Michael Low Brings Role Playing Games to the Classrooms | Episode 319

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Michael Low is a classroom educator with an MA in Secondary Education and over 20 years in the classroom. For the past four years, he’s run Luck Of Legends, developing educational role-playing games for small groups and classrooms. As the co-creator and storyteller at StoriesRPG.com, he publishes play-at-home games for families and classrooms like Starsworn, Luna Uni, and Giga City Guardians, and co-hosts the Stories RPG podcast, which helps people of all ages leverage the power of role-playing to foster trust and creativity, build literacy, and deepen academic engagement.

His classroom role–playing game for mastering writing, Luna Uni, is currently being playtested in a number of classrooms and led to huge gains in writing scores in two 5th-grade classes last spring.

 

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Full episode transcription

Rob:
Hey, engagers. And welcome back to another episode of the Professor Game podcast, and we are with Michael today. But Michael, before we start, we need to know, are you prepared with the engagers to engage?

Michael:
I’m always ready to engage, yes.

Rob:
Let’s do it. Because we have Michael Lowe, who is a classroom educator with an MA in secondary education with and over 20 years in the classroom. Recently, he started running luck of legends and developing educational role playing games for small groups and classrooms as a co creator and storyteller@storiesrpg.com. He publishes play at home games for families in the classrooms like Starsworn, Luna Uni, and Giga City Guardians. And he’s a co host of the stories rpg podcast, which helps people of all ages leverage the power of role playing to foster trust, creativity, build literacy, and deepen academic engagement.

Rob:
His classroom role playing game for mastering writing, luna uni, is currently being playtested in a number of classrooms, led to huge gains in writing scores in two fifth grade classes last spring. So, Michael, bunch of interesting stuff going on in your world. Is there anything that we’re missing?

Michael:
I think you’ve covered it. You can find me@luckoflegends.com and also storiesrpg.com. And may I just give you kudos. You correctly said Luna uni, which many folks, especially outside of the EU, will say Luna uni. And I’m like, it’s not sea urchin.

Michael:
It’s a university. So, yes, that was perfect.

Rob:
Yeah, I assumed it had something to do with university, so that’s why I went.

Michael:
No, it’s the university’s center for radical learning. It’s one of my favorite Sci-Fi settings for storytelling. It’s great.

Rob:
Amazing. So, Michael, what do you do in a day to day? We want know be on your shoes for a bit, essentially.

Michael:
Well, I I teach, so most days of the week I have a two hour story class, and in those classes we spend the first hour reading kids’stories out loud and celebrating. I teach online, so this is something I do in my home. And then the second hour, they get to take on the role of their characters and adventure through the game. And all of this is in a Google Slides document where they build this world. So over time, every one of these classes ends up with novellas of hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Michael:
And the kids get really invested in both writing their own stories, but also reading and collaborating with each other in building the world. And then the rest of the day, it’s recording the Stories RPG podcast, which is, it’s been an absolute blast. I have the fortune to work with one of the biggest podcasters. In fact, the biggest pod. Yeah.

Michael:
The largest and longest running story pod for kids stories podcast is Dan Hines, and that’s my collaborator on stories rpg. So he and I worked together to record that. And then for the rest of the day, it’s design and writing. I spend a lot of time working on creating both games and curriculum and thinking a lot about how folks play and how folks learn, but also how to explain something that’s very intuitive, which is story gaming. If you don’t realize this, everybody starts doing this when they’re like five.

Michael:
Somewhere along the line, culture, society, someone beats it out of us that we are able to tell stories and we forget how powerful and transformative storytelling is. And so in my game design, my goal is always to help folks reengage with that ability and leverage it to learn.

Rob:
Amazing. Thank you very much for that. Very interesting stuff. I know we’ll be getting into good stuff now, but before we get into the positive side of things, which there are a lot of good things we could say, how about we go for a fail or a first attempt at learning when creating one of these games, one of these story games, when getting immersing yourself into this world, whenever it was, we want to be there with you, we want to feel your pain, and of course, we want to take away some of the lessons and maybe even see how you got out of it.

Michael:
Gosh, I read that question, and I think it’s interesting because I think it goes to how we think about failure. We imagine failures in the same way we imagine wins as these sort of monolithic things, right? That happen, and they’re very memorable because that was the time you failed. And my real answer is, are you kidding me? All the time, every day.

Michael:
I mean, constantly. That’s the only way to learn anything, right? And yet, the way we’ve set up the framework for teaching and learning for most of our students and even for ourselves, this is very hard because it’s one of those biases that’s really built in at a very instinctive, intuitive level, is this concept that there’s great wins and great failures and in fact, failing constantly and being comfortable with wiggling around in all the weirdness and understanding what you’re doing wrong as part of learning. It’s such an important daily practice, I suppose if you want me to talk about.

Rob:
Absolutely.

Michael:
Or education. Yeah, sorry. Because when you ask me that, boy, I don’t know, like a million a day. Would you like me to?

Rob:
But it is important. The thing is, when people hear the bios of our amazing guests, I’m sure, and I’ve heard this before, like, oh, but you have these people who just. They have it figured out now. Who am I to blah, blah, blah? It’s like, no, this is a normal first, as you were saying, to normalize failure and to realize how we can actually take stuff from what we typically understand as failure.

Rob:
And the other thing is, of course, to, again, sort of humanize our amazing guests who are doing such great work that sometimes it’s like, how do I get there? So that’s basically what we want. And again, even if we already know and in our heads, we understand that failure is part of the whole process. Sometimes it’s still going to feel.

Michael:
Stories matter. Stories matter. Okay, so I’ll offer you two stories. Do you want to hear a story about how I unlearned how to teach writing? Or a story about how I unlearned how to tell stories with games?

Rob:
Stories with games sounds a bit more appealing at this point.

Michael:
Oh, okay. They’re both fun, I’m sure. No. Yeah. No.

Michael:
I don’t know. It’s been exciting for me, learning these things. So storytelling games, role playing games in particular, have been kind of this weird niche thing that only people who were in the know do, and that’s changed a little bit. Recently, Dungeons and Dragons released a movie. It’s kind of in pop culture now, and there have been some shows, critical role and dimension 20, all these things that have publicized it.

Michael:
But I started playing role playing games probably when I was, like, eleven, because a friend got me into it and started making games really shortly after that for anybody who would sit still, because I realized I could do that. I could just make games. And I got very excited about this. And I stopped playing role playing games with people who understood role playing games when I was in my 20s, because the culture of people who I was around at the time, it was a very exclusionary and kind of unpleasant culture. These were not people who were playing to have fun.

Michael:
They were playing to win and compete. And there were a lot of emotions in there that I didn’t like. So I went back to the drawing.

Rob:
Board and I said, how do I.

Michael:
Get all my friends who don’t role play to play these games? And over the next, what? Gosh, I guess it was 15 years. I was rebuilding. I started building a card game, and the first iteration was entirely about moving little characters and fighting and whatnot.

Michael:
And then the second iteration was about storytelling, tropes, and the third iteration put in some character maps and a plot map so that you could have places to put these tropes. And the final iteration.

Rob:
Wait a minute, wait a minute. So you’re telling me that you had to do it three times?

Michael:
No, about six times, actually. This is the crazy part. Ready? Here’s the scale of the fail. I like that.

Michael:
Yeah. Here’s the scale of the fail. Ready? The original version of this game was probably 200 cards. The biggest it got at one point was over 600.

Michael:
And I’ve now got it down to about 308 specific story related tropes. Because tropes, for those of you who are listening, who don’t immediately queue into the word, I think of them like story legos, because the thing that was crazy to me is that human beings, especially now, we are the most story saturated people in the history of the world. We’re absolutely inundated. We swim in it. We’re like fish who don’t know water.

Michael:
We’re like, what’s a trope? And you’re like, everywhere around you. So we all have these immediate understandings of how stories are built because of media, right? So, you know, if somebody walks into a bar through a pair of swinging doors, the music’s going to stop and people are going to look at them. And if the bar has a plate glass window, there’s going to be a bar brawl and somebody’s going to go flying through it.

Michael:
And if there’s a chase scene, somebody’s cart’s going to get in the way. These are things we know intuitively. If we see the cues on a screen, we know what’s happening. So the goal of this game is to help people play with stories in the same way that folks play with legos. So these are story legos.

Michael:
That’s how I think of tropes. So the goal was, how do I make the story legos visual and physical in a way that lets people pick up the parts of stories and intuitively start telling stories because they know what happens next and they know what they would like to have happen next. And that eventually led to a current game that’s in development. It’s called troped, and you can find it@tropedgame.com. That’s tropedgame.com.

Michael:
But that game, oh, my lord. There was a time when I stopped working on it entirely because I was convinced there was no way I was ever going to be able to print it. There’s too many cards. It was too much shipping. There was no way to get it into anyone’s hands.

Michael:
And I was miserable about this because I’d finally gotten to this point where anyone I played this game with, they were like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. And people who never told stories were like, that was really fun. I want to play again. When are you going to release this? And the answer was, I don’t know if I can cost too much.

Michael:
And then recently I fortuitously was chatting with a colleague and they said, that’s a cool idea. Have you ever printed that? And I said, no, it’s too much money. And they said, hold on. And they connected me with a printer and supplier who actually could get the price range down to where I could print it.

Michael:
And I was like, oh, okay. So that’s a story of decades worth of fail. And I’m super excited that it might not fail in the future. So there’s a game design one for.

Rob:
You, but what would you have done? Maybe differently? Or how did you manage to finally escape what we would know as a failure?

Michael:
I think that. What do you think? That first iteration, I was really constrained by ideas of what a role playing game was. If you look at Dungeons and Dragons, which is the role playing game that most people understand as being what a role playing game is, it’s not actually a story game. It’s a war game with a little bit of story on top, a little bit like icing.

Michael:
And what’s interesting to me about when people fall in love with dungeons and dragons is that what they really fall in love with isn’t the war game. They fall in love with this story, this tiny, thin, little layer. There’s almost no design invested in it. And that’s where they end up creating these lovely, beautiful, giant stories. But only if they first get over the hurdle of learning this incredibly complex, often restrictive, often, just to be honest, boring war game.

Michael:
And my first iteration of this game was definitely, okay, you can move here and you can do this much damage. Why does anybody need to do damage? Nobody needs to do damage. I don’t need to know how far you can move. I don’t need to know bullet weight ratios.

Michael:
I need to know what would make this story fun for everyone at the table. What’s going to get everyone laughing? What’s going to get everyone invested in a dramatic moment? What’s going to make people create those dramatic moments and then feel proud of that shared experience? Because that’s the moment at the table that makes people fall deeply in love with role playing games as a way to spend time with their friends.

Michael:
And as also a way to become creators. And that’s what ultimately led me to being able to use that same approach with students and has gotten them writing novels worth of prose for fun, not for grades, but just because they love it and they’re sharing in that delight of creating together. So, yeah, I was very misdirected by my own understanding of what the hobby was. I started out and I was like, well, what you do is you fight. No, what matters is you telling stories.

Michael:
How do you get around that? How do you get these things out of the way? How do you create a system that helps people actually play with story as opposed to gets them to focus on how to win a combat and then assumes that they might tell story along the way?

Rob:
So there you go. Amazing stuff. And it has a lot to do, definitely, with the things when we’re making designs, realizing that the end result is not a design for ourselves, it’s for somebody else.

Michael:
Absolutely.

Rob:
I’ve quoted recently, I just did it as well. I quoted, I think it was Jonathan Peters or Monica Cornetti. When they talk about self hugging, they say, well, yeah, you designed for yourself. And that’s what we call self hugging. Why would you do that?

Rob:
Right. Because you don’t know better, essentially, or you don’t realize. And this happens all the time, and it’s something to watch out for as often as we can. And it has to do with many of the preconceptions that we have about things in the world. And this goes beyond game design, gamification design.

Rob:
This has to do, when we create something, usually it has a lot of, and it’s a good thing oftentimes, but too much of it can be a bad thing. When you design for yourself, you put your own print and all of that, and that’s great, but you’re not thinking of other people usually. So a lot of lessons there, I think, yeah.

Michael:
Having your intentions clear when you’re creating and knowing what your end goals are and who your user is is absolutely critical. It reminds me of something I used to tell master’s students who worked with me on their master’s degrees as co teachers, and I would often ask them out the gate, I’d say, why do you want to do this? And they’d look at me kind of surprised, and I say, be warned, there’s only two right answers. And that often would give a little bit of shock. And I said, don’t worry, but I’m kidding, but I’m not really me.

Michael:
And the two answers I would take were, I really think kids are cool. Like, I want to work with kids this age. They’re cool. They keep me refreshed. They keep me energized.

Michael:
I like hanging out with them. They don’t drive me crazy. And the second answer was, I like who I am when I teach. The people who said, I like this content. I really love English and I really love writing.

Michael:
Find another job, because your job is not to love the content. If you are writing and creating curriculum for the things you love, you will love them. But if you’re not paying attention to your users, to your players, to the people who are in this game of school, which is so often not designed for them, you’re going to do them a disservice. And you’re going to ultimately not only fail them, but feel a failure yourself as an instructor. So find a job in which you can write for yourself and explore.

Michael:
You can do research. There are other avenues, but don’t take this one because this one’s about other people.

Rob:
Good advice. I would say, at least thinking about it in a different way, you could definitely say understanding that it’s not about you, it’s not about what you like. It’s about getting other people maybe to like it, or at least to understand it.

Michael:
Yeah, you can start with understanding if they aren’t having fun with it. I don’t know. I always laugh about the word gamification when it’s applied to school because I think it’s a little silly. School is already a game. There are points.

Michael:
There’s winners and losers. There are referees. The thing is, it’s a kind of terribly designed one. So when we talk about gamification, what we’re really discussing is, can we redesign this game to make it actually fun to play and something that is about players, not about meeting all these outside expectations. And I think if you really are committed to students learning, then you have to be committed to figuring out how to make the game fun to play.

Michael:
Because, I don’t know. I have a favorite definition of fun, and I always want to cite this book, and I always forget the title. It’s a recent release. It’s about fun. And the current definition that the author arrives at is playful, connected flow, which I love because flow flow state, for any educator, that’s the ultimate.

Michael:
You know, someone’s mastered something when they can get into a flow state. If you’re writing and you can get into a zone where the words are pouring out of you and you’re not having to think about what happens next, it’s just happening, and it’s coming through you. That’s how you know you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve.

Rob:
Absolutely, absolutely. So, Michael, with all that experience that you’ve had, we’ve seen how you went from point a to point b or went through many others, not to say the whole Alphabet.

Michael:
I don’t even know. I think I’m into the greek letters now. Yeah, absolutely.

Rob:
So with all that experience you’ve had with that project, and I know several others as well, is there a process, like you’re facing an issue that you want to help solve for yourself or somebody else? How do you approach it? What goes on in your mind? What’s the process? What are the steps?

Rob:
Whatever you want to name it.

Michael:
Sure. This is interesting. I think I don’t necessarily have steps in a process so much as I have principles that I try to keep constantly applied to the way I think about problem solving. And these change all the time because I’m always learning. But one of the first.

Michael:
So I’ll give you an example. Star Sworn is a play at home, coloring book, read aloud role playing game that had podcast episodes that go alongside. And the problem I was trying to solve there was the question, okay, how do you get families who have little kids who would love to tell stories and parents who want their kids to learn to read and write and possibly practice them, maybe how do you get them playing story games, role playing games, which can help them do both of those things without having all this coaching and with somebody bringing them to the table? And how do you make the game easy and accessible and very simple to approach? The first question I always ask is, which of the types of fun am I targeting?

Michael:
So if you’re not familiar with this, if your audience isn’t the engagers, if they’re not familiar with this, there was a really short game design paper, and there are these eight types of fun it identified, and I actually think there’s probably a bunch more. But it’s a very useful framework for any designer because it allows you to separate. Fun is this kind of vague, useless word, right? What does fun mean by saying, what is love? Well, it’s a lot of different things, so fun can come in a lot of different packages.

Michael:
There’s fellowship, that feeling of connecting with other people. There’s expression, you being able to express who you are. There’s narrative where you get immersed in a story. There’s discovery, where you’re surprised or there’s a twist or a turn. There’s challenge, where you’re facing a challenge and you have to struggle to get over it.

Michael:
So in making starsworn, I was like, okay, well, what am I looking at? I want them to be able to have narrative discovery, expression, and fellowship. And I want to make the bar. I want to make the challenge really low. I want to make this very easy.

Michael:
So I started with a very simple combination of two different formats that were familiar to my audience. One is sort of choose your own adventure books, right? You read a little bit, and then you choose which page you turn to, and the other one is coloring books. My artist worked with me, Rob Hebert of Nerdypapergames.com. He’s amazing to do black and white illustrations that could be blown up and be really amazing.

Rob:
Coloring book.

Michael:
The way the game worked would be, first you would read something aloud to everyone at the table. And so the first segment would be a read aloud that would tell you, welcome to this world of Starsworn. You could be anybody you can imagine. Here’s your character sheet. It has a bunch of sentences on it.

Michael:
Finish the sentences to describe who your character is and draw a picture of them. Now, later on, those same sentences end up becoming a part of the game. You can leverage those to get dice to overcome challenges, but at this point, it’s just a chance to explain who your character is and imagine this fantasy character, something that’s very easy and accessible for kids and will save parents a couple of minutes and get them to do some writing. As the game progresses, this gets more and more involved where the kids are writing stories about different places that they’d like to visit, other characters that they’re going to meet, stories about as part of the game. The stars fall from the heavens at one point, and as the stars fall, they choose different people to mark.

Michael:
And once you carry a star sworn mark, you get special powers. And so one piece is the kids get to write the myth of who their star sign was before they went up into the stars. This is very greek mythology sort of style stuff, and why they went up into the stars, and what power they get if they have this star sworn ability. And of course, because it leads to their characters having a power, the kids are super into it. But each page, the goal was always those styles of fun, right?

Michael:
And that’s the thing, is, if you keep those design principles in mind, how does this piece on this page, this paragraph, this layout, how does it either help people access these types of fun or generate it? If you can’t answer that question with a here’s how it works, then it needs to be changed and so that process was definitely, and then the podcast to go along with that was yet another way to create another open avenue to help kids and families engage. Okay. You’ve never heard anybody do a storytelling game. How does that work?

Michael:
Well, this game plays alongside, and there’s a bunch of characters who are on a parallel mission. They’re on a parallel adventure, and they occasionally interact. They interact with the players at home. So there are moments in the book where they see the characters from the show, and there are moments in the show where the people on the show address the people at home. And those connection points are yet another way to deepen that and create another sort of innovative and interesting road for folks to become immersed in the world of the game and turn writing into play, which is obviously what it is and what it should be.

Rob:
Wow. Plenty of stuff, lots of insights in there. I think there’s plenty of things that the engagers can definitely grasp or even grab for themselves to be able to use in their practice. So thank you very much for that, Michael. My pleasure.

Rob:
Very interesting. So, in all these processes, all these ideas with your experience, is there something that you would say, well, this is a best practice, or something that you would say, well, do this or think about this in a certain way, and you would say, well, the project is at least going to be a little bit better than it was if you didn’t do it.

Michael:
I really think I’m going to come back to fun as a teacher, and I now teach online. I run these story games for kids. I do the podcast, and I create these games. I think one trap that I see a lot of people falling into in design is they forget that everything they design should be fun. I’m going to say that again.

Michael:
Everything you design should be fun. If it’s an experience for someone, make it fun, or people won’t want to do it. I think there is a problem that I don’t know where or when this happened, this concept that work isn’t fun and that fun is unserious. It’s unserious. And fun is not only unserious, it’s counterproductive.

Michael:
It’s somehow opposed to learning and productivity. Whereas I think all of us in our lived experiences have so many pieces of evidence, such a massive amount of evidence, proving that, in fact, we do our best work when we’re having fun. We have our most memorable moments. We learn the most when we’re having fun. Fun and play are primary to learning.

Michael:
Sometimes when I speak, I’ve spoken at south by Southwest, and I’ve spoken at Gencon, so this is a good example of two different types of audience. South by Southwest is full of educators and people who are into innovation and teachers. Gencon is full of gamers and people in the game industry who are into tabletop gaming, and you have a very different conversation with each of them. Gamers don’t need to be told that fun is important, but teachers do. And it’s a shame because teachers know it, but they feel guilty saying it out loud.

Michael:
So you’ll say, yeah, fun is not opposed to learning. In fact, inevitably somebody will raise their hand and I’ll say, yeah. I’ll say, well, how do you make sure that they’re learning while they’re having fun? And I will look at them and I’ll say, if they are not having fun, they can’t learn. So I’m not worried about whether they’re going to learn 1st.

Michael:
1st, I’m worried about whether they can have fun. Second, I’m worried about how I’m going to make sure that they learn until I achieve that first goal. The second is utterly irrelevant. Fun is the way people connect. It’s the way they play, it’s the way they feel excited about something.

Michael:
And I don’t know, I have a million examples of this, but if you don’t have fun, you’re not going to be productive. So put fun primary in whatever you design. Make sure anybody who is experiencing something that you are responsible for leading or creating is excited to be there, happy to be there, enthused to be there, connecting with other people, because that will make them learn and produce, or at.

Rob:
Least produce more they would otherwise, right?

Michael:
I mean, whatever they produce will be less effective, less exciting, and something they’re less proud of.

Rob:
Totally. So thank you for that best practice as well. I think it is very important to keep that in mind, even though we also had a discussion on how it’s hard to grasp something like fun. So keep an eye out for both things, both actually trying to get people to have fun, but also keeping in mind that fun is a vague, open word that can have many different interpretations and ways of happening. Yeah, there’s no one way of having fun.

Michael:
And that’s why I think it’s so.

Rob:
Don’T do self hugging.

Michael:
Yeah, no, I think that’s why it’s so key to understand what the types of fun are. Because if you don’t have that language, expression, narrative, discovery, fellowship, if you don’t have those specific targets, it’s very hard to aim in your design. So knowing what types of fun you’re targeting and what kind of experience your players to have. Absolutely crucial to making sure that they can have it.

Rob:
Totally. Absolutely. So thank you again for that, Michael. Now that I know you’ve heard a few episodes as well, I know you’re slightly more familiar at this point with the podcast. You’ve heard the questions, too.

Rob:
I’d like to ask you a question about future guest, and I know you have a podcast as well, so maybe it comes from your podcast. Maybe it comes from somebody you would want to have your podcast so many haven’t had already. I don’t know. It’s up to you. Whatever you want to go for.

Rob:
I have a favorite who would be a future guest.

Michael:
Okay.

Rob:
For professor game.

Michael:
One of my favorites, Steph Campbell. They run ttrpgkids.com. They won a pretty prestigious silver any award last year for best online content. They are a curator and a creator of educational game content and also game content that’s therapeutic for all ages, and they do a lovely job of it. And they are also, interestingly enough, an engineering professor and deeply invested in game design.

Michael:
And the question of how story can teach, I think they’re amazing. Another person you might want to talk to, Cesar Capacla, who is a brazilian designer who makes some of the most innovative and emotionally engaging game mechanics I’ve ever seen for tabletop play. There’s so many folks I could mention, but those two leap out as spectacular folks who I think you would find deeply, deeply, deeply fun to talk to.

Rob:
Amazing good stuff. Sounds pretty interesting. And on that same line of recommendation, and given that you’re into storytelling and into loving English.

Michael:
Oh, no.

Rob:
Is there a book that you would recommend the audience?

Michael:
Oh, gosh.

Rob:
And why, of course.

Michael:
Yeah. It’s funny, I felt like, compelled, like I needed to give you a nonfiction answer. And actually, I’m going to give you a fiction answer. I think anything by Walter Moyers. M-O-E-R-S.

Michael:
He’s very not well known outside know. I think he’s very sort of strange. I’ve heard him described as Shel Silverstein, plus Tolkien, plus Douglas Adams from the hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He writes these beautifully illustrated books. I highly recommend city of dreaming books.

Michael:
Another one’s called Rumo. I think what I love about him is he is playful in his story writing. He invites the reader to feel playful about story, and you can feel the joy and energy. I often think his stories are a bit like those nesting dolls where you open one story and there’s another story inside and you open that one and there’s another story inside. You get lost.

Rob:
The name I know them by is inappropriate these days. I know them as russian dolls.

Michael:
Yeah, I think of them as nesting dolls. But, yeah, it’s just absolutely lovely. It’s a lovely example of how play can infect and the idea of fun can sort of invigorate everything you can do. And I find his stories often engage me in play, so highly recommend. City of dreaming books or rumo is.

Rob:
Another great, amazing, amazing. Thank you for that one as well. And in this world of doing stuff with games, essentially, what would you say is your superpower? That thing that you do at least.

Michael:
Better than most other people in terms of design, what’s my superpower? I can tell you what my teaching superpowers are easy. My design superpower has to be accessibility. I’ve spent so long thinking about how students see everything that I do in the classroom, from if I put a handout in front of them to how do I hand them an article. Do I need to increase the type font?

Michael:
Do I need to go through and create annotation for each of these articles? So as a designer, I’m constantly thinking about, how can I make this absolutely effortless so that when you pick this up, you don’t have to think, you just start reading and all of a sudden the game is happening. And so I think that approach, zero doors closed, zero expectation. I often think of it as in video game design. The tutorial level is fun.

Michael:
If your tutorial level is boring, you’ll never make it to the main game. So video games know this, and I apply that to both classroom design and game design. I want to make sure that whatever we’re doing, it’s fun even to learn the very most basic things.

Rob:
And easy, amazing, easy stuff.

Michael:
Yeah, easy and fun. Easy stuff. Easy and stuff. Easy and fun. If you’re not doing easy and fun, boy, you’re asking a lot from your audience.

Michael:
A lot of audience. I always say it’s funny. Students are sort of like people who have gone to a show, but they never bought a ticket and somebody made them go. If you buy a ticket to a show, you’re going to have a good time. Even if the show is not your favorite, you’re still going to have a good time because you paid for this.

Michael:
You knew what you were getting and you want to have a good time. Poor students, man, they’re required to be there. So the onus is on you to make it worth the price of admission and not to make it painful. So, yeah, I think making sure everything’s easy and fun is critical.

Rob:
Amazing. And now we get to the difficult questions. Or the question actually. Okay, what would you say is your favorite game?

Michael:
I think that’s like asking for your favorite piece of music or your favorite book. Depends on my mood. We all want different things. One of the types of fun is submission. And it sounds a little weird, but it means that feeling of falling into a familiar practice that’s almost like meditation.

Michael:
It’s sort of mindless. So the game I play to be mindless is a tiny roguelike game on my mobile called Pathos, which is based off of Nethack. And it’s utterly mindless for me. It’s what I play to wind down as opposed to. I have to be honest.

Michael:
I play my own game with kids every day. And Luna Uni, which is based on the story’s rpg engine, I’m absolutely. I love it. It’s my own world. And it’s a world that the kids get to recreate every time from some very basic world seeds.

Michael:
They get to build worlds around it. And I love that one for telling stories and creating an immersive second reality and encouraging writing. Boy, there’s a whole bunch more. I could keep going. I have so many games I love.

Rob:
I’m going to account for Luna Uni, of course, as one of your favorite games because it’s yours. But then you already mentioned Patho, so that’s going to be your favorite game. Aside, of course, from your favorite. This is evergreen. This evergreen is going to be here forever, man.

Michael:
No, that’s unfair to all the other games I love. But yes, there’s so many that I love. And I do feel lucky that we have that diversity of games where you can play different games for different purposes. If I want to hang out with my family here to slay, which is an amazing card game, very quick play and very ridiculous. Super fun.

Michael:
There’s just so many different. I’m not going to listen to speed metal all the time. Sometimes I want ambient jazz. And to compare those two things is not even apples to oranges. Right?

Michael:
It’s just different beasts.

Rob:
Yeah, totally. All right, so we’re actually running out of time and almost the end of the interview at this point. But of course, before we let you go, we know you’re working on many exciting things. So let us know where we can find out about more about you, the stuff you’re working on, wherever you want to guide us to. If you have any final piece of advice, this is the time.

Rob:
And then we’ll say it’s game over.

Michael:
Okay, well, you can find my classes for kids and also my curriculum for teachers. You can find that@luckoflegends.com you can find out more about all of my games there. Storiesrpg.com. That’s where to look for the podcast. You can find that podcast anywhere.

Michael:
Stories, rpg, anywhere you get your podcast, you can find me there. I’m on all sorts of social media, so you can find me out there in the wild world. You can check out tropedgame.com if you’d like to find out more about some of my more for grownups designs. And yeah, my piece of advice, don’t forget to have fun. And everybody’s creative.

Michael:
Don’t forget those two things. I feel like so many of us are trained to forget them, and that’s a shame. So don’t go have fun.

Rob:
Absolutely. Let’s do this. Let’s have fun. So thanks again, Michael, for all your experience, all of the stories you’ve given us today, all the advice that you’ve given, all the stuff that we’ve been discussing today. However, Michael, however, engagers, as you know, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over.

Rob:
Engagers, it’s fantastic to have you around. You know, this podcast definitely makes sense, is because of you. So why don’t we connect on LinkedIn? That way you can let me know about things like future guests, questions that you have, anything you might need help with. I don’t know, whatever you want, you can find us as Professor Game on LinkedIn.

Rob:
You just type that in the search bar and you’ll definitely find us there. We’re always sharing content on gamification and as you know, especially around education and learning. And hey, don’t click continue yet. Remember to subscribe using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of professor game.

Michael:
See you there.

End of transcription

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