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Katie Salen is a game designer, interactive designer, animator, and design educator. In 2009 she founded the first ever digital school for grades 6-12, Quest 2 Learn (Q2L) in New[…]

The game designer is most interested in the “social fabric component” of games, and how interactions with other people can become increasingly interesting over time.

Question: What new games or gaming technologies are you most rnexcited about?

Katie Salen: I’m mostly excited, I think these days aboutrn kinds of technologies coming out called mixed reality technologies, rnsometimes they’re called hybrid technologies.  Mobile phones are part ofrn this. We have a motion-capture lab at the school that allows kids to rnwork with wireless controllers, like on the Wii.  So games that bleed rnbetween sort of physical activity, physical real world spaces and rndigital spaces, I’m really interested in this notion of getting the gamern off the screen and thinking about game play as a kind of lamination rnover top of real world kinds of physical spaces.  And I think technologyrn is getting to a place where that blendedness is something that’s reallyrn possible today.  It used to be a very science fiction-y idea a couple rnof years ago.  People talked about alternative reality all the time, andrn you were wearing these giant headsets, VR headsets, and it just felt rnimpossible that that could be fun. 

But technology has evolved rnto a point where you can now really think about game play being blended rnwith physical kind of real world spaces.  And that to me is really rnexciting.  There’s also been a lot of work around artificial rnintelligence and sort of digital characters recognizing conversations rnwith people and so again it gets into that blended notion about how do rnwe allow digital characters to feel slightly more real than they do in rnthis sort of purely fictional space and to me that’s a really rninteresting area to look at.  I tend to be more interested in this rnnotion as playing games as part of the real world and that’s why the rnphysical space ideas are really of interest to me.  And mobile phones rnare increasingly of interest as game platforms. 

The iPhone has rnchanged everything I think in terms of thinking about digital games and rngame play and where games fit, who plays them, what those games might bern like.  And that’s really exciting I think.

What interests you most about games?

The thing that interests me really about games is the social rnfabric component of it.  The fact that I am in this game with other rnpeople and my interactions with them can become increasingly interestingrn over time depending on whether they are a friend or foe in this space. rn And so I’m very interested in games that catalyze many, many people to rnbe playing together.  But maybe doing that... and alternate reality rngames sort of fit into this genre where I’m doing things in the real rnworld, but also may begin to have effects in a kind of digital virtual rnworld. 

So, I’m very interested in how, beyond the social, how rndata can flow between actions and the real world and actions in a game. rnThere’s this whole new genre of games that have just popped up called rnexer-games that connect exercise to gaming.  And there are these ideas rnwhere you’re tracking how many steps people take and if powering up yourrn Pokemon, there’s a little device called the Pokewalker that you can rnattach to your shoe, or carry with you and it’s like constantly poweringrn up your video game characters.  And I’m really interested in that... rnthe data flow between something, an activity I might be doing in the rnreal world and some implication in a virtual environment, and also rnpotentially vice versa. 

And so that’s more about notions of rnconsequence and impact and how that might change social relations rnbetween who's in that game and what they’re doing together.

How do you explain the value of games to other people?

Well, generally I put someone in a game.  I play with them.  I rnthink one of the reasons that there’s been a lot of criticism around rngames is there’s a lot of over the shoulder journalism going on when it rncomes to games.  So, it’s people that are standing over the shoulder of arn player watching something that happening on the screen.  And when you rnjust look at a game, you get a very different sense of what it’s really rnabout than if you’re playing it. 

And so the first thing I rnalways do is I take people out of that over-the-shoulder position and I rnactually put the controller in their hands.  So we might play together, rnplay something together.  At the school, we have visitors all the time rnthat come in that say, "Well, can you explain the school to me, can you rnexplain the school to me?"  And I always take them to this motion rncapture lab that we have that we’ve designed games with teachers for thern kids.  And I actually give them a controller and we play a game rntogether. 

And once they’ve had that experience, they understandrn the model of the school and they understand what we’re trying to get atrn in terms of how the structure of the game can really lead to engaging rnand deep learning for kids.  So, that’s one thing.  You can’t just read rnabout it.  Games are experiential things and it’s really important to rnplay.

rnRecorded May 7, 2010
rnInterviewed by David Hirschman