THE NYU Game Center
I have taught in many programs at many universities, but none of them are as close to my heart as the NYU Game Center. We are the department of Game Design in Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Our programs include an MFA degree and a BFA degree. I am an Arts Professor and head of the Game Design curriculum.
I have been part of the Game Center since its very start, teaching game design (first as an adjunct, then as a full-time professor) and designing its initial curriculum with Frank Lantz, Jesper Juul, and Katherine Isbister. Since those early days, the faculty and staff has expanded greatly to include an incredible lineup of brilliant and talented minds. Shoulder to shoulder with other Tisch programs in filmmaking, theater, and dance, we teach the design, development, and scholarship of games as a form of creative cultural production.
Our lineup of events is amazing too. World-class designers and scholars come and share their ideas almost weekly. We host regular game tournaments watched by hundreds of thousands online. We have commissioned games for our annual No Quarter exhibitions that have won some of the most prestigious awards in the industry. Our game library is one of the largest on the planet. And we host the annual PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail conference, which brings together designers who make every possible kind of digital and physical game.
The NYU Game Center has helped make New York City the world capital for independent games. And we’ve made a global contribution to university-level games education. It's an honor every day to be part of this amazing community of students, faculty, and staff.
Local No. 12
Together with Colleen Macklin and John Sharp, I am part of Local No. 12, a game design collective that creates games on and off the computer. We design games that play with culture in new ways.
Our first game was BackChatter, a game about Twitter trendspotting. Designed around the backchannel of tweeting that happens at a conference, in the game, players bet on which words they thought would appear most in tweets about the conference.
Our next game was the Metagame, a massively multiplayer card game in which players debate videogame aesthetics that we launched at the 2010 Game Developers Conference. The Metagame was a such a success that we launched a Kickstarter campaign. The current version of The Metagame goes beyond just videogames to include all kinds of entertainment, art, design, and media.
Local No. 12 continues to be very active. We’re working on new expansions of the Metagame, as well as an iOS game that uses classic literature as its raw material (Kickstarted and in development).
Nakworks is the interdisciplinary design studio of Italian architect Nathalie Pozzi. In addition to designing buildings, interiors, and objects, Nakworks collaborates with artists and designers on a range of unusual projects.
Nakworks and I have collaborated on several large-scale installations that are part space design and part game design. Our projects have appeared in events and exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, as well as museums and festivals in Berlin, Dublin, Moscow, Los Angeles, and The Netherlands.
The installations take a variety of forms, from a fictional archive of 200 game boards, to hanging steel walls one millimeter thick. From a game design point of view, our projects often question the assumptions of more traditional games. In Sixteen Tons, you pay other players for their physical labor - with actual money. In Interference, every move you make in your game is a chaotic interruption of someone else's game. In Waiting Rooms, you enter a perverse bureaucracy whose rules are meant to be bent and broken.
I have learned so much from collaborating with Nathalie: a heightened awareness of light and space and physical materials; a deeper understanding of how the human body is part of design and play; a more nuanced sense of how games fit into larger categories of art and design. Our collaborations continue to be a challenge and a pleasure.
THE INSTITUTE OF PLAY
In 2006, The commercial game studio Gamelab that I co-founded with Peter Lee spun off a sibling non-profit organization called The Institute of Play. The original idea for the Institute was to provide a place for developing design-centric ideas about the intersection of games and learning.
More than 10 years later, The Institute of Play is a thriving non-profit. Under the spectacular leadership of Katie Salen for many years, it is currently run by the brilliant Rebecca Rufo-Tepper and Arana Shapiro. The mission of the Institute of Play is to transform education through play. Its most well-known accomplishment is the design and creation of the Quest to Learn school, a 6-12 grade public school in New York City where the entire curriculum is designed around play and games as a model for learning.
Its activities include school and curriculum design, professional development of educators (training teachers to think more like game designers) and a variety of game design projects that involve learning. I am not involved in the day-to-day activities of the company but I do currently serve as the Board Chair. It is a delight to be working with the incredibly talented staff and the dedicated Board members of the Institute.
Gamelab was a company I founded in 2000 with the incredibly talented Peter Lee, a company that he and I ran together until its doors closed a decade later in 2009. Gamelab developed innovative and experimental games, defining the independent game studio of the 21st Century many years before “indie games” became a buzzword.
We made dozens of games over the years, growing to about 30 staff. Fiercely independent, the mission of Gamelab was always to “invent new ways to play.” And we did – finding new audiences for gaming as we helped create “casual games” with hits like Diner Dash; experimenting with funding models as we pioneered film-style project-based financing or grant-funded partnerships with nonprofits. Mostly, however, we innovated through our games themselves, exploring new kinds of subject matter, new aesthetic styles, and new forms of gameplay.
Our games ranged from Arcadia, a strange game where the player had to play four Atari-style games at once to Ayiti: The Cost of Life, a game about poverty in Haiti created with NYC nonprofit Global Kids and a class of high school students. We made eight massively multiplayer conference game experiments for the Game Developers Conference, and designed a toy-based dueling game for LEGO where players constructed their game pieces brick by brick.
Although I am very proud of our games, the best part of Gamelab was the culture of design research and the rigorous creative processes that defined the daily experience of the company. Every person at Gamelab was empowered to come up with ideas and critique projects in development, and many former staff report that Gamelab represented the creative highlight of their professional lives.
We had a strong impact on independent game culture, especially in New York City. We spun off two companies, the nonprofit Institute of Play, and the game-building site Gamestar Mechanic. NYC organizations like Gigantic Mechanic, Playmatics, and Come Out and Play were all founded by Gamelab alums.
Gamelab is no more. But in all of us that touched the company, Gamelab lives on.