Hasso-Plattner-InstitutSDG am HPI
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01.01.1970

Game Design for Dummies Junior

Interview with co-author Lisa Ihde

HPI student Lisa Ihde with her third book "Game Design for Dummies Junior"
HPI student Lisa Ihde with her third book "Game Design for Dummies Junior" (Photo: Sebastian Schulz)

Congratulations on your newly published book "Gamedesign for Dummies Junior". How did you get the idea to choose this topic for your next book?

Thank you! The idea actually came to me three years ago when the publisher asked for suggestions for the second book. At that time, we were faced with the choice between game development and 3D modeling. We decided on the second option. Last year Johanna, who also gives workshops for children as a mentor, contacted me. She wanted to write a book about game design for kids and looked for assistance. This was a perfect fit! Together with Wilfried, who teaches courses on computer game production as a professor and is very active in the Scratch Wiki, we were happy to write the book.

Why is Scratch as a programming language particularly well-suited for children and young people getting started in game design?

Nowadays, programming your own games is easier than you think. Scratch offers everything you need to develop your own computer games. At the same time, the complicated-looking subject of programming is greatly simplified. You don't need to know the programming code and instead of writing code lines, you simply visually push colored blocks into each other in a free space like a puzzle. By using these blocks, the programmed result is less prone to errors, as the shapes and colors of the blocks make visible what belongs together. At the same time, graphics can be used very quickly since many templates already exist as well as a child-friendly painting surface to draw your own figures. Sounds and melodies can be simply created and are therefore easily accessible.

Scratch was designed for children aged 8 years and older but is used by people of all ages. I highly recommend Scratch as a starting place for anyone who wants to get generally familiar with basic computer science concepts like loops, conditions, and variables.

In order to strengthen diversity in the gaming industry, you have developed digital games with women from different countries. Why do you think it is important for this industry, in particular, to become more diverse?

The game industry - like the general IT industry - is highly male-dominated, which among other things affects the working atmosphere and representation of women in games. In 2018, I had the chance to participate in the "Girl Games" project funded by the Goethe Institute. In this project, 13 women from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Germany, Colombia and Peru came together in São Paulo to develop their own games within a period of two weeks. As a highlight, we programmed the games especially for the FIESP building in São Paulo, which is equipped with LEDs on the façade, so we had a gigantic and slightly pyramid-like display that was lit up with bright colors in the evening.

I was very surprised by the experiences of the other women from the fields of game design, game artist and software development, because, although we went through similar experiences, I became even more aware of the difference between other countries. Violence and sexism towards women is generally more prevalent in Brazil than in Germany.  Sexism both in the workplace—so-called game studios—as well as in games themselves, but also the exclusionary behavior in online gaming towards women is unfortunately still common. We can only achieve more diversity both in characters and in the topics of digital games by changing the current situation.

Women in Tech Conference

As Equal Opportunity Officer of the Digital Engineering Faculty, Lisa Ihde is co-organizer of our first Women in Tech Conference on May 12 and 13 in Potsdam. Under the motto "Future Work", we will discuss the work culture in the IT industry together with the #SheTransformsIT initiative.

 

Your co-author Johanna is a game designer herself: How important are role models when it comes to teaching IT skills?

Johanna is the founder and head of her own game studio, yet unfortunately she is only one of a few women to hold a leadership position in this industry. This problem is also known as the "leaking pipeline" - the higher the career levels, the lower the percentage of women. We therefore invited Johanna to the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) as a role model in the "Women in Tech" series. Game jams are regularly held at HPI by the GameDev Club and we want to make women from the games industry more visible.

In our industry, there is often a lack of role models. If we see that someone is successful as a female game designer for example, then this becomes much more real. .  It is important that the person is similar to us all;  besides age, education or interests, gender is an important identifier. If we can’t  imagine something, it has an effect on us and influences our career decisions. This phenomenon is part of the so-called availability bias, a thinking error that all people are naturally exposed to. Nevertheless, it is possible to be sensitive to it and to ensure that more women enter into male-dominated careers. Game development has a lot to do with creativity and fun, and no one should miss out on that!

Why is teaching children and young people IT skills first in a playful way so important?

IT skills such as programming can help to develop an understanding of technologies. At the same time, IT skills play an increasingly important role in everyday life as digitization increases. Teaching programming at an early age helps in everyday life, but also in choosing a career. Every child should have programmed once before deciding on a profession.

Programming is fun and at the same time a tool to solve your own problems. This playful approach  offers a simple entrance into a field that seems to be complicated. Every child likes games, and if you learn something in the process, all the better. Learners soon discover that developing their own games offers even more freedom than just playing them!

What skills will readers and learners have after working their way through the book?

Readers will learn how to use Scratch to develop their own games. Therefore, they will learn programming to control game characters, as well as how to create graphics, music tracks, and sounds. Furthermore, they become familiar with technical terms from the field of game design like “balancing.” We have also considered different types of games (genres) in the different chapters, such as a pet simulator, a jump'n'run game or even the use of 3D and magic. A total of six games can be programmed, with each chapter presenting possible extensions, so that learners can let their creativity run wild. We also teach you how to make your game as fun and entertaining for as many people as possible, because everyone has different preferences and needs. It is definitely worth taking a look at this book.

Thank you very much for the interesting interview!