Greg Trefry is a BASIS Independent Brooklyn parent who just happens to teach a graduate-level class at NYU called Designing Games for Kids. He brought his NYU graduate students into Ms. Connor's PreK classes this week to play board games. But, what happened inside the classroom was so much more interesting than simple game playing.
Greg wanted his class to meet with some of our youngest students, including his son, to play board or physical games with them before his graduate students designed new games for the kids - based on their observations. A month later, the same graduate students will return to share their games with the children and gather feedback.
We took a moment to ask Greg some questions about the trip as well as more general questions on students and games that often pop up in conversations in our community.
Tell us a bit about the class you are teaching at NYU?
Greg Trefry - The class, Designing Games for Kids, focuses on creating physical, board and card games for several age groups. We dig into common play patterns, play personalities and frameworks for designing games. While wealso touch on educational games, the class really focuses on designing fun, engaging games for kids to play. We're working with BASIS Independent Brooklyn (and hope to continue to do so) and PS 307 in DUMBO.
What were your students trying to learn/observe in Ms. Connor’s classroom today?
In the class, I really push students to take a player-centric approach to creating. The visit to Ms. Connor's classroom gives us a chance to play games with kids and better understand what they enjoy, what kind of rules and complexity they can handle and what sparks their interest. Then I ask the students design games with the kids in mind, to hopefully create something that gets them excited and engaged. We'll be back in February to show the kids the games we make, and have them playtest the games and give us their feedback.
As a parent of a young child at BASIS Independent Brooklyn (and not just a game designer) is there anything you think would be helpful to share with other parents about digital games?
GT: The attitudes on digital play seem to be shifting, as parents begin to appreciate the amazing complexity of the tasks their kids undertake when they play games. It's hard not to be amazed when you see a kid scouring the internet to find out how to beat a level in Super Meat Boy or catch them watching homemade Minecraft tutorials to sharpen their skills. That's exactly the same research and learning I do at work when I run into a software or art or even management problem--and they're doing it intuitively and voluntarily. Whether they're explicitly educational or not, all games are little learning machines with really great 'need to knows' in the form of, "how do I win this darn thing!?"
Digital games offer a very powerful way to engage children in learning. Any suggestions on recommended games that we can share with our parents or just perhaps some insights to share?
GT - If you want to help your kids learn from the games they play, I think the
best thing you can do is ask questions which force kids to reflect on what they've done. Ask them how they figured out how to beat a level or game. Don't settle for, "I don't know." But most of the time you won't have to--if they're excited by the game, they're often excited to tell you how they beat it. And in reflecting on that, you can both see they learned valuable skills, like creating an hypothesis and then testing it through experimentation. If you like games, play with them and share in that moment.
Would you be open to mentoring BASIS Independent Brooklyn middle school or high school students that are interested in learning more about game design?
GT - I'm always excited to work with kids of all ages interested in learning more about game design. The value of creating games goes far beyond learning to program. Making board, card and even physical games can be a great way to wrestle with complex and dynamic systems. It gives you practice in the iterative design process. Plus, game design forces you to empathize with other people. To do it well, you must truly watch and understand how your player is reacting to what you've made.
Learn more about BASIS Independent Brooklyn and Manhattan by visiting basisindependent.com/nyc.