Lee Sheldon Writes Games for the Classroom | Episode 108

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Lee Sheldon is a game writer/designer; professor of practice in Interactive Media & Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute; author: The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game (2 nd edition coming 2020), The Multiplayer Classroom: Game Plans; and Character Development and Storytelling for Games (3 rd edition coming 2020).

Recent games: The Lion’s Song (PC, Mac, iOS, Android); Suburbia 2 (Facebook); Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox). Classes designed as games: The Janus Door, a cybersecurity class for Cal Poly; Secrets: A Cyberculture Mystery Game, an online class for Excelsior College; and Crimson Dilemma, a business ethics video game for Indiana University.

Lee spearheaded the development of the first writing for games full concentration at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the second at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He is currently consulting on a NASA-funded game for science museums and planetariums involving the exploration of the moon.

In a former life, he was a TV writer/producer with over 200 produced scripts from Charlie’s Angels to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A general day for Professor Sheldon can vary depending on if he is teaching that day or not, it’s a long commute from home to where he teaches and so he doesn’t teach every day. The days of teaching can involve teaching, committees, advising and grading. On his days at home, he is either writing or consulting on the NASA-funded game and often the weekend involves a lot of writing too.

One of Professor Sheldon’s favorite fails comes from when he was designing games based on Agatha Christie novels, it took him a while to work out how to adapt them, keeping the Agatha Christie feel but still adding things to do. As he went along, he ended up designing four, three of which were released and by the end, he was very comfortable keeping the spirit of the books but turning them into something people wanted to play. Another favorite fail of Professor Sheldon’s is not being able to recognize the importance of narrative, once he recognized that a narrative story should be as engaging as any other game or media he was able to bring this into his teaching.

One of Professor Sheldon’s favorite learnings from a challenge he faced was when he first started implementing games into his teaching, although by implementing games this did increase attendance he noticed that they were still people who would not show up, most teachers would combat this by taking things away from the people who did not show up. Professor Sheldon instead decided to significantly reward those students that would show up and on the back of that, he had near-perfect attendance.

The process Professor Sheldon takes when designing a class starts with creating the syllabus for himself, this then creates a structure for the class. From here he finds a narrative framework that feels fun to him but will also match what he needs to teach. He then ensures that all the assignments are challenges where once they’re solved you can move forward in the story of the game. Much more detail for this on his book of course!

Professor Sheldon would recommend, for any teachers wanting to try a game-based strategy, to approach it with an open mind and to not leap in the deep end but to learn a little bit and try it, seeing the reaction you get. It’s key to not get overwhelmed.

Professor Sheldon would recommend Brian Moriarty to be on the podcast. He designs games, teaches and has also designed one of Professor Sheldon’s favorite games Trinity. He would also recommend the book Gamify your Classroom by Mathew Farber who has recently been on the podcast!

Professor Sheldon would consider his superpower writing, previously when he was writing for a daytime drama he wrote 500 pages every month so it comes very naturally for him. He has written plays, movies, tv, books and games.

Professor Sheldon’s favorite games are games that attempt to touch the hearts and minds of players beyond a simple adrenaline rush. This includes games such as Trinity, Valiant Hearts, Prune, Never Alone and the favorite game he worked on was The Lion’s Song as all of these deal with real human emotion in one way or another.

Professor Sheldon’s final piece of advice is going back to what he has said previously, start small, give rewards for attendance and don’t get stuck with extrinsic rewards.

We can find Professor Lee Sheldon on Facebook or through clsheldon [at] wpi [dot] edu.


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