Interview: Katie Salen (03/08/08)

March 11 2008 / by memebox
Category: Education   Year: 2008   Rating: 3

This interview was conducted by Venessa Posavec on 03/08/08

V: What do you do and how is that related to the future?

K: Most of my current work focuses on the future of learning, and the role games and social media might plan in transforming that future. The non-profit I run—The Institute of Play—is designing a new 6th-12th grade school in New York City, based on game design and systems-thinking. The project aims to change the way schools think about learning by designing the school from the ground up around the intrinsic qualities of games and play. And while parents might be concerned about the amount of screen-time or game play an approach such as this might involve, researchers from fields as diverse as the learning sciences, literacy studies, computer science, and anthropology are seeing that games can and do affect how, when, and where kids learn.

V: You co-authored the book Rules of Play. What was the focus of that book?

K: Rules of Play is a textbook of sorts that looks at how games work, from a design perspective. The book is organized around 23 different “schemas” or ways of looking at games, from games as systems of rules, to games as social play, simulation, or narrative.

V: How do you see games transforming pop culture?

K: I think games have been incredibly influential in changing how people think about and relate to media generally. Gaming no longer feels like something geeky that boys do sitting alone in their basements. People of all ages play games—often together—and often, as a way to build their own cultural or social capital. In that way, games have truly become a vital form of currency for many people today.

V: What is machinima?

K: Machinima is a form of animated story-telling that is done using videogame engines. In its purest form, first person shooter games are used as virtual sets for players to act out scripts with their game characters. More recently, the term has come to refer to any kind of digital storytelling that uses a game as the set of main narrative space.

V: What is animated storytelling, and what’s being done in that area?

K: That is just a fancy word for narrative animation. Anything Pixar does falls into this category, and includes animation of all types—stop motion, rotoscoping, motion capture, cel animation, CGI, etc. I am not up to speed on everything that is happening in the field, but certainly we are seeing a wider range of integration between live action and CGI or animated elements.

V: How are games being integrated into education?

K: One thing to remember is that non-digital and social games have long been used in the classroom. History and political science teachers, for example, often “re-enact” certain kinds of systems in order to understand them. What is new is an interest in networked games, mobile games, and videogames more generally. We aren’t seeing a unified approach to the use of games, as each classroom comes with a different set of needs. But some teachers are using them for content purposes; others to refine students’ problem-solving abilities, while others are looking to games simply as a way into kid culture. Teachers long to connect to the things that matter to their students and these days, games are one of those things.

V: What are some of the most promising games being developed right now that may have an impact on education/how students learn?

K: I sometimes argue that almost any game can have an impact on the way students learn, if it is situated properly within the learning environment. While some games may support ways of thinking and doing that are more closely aligned to state standards than others, it is worth changing to question to ask how we can make sense of and capitalize on the kinds of learning games support.

V: Do you think that the traditional methods of learning (teacher and students) will be replaced with interactive virtual learning environments? If yes, when do you see virtual environments making their way into the classroom?

K: While I think virtual learning environments hold promise, I don’t think they will ever completely replace face-to-face interaction between a teacher/mentor and a student. Rather, I feel we are moving toward a model that tries to see learning as happening in many different kinds of spaces. Our work is to figure out how to bridge these experiences for students and to provide them with structure for learning that take advantage of what real and virtual experiences offer.

V: Has there been any research to show that gaming can be an effective tool for learning/education?

K: There is an enormous range of research being done around this question, particularly in an emerging field called Games and Learning. One of the challenges is that most current models of assessment aren’t designed to capture the kinds of learning games support, or only capture “skill and drill” type learning indicative of standardized tests.

V: What other areas/industries, besides education, can benefit from the use of serious games?

K: Serious games is a broad field, and covers the uses of games in contexts ranging from training for the military to the use of games by surgeons practicing their skills. We are seeing games used as the basis for political and civic organizing, and as models for new approaches to interface design in airport baggage systems. Almost everyone, these days, seems interested in games.

V: How are games transforming the way people socialize?

K: I don’t think they are. Games have always been used for social purposes and have always had socializing effects. Perhaps what we are seeing today is the integration of games into other kinds of social networks. The transformation in socialization has as much to do with where games are being played today, as with games themselves.

V: What resources do you recommend for people who want to better understand the role of gaming in the future?

K: It depends what aspect of the future people are interested in. Some might want to consider the role games are playing in driving technological innovation; others in the rise of the independent games movement, or the way game platforms like the Wii are changing who plays and how. Groups like the IGDA (International Game Developers Association), G4C (Games for Change), Serious Games, GLS (Games, Learning, and Society), etc. all have their own take on the future, and are good places to start.

V: Please list some powerful new technologies or disruptive events that you expect to see by Dec 31, 2008.

K: I have my fingers crossed that Spore will be released this year and am anxious to see how some of the new mobile social networking apps are going to impact our (meaning American) ideas about the PC-centric focus of the internet. I think we are just starting to see the effective use of interface as fashion and data as social landscape and 2008 might be the year these metaphors join forces. Most importantly, we will see a rise in the number of tools and platforms dedicated to letting players make games. This is the year game design will go viral.

V: 5 years: Please list some powerful new technologies or disruptive events that you expect to see by 2013.

K: I think IP as we know it will be long dead by 2013, shoved aside by a paradigm shift around distributed intelligence and agency within a network, rather than authorship as it was once known. Cloud computing will likely have shown the way toward the parsing of extraordinarily complex problems, which will require a shift in magnitude of our thinking around what it means to visualize and act within data. Mobile will have taken over as the central technology in people’s lives, and gaming will be a common language we all speak.

V: 10 years: Please list some powerful new technologies or disruptive events that you expect to see by 2018.

K: 10 years is where I start to lose sight of things, mostly because I’d love to see something emerge that none of us could ever have predicted.

V: General: What makes you optimistic and/or pessimistic about the future?

K: I am an optimist when it comes to the future if only because it is coming, no matter what we do. With that said, there is a real sadness in the world right now—so many places in conflict; so many people displaced. If I am pessimistic it is in relation to an apparent lack of imagination on the part of humanity to use what we know to do the best for others. I’d like to think that the future will hold a shift in consciousness, as well as in new technologies.

Comment Thread (0 Responses)