Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Catan, meet Carleton: The educational benefits of play

<pinion, a strong understanding of design and design thought is one of the best ways to help our society.

Stanford is applying this concept with their innovative design school based on the techniques of the company IDEO.  IDEO is a now world-famous design firm that has put design method into practice to solve incredibly intricate, high level problems.  Their process focuses on strong idea creation (ideation as they call it), rapid prototyping, updating and iterating on those prototypes, and high levels of collaboration.  The IDEO focuses on bringing people together with efficient and ever-evolving design, doing away with old forms like the design-doc which has the tendency to focus people in on a particular method. 

They also do something else different.  In addition to hiring adept technical workers like programmers and product designers, they espouse the philosophy of what they call “the T-shaped person”.  The T-shaped person is someone who is deeply proficient or knowledgeable in one area but has a broad area of understanding (sure sounds like a liberal-arts grad to me).  In fact, one of the strengths of their design method is that it takes ideas from diverse, multi-cultural backgrounds and applies them efficiently to problem solving.  Rather than fighting over their differences, the teams come together and capitalize on that diversity in their design.  (If you are interested in learning more about this process, I would highly recommend Tom Kelley’s The Ten Faces of Innovation.)

It seems to me that this type of design thinking would be a great fit at Carleton, a way of helping students and faculty apply their diverse breadth of knowledge to real-world problems.  However, in order to truly teach design thought at such a high level it would take a total restructuring of the way we look at college, especially the way we look at majors.

But change doesn’t happen overnight. 

Enter Game Design. Teaching game design offers a way to apply design-thinking to traditional practices.  Teaching game design would allow departmental structures to remain intact, so the department’s strengths would not be sacrificed, while simultaneously implementing design practices at a functional level.  In my mind these classes would be half theory, half practice.  There would be no paper writing, only discussions on the department’s concept of play, with assignments being about creating new play forms, games or otherwise, through the design process.

In this imagined world, game design would be a single course offered in every department (yes, every department has something to say about games, play, and design).  It would be similar to a colloquium, except it would focus on implementing the design method to the field and incorporating the field’s methodologies as well.  For example, a historical game could look something like a simulation or even a design to engage people in the practice of historiography.  Physics could use play to look at the ways people interact with and understand the physical world (Angry Birds actually counts for something).  Cognitive Science and Psychology could design games to gather data on human decision making and social interaction.

A game design course would also allow for greater departmental interaction and discussion.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear a conversation between biologists and historians on their different conceptions of play? 

But then there’s the issue of technology.  Wouldn’t this require everyone to understand programming?  I would answer with an emphatic NO!!!  The beauty of games is that they can be applied to any format.  A game can be played by speaking, running, or computing.  It can be played on a screen, on a board, face to face, or even with our eyes closed.  It can literally incorporate whatever shape, process, or outcome we want. 

And now is the time.  We have the beautiful Weitz Center which is just begging to have people dreaming, designing, and thinking in new ways together.  Let’s play in it.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *