By Denise Perreault
PBN Staff Writer
There‚Äôs more to playing games than having fun, say those involved in a unique collaboration between Hasbro Inc. and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Finer points such as cultural differences among players, portability of the game and avoiding domination by any one participant are among the factors that a new generation of designers and players is exploring.
Since September, 19 RISD undergraduate and graduate students majoring in three different disciplines ‚Äď illustration, industrial design and digital media ‚ÄĒ have been studying the deeper side of game playing with an eye toward developing new games for the future. Board games are the focus of their study and, in particular, Hasbro‚Äôs Cranium game provided the initial model.
‚ÄúWe set out to have the RISD students think about play and game experiences in the spirit of Cranium, where everyone is good at something,‚ÄĚ said Jill Waller, vice president of design for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit at Hasbro headquarters in Pawtucket. ‚ÄúHere at Hasbro we always try to refresh our brands in new ways. Reinvent, re-imagine and reignite is our mantra.‚ÄĚ
Hakan Diniz, a class member and second-year RISD graduate student in industrial design, said ‚ÄúCranium class is just like any toy-design process is supposed to be. It is serious as it can be, yet it is lots of fun.‚ÄĚ
Rather than work toward development of specific games for the current marketplace, Waller said the goal of the partnership is to have the RISD students ‚Äúthink about games in new ways, to think about play in a very broad way and what being playful means in today‚Äôs world. The aim is to have Hasbro inspire them and they will inspire us.‚ÄĚ
Susan Doyle, an illustration professor and one of three RISD professors teaching the one-semester course, said the partnership ‚Äúis the first time the school has done anything quite like this.‚ÄĚ
She said the course began with a lecture at the John Hay Library at Brown University on the history of game playing in America, followed by a series of presentations on design from professionals such as those at Design Continuum in Boston. Students investigated board games now on the market, Doyle said, visiting retail stores and scouring the Internet for examples.
Play ‚Äď how people play, what makes a game fun to play, how a group or family bond in new ways when playing games ‚Äď is at the core of the course.
‚ÄúPlay is part of human nature,‚ÄĚ Doyle said. ‚ÄúIn some cases, adults don‚Äôt think they need to play. But the most creative people play all the time.‚ÄĚ Creative people play when they paint a picture, compose music, even study a spreadsheet because they know how to have fun at what they do, she explained.
‚ÄúSometimes we give [the students] prompts, such as, ‚Äėuse your cell phone [to produce a game],‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Doyle said. ‚ÄúThen we all play the game, talk about what was fun and what wasn‚Äôt, and then go back to the drawing board‚ÄĚ for refinements.
Doyle said she sees no startling trends coming out of the course, other than ‚Äúthe students are getting better and better at how to make something fun.‚ÄĚ In fact, that is a key benefit she wants the students to take away from this course.
‚ÄúI hope this sees the students develop a lifelong appreciation for keeping things light, rather than go after things with a pitchfork like some people do,‚ÄĚ Doyle said. ‚ÄúSome of our students would be terrific game designers, but that is not our goal. We are hoping this is an experience they will take with them all of their lives‚ÄĚ regardless of what careers they pursue.
However, the students are inventing new games, although no one interviewed for this story wanted to go into great detail for fear of giving away Hasbro trade secrets. Waller highly praised the students‚Äô midterm presentations, calling them ‚Äúabsolutely inspiring‚ÄĚ with ‚Äúa lot of interesting insights into the way people play, what works in a game and what doesn‚Äôt.‚ÄĚ
Working in teams and individually, some students invented new board games, Doyle said, and others created games that do not need boards. Some worked on mostly sedentary games and others developed games with a lot of action. A key goal, Doyle said, is to make a game where no one player dominates, similar to Cranium where, Hasbro promotional material says, ‚Äúeveryone shines.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt was amazing to see what was accomplished in so short a time,‚ÄĚ said Catherine Carr, a Seattle, Wash.-based senior director for Hasbro, of the midterm presentations. ‚ÄúWe noticed how important it is for the members of the young generation to be able to carry things with them,‚ÄĚ she said, so students devised games with ‚Äúsmall, portable formats‚ÄĚ that could be tucked into a backpack.
‚ÄúWhat was really inspiring is that the students were looking for game experiences that people of different cultural backgrounds could play together,‚ÄĚ Carr said. ‚ÄúThey really wanted the games to break down those cultural differences.‚ÄĚ
The student creations have been tested by local high school students, parents of RISD students and even the families of RISD staff members who volunteered to take part so students could see what happens when a family plays a game together, according to Doyle.
In the same way, Hasbro regularly tests its board games on volunteer individuals and families in ‚Äúthe fun lab for families,‚ÄĚ Carr said.
Asked what Hasbro is getting out of this experiment, she replied: ‚ÄúFrom a corporate viewpoint, we‚Äôre helping to build the next generation of creative talent and, of course, some RISD graduates do want to work at Hasbro. But more than that,‚ÄĚ Carr continued, ‚Äúthis gives us a unique window of insight into how this generation of students thinks and what game playing means to them.‚ÄĚ
Diniz, 26, a native of Turkey, explained that the class recently was practicing game design.
‚ÄúWe are brainstorming, generating ideas, testing them in our class among ourselves and with some guest players,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs pretty serious to design something that is supposed to be fun. Playing these games really is fun, but it‚Äôs stressful to come up with something that is fun. It‚Äôs something like the comedy business.‚ÄĚ
Diniz said the students have each worked on three or four games or game concepts, which have been presented to Hasbro. He declined to specify the nature of the games he and others are working on because, he noted, he has signed a privacy agreement with Hasbro.
The class fits in perfectly with the graduate thesis Diniz is writing on how to enhance creativity.
‚ÄúEvery animal we know actually plays,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúAnd play ‚Ä¶ is broader than you may think. We are studying the theoretical side of the playing concept. What is play? What is fun? How can we fabricate fun?‚ÄĚ