Kathleen Mercury with Failing to Succeed in Game Design | Episode 151

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Kathleen Mercury, M.A.T., M.E.T., has been teaching gifted middle school students for fifteen years using design thinking to create functional art from designing tabletop games and RPGs to filmmaking, cosplay, and more. She shares all of her game design teaching resources at www.kathleenmercury.com for free, and loves to collaborate with educators and industry leaders to promote game design curriculum at every level and format. She currently cohosts the podcasts, Games in Schools and Libraries and On Board Games, and is a frequent guest on other podcasts. She has multiple games in various stages of design, development, and publication with the upcoming titles Greece Lightning from Wizkids and Dragnarok from Kolossal. Kathleen thinks happiness comes from being able to create the life you want, and she feels very fortunate that she’s been able to do that.


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Full episode transcription

Rob (5s):
Welcome to Professor Game Podcast, where we interview successful practitioners of games, gamification and game thinking who bring us the best of their experiences to get ideas, insights, and inspiration, to help us in the process of getting the students to learn what we teach. And I’m Rob Alvarez. I teach and work at IE Business School in Madrid, where we create interactive and engaging learning materials. Want to know more? Go to professorgame.com/subscribe, start on our email list and ask me anything!

Rob (39s):
Engagers. Welcome back to another episode of the professor game podcast. And today we were with Kathleen, but Kathleen are you prepared to engage?

Kathleen (48s):
All systems are loaded, captain

Rob (50s):
Let’s do this because Kathleen M.A.T., M.E.T has been teaching gifted middle school students for 15 years using design thinking to create functional art from designing tabletop games and RPGs to filmmaking cosplay, and so much more. She shares all of her game design teaching resources kathleenmercury.com for free and loves to collaborate with educators and industry leaders to promote the game design curriculum at every level and format.

Rob (1m 20s):
She currently also co-hosts the podcasts Games in Schools and Libraries and On Boardgames and is a frequent guest on other podcasts. She has multiple games in various stages of design, development and publication with the upcoming titles Greece Lightning from Wizkids and Dragnarok from Kollossal. Kathleen thinks happiness comes from being able to create the life you want. And she feels very fortunate that she’s been able to do that. So, Kathleen, is there anything we’re missing from that intro?

Kathleen (1m 51s):
I mean, that really kind of covers it. I am on a Gama board on the education advisory committee, as far as looking at games and education and how gamma can best develop content and support for developing educational programs in schools and libraries as it relates to games. And that’s an interesting sort of challenge right now. That’s I guess one more thing, I guess, if you want to add as far as like resume goes, but it’s a whole other way of looking at what we do because especially coming at it from like the industry standpoint that, you know, sort of corporate sort of standpoint, which normally in public education, we don’t really have that approach.

Kathleen (2m 27s):
So that’s kind of another interesting little problem to solve as it relates to how can we make games a meaningful part of the classroom.

Rob (2m 34s):
Absolutely. It is a very, very meaningful conversation and it is a conversation we’d like to have every now and then here on this podcast as well. So, Kathleen, you do many things. You’re, you’re involved in many things. We were talking in the pre-interview you have your time completely maxed out in many ways. So we would like to know as, as, as myself and The Engagers, the audience, we would like to know what does a day with Kathleen look like we were to follow you for a day or a day of the week or the day of the weekend, whatever you want to go for, what would that look like?

Rob (3m 5s):
What are you doing regularly?

Kathleen (3m 7s):
Well, it’s funny because obviously right now, you know, COVID changes everything. But generally speaking for me as a teacher, so much of what I do centers around teaching in my students, as far as the general day goes, I used to work out every morning, but now that I’m not going into a gym right now, not yet, I’m just not. Yes, I think so, too. So when it comes to like the day, obviously the school day dominates my life and that’s one thing we also were talking about before we started recording time is my most precious commodity, both in terms of myself and as well as the time that I have to work on what I’m doing with my students, the time I have with my students, because especially right now, I only have them in person live with me for two hours a week via zoom.

Kathleen (3m 56s):
So trying to really maximize that. And then lately too, my evenings are also all about my classes, what I need to do, what I need to make, what, you know, everything from digital recordings to assessment, to all that until the end. And so my own personal game designs are kind of on hold right now because approaching school is basically taken over the focus, but even so I have such a game-based play-based approach to what I want to do. I mean, if I can, I can do something really straightforward or I can figure out the more fun way to do it.

Kathleen (4m 30s):
And I’ve always been like that as a teacher, what is the most fun way we could learn about this? And so it’s a really fun challenge right now in a lot of ways, to embrace the limitations that we have in terms of remote learning, but to also turn that around and to do work with my students that I never would have, could have done with them before, but because we have all this technology and connectivity, how I can best make use of it. So my night usually ends with, I really like bourbon and some days…

Kathleen (5m 5s):
no, I’m just kidding. But yeah, I mean, I love what I do and it’s such a part of who I am and my passion for the kids and what I can have them create is… Just drives me so much in what I do. And it’s fun for me too. I mean, I love a challenge. I love a problem to solve. And so I hope that my students see that with what I’m doing with them too.

Rob (5m 29s):
Absolutely. That sounds like a very passionate and exciting way to approach your days or your weeks and everything in between Kathleen. So now that we’ve gotten into the subject and all those fantastic things that you’re doing, there is something that we always argue that is important. And it’s about learning from failure and those difficult moments that when that we have, when things don’t go our way, you know, where you’re going North and things would go South. So we would like to know of, of, of a story of one of those times when you were, you know, trying to do something and arrived at that fail or first attempt in learning and how did it go?

Rob (6m 1s):
How did you get out of it? Or what did you learn from it? Take us into that story. We want to be there with you.

Kathleen (6m 7s):
It’s funny one. I fail every day, you know, every single day, but

Rob (6m 12s):
Maybe favorite story of that.

Kathleen (6m 15s):
Yeah. Right. Well, but I read something last week and it was something that a pessimist season obstacles, failure, and an optimist sees it as opportunity. And that’s so true for me, especially as far as being the optimist, you know, especially with, like I described before with all that. So a couple of years ago I was presenting at the tabletop network, their first game designer retreat. It was held out in Utah and I was one of the speakers. And so I was to present on the second day and the first day, so many of the presenters were talking about game design and all aspects.

Kathleen (6m 49s):
And literally I’m sitting there like basically mentally deleting slides from my slide deck in terms of what it was going to cover. And I was like, cool, this is very cool. It’s super cool. This is great. But then I was thinking like, what is it that I do that I can talk about? Because like, you know, the game signed at that point, nothing on the shelf. So to talk, you know, there are people there who had never even started designing a game but still, what can I talk about that all of these well-known established long time designers haven’t talked about with everybody.

Kathleen (7m 19s):
And the thing that I landed on was I can talk about failure. Because so often when we talk about game design, it’s all of like the sort of like abstract things in terms of, I mean, obviously sometimes practical too, in terms of what you need to do in order to be successful, but we never talk about failure. We never talk about the moments where you decide something’s not working the moment where your brain just stalls out. Because when I teach game design to seventh-grade students, I have students in that class who don’t like games.

Kathleen (7m 49s):
They don’t necessarily want to design the game. They don’t necessarily even like designing games as much as I try to do. It’s just not for them. And so when I deal with failure, especially for my students, like the frustration, everything, especially considering they’re in seventh grade, it is real, it is palpable, it is projected. And so I think looking at how we approach a problem and the solutions we take to it, I think dealing with failure and being able to talk about failure and how my students struggle and the lessons and advice they had, that I’d collected from them for designers.

Kathleen (8m 28s):
And we really that’s what I pretty much talked about was looking at failure as not necessarily the obstacle but as that opportunity. And it went over really, really well. I was really happy because I was the only person who sort of talked about that. And, you know, especially for my students who are gifted, kids who are used to being successful in school are used to getting the assignment, doing it, turning it in, moving onto the next thing, game design means create something bad and then they have to try to make it better, you know, and that failure can be right there on the table.

Kathleen (9m 2s):
In front of them. You can’t hide behind words on a paper, you know? So hopefully the thing that I want more from my students in terms of pushing failure at them constantly, I want them to leave my class thinking someone can give me some type of weirdo challenge and I can do it. And I can probably come up with something that’s the whole reason. And the whole point to shift their mindset from seeing failure as an obstacle to embracing it as an opportunity.

Rob (9m 31s):
Absolutely. That sounds super exciting. And I’m a bit surprised in a place where all these people are doing games and playtesting, and playtesting is all about failure, I mean, when you do playtesting, it’s, it’s about finding out what you did wrong. Like it’s, it’s the typical, the normal thing that you get. Of course, when it’s, you know, when it’s students, when it’s kids, especially, you know, frustration comes in many different ways and there are so many things to handle from that point of view. But, you know, I would rather argue that that should be one of the main topics and in a place like that one.

Rob (10m 2s):
But it’s interesting that you brought that up and how you were able also to spin it around and see what were the lessons that you brought from your students, right? I love your love, your story.

Kathleen (10m 13s):
Well, and I think too when we’re designing games and you get a game on the table to playtests, that’s a success. There’s no question. It could be the worst playtest ever, but Hey, you put it on the table because of the difference between a finished game and one that’s not as perseverance. You have to be willing to get negative feedback. You have to be willing to incorporate it. You have to try to figure out what’s the best approach. You have to listen to your own voice. You have to listen to your feed, your playtesters, all those different things. But there’s so many people who might get a game on the table.

Kathleen (10m 46s):
They might have it in their head, but do they actually do it? You know? And that’s a whole other level to overcome. And then in terms of getting feedback, there are people who they don’t like the feedback. They don’t like the process of getting feedback. They don’t like hearing negative things and then their game stalls out there as well. So I think, especially when people are used to getting games on the table there, you know, the failure aspect of it, isn’t, it’s not actually a failure. It’s more information, it’s more information about making something better. And so it’s those stalling moments where you just stop. Like, forward movement is better than nothing at all.

Kathleen (11m 21s):
And that’s what I think I’m trying to convey to my students.

Rob (11m 24s):
Absolutely, absolutely. And how to pivot from, from that situation of apparent failure. And that’s why one of the things that we like to talk about in that sense, and now I’d like to shift, you know, failure might be the initial step might be the second step, the third of the fifth of the 10th. But at some point usually, you get to some sort of success. If you keep pushing, as you said. So we want to know everything about this story, you know, because here we talked about success as well, but we want to know of his story of actual, just success. Like how did that go? Something that you’re proud of and you can say, well, this was the project that I did it.

Rob (11m 56s):
I went for and it actually went out well using game design, using a game in your classroom, whatever you want to go for.

Kathleen (12m 2s):
Oh gosh,

Rob (12m 5s):
You can have that proud moment that that’s also allowed.

Kathleen (12m 8s):
Well, one of my favorite things is when I got my game, what’s now called Dragnarok. It was then called dirty birdie. And so when I know in the industry, Travis Chance, who was starting Kolossal games and he’s now since moved on, but he was looking for big splashy, Kickstarter, friendly things. I messaged him. I said, hi, I’ve got one for you. And this was a game that had sat on the shelf for two years. Cause I’d shown it to a whole number of publishers. They’re like, it’s hilarious. It’s unique. There’s nothing out there like it. And this would be just too expensive for us to make. So for Travis, when I put the game on the table and we were playtesting it, and he just looked up at me with this look in his eyes and we’re friends and he just looked me, he’s like, Go…..it, Kathleen.

Kathleen (12m 45s):
And I said I know it’s good. I know. So that was like, like that begrudging, like a sense of doom in his eyes when he realized that a good game was on the table. That was what he was looking for. Even if it wasn’t what he expected, you know? So that was pretty hilarious, you know? And I think if there’s anything for others to gain from that experience is if you have a weird idea, make it, cause you never know,

Rob (13m 14s):
You never know who’s going to bring it forward and then push it, into the future.

Kathleen (13m 19s):
And actually the funny thing about that prototype was because there was such a unique, different game that, and I, you know, we ran it like BGG’s speed dating event and stuff like that. There are people who remembered me because of that game. I’m like when the playtesting event was over, everyone was gathered around my table and different publishers were explaining to other people, this is what this game is, and this is how you play it. I mean, so it got a really huge response, but also in terms of talking about myself to other people, you know, like I’m a game designer like I’m working on it.

Kathleen (13m 51s):
They’re like, Oh, what do you have? I said, well, I’ve got one game called dirty birdie. And I remember the late James Matthew, he looked at me, we were talking. He’s like, I’ve heard of that. I said, yeah, that was my game. You know? So it was a really great sort of resume builder in some ways, in terms of, you know, sort of getting, creating an identity for myself as a designer a little bit out there now, just, but I mean, having just that as a prototype in the end, you know, it’s all about getting your name on a box and your box on the shelf. And luckily there’s more movement on that happening too, but that was pretty fun.

Rob (14m 20s):
Absolutely. It sounds like a lot of fun. And we’ve been, we’ve been talking about your, your classes in game design, your talks in game design. You’ve shown some of the, of your success here, and I’m sure that you have many ways of approaching this. And of course, you’re teaching it as well. So when you’re telling somebody how to design a game, especially I know you’re not into sort of game-based learning necessarily or gamification, but when you’re going to create a game or you’re going to create one of these experiences, do you have some sort of process, series of steps? How do you do your brainstorming?

Rob (14m 50s):
I don’t know. How, how does that look like when you, when you teach it to somebody else, what does game design look like, for doing that or creating a game for your class as well?

Kathleen (14m 58s):
Sure. I mean, design thinking is really something that I’ve assimilated so much. And, and honestly, in teaching this to my students, I’ve really assimilated a lot of the sort of design thinking mindsets. I use Stanford University’s, D school, a lot of their resources and especially their approaches like there when it comes to like design mindsets like I’m talking about, there’s this very idea like radical collaboration. You want to have as many different people, you know, give feedback. You want to show unfinished work. But when the most important one is, what’s called bias towards action.

Kathleen (15m 32s):
And that’s the idea that you could sit there and think about it, or you could just start doing it. And for me, that’s been probably the, one of the most important aspects as, remember, we talk about inertia before, you know, and just not doing anything bias, whores actually means just start doing the thing. And as you start doing it, you’ll, you’re thinking as you’re doing it. So you don’t get lost in your head in terms of creating this sort of like the perfect abstract idea of what something is. And so for me, when it comes to even like how I’m constructing, what I’m doing, you know, I just start working on it.

Kathleen (16m 4s):
You know, so right now I’m teaching film to my eighth graders because it’s something that I can do with them at home with their iPads, but even my approach to it is totally different. And so when it comes to any type of design work in the design process is universal for anything that you want to make. But the thing that’s most important that stands out to me as far as the Stanford model goes, is it starts with empathy and understanding the needs of your user. So as a teacher, this is critically important in order to be successful, but also when I’m, you know, but just even for the work itself and wanting them, you know, to also, you know, I teach using design thinking to my students to also learn design thinking.

Kathleen (16m 45s):
So there’s just like all these sorts of layers and levels as it goes with this, but

Rob (16m 51s):
On layers upon layers.

Kathleen (16m 53s):
So good, you know, it’s so good because it’s so universal, they could apply this, you know, sort of approach everything like, but what do they need, what would be helpful for them? And especially when you’re talking about like, how can I don’t I try to do as little telling my students, but as much showing them and as much demonstration for them too. So small example in the past, when I’ve taught film, we’re in the class and there’s this, I do very little lectures, but I’ve got this one PowerPoint of like, honestly 200 slides, but it’s all screenshots of various films.

Kathleen (17m 23s):
And I’m talking about composition, I’m talking about camera distances, camera angles, and how you use the camera to tell a story. And so for my students, I don’t want to just lecture them for an hour straight via zoom. And they don’t want me to lecture them for an hour straight over zoom. So just coming up with completely different ways to make them more active in terms of like learning on their own. So for example, I’m having over the summer, lots of people were on Instagram recreating, famous artworks using, you know, things that they had from their house.

Kathleen (17m 54s):
So I took that idea. So now they’re recreating scenes from famous movies, which is hilarious. I’ve seen the pictures of what they’re coming up with and I was crying over this one kid’s like the retelling of Lion King, but also in doing this, then here’s these resources and go and find out like, what’s the camera angle here? What’s the distance here. What composition techniques are you using you to come up with the shot? So it’s, you know, kind of taking something that’s organic and authentic for them to recreate this movie, seeing something that’s really fun, but then having them learn how they can, how they constructed the image, like after, you know, they’d already put it together.

Kathleen (18m 30s):
You know? So as far as like just thinking like a designer, understanding the needs of my user and all of the materials, the liabilities, time, all those different things really comes into play whenever I’m doing anything for my students.

Rob (18m 42s):
Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. That design thinking is something that is very akin to, to game design to, I have to say gamification design as well. And I would say that all these disciplines that imply, you know, a certain level of empathy, because when one of the things that that gamification gets openly criticized about is when those people start doing sort of like leaderboards points and badges. And when you just do that, you’re not thinking who’s in there. Maybe the solution includes that, or it’s just that, but if you don’t start from a point of empathy, as you were saying, it’s hardly going to have any sort of success.

Kathleen (19m 18s):
Right. Right. And then I think that just if you don’t know who you’re teaching, how can you teach them? It just fundamentally boggles my mind. So, I mean, there are certain things that might be sort of universal knowledge, I guess when it comes to teaching, like, I know I’m going to teach this, this is how I taught it last year. It seemed to go, okay, but you know, how would it be different if you could know more about your students and where they’re at when they come in. And I know this is like education 101 in theory, but there are even so many things this year when we went back to school and we had a whole week of meetings and training and stuff like that.

Kathleen (19m 51s):
And there are times I was sitting there going, they didn’t ask a single teacher about what we needed and when we came back to work because the session that we’re in right now is such a mismatch, I think, for what I need and probably for other people and what they need, but they didn’t approach it like that. They approach it from this different perspective. And that can be really, really frustrating when you feel like your time could be better served elsewhere. And I never want my students to feel like I’m just giving them busy work to do

Rob (20m 18s):
There’s this, this author and speaker and consultant as well called Yu-kai Chou. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. He likes to say that these things are function-focused design when you are thinking, well, what do you have to make it do? And it could be a person. It could be anything. And then there’s human-focused design, right? Not, not just centered, but focused. So you’re thinking not only of what it has to achieve, but who has to achieve it, who is going to be the user who’s going to be doing it. So that shift in the focus of not just thinking, Oh, we have to get the people in this classroom.

Rob (20m 49s):
So we need these many seats, not just of the function, which is important, but it’s not the only thing. You also think of the people who are behind the, the humans that are going to be there, their motivations, their needs, and so on. And, and shifting that attention to that I think is crucial. And it’s very important. At least that was one of the first places where I, where I heard that. So I wanted to reference my friend. Yu-kai as well.

Kathleen (21m 11s):
Yeah. That makes sense to me,

Rob (21m 14s):
Just a quick break, before we continue with this episode, if you’ve been enjoying this podcast, I would really appreciate if you share it with your friends and family and on social media. On Twitter and Instagram, it’s at @RobAlvarezB and the hashtag #ProfessorGame, all one word. And in Facebook, you can find the Professor Game page, thanks in advance for your engagement! So Kathleen, when we’re talking about game design, when we’re talking about, you know, using games in the classroom or teaching game design as well, is there any sort of, I don’t know, we can, we can always call it a best practice.

Rob (21m 48s):
I don’t want to say it’s a silver bullet, but one of those things that you do, and it’s probably going to help you in your design, it’s going to help you, you know, have a better final product, let’s call it

Kathleen (21m 56s):
Well. So for me, my final product is wanting my students to feel successful at the end of class. And to feel like they’ve developed a skill set to take on challenges and to be successful. And one thing that I struggled with, especially for kids for a long time was I would have kids leave my class feeling like they did a lot of work, but they didn’t like their game. And if they didn’t like their game, then it was really hard for them to look back on the whole experience positively. And that’s really hard for me personally, professionally, because I see success in incremental progress.

Kathleen (22m 32s):
They don’t necessarily see it the same way. It’s the biggest project they’ve ever had in school. It’s hard. So one of my things, and this took me a long time, it was like, the idea started like, you know, kind of popping in my head, but, you know, especially when you teach something for one semester, then the school year is over. You start thinking about, you know, whatever summer opportunities I’m doing, I would say about like the fall and you know that. And so then game design would come back around and really wanting to like, it was almost too late to sort of make the changes that I wanted to. And so I started to this past semester, say, Nope, there are things I want to do differently and I’m going to do this now.

Kathleen (23m 10s):
And then we got shut down. So I didn’t really get to see this all fully fleshed out. But I was then asked to teach an online game design class this summer, and I was able to make the changes. So basically when I have students design games, I have them play a lot of games. And then they, I have them design a racing game, a small, simple game using mechanics from the games that they had played in class. Because when you’re wanting to teach kids how to design games, if you don’t broaden their gaming literacy in terms of game mechanics and other styles of play, objectives, everything, they will only recreate what they know, which is why, if you Google “make a board game”, almost every single image that pops up in the top, however, many will look like Candyland, Monopoly, etcetera, because that’s what they know.

Kathleen (23m 53s):
So you have to give kids more gaming literacy, basically by playing a lot more games to design games. And then after that, then we would start working on the, their main project because one of the big things, especially with game design or just design in general is you want it to be iterative, right? Take the idea, get feedback, make changes to it, take the idea, you know, playtest it, get feedback, etcetera. And the problem that I had, especially when kids were working on the one big game was that they would not like it and they would grow tired of it. And so when it was like get feedback and make changes, a lot of times they kind of had dug themselves into the sort of a design hole and they couldn’t really make the changes that they needed to do without a lot more time, individual guidance for me, things that we didn’t necessarily have as much as I wanted.

Kathleen (24m 40s):
And so what I decided to do was instead of having kids design a very small game and a big game, I would instead have them design five small games or at least multiple small games, multiple different challenges. And this was really influenced by one of my good friends, John Breger, who’s a professional game developer and who studied design at the collegiate level. And he told me about this one professor that he had, who had two different classes. He had one class design, two things and spent a lot of time on them. He had the other class design multiple things and not give them a lot of time on them.

Kathleen (25m 11s):
And what he found was they became much better designers, the class that did multiple things, even though they hadn’t spent as much time or like really developing their ideas, but because they had, you know, proceeded through this design process multiple times with a freshness that came from new ideas. That was what I took as my inspiration for this. So the summer I did this online game class, and each week I had to push out new content. And by the way, it’s from Bennett live. It’s a private day school in Chicago Bennett day schools, the school in Chicago, it’s called Bennett live and they’re still running all the school year.

Kathleen (25m 45s):
And so you can go there and it’s free. You can have access to all those resources and you can have kids do it, or if you do it, you know, whatever you like. But anyway, so each week I had to put out a new design challenge. So every week I talked about something with design and then there was a game design challenge that connected to that. And so this idea that I had for what I wanted to do over the summer, or for over the semester, I basically redesigned my whole curriculum in terms of how I’m going to do it in the future because of this summer class. So it was great.

Kathleen (26m 15s):
Like they were paying me to teach this online class where I was like, haha. You’re actually paying me to, I redesign my whole curriculum the way I wanted to. And so there are five different game design challenges that go with it, five different components. And so moving forward, this is what I will do. And so the big shift for me was, you know, instead of having kids focus on two things, giving them a lot of different challenges because, in the end, there’s probably something they like in each of the games, we don’t spend so much time on them where they can’t really get that deep, deep, entrenched sense of failure.

Kathleen (26m 48s):
But instead, every single game is probably at a point of a lot of opportunities at that point. And if they want to keep working on them, that’s great. I’m happy to support them in any way they can, but wanting to give them a whole bunch of different challenges. So there just isn’t that ongoing fatigue. Right?

Rob (27m 3s):
Absolutely. That makes a lot, a lot of sense. And I can relate to that very much, even with a short workshop I did with not kids actually with professors, you know, university and executive-level professors as well. It was 10 days long. And it was just one thing that they were creating. And of course, the iteration was very, very short. It was like, Oh, but it’s, it’s like such a big thing. And so on. It’s like, Oh, but it’s just 10 days. You don’t have that much time to dedicate to it anyway, but I can relate to that frustration. I can, I can remember some of the people talking about that as well.

Kathleen (27m 37s):
Yeah. It’s, it’s hard to be creative on a timeframe like that, you know, to like come up with your idea right now. Boom. Do it. So at least if one idea isn’t so great, then you can move onto something else. Or maybe the new piece of that I’m teaching actually will help you take that other idea and be like, you know what? I want to take this, but I want, wanna apply this to it now, you know, so it’s all there. It’s all their games. So I’m just trying to fill up their little box.

Rob (28m 1s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And we’re talking about recommendation’s so you gave your first one to that, that best practice that you’re talking about, both, you know, having all these mechanics, you know, broaden their, their game design. If you want to be a writer, you have to rewrite, of course, if you want to be a writer, but you also have to read, so you sort of get all these tools. So I, that’s kind of similar to that. And you were talking then as well about this sort of breaking up things when, when people are, are doing just one big, huge design, especially with the frustration that that can generate.

Rob (28m 32s):
And you were talking about those recommendations. And I would also like to know if there’s, when, when you’ve been hearing this conversation, these questions, is there anybody that comes to your mind that you would say, Oh, this person would be great. I’d like to listen to the answer to this or that person. And again, that’s an open question. Anybody can, can be good.

Kathleen (28m 46s):
Oh, sure. I mean, there are so many good people out there. I really love Sen-Foong Lim, who is a game designer with a lot of different titles, but he also teaches psychology at the university level in Canada. And so his understanding both of, you know, designed from a personal standpoint, but as well as like what we’re talking about with failure and like the human aspects of design and he, and especially one other thing too, that’s really interesting is there’s been a lot of movement in terms of social justice issues in a very good way, I would say.

Kathleen (29m 20s):
And for him, especially talking about representation in games and how we look at what our games are presenting and how we handle different cultures. He has an RPG, that’s all about Chinese restaurants and he, and his coauthor on this RPG, they’re both Chinese of Chinese origin, but they still consulted people who are native to China now, as far as to make sure that everything was accurate or that they, you know, like that they got it. Right.

Kathleen (29m 50s):
You know, so even being, I’m not sure if both of them are Chinese Canadian, but either way, you know? So I think that another really interesting, good perspective when it comes to looking at, you know, game design, gamification, or just we’ll just game design, I would say when it comes to like gamification itself and how best to gamify, I’ll need to think on that a little bit more as far as who, but Sen is always someone who’s so good to talk to when it comes to games and game design.

Rob (30m 22s):
Absolutely. It sounds like a very exciting guest to have here. And you’ve, you’ve talked about this, this person, is there, is there any book in, again, an audience like this one who’s thinking maybe for the first time, or, you know, has, has some experience as well, you know, a book that you would recommend for an audience like this when somebody who’s thinking about engaging their audience in some way, again, it could be in the classroom, it could be for other purposes, what would you like? Is there anything that you would say is a good resource to, to start guiding them or to get them somewhere?

Kathleen (30m 48s):
Well, the two books that I recommend the most as it relates to game design in particular, especially wanting to teach game design since that’s my big push there’s one, there’s, there’s two, there’s the Kobold Guide to Boardgame Design edited by Mike Selinger, who has worked in so many different forms of games. And so many companies from D and D and World of Warcraft and all kinds of other things to Magic the Gathering, I think too, I’m probably even making up credits, but basically like any big name, he’s basically done it, but it’s a really great slim volume with a sort of like a chronological approach to game design, everything from generating ideas all the way through to the end, to like getting things published.

Kathleen (31m 25s):
And that’s a great one. The other really excellent book that I recommend for teachers, if there are any two books you’re going to have if you want to teach game design, at least when you’re getting started, the first is the Kobold Guide, because like I said about game design, but the second is Challenges for Game Designers by Ian Schreiber and Brenda Braithwaite because that book breaks down games and game design from a different approach. You know, you’re talking more like from like an aesthetic approach or you might be talking about, you know, certain aspects that you might only really find in a video game. The book was developed for people who teach video game design, but want to use tabletop game design techniques in order to teach video game design.

Kathleen (32m 3s):
So basically you can learn good design fundamentals, cause it’s much easier to iterate using a paper prototype. But the nice thing about that one is there are so many different types of challenges and exercises that as teachers you can use to convey, to get kids, to actually start doing the thing that you’re talking about, as opposed to just telling them here, here’s this thing you need to know how to do. And I did think of one other guest too. He’s also a Canadian who also works with Sen a part of the bamboozle brothers is Jay Cormier. And Jay is also a game designer and teaches game design through a video game.

Kathleen (32m 37s):
I’m sorry. Yeah. Their video game design program. And also, and it’s actually an extension of a film school in Canada. So there’s a heavy, you know, the emphasis on the narrative that makes sense as it relates to video games. So, but he’s someone else who also understands teaching game design, designing games and from that, but from that different perspective of more of a video game narrative, you know, sort of heavy basis for it. So Jay Cormier, someone else I’d recommend for you.

Rob (33m 3s):
Absolutely, absolutely great books and great recommendations from possible guests as well. And what would you say, I know this is a difficult question. You probably play a lot of games as well. So what would you say is your favorite game?

Kathleen (33m 16s):
Well, it’s, I was actually, I was on the podcast once called five games for doomsday. And it was a really interesting podcast because what are the five games that you would save if there’s something apocalyptic going on and let’s not look out the window too hard on that one right now. But, but it really made me think about what games I would want to save. And so my five or my favorite game of all time, which is Iron Dragon, it just scratches a very particular itch in terms of like planning.

Kathleen (33m 46s):
It’s honestly like multiplayer solitaire, but I love that game. I also love the game Survive: Escape from Atlantis. It’s my favorite game from a design standpoint, if my game can hit a lot of the notes that that game hits for me, then I will consider my design to be a success. I also wanted to save Catan because I think it’s just, I love Catan, but I also think it’s too important of a game in the Pantheon of modern board gaming’s modern, boring not to save. I also saved Aloha as it was my first favorite, you know, heavy-ish kind of Euro game for me to play.

Kathleen (34m 22s):
And then finally, the last game that I saved is: Eat Poop You Cat my absolute favorite late-night game convention party game, where all we’re trying to do is make each other laugh as much as we can. And those are some of my favorite moments from all of the game conventions of when we just get, you know, pen and paper and just start being super silly.

Rob (34m 44s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And what would you say is your, your sort of your superpower in this, in this area that, that sweet spot where you, you feel that you’re at least better than most?

Kathleen (34m 53s):
I come up with a lot of bad ideas, a lot of bad ideas, a lot of bad ideas, so many bad ideas, but tying this back to where we started from, you know, looking at it as opportunities, not a failure. And so if I have something bad, I know I can work with it and turn it into something that’s probably okay.

Rob (35m 18s):
And from that, you can go to good. And then from that to great. So, okay.

Kathleen (35m 22s):
Exactly, exactly. Exactly. Like you gotta get messy. You gotta just get in there. It’s but it’s fun.

Rob (35m 27s):
You gotta do what you gotta do. Absolutely. And Kathleen, before we take off because we’re running out of time, I would like to know if you have any sort of final piece of advice for the Engagers, please let us know where we can find you. I know you have a fantastic webpage full of resources. And before you finish that as well, I would like to know very, very quickly. What does teaching cosplay look like? Like very, very quickly.

Kathleen (35m 52s):
I love it. So cosplay, if people aren’t familiar with it, it’s the intersection of like fandom and Halloween. And so a lot of my parents are sort of like confused by me doing this. But once I started to explain that it’s really about project management and the development of kids to learn all these independent skills to make their costumes. So when I’m doing cosplay, my whole classroom was taken over by cardboard boxes. Cause they have to keep their supplies in boxes, cardboard boxes, full of their materials. I’ve got sewing machines, glue guns, if there’s anything big, they want to do like fiberglass or whatever, any kind of big fabrication we have to use the industrial tech room, or they have to do that at home.

Kathleen (36m 28s):
But basically kids are in class trying to figure out how they can build the costume of their dreams. And that class kids will work harder for that than anything else I ever asked them to do. Because when you get kids, give kids the opportunity to be the character that they love more than anything, they will do anything and everything they need to do to make it come to life. So teaching cosplay is bananas. Great. There’s one other thing I would recommend one of my favorite things on the internet.

Kathleen (36m 58s):
It’s on YouTube by a guy named Jake Palmer. It’s a one-minute 22-second video called finished, not perfect. And I show that to students all the time in pretty much any class, but basically the gist of it is as the world needs artists, who’ve finished things. And you’re going to just get out if you want to learn how to do something, get out there and do it. And if you hate something now that’s okay because you’re going to keep going and you’re naturally going to get better. So don’t worry about something being perfect. Just worry about it, getting finished so that you can move on to the next project. And that’s another really important thing.

Kathleen (37m 30s):
I think for us, especially for myself, because I tend to be very much a perfectionist and learning how to basically stop and move forward when I’m working on something is a, it’s a thing that, you know, we all probably struggle with, but it’s a really good external sort of framework in which to think about it. So I always recommend people do that because, and I tell my students, I want you to be creators, not just consumers. And I would rather you create something bad than read or, you know or show me something that someone else did. That was great.

Rob (37m 57s):
That makes a lot of sense. And it’s also a great recommendation, Kathleen, where can we find you? Where can we see all those resources? Because that’s where I found out about your cosplay class. And so much more.

Kathleen (38m 7s):
Yeah. So I’m at Kathleenmercury.com. You can message me directly through there. I’m on Twitter at mercury was seven M’s. I don’t post on there too much. You probably should do more, but you know, we always have so many things pulling at us. So yeah, those are the two best places to get a hold of me. And I really, really do love collaborating, helping people. So if someone wants to teach game design, if they’ve got questions, shoot me an email. I’m happy to set up some time where we can just sort of talk about what you want to do, how you want to do it, how I might suggest you frame your class.

Kathleen (38m 37s):
And because the more we have kids creating things, then just think about all the amazing solutions that they’ll be able to come up with for any number of real-world problems that we have.

Rob (38m 48s):
Thank you very much, very much for your time for your investment. Because as we’ve said, our time is one of the most valuable assets. So investing that time here and today with the Engagers in this podcast, sharing your knowledge with so many people that will listen to this and enjoy it and profit from that. However, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Hey, Engagers. Thank you. Thank you for listening to Professor Game podcast. And I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kathleen.

Rob (39m 21s):
I’d like to know if you have any questions that you’d like to make sure future guests answer for you. If you do go to professorgame.com/question and ask your own question, and if it is selected, it will come up in a future episode, you will get your answer live here on Professor Game. And before you go onto your next mission, remember to subscribe using your favorite podcast app to listen to the next episode of Professor Game.

Rob (39m 52s):
See you there!

End of transcription

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