Character Creation

Chris Stanton

Chris Stanton

By Chris Stanton, Writer and Designer

You may not know it to look at me now, but I was one of those kids growing up – the outcast, the social pariah.  I’d been the new kid too often to be anything else.  By the time we finally settled down, I had no interest in playing by the cool kids rules.  In fact, I embraced my inner (okay, in my case outer) geek wholeheartedly.  And one of the ways I did that was playing Dungeons & Dragons.

“While I was proud of being different, that didn’t mean it was easy. For me, part of the appeal of D&D was getting to play someone that wasn’t me at all.”

While I was proud of being different, that didn’t mean it was easy.  I was teased a lot, and bullied.  So for me, part of the appeal of D&D was getting to play someone that wasn’t me at all.  And I don’t just mean non-human, though I played Elves more often than not.  I was a Thief, a Fighter, or even a Priest.  I got to go on adventures, be the hero.  It was a chance to explore sides of me I’d kept hidden, safely couched under a layer of pretend.  I was free to be coy, saucy, super-serious, or even downright mean. I looked at it as a chance to act, without the terror of going onstage.  Sometimes I didn’t do so well, but other times I rocked.  And it really helped me get out of my shell.

It also changed my life in ways that I never would have expected.  I met my now ex-husband playing D&D.  We’re still friends, and we have two amazing children.  And there are a few other folk I gamed with over the years that I still see, though not as often as I used to.

“It was a chance to explore sides of me I’d kept hidden, safely couched under a layer of pretend.”

Over time I realized that creating back-stories for the characters was another huge appeal of the game.  I spent time I should have been studying or note-taking doodling on my papers, or scribbling out character notes.  If I could incorporate the game into a project, I did.

That hasn’t changed.  My favorite hobby now is writing, and the story I’m currently working on is based on Dungeons & Dragons, and includes a race of lizard-folk I created well over a decade ago.

And I don’t do this alone. I found a wonderful new community – a writing community.  We play with words instead of dice, and a lot of it is, sadly, online instead of in person, but it’s just as fun as D&D ever was.

“I’ve been labeled a lot of different ways over the years: artist, singer, writer, bi chick, voracious reader, goofball, gamer, annoying big sister, entertainment trivia queen, comic book nerd, horror nut, Trekkie… the list is endless, as I am incredibly proud to let my Geek Flags fly. My favorite thing to answer to, however, is Mom.” – Chris Stanton

Why We’re Urgently Optimistic About Games and Play

It turns out designing games is just as fun as playing them!

It turns out designing games is just as fun as playing them!

By Steve Boller, Bottom-Line Performance Inc.

Games change us. They change our brains and they change how we think. They put us in the middle of situations we would have never imagined or expected and allow us to make choices and decisions we never thought possible. Games offer a safe place to feel uncomfortable, a controlled place to experience the chaos of real life. But can games lead us to meaningful SOCIAL change?

“Games offer a safe place to feel uncomfortable, a controlled place to experience the chaos of real life.”

Science now gives us plenty of reasons to trust in the power of games for learning. Renowned author and game designer Jane McGonigal, creator of many fantastic games, including the “SuperBetter” app for meeting fitness, recovery, and mental health goals, recently shared her collection of research supporting the use of games for learning and personal growth. Jane is a passionate advocate of “games for change,” and her 2010 TED Talk “Gaming Can Make a Better World” has been viewed by millions.

We feel we are as good in reality as in games. In game worlds we are the best version of ourselves possible. When we face obstacles and failure in real life, we feel overcome, overhwelmed, anxious, depressed, cynical. These emotions just do not exist in games. What about this in games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything? (Jane McGonigal)

A mind at play is a powerful thing. New options become open…new connections are made. If we can change our minds through playing games, perhaps we can change our world, too. Our company, Bottom-Line Performance, designs learning experiences for all sorts of people…but we want to put our skills to work in benefiting the community. The Spirit & Place Festival, now in its 17th year, is the perfect setting to do just that. The festival has explored many themes over the years, but this year’s theme is Play. Organizations of all shapes and sizes will be sharing and playing with one another from November 2nd to 11th, and we can’t wait to see what kind of “urgent optimism” we can cook up together.

But we hope the fun does not stop when the events are over. Our game, A Paycheck Away , explores issues surrounding systemic homelessness in Indianapolis. We’re currently developing and testing our game, trying to find the sweet spot between fun and impactful. Will a room full of minds at play be motivated to make a difference? We don’t know, but we’re urgently optimistic.

The Vitality of Play

The Vitality of Play

By Vince Freeman, President and CEO of Sonar Studios.

“Come on, Papa,” pleaded my 3-year-old granddaughter, “PLEEAASE play pet-shop with me.” Looking down from my book I noticed that she had set-up across the floor three different toy “pet-shop” buildings and had a number of small toy dogs, cats, and other animals spread around them. Unable to deny the combination of her please-infused pleading and her hazel-blue eyes, I set down my book and climbed down onto the floor.

For the next hour or so we were both lost within the play world of the pet shops—creating relationships between various animals, infusing imagined personalities amongst the characters, and creating storied scenarios on the fly. I took the opportunity to teach and reinforce the concept of numbers, colors, and categories. My granddaughter ate up the instruction, and enjoyed the learning experience immersed within this fantasy-laden interaction.

But beyond this time of teaching and interacting with my granddaughter, I was aware that there was something else going on within me. I wasn’t thinking about work, the things I needed to do around the house, or what the Colts needed to do with the first draft pick. No, something deep and primal was going on within me that was refreshing my spirit and imagination in a way it hadn’t been refreshed in a long, long, time. I wasn’t just teaching my granddaughter, I was playing. And I liked it.

It instantly reminded me of my own childhood experiences that helped me learn new physical skills, develop social interactions, and open my mind to new content and experiences through a “playful” spirit.

Today’s fast-paced, performance-engaged world seems to have forced open-ended, self-directed play out of our lives. There are no longer woods and fields to explore, and forts to build. Informal neighborhood ball games have given way to structured leagues and formal programs. Additionally, with the increasing pervasiveness of digital media, many kids have traded their own imaginations and stories for those of others.

I have been fortunate in my work at Sonar to witness firsthand the connection between immersive environments, game-like interactions, interactive storytelling and student engagement, comprehension, and retention

We are currently working with Conexus Indiana to create an engaging program to instruct the principles of logistics and manufacturing to high school students. We’re creating virtual logistics and manufacturing plants within a gaming platform and hope that through such initiatives there is a renewed and healthy appreciation of the role of play in education and development.

As I finish playing “pet shop” with my granddaughter, I can think of no better goal for us all, and one that doesn’t have to be relegated to fantasy: that we all learn to play, and play to learn.