Laurier sees the potential in gaming


A new and exciting program has emerged onto Wilfrid Laurier’s Brantford campus: Game Design and Development, a unique program for the ever-expanding study of game design.


At the heart of this wondrous new program is the games network lab, shortened to the BGN lab, located in the Grand River Hall building. The BGN lab is directed by Scott Nicholson, professor and program coordinator of the new program.


“Life is a game,” says Nicholson. Games of all kinds have a profound impact on our lives, impacts that are far too often ignored. Nicholson describes life as a series of situations dictated by a combination of implicit and explicit rules we follow to reach goals while managing our resources, “such as money, time and relationships.”


According to Nicholson, “many gamers do not realize that their lifetime of gaming has given them the skills to deal with real life, and turn off their gamer brain (when) tackling non-game situations.” He explains that games allow people the advantage of exploring these different rules of life with significantly less risk associated with them, and that the ability to engage in many different types of games helps people to learn how to assess different types of rulesets. This gives them more experience and practice in strategically managing resources. With more exposure to games of all types, people begin to practice and hone very real life skills through play.


The BGN acronym is pronounced as “begin”; quite fitting for a zone on campus dedicated to the start of this new and exciting type of education. Rather than the more commonly explored programming aspect of gaming, focused on video and computer games, Laurier’s new Game Design and Development program is geared toward the interaction of a game to its player. This allows for a much deeper look into gaming, moving into the psychological aspect of gaming.


Nicholson says that Game Design and Development as a program at Wilfrid Laurier is especially strong because of its focus on how games directly affect a person’s life. “Rather than emphasize a specific type of game, we focus on the player.  We start with how we want to change the player, and then choose the type of game (analog, digital, or live-action) and game mechanisms that can bring about that desired change,” he explains. “This will allow students to create serious games – games that are designed for a real-world outcome, or more powerful recreational games that are designed to affect the player.”


The reason the term “game” is used over video game is because this new program vastly broadens what is commonly known about games. Game Design and Development takes on a new approach, teaching the many elements of board games, card games, casino games and much more in addition to digital gaming.


Another major part of what it means to play games is a player’s ability to interact with another player, both within and outside of the game’s context. What is truly fascinating about the virtual world is that it becomes a means of human interaction beyond the physical world, whether it be a digital world or one sculpted by the minds of its players. Nicholson says that “gaming, especially face-to-face gaming where people engage directly with each other, has the ability to break down barriers through the power of play.  It allows people who may not even say hello on the street an opportunity to engage.”


Beyond examining the effects of games on the human mind, and past simply being entertaining, the university’s Game Design and Development program and the BGN lab emphasize the actual creation of games, and what making a game truly means.


Nicholson says that creating games takes the interaction of people through games a step further. He says, “It allows groups of people who did not know each other to engage not only creatively with each other, but also around some topic in the world.  If that topic is one that could make a difference in a local community, then the result of bringing together people from the community to make games for the community can be quite powerful.”


Game Design and Development teaches all the foundations of creating and designing games, with a focus on how a game interacts with its player, and by extension how a game designer interacts with the player of his or her game, using the game as a medium. The program gives off a much grander focus than simply making games, but rather changing the world through the play of them. Nicholson explains the ultimate goal of one designing a game is to change a player through the playing of it. So, the game must be constantly played by its designer. If life is a game, it’s also a series of rules being followed in order to reach an objective. The goal of those exploring this field of study is to create objectives for others.


The BGN lab periodically features events called “Game Jams” and playtest nights, when people from all across the community gather to design and discuss games and their purposes, as well as test ideas with like-minded people. These events are intended for the whole of Brantford’s community, not just for those within the program.


The Game Design and Development program is a wondrous addition to the Brantford Campus. It both serves as a gateway to all the hidden elements of gaming, taking a very different approach to game design as a study, while also being open to Brantford’s community as a whole. This is what having a downtown campus is all about, and it will be exciting to watch the program’s further expansion and development.

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