People throughout much of the world are celebrating the new year, a practice dating back to four thousand years ago in Iraq (then called Mesopotamia). However, back then, the new year was celebrated in what we would now call mid-March, around the time of the vernal equinox. The early Roman calendar, which was composed of ten months, designated March 1 as the beginning of the new year, but later changed the start of the year to January 1 at some point after that became the day for the inaugurating new consuls cin 153 BC. Most nations of Western Europe officially adopted 1 January as New Year’s Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian Calendar that we use today.
While the starting point of the new year has always been, to some degree, an arbitrary thing, we still celebrate it as a period of remembrance of the passing year and a fresh start to the new year. However, this year is not an arbitrary celebration for me, because two months ago I taught my final class at The Los Angeles Film School due to the closure of its Game Production and Design degree program, and in two weeks I will start teaching at the ArtCenter College of Design, which has launched a new Game Design track in its Entertainment Design department.
There is much for me to fondly remember about my five years at The Los Angeles Film School, including:
- Brilliant speakers like Google Chief Game Designer Noah Falstein, “Game Thinking” author Amy Jo Kim, and The History Channel’s “Inventions USA” host Reichart Von Wolfsheild visit my classroom, either in person or virtually.
- Taking students on field trips to Activision-Blizzard, E3, and Indiecade.
- Joining in Pokemon Go Level Design Hike to the Wisdom Tree near Los Angeles’ Hollywood Sign.
- Hosting Rally Point Radio Podcast episodes and interviewing game studio managers and executive recruiters.
- Co-hosting an Analog Game Prototyping Event at the John Anson Ford Theater with the International Game Developers Association.
- Having “Unlocked: The World Of Games” and host Sean Astin visit LAFS to tape an episode about our Game Production and Design program.
- Putting on our monthly Game Fair, where our students showcased the awesome analog, video, and virtual reality games they created in class.
I am even more excited about my future at ArtCenter College of Design, one of the country’s leading art and design private colleges. I look forward to revising my approach to teaching game design for a very different student population, and I’ll be sharing my teaching methods and assignments with my readers here as I develop them.
In the meantime, while the start of the new year may still be an arbitrary thing, I still wish all of you the very best for 2019.
When I was growing up, my brothers and I were constantly fighting with each other. Our sibling rivalry turned our house into a war zone, and I don’t know how the three of us survived to reach adulthood. However there was one thing that would cause us to call a truce, and that was playing a board game together. Our hallway linen closet didn’t hold linen, but copies of Monopoly, Candy Land, Scrabble, Battleship, Operation, Risk, Stratego, Clue, Sorry!, Mousetrap, The Game of Life, and many other classic board games. All it took to set aside our differences was a chance to sit on opposite sides of kitchen table and channel our conflict through dice roles and meeple movement.
Fortunately my own sons did not inherit the rivalry of my siblings and I, but they did inherit our love of board games — although their tastes run toward European games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Forbidden Island. Now that they are grown and lead busy lives, we don’t have many opportunities to play together, except on holidays and other family gatherings. But rarely does a visit go by without someone bringing out a board game to play before it’s time for us to part again.
There’s a universal appeal to the shared experience of playing a game together. My wife and I occasionally host Chinese students who are visiting schools in the United States and want an opportunity to live with an American family for a few days. I’ve found that despite our cultural differences and language barrier, every child we’ve hosted enjoys playing games. Play is the great unifier. As the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga observed in his landmark book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, “You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.”
Holidays are a great time to put aside all serious matters and focusing on play. Games are a great source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well as children. They can sharpen the mind, build relationships between people, and bring the ones you love closer together. Follow Johan’s advice this holiday season: you can deny everything else, but don’t deny yourself the joy of play.