It’s been a few weeks now since we officially started up our Digital Development Lab project here at SU. Last week we hosted a class “screening” for the first time in what I guess you might describe as the first of several trial runs for this new space dedicated to academic and professional work around video games. We aren’t ready for the big time yet - this is all prototype stuff still - but I’m excited to get some butts in seats, games on tables, and controllers in hands. We are definitely at the point where some live feedback is critical.
Over the past fortnight we’ve worked to get a more solid handle on what exactly we want this space to be. Originally the DDL was pitched as a shared, department agnostic center that could house all kinds of video-game related activity. We talked about it being a place where game design classes could be taught, complete with dozens of top of the line computers, filled to the brim with all the development software you could want. We talked about it housing a complete catalog of physical media and video game consoles across multiple generations so that graduate researchers could have a central research center for their work. We’ve tried to find the balance between an accessible public-facing house of video gaming that students feel welcome in and a rec center without a clear academic investment. This has been, in other words, a process of coaxing a perspective out of a blank slate.
We’ve come up with three broad goals to guide us as we distill the DDL’s identity:
- The DDL should provide a development space to students for the creation and prototyping of games, both digital and analog.
- The DDL should provide a playspace where students, researchers, and faculty alike have the opportunity to encounter a broad spectrum of play experiences.
- The DDL should provide a configurable pedagogical space where instructors from many different academic backgrounds are able to guide students through the processes of creating, reading, and studying games.
These three guidelines have helped us move the DDL from the bare germ of an idea to something a little more concrete. Much like the games we want to our lab to house, we’ve invented a few rules in order to bring something material out of a blank field of possibility.
So conceptually we’ve begun to whittle out an identity. I still needed something more material to work with, so I drew up a rudimentary sketch of our physical space.
I tried to translate our three goals into spatial concepts, envisioning three zones whose borders were porous and reconfigurable. Each goal also represents a different population within our university, with a different set of potentially overlapping needs. Our current prototyping space is temporary and comes with a some inherent limitations. The wall you see in between “DEVELOP” and “TEACH” is immovable, rooted to the ground, and wired for power. Same for the cubicles marked “Console” on the exterior wall. The class that we hosted tonight and will continue to host through the rest of the semester will need space for analog tabletop games as well as the digital variety, so we filled the interstitial place between “TEACH” and “PLAY” with a thin row of tables, surrounded by a dozen or so seats, enough to accommodate three different simultaneous games. We also set up a round table with some chairs over in the “DEVELOP” space for a fourth. With some luck in a couple weeks when the class returns to get some video game play in we’ll be ale to reconfigure those borders accordingly.
So how did it go? Pretty well, all things considered. All told we had about eighteen students playing four different games simultaneously (Forbidden Island, King of Tokyo, Hanabi, and Coup, if you were curious). Moving from station to station for rules explanations or discussion was easy and noise levels never reached an unreasonable height. The class will be returning this week to play the same group of games again, rotating to new experiences. In the meantime we are working on getting our space ready for its first public facing reception (Super Smash Bros. for all?) and for the undergraduate games class we are working with to make the jump off the tabletop and onto the screen. More about that transition next time.