Magazine article Filmmaker

Traditional Teaching Ends Here

Magazine article Filmmaker

Traditional Teaching Ends Here

Article excerpt

Holly Willis on a USCalternate reality game.

This is a secret: For the past seven years, each fall semester, the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California (where I work) has hosted an alternate reality game called Reality Ends Here for the incoming cohort of freshmen students. It is completely unacknowledged by the faculty; participating students get no credit for playing; no school equipment can be used to make projects; and to play usually means to collaborate, not hone your own individual career trajectory.

And here's another secret: The game may be home to some of the best teaching and learning in the entire school.

The game, launched in fall 2011 and reinvented in some way each year, was designed to encourage students to collaborate and to step outside of their own, narrowly defined career path in order to get acquainted with the rest of the school. It was also intended to jumpstart the creative process, launching students immediately into collaborative projects and helping generate a shared identity or disposition, one based explicitly on creativity.

Originally designed by Jeff Watson, then a graduate student in the interdisciplinary Media Arts + Practice Ph.D. program at USC, the game was based on a deck of more than 300 cards. On one side of each card was information about the history of cinema and game design, facts about the School of Cinematic Arts or historically significant films, games, concepts and tools that every student in the school should know. The opposite side of each card featured a project to create or conditions constraining the project. For example, a card may read "comic book," indicating that the project should be a comic book. Or, it may read "a moral dilemma," indicating that whatever the project, it should include some sort of moral dilemma. Linkingthe cards using a color-coded arrow system would build a project prompt to create a comic book with a moral dilemma. The key to the project prompt is that students can continue to add condition cards, and the way to do this most ,effectively is to connect and collaborate with oth er students.

The game still uses a card deck system and still prompts both projects and serendipitous encounters with other students. Jesse Vigil, who has run the last four iterations of the game, says that the cards are not really the heart of the game, however. "The cards serve a mechanical purpose, but the important thing about the game is that it is a conversation," he says.

The conversation is a big one. Vigil says that this year's game boasts approximately 60 regular players who come from each of the school's six undergraduate programs. He also says that he has worked to avoid midsemester falloff, which was a problem in the past. "The biggest change that we've made to the game is that it's grown laterally," he explains. "We've added a lot of opportunities for players to engage on their own terms, so during those times when students are really busy, or have midterms, they can still participate." These smaller projects might include animating a simple walk cycle or building a Twine interactive story, projects that are quick exercises to keep participants experimenting with diverse media forms.

While these smaller projects help sustain game participation, the game is really known for its often massive collaborative projects. …

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