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Paul Darvasi is an educator, game designer, speaker and writer whose work looks at the intersection of games, culture and learning. He teaches English and media studies, is a doctoral candidate at York University, and a founding member of the Play Lab at the University of Toronto. His research explores how commercial video games can be used as texts for critical analysis by adolescents. He has designed pervasive games that include The Ward Game, based on Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Blind Protocol, a cyber warfare simulation that instructs on online security, privacy and surveillance. Paul has worked with the Canadian Royal Military College, the US Department of Education, UNESCO, foundry10, Consumers International, iThrive, and Connected Camps and has participated in several international research projects. He recently wrote a working paper for UNESCO on how commercial video games can be used for peace education and conflict resolution. Paul’s work has been featured on PBS, NPR, CBC, the Huffington Post, Polygon, Killscreen, Gamasutra, Sterne, Endgadget, Edsurge, Edutopia, and MindShift.
A regular day for Paul differs depending on if he is teaching or on summer break. When he is teaching, he spends a good amount of the day teaching English and Media Studies. He is also currently working on his dissertation so he tries to spend a few hours each day writing, as well as this he spends a large amount of time networking with people in his industry.
One of Paul’s favorite fails came when he implemented the first alternate reality game he designed, his vision at the time was to turn the class into a living video game. Once he realized the potential of the game, he had the option to go down the commercial route and package it in a way he could sell to other educators, but he decided against this. Instead, he chose to contact professors to go down the academic route. This is where he made a few mistakes, both in the way he contacted and communicated with academics as well as how he was going to share the experience. However, through those mistakes he eventually found the right people who wrote about it in a meaningful way, this led him to always share and be open with anything he comes up with in his own practice. This even led him to pursue his doctoral studies! One specific mistake he made is when contacting academics, he failed to keep it short and concise and a lot of busy academics didn’t have the time to read it. This was a great learning point for him and would advise if anyone is contacting academics to keep it concise. There was also learning from the side of the scale, where not everything can or even should be thought from the perspective of scaling to a larger audience. In this example, his game was very dedicated to the specific culture that he had in the classroom at the school he teaches, not necessarily for others. So incorporating this perspective, and knowing that it is not always necessary to think for large scale, assuming that this is ok, was a breakthrough for him.
One challenge Paul faced while thinking about his doctoral work, he decided on using grand theft auto in the classroom for his work for the great game qualities it possessed, the problem was getting permission for such a controversial game in the classroom. The way he got through this is by showing this is one of the most popular games of all time and we have no idea what these young students are thinking while they’re playing the game. In his opinion, this is where schools should start addressing these games and how youth interacts with these games and thinking about them in a meaningful way. He had to convince many individuals to get this into the classroom, the thing that worked in his favor is that he teaches in an independent school and the parents have a huge say in what goes on. In Paul’s opinion, the parents welcomed the opportunity and saw his reasoning behind, which really helped when he went back to the administrators.
Paul knew he wanted to use video games in the classroom long before he found the right game for his classroom, in his opinion for the project to be a success you must find the right game. It depends upon the class and you can’t just be using the video game for the sake of using a video game. For him, it is about exposing yourself to many games until you find the right one! Every subject and furthermore, every classroom can be different so it is about choosing the games very carefully.
Paul’s best practice for anyone trying to use games in the classroom is to expose yourself to as many games as possible. This can be difficult when you don’t have a lot of free time. Paul would recommend looking for existing models, and how they’ve used video games in their practice, from here you should play the game and experience it. He also thinks it is really important to cater to the game as a different medium, both in the grading and the way to approach it.
Paul would recommend John Fallon to be on the podcast who has done great things in narrative games and Peggy Sheehy. He also mentioned past guests like Steve Isaacs who has done great things around game design and was previously on the podcast, Zack Hartzman and Matt Farber. A book that Paul recommends is What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee, as well as Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal.
The game where Paul has spent the most time playing is Civilization out of any game, one of his favorite games is Fallout 3 as well as The Last of Us. Paul also spent many years playing World of Warcraft and spent a lot of time there. His superpower when it comes to games in the classroom is his instinct on the game design to turn narrative elements into game mechanics that are meaningful, in his opinion it’s a missed opportunity with a lot of video games.
Paul’s final piece of advice is that there’s a lot of inspiration to be taken from games, and you can take lessons from the video games into the classroom and actually learn a lot about what makes these games engaging.
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