project where they were able to create a social network for the horses, they created profiles of the different horses and changed how they feature the horses which had real-world and social impact

It’s Karen’s opinion that games can be used for good or for bad and you sometimes don’t have control over it. The best practice is to really be mindful of that, the game could be used in all different ways. She would say that the most important thing when you are designing anything is to really think about the audience, think about the context of use, think about the community and the ecosystem that is surrounding.

Karen’s favorite game is Fallout 3 and really likes Fallout 4 and Fallout new vegas but is afraid to play fallout 76 because she loves fallout so much and doesn’t want it ruined by playing it online with strangers. The last game she played that she really liked was Red Dead Redemption and that’s an example of a game that could be used for not the best purposes and then also could be used for beautiful things. Learning and experiencing American history in this way that is such an interesting perspective.

Doctor Schrier’s white paper will be open to the public and will dive into questions about identity, games and bias and what the limits are. A few years ago, Karen wrote a book called Knowledge Games, questioning the idea of whether we can create games that solve real-world problems. She finds her superpower is being able to listen, being empathetic to others, thinking who her audience is and what they need, nurturing them and helping them grow. This is how she approaches all aspects of her life.

You can follow her @drgamermom on twitter or email her on karen.schrier [at]


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14 Replies to “Games are about learning through failure with Karen Schrier | Episode 090”

  1. Pingback: David Chandross Learned Who Does What for Learning Games | Episode 213 – Professor Game

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