Teaching Game Design Virtually At The National Boy Scout Jamboree
If you follow my blog, you know that I was part of the team that created the Game Design Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America. It became the scouting organization’s 131st merit badge, each of which introduces scouts to such hobbies and occupations as archeology, chemistry, stamp collecting, and robotics, as well as such scouting skills as camping and orienteering. Several years ago, two scouters and game enthusiasts, Tom Miller and David Radue, proposed that the Boy Scouts introduce a merit badge for game design, and after a year of studies to gauge interest and two years of development from a team that included myself, the new merit badge was unveiled at the 2013 South by Southwest conference.
To earn the badge, a scout must analyze different types of games; describe play value, content, and theme; and understand the significance of intellectual property as it relates to the game industry. However, analyzing a game is only the first step. A scout must then propose three rule changes to an existing game and observe how the players’ action and emotional experiences are affected by the rule changes. After that,scouts then design, build, and blind test a game of their own design. The Game Design merit badge is not limited to video games; scouts can also choose to develop board, card, and pen-and-paper role-playing games too.
Since helping to create the requirements and instruction manual for this merit badge, I’ve stayed involved with it by serving as a merit badge counsellor to assist scouts with the requirements, and I also run game design workshops at local merit badge midways. However, right now I am counseling scouts at even bigger event that’s thousands of miles from my home. The National Boy Scout Jamboree is a gathering of over 40,000 Scouts held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia to do activities like zip-lining, scuba diving, BMX biking, patch trading, whitewater rafting…. and game design.
Game Design Merit Badge Team leader Tom Miller is stationed at a tent for assisting scouts to earn the Game Design merit badge, and he asked me to assist him by allowing scouts to interview me about my work in game design to fulfill one of the merit badge requirements about careers in the game industry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the trip to West Virginia this year, so I’ve been attending virtually via Google Hangouts. While the acoustics in the tent weren’t the greatest due to all the scouts having fun making and playing games, we managed to communicate via a combination of gestures, texting, and shouting.
I did attend a Boy Scout National Jamboree in person many years ago. In 1985, my business partner, Pam Pollack, and I were there to demonstrate our company’s wilderness survival simulation, Wilderness: A Survival Adventure. We had been in discussions with the Boy Scouts of America’s National Office about allowing scouts to use our game to satisfy one of the requirements of the Wilderness Survival merit badge, and the BSA invited us up be in the Apple Computer booth. Although we were never successful to get the BSA’s endorsement of our game (they were rightly concerned that the technology would become obsolete too quickly), we had a great time at the Jamboree, meeting all the scouts.
Never would I have imagine that I’d return some three decades later, but do so through technology I would not have imagined possible back then. So this year, I’ve been talking to scouts in groups of three about careers in game development. I’ve often done virtual lectures to school classrooms located throughout the country, but I have to say, the scouts ask the best questions. Instead of “Did you work on Game X or Y?”, the scouts have asked me, “What hands-on education do you need to supplement your college courses to get into game development?”, “What is the process for balancing a game?”, and “How does your average workday change from prep-roduction to post-production?”
So far, the scouts haven’t stumped me. And as long as they don’t ask me to remember how to tie two half-hitches for a game involving knot tying, I should make it through the week just fine.