Teaching Feed

Photos from PixelPop 2018 and the Big SLU Flashback Event

As mentioned previously, I gave a presentation this weekend at PixelPop Festival. (If you missed it and wish you hadn't, never fear. I'll be reprising the talk for the St. Louis Game Developers Co-Op in a couple of weeks. There's also coverage on the blog in the form of a two-part series: 1) Why Does Story Matter in Games? and 2) What Makes a Game Story Work? because apparently I'm obsessed with questions-as-headlines.)

Organizers Carol Mertz and Mary McKenzie Kelly and their super-cool army of volunteers did a fantastic job of creating and running a high-quality, highly-inclusive game con. More than one person I met commented on the open, friendly, encouraging atmosphere and the extremely helpful takeaways.

Here are some pics!

The expo hall was overwhelmingly dominated by console games, but I stumbled upon this awesome mobile game by developer Bravendary, and since I was tasked with judging games for the Select Award, I gave it my vote. Super Bobbert and the Infinity Tree is a "risk/reward collection game." You play by dragging your finger on the screen or tilting your device to move a pair of telescoping hands up a tree, rescuing kites, balls, and yes, cats--and avoiding collision with tree branches. I gave them some feedback about making the game more accessible to casual players, but I think it's super cute and has great potential. I'm excited to see two developers of color bringing something new to the table.

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Developer Philip Hayes demo-ing Super Bobbert.

One of the most interesting talks I attended was the fireside chat between Leah "Gllty" Hayes, a Street Fighter e-sports champion and Jason Li, a longtime fan and competitor in fighting games. Hayes first learned to play in the arcades of her youth here in St. Louis and is from nearby St. Charles. I knew nothing about fighting game culture and found her insights into the differences between U.S. and Japanese subcultures fascinating. For example, in Japan, gamers might be somewhat hostile to those outside the homogenous Japanese culture, but they are very supportive of women learning to game.

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Here's a demo of a game in development called Stepsisters. It's based on the darker, Grimm's fairy tale version of Cinderella, so the object is to, um, get your toes cut off in order to fit your foot into the glass slipper, marry the prince, and win the game. I feel kind of conflicted about it, but I was schooled on feminist references to classic fairytales in the style of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber. What do you think?

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Created by students from Bradley University. Pictured here: Warren Guiles, who's in St. Louis this summer interning with Graphite Labs, and Jake Velicer. 
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Creepy, or cool? You tell me.

In the category of "That talk you wish you hadn't been late for" is Kevin Snow's presentation on accessibility in games, but I made up for it with a one-on-one afterward, and I managed to snap a pic of this super-helpful collection of resource links.

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Next is a couple of guys down from Chicago, reps from a student-run studio at DePaul University. I was drawn to their table because they had a bunch of books on display, and book/game crossovers are something I would like to see much more of at game cons. They used fish for controllers, so even though I'm not into fighting games, I had to play this one.

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Josh Delson of JDE, for Junior Development Experience.
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The game is called Sashimi Slammers.

One of the cool things about attending a game con in your own town is running into former students--which happened a lot! It was great to see so many game design majors from Webster University representing. Here's Sarah Brill, showing off a game she helped create through her summer internship with local developer Graphite Labs.

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Sarah created art for Compost Conundrum, an educational game about the value of garden composting.

Another Webster face in the crowd was my friend and former colleague Rob Santos, there showing off a unique game interface. You communicate with a spirit through a Quija Board to uncover a mystery in the game Good Luck. The planchette lights up over letters on the board, allowing the spirit to relate the tale.

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The creativity on display here is why students rave about Rob as a teacher.

I think I might have been the oldest presenter at this youthful con, but it's OK. I just told everyone the reason my hair is this color is because I'm a Targaryen.

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I chose "she" as my pronoun sticker only because "She Who Must Be Obeyed" wasn't an option.

Now in the headline I promised you something about a Big Flashback Event, and here it is. Some of you know last summer I moved back to the Midwest after nearly 20 years away. This con was at my alma mater.

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My dorm from 1989-90. Back then it wasn't emblazoned with the school's name.
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I staffed this cashier booth when the garage first opened. It's now undergoing renovation, and maybe I am, too.

To conclude this pic-laden recap, I've presented at and/or attended big cons like GDC, Casual Connect, AWP, and PNWA. But this is one of my favorites for the inclusivity, friendliness, and hometown vibe.

 


What If No One in Your Family Had Ever Gone to College?

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All images courtesy of College Bound.

I'm the only person in my immediate family to obtain a college degree--neither of my parents has a degree, and none of my three siblings chose the four-year degree route in their careers.

HOWEVER, my mother attended university for a time, with an eye toward earning a bachelor's in Education. A year away from graduating, she chose to marry my father and commit herself to stay-at-home motherhood instead of finishing. You could make that choice back in the early 70s, even on enlisted military pay.

But that college experience stayed with my mother, and I sensed early on that she regretted not snagging the BA. She talked about life at the university often, and she instilled in me the desire to go to college myself. To earn that degree.

Not everyone has the privilege of a mother's influence toward college. While some families take a university education as a given, for many, it's a foreign concept, and especially with the astronomical cost of tuition these days, it can seem as remote as a distant planet.

It's that distance that the organization College Bound works to bridge.

"Just one adult with a college degree can change the cycle of poverty in a family forever," say the folks at CB. They function as coaches, guides, and tutors in the effort to help students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds achieve bachelor's degrees and fulfilling careers.

I know a lot about the organization because my husband, a former-game-industry-brand-manager-turned-grant-manager, works there. And because he does, they found out about me and my work as a visiting professor of game design at Webster University. They invited me to speak to students on a panel for Career Night. Here I am, talking with my hands, as usual.

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The students asked fantastic questions, and we had a lively discussion that got real, if you know what I mean. There were two CB alums on the panel with me, and they were a study in contrasts. One chose to become an accountant, and while he doesn't "love" his job, he loves being able to live comfortably and even travel. His counterpoint was a young woman who took a job teaching at a school in a disadvantaged neighborhood where some of her students struggle with simply getting enough to eat. She loves what she does.

It wasn't planned this way, but it turned out that every single person on the panel was the first one in our families to get a bachelor's degree. Fortunately, two of them had College Bound.

The students apparently thought I was a riot, or so says my husband, Anthony, who was the only guy in the room wearing a tie.

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If you're local and looking to get involved with College Bound, check out their Trivia Night fundraiser on August 25. Of course, you can support them even if you don't live in the Lou. 

So what's your education story? Did you go to college? Skip it and climb to wild success by other means? And who helped you along the way? Tell me in the comments below. Stories are my religion.

And have a Happy 4th of July!

 

 


Events Where I Will Be Speaking

For one whole week in July, it's a 24/7 Lisa channel here in the River City. Or so it seems to me; I've been in introvert mode since the teaching professorship wrapped at the end of May, so stepping out for two public-speaking events in one week feels like a big deal.

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First, PixelPop Festival is a two-day event in St. Louis, Missouri, "celebrating unique games and the people who make them possible." It's the cornerstone conference for a growing local gaming community comprised of a few highly successful start-ups, a major game studio's satellite office, and loads of energetic entrepreneurs and students of game design.

This is one of the reasons I returned to my roots--because I saw this happening.

The past year has been a pretty much near-constant barrage of nostalgia and memory triggers as I've done what people say you can't do: gone home again. PixelPop is no exception. It takes place at my alma mater, St. Louis University, in the student center, a building that served as a sort of "third place" during my undergrad years at SLU. I saw Maya Angelou speak there, and fittingly, I lost a friend to the card game Magic there when he defected from our convo group to join a daily meetup of players. (In retrospect, I should've joined 'em.)

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Here's my session abstract:

In this interactive session, Lisa Brunette draws on her decade-long career focus in narrative design and game writing to tackle a thorny question that really shouldn’t be so thorny: Why does story matter? You’ll design your own game narrative and come away with do’s and don’ts based on a wealth of development experience across hundreds of games.

There's more info on Facebook, and here's where you can find the full schedule. My talk is Sunday.

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Like I said, THE VERY SAME WEEK, I'm also speaking at a St. Louis County Library branch, as part of their "Science in St. Louis" series. I know, right? I'm all science-y.

Here's that session abstract:

"The Rock, Paper, Scissors Phenomenon!" Using a simple hand game as a starting point, participants will learn fundamentals of game design and storytelling in this interactive experience led by a 10-year game industry veteran.

And the Facebook event page.

What are YOUR plans for the summer? Exciting career moves? Public escapades? Feel free to promote them in the comments below.