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Greetings, and NASAGA

Posted by wwake on October 26, 2003 at 8:00 PM PST

This is my first blog post, so let me start with a brief introduction.

I teach and coach in agile software methods. My use of Java in the last couple years has mostly been as a tool for teaching and learning about refactoring. Before that, I was mostly doing web and server-side Java work.

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Last week, I was lucky to be able to attend the NASAGA conference; NASAGA is the North American Simulation and Games Association. The attendees are a mix of teachers, game designers, instructional designers, and others. Not everyone teaches, but there's a lot of interest in creating experiential learning opportunities.

One theme at NASAGA is the use of improv comedy techniques to improve the way we create experiences. One of the tenets of improv is that you say, "Yes, and." In improv, you're trying to create a new thing out of nothing. The "Yes, and" rule has you validate the situation someone is offering, and then build upon it.

Another theme is the use of framegames that provide a pre-defined learning structure into which you plug your own content. For example, one team used the structure of the child's game Snakes & Ladders to provide a learning experience about coaching. When you landed on a square, you were given a coaching situation which you would play-act, and the other players would score it, determining whether you moved forward or backward.

I went to a couple sessions on using computers for simulations. People are using world editors like Unreal's to create an office environment rather than a dungeon. I don't think this has reached a usable level yet, but it's something to watch.

I came out with some new game ideas, though nothing particular to Java. The best quick lesson I got was in the importance of getting a game going quickly: don't spend a lot of time explaining rules in advance if you can avoid it. For example, enough people know how to play Snakes & Ladders that it's a waste of time to cover those mechanics. Instead, do "just-in-time" explanations of the parts that are unique.

The next NASAGA conference will be in Washington DC, in October, 2004.

--Bill

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