Yesterday we had the pleasure of hosting a workshop with some video game designers from LucasArts, the first part of a two-part workshop. The goal of the workshop was to introduce a Toy Take Apart activity to start them working with their hands, familiarize them with basic circuitry, tin-foil switches, and mechanical contraptions, all in preparation for the second part, which will happen in two weeks, when they will build a collaborative chain reaction similar to what we've done in the recent past.
We started by laying out some of our Circuit Boards parts, and ask our participants to start making simple connections to "make things go."
Pretty quickly things started becoming complex, circuits more complicated, switches and potentiometers were thrown in the mix. We didn't let this part go on too long, but we did introduce the idea that you can make a switch with two simple pieces of tinfoil.
Then we introduced a few mechanical stuffed toys for each pair of participants to dissect. In a bit of theatrical flair, we also provided surgical gloves, scalpels, and eye protection for all participants...
We often say that the reason why we do our workshops is to talk about them. By this we mean that the final group discussion in which we reflect on several aspect of what we just did, is an integral part of the activity, and in fact the most important one. This group was very acute in their observation, and in relating what they gained from the activity to their work and the philosophy behind how they design games, so I'll let them speak for themselves.
"It puts things in perspective, I have a 2 year old and you buy all this stuff and never strip it apart. I bought one of these circuit exploration toys and didn't get around to playing with it, but this drives it home a little more because it's real stuff."
"It is kind of distressing the percentage of the functionality that is embedded in a little back box, which you can't understand how it works. 90% of the thing's functionality is in there, and the rest is a few simple mechanical parts that take the bulk of the toy. You can get familiar with the mechanical parts, but you're still only 10% in."
"It was surprising how much of an emotional reaction I had to you guys cutting up Elmo. When you start cutting it open you project a small creature onto it, and when it starts kicking its legs you feel bad."
"It's interesting to see how these gears provide an illusion of life, and that's what we do too. For us they're numbers instead of gears, but our job is make sure there are no parts sticking out that kill the illusion."
"I was watching everybody cutting up their toys, and at some point it stopped being a toy and it became just a collection of parts. It's interesting to see how little you have to do to make something look alive."
"It was interesting playing with electricity because I don't do that in my job, but really a computer is just two wires going into a black box. So I'm going to go home and play with electricity more."
"I loved the laughing, hearing everybody enjoying themselves, and people who don't normally interact with each other. A shared emotional experience makes it much more memorable. It makes failing okay, because you can go 'I'm just playing!'."
"It was nice that we were sitting very close to each other, it was the reason we were able to laugh and bond together, it was very very important. It would have been different if we had been working in separate rooms and shared what we did later."
We'll continue the workshop in two weeks. Meanwhile, please enjoy the rest of the slideshow!