On November 17th, the Pennsylvania Convention Center welcomed the start of the PAX Unplugged Conference. With ‘unplugged’ being the tell-all descriptor, PAX conferences aim to strengthen various communities of gamers around the world and showcase all of the latest games and technology the gaming sector has to offer. All of the games at the unplugged conference were tabletop, or unplugged—a stark contrast to other PAX events like PAX East 2017 which had hundreds of square feet dedicated to console gaming and VR/AR. Read on for our top 6 takeaways to learn about games you can use in your classroom and some strategies in gaming!
1. Atomic Game Theory: The Mechanics of Conflict
Workshop presented by Richard Malena-Webber [Theorist, Atomic Game Theory]
Richard Malena-Webber describes himself as a teacher, maker, and doer. He started off his session by discussing the small choices we all make to create a strategy. According to Richard, these small choices are called atoms and they are the smallest units of gameplay. By understanding the game and possible outcomes per atom in that game, a player can optimize their outcomes in their favor.
Richard walked us through an example of a two-person game similar to Cards Against Humanity. This game, player one acts as a judge and chooses a card which will be played by player 2. The card either fits the given category or is so absurd it fits the “absurd” category. Player 2 must decide if they want to play the card that fits their personal preferences or play what they think the judge will prefer. Since the point of the game is to have the judge pick your card, player 2 will want to anticipate the judge’s preferences for fitting or absurd cards.
Within this example, Richard discusses Shapley’s law, Nash’s equilibrium, and seven dilemmas in gaming. He concluded his session by saying that games are excellent conflict simulators and that we can use games to “become better humans.” While we’re not sure if games are going to make a better human out of every player, we are sure that they can be used to resolve conflicts, teach problem-solving, and critical thinking. To learn more about these gaming principles visit Atomicgametheory.com or watch out for an upcoming course on our PAX Highlights!
2. The Creativity Hub
Rory’s Story Cubes is a low-cost game that impressed us so much at PAX East 2017 that we dedicated an entire Online PD course to it and wrote about it as our #1 game in our highlights blog. Not surprisingly, they impressed us again at this conference. However, this time they were being represented by The Creativity Hub, a company with the creator of Rory’s Story Cubes as the creative director, with the mission of creating games that are great, games that make people think, and games that matter.
At PAX Unplugged The Creativity Hub had two of their games on display—Blank and Untold Adventures Await. Blank is an interactive card game that lets the winners of each round customize new cards to add to the game. Untold Adventures Await is a storytelling game that is powered by Rory’s Story Cubes that forces players to create collaboratively and react to unforeseen events which can change the direction of a story entirely.
I enjoyed playing both of these games and encourage you to check them out if you are looking for creative writing and storytelling prompts, tools for social emotional learning, or some fun for your classroom!
3. Genius Games
PAX conferences are not education focused, that’s why a large board game with a detailed image of an animal cell is so eye-catching in a sea of mythological characters. Genius Games is a STEM company that creates games and children’s books that are engaging and educational (edutainment).
They had a few games at PAX Unplugged that caught our attention such as Ion, Covalence, and Cytosis. They also write books about women in science and science textbooks for early learning. If you are a science teacher looking for engaging content for your students I would suggest checking out geniusgames.org.
Are you looking for abstract games you can use as break breaks for your students? Gigamic is a game publisher and distributor that produces high-quality games for fun, family, strategy, and brain teasers. We ended up purchasing a few of their games like Quarto, Katamino, and Quixo because we liked them so much! These games are great for conflict resolution and strategic thinking. Check out their site for more information!
5. Trusting the Party’s Healer: Games, Gamers, & Therapy
Panel including Raffael Boccamazzo [Clinical Director, Take This], Adam Johns [Co-Founder, Wheelhouse Workshop], Adam Davis [Co-Founder, Wheelhouse Workshop], Stephen Kuniak [President, Experience Points], Abra E. Kuniak [Licensed Professional Counselor, New Passages], Megan Connell [Psychologist and Founder, G33ks Like Us]
At PAX East 2017, we attended a session created by the two co-founders of Game to Grow, formerly known as Wheelhouse Workshop, Adam Johns and Adam Davis. From this one session, we created a lot of content for our users, like this online PD video. We were so impressed by their work, using role-playing games for social-emotional development, that when we saw they were going to be on a panel at PAX Unplugged we decided we had to attend.
The panel consisted of practicing professionals in the guidance/clinical and child psychology fields. All of these professionals were using role-playing games to help children overcome obstacles in their development. One panelist, Raffael Boccamazzo, is the founder of an organization called Take This. Take This has a mission to destigmatize mental health issues in the gaming community. Check out their website for more information!
6. Organizing Play- The Perils and Pitfalls of Gathering Gamers
Panel included Melissa Lewis-Gentry [Business Manager, Modern Myths], Donna Prior [Organized Play Coordinator, Catan Studio], Maury Brown [President, Learn Larp, LLC], Robert Adducci [Community Manager, D&D Adventurer’s League]
Want to start a gaming club or build a following in your classroom for a game students are playing? Whatever the reason for building a community, the resources we gathered from this session could be helpful to you even if your community is not for games!
Discord – a free all in one voice and text chat for gamers.
Slack – keep a group connected with this organized communication tool where you can search conversations and archives.
Facebook groups– Your students are on social media anyway so why not use that interest and make them a part of a purposeful group!
Google Hangouts – With this resource, you can chat, call, and video conference with others.
Trello – Collaborate with others on boards, lists, and cards to organize and prioritize your projects.
Share Your Thoughts
These are just some of the highlights we’ve gathered from our time at PAX Unplugged 2017! We would love to hear what your favorite parts were in the comments below!
Remember, this is just our first time digesting this content, make sure to keep an eye out for more blogs and Online PD videos on all of this content in the near future!