“There is no knowledge that is not power.”
This quote was on a loading screen of Mortal Kombat 3, and it stuck with me ever since. Of course, I have come to learn it was a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, and wasn’t something the Mortal Kombat developers thought of themselves, nonetheless, I remember it often. I truly believe an education is the most valuable thing one can possess, so my way of giving back is to help others learn game design and software development when given the opportunity. Below are a few things I have done to further this idea.
Loften High School (Gainesville, FL)
I, along with a few of my colleagues, fielded questions about breaking into the game industry, building portfolios, and what we look for in interviews for programmers, designers, and artists. Of course they also wanted to know what sort of stuff we have worked on, and how we ended up where we were. The students were also working on their own small projects, and we gave constructive feedback on design, managing scope, and presentation. None of this would have been possible without the help of Shadow Health, which, during normal business hours, allowed me to spend several days at Loften High School making a difference. It was an awesome experience for everyone involved.
Otronicon (Orlando, FL)
Otronicon is a yearly STEM convention, which takes place at the Orlando Science Center. During the event, I had a booth showing off PROTAL: CUBED where I got to chat with many kids and families about developing video games. However, the REALLY awesome part was the the workshops. I gave a few workshops called “The Puzzling Part About Puzzles”. In these workshops, I went over everything from questions like, “What is a puzzle?” to making our own puzzles. I also brought in most of my own personal puzzle collection, including wooden ones where you have to build a shape, metal ones where you need to separate the parts, Rubiks Cubes, etc. After explaining everything I could about puzzle design, I offered people the chance to make their own puzzles. They were given paper and crayons, and had to work within these constraints to make something for the others in the class to figure out. Some people drew pictures and tore up the paper to make a jigsaw-like puzzle, others made puzzles where you needed to fold the paper a certain way to solve it, and others used the paper as a medium for mental or drawing puzzles. Overall the workshop was very well received, even being mentioned in a few publications, including the Orlando Tribune. It was a blast.
Lakeview Middle School (Orlando, FL)
I visited Lakeview Middle for the annual Florida Teach-In. Teach-In is basically a day where students get to meet people in the workforce, and learn about what they do. I visited to talk to them about making video games. The first class I visited was a math class. I asked the teacher what sort of stuff they were working on, and he told me they were working with simple algebra, and negative numbers. I used this opportunity to show the students some real examples of when you might want to do something like, multiply a number by -1 in order to reverse a direction. I also showed them how we use variables in code, and that these numbers might change frequently, and that’s why they are “variable”. My next class was a large computer class, where I let them play PROTAL, and ask a bunch of questions. One of the students recognized SignShop, and said they use it on their Minecraft server. That was neat. I also visited an English class, where I explained the importance of written communication and storytelling in games. The real-world examples seemed to really resonate with many students. I know they got a bunch out of it because a couple of the teachers / administrators sent me emails afterwards asking for more information for their students.
Expert performance in SCRABBLE (Tallahassee / Orlando, FL)
During my undergrad, I assisted in research for Florida State University with regards to expert performance in Scrabble. Dr. Anders Ericsson was the overseeing faculty on the project, and is one of the world’s foremost researchers on expertise. We looked at how deliberate practice aided in the skills needed to be a top-level Scrabble player. My contribution was finding interesting board positions to present to the players, performing various tests, and collecting the data. We looked at things like the ability to anagram letters into different words, depth of word knowledge, and problem solving ability. We compared these factors between college students, then traveled to the National Scrabble Championships in Orlando to test the same things in novice and expert rated players. We learned a ton about how players think, and how they learn. Here is a link to the published paper (unfortunately you have to pay for it, but you can read the abstract if you like).