Expert Interviews > Kris Rockwell

Kris RockwellKris Rockwell founded Hybrid Learning Systems in 2003. Prior to starting Hybrid, Kris worked for US Airways developing and implementing computer based training (CBT) and desktop simulation systems for the ?ight-training department. For the past eight years, Kris has focused on mobile learning content development and delivery and serious games. In addition to his work in the eLearning world, Kris has served as an adjunct teacher in the Multimedia Program at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Additionally, he serves as the head of the sub-committee on Emerging Technologies Committee for the Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC), and presents his ideas and work internationally.

From your perspective as a games designer/creator, what is it about games that interests you most?

I like the engagement that is created between players and the game. It's an innovative manner of telling a story and letting players participate in that story. From an educational stand point, being able to leverage that idea and convey practical knowledge at the same time is not only a challenge to create, but a great experience to watch when it works well.

What are the most important lessons you have learned about how to engage players in computer/other games?

The most recent game I worked on was a card game that helped people formulate strategies for a mobile leaning development plan called A Game of Phones. What was so surprising (and exciting) was the social interaction that occurred between people as they worked out their respective plans. I think that we have grown to rely on computers to the point that we tend to forget about the importance of actual face to face human interactions within game play. According to the players, it was this interaction that made the game so interesting and fun. This was an important lesson to me and reminded me that the traditional boardgame is an often overlooked solution that can be very effective.

What advice would you give a novice game designer (for education)?

Play a lot of games and build a lot of games. Don't limit yourself to computer games - sometimes technology is not the answer. Try to play a wide variety of games to get a feel for different formats and mechanics. When you are building a game, try to build a pen and paper version before you start writing code. Refine that, then move on to the codebase. When you come up with a design, play test it extensively and don't be afraid to experiment with new ideas. Klaus Teuber refined Settlers of Catan over a period of two years to come up with the final design!

Do you think that games have a place in education? If so, how do you think they can most effectively be used? If not, what are your reservations?

Absolutely. I think games can be a very useful tool for engaging the learner so long as the game is properly applied to the subject manner. I don't support the idea of "gamification" because I don't think it goes deep enough to provide a truly memorable experience but rather feel that a game experience designed specifically to an education concept can be very effective.

How important do you think that graphical quality, and realism, is important in computer games?

I don't believe that a high level of graphical quality or a realistic environment is important for a successful educational game. While it can certainly be said that some audiences have come to expect near realistic graphics (usually console game players expect this), the content and mechanics of the game can certainly trump the look. While this may vary from scenario to scenario, I am not convinced that graphical realism is always critical to the success of the game.

In terms of professionalism - how good is good enough?

This is a difficult question. I've seen some interesting games done on a shoestring budget that were very effective. You don't need to use the Unreal engine with a high-powered physics engine to get the point across. While a degree of professionalism should always be present (I would tend to think that the creators would have that simply to reflect on their skills), a shiny box or a realistic render don't always yield effective games.
Or do you mean in terms of professionalism in regards to the developer? In that case:
I don't think you need a degree in game design to be an effective designer. I look more to experience and accomplishment than I do to educational levels. While I certainly believe that education is  a critical component, I don't believe that is it the only piece of the puzzle.

Where do you see the future of computer games?

I believe that the future of gaming will be a mesh of real world and virtual components. This can certainly be seen in new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), but I believe this will extend to real life sensor data as sensors become more affordable and designers integrate them into games (think about Nike+ as one common example). The integration of virtual and real life pieces (and, in some cases, sensors) can be seen in arcade games like Sangokushi Taisen (http://www.sangoku-wars.com/sangokuwars01/game_main.html) or with the integration of boardgames and computer games such as Ex Illis (http://ex-illis.com/wikien/Main_Page). 

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