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Designer Katie Salen is experimenting with using games and gaming to get kids excited about learning.
For the past decade, Katie Salen MFA 92 GD has been playing
and designing games, employing everything from giant inflatable game pieces to
karaoke ice cream trucks to transform her theories of gaming into powerful
tools for innovation and learning.
This year, to honor her
relentless drive to spark social change through the complex systems of games,
the RISD Alumni Council has selected Salen as the recipient of the Alumni
Association’s 2011 Art and Education Award. The award, which recognizes excellence
and innovation in education, will be presented at RISD’s Commencement ceremony
on June 4.
In an interview with the alumni
magazine RISD XYZ, Salen said she
couldn’t have predicted how her journey into gaming would unfold. She just knew
that she loved playing and designing games – analog board games like Scrabble,
large-scale productions like the citywide Big Urban Game she designed for 7,000
residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and of course, digital games. “I became
fascinated with the way that video games construct worlds – that from nothing
they literally start to create a kind of logic and a coherence to what you can
do in that space, through the design of rules.” And as a designer, she adds, “games
have become a tool to help me figure out how to design things that aren’t
Salen’s gaming expertise led to
the seminal gaming design book Rules of Play, which she co-authored, and to teaching positions at MIT and Parsons, where
she now works. It also inspired her to found the Institute of Play, a nonprofit
that stakes it claim on the idea that gamer intelligence can not only promote
vital 21st-century skills, but also make us better risk-takers,
problem-solvers, collaborators and engaged citizens.
In 2009 the Institute of Play
launched its boldest venture yet: Quest2Learn, a New York City public school
organized around gaming principles and digital culture. Since then, Salen’s
radical model for what a school can be has commanded the attention of
politicians, teachers, philanthropists and educational reform advocates across
the political spectrum. “Katie brings to the table a deep knowledge – probably
more knowledge than anyone in the country – of games and their ramifications
for learning,” notes Robert Hughes, president of New Visions for Public Schools
in New York. With $1.1 million in funding from The John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation and a $2.6 million grant The Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation announced last year, Quest2Learn is changing the conversation about
how a nation’s failing education system can reach a generation of digital kids.
“When I was at RISD, what I was
really intrigued by . . . was this notion of: How do you really begin to ask
questions about the role of design in the world?” Salen says. “I don’t feel
like I was trained as a graphic designer. I feel like I was trained as a design
Katie’s GamersMob site
Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals
Institute of Play
Quest2Learn school in NYC
, Graphic Design