SIMAGES 2014.1 – 2013 Conference Wrap Up


Sarasota 2013 Wrap Up

By Kate Koski

As its organizer, the 2013 conference exceeded my expectations.  The theme was originally conceived as a bridge between play and learning.  But some conversations and workshops at the 2012 Columbus conference planted the seeds of NASAGA’s need to become more involved in the digital world of games for learning without losing its history of inventing and leading classic face-to-face simulations and learning games.  The theme expanded to include bridging the old and the new, particularly NASAGA’s embracing and contributing to the digital age without letting go of our traditional designs.

The NASAGA community responded wholeheartedly with proposals for both classic simulations and contemporary games (Alternate Reality Games), workshops that were traditional face-to-face activities, others that focused on “how to” do digital games, and still others that were a blend of high and low technology all in one.  It was a wonderful mix with the shared theme of “let’s get involved in the new and not let go of the old –combining them where we can.”

Our keynote speakers did a wonderful job of reviewing our history as an organization and letting us all know of the game design creativity that gave NASAGA its birth, 51 years ago.  The “Tribute to Garry Shirts,” one of the most innovative designers ever, introduced his genius to NASAGA newcomers and reminded the “old-comers” of how amazing it was.  The presentation of two of his simulations, StarPower, and BaFaBaFa confirmed what Sandy Fowler and Thiagi revealed about him in their opening keynote:  His work spoke volumes.

Martin Campion, our Ifill-Raynolds award winner, spoke to us of the way in which he bridged from face-to-face simulation design back in the 50’s to contemporary digital design and eventually became an independent developer of commercial and educational games.  His story and perspective was fascinating, reminding us that it does not have to be either traditional or digital, but a combination that fosters good learning.

As important as the games that crossed generations were, we also had participants who crossed generations.  There were a number of old-timers.  Besides Martin Campion, who began designing games in the 50’s, Ron Stadsklev, a contemporary of Martin’s, has designed games and simulations for social education, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan, NASAGA’s resident genius, whom we boast to be our oldest surviving and continuous member, and Sandy Fowler, who worked with Garry Shirts back in his time and continues her excellent work in cross-cultural training today.

Skipping ahead to the relative newcomers, we experienced the contemporary work of Anastasia Salter, Melissa Peterson, and Samantha Knight, among others, all who were born to high technology, whipping out a computer at the drop of a hat and using its resources to create and facilitate amazing alternate reality games for learning – as well as teaching others how to design them.

It was very exciting to me to see some of the “old-timers” participating in the new, contemporary game presentations and to see the younger, high tech generation participating in the classic simulations.  One of the older game designers expressed great enthusiasm for the Alternate Reality Game he attended, saying he was surprised about the professionalism of the game design.  In fact, he encouraged the presenters to go for publication of the game.  And one of the younger members expressed her excitement about the classics she attended, saying that we need to present at least one of these at our conferences every year, so as not to lose them in the future.

One final note about crossing bridges and generations:  There were four participants whose offspring also attended:   Martin Campion came with his two daughters.  Ron Stadsklev was accompanied by his son, Matt.  Kate Koski’s son, Rendall, was a participant.  And Bret Staudt Willet and his lovely wife brought their beautiful baby Emma, who definitely has the makings of a star trainer, perhaps even game designer, in the future.

Four generations attended this conference, all learning one from another – the past, present, and future all in one.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Thank you all for your contributions.  It was a special time.


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