Tracy Fullerton is a true leader in the field of educational game design. You might even say she’s rewriting the very definition of educational games. So I was thrilled with the opportunity to talk to Tracy recently, and to get her thoughts on a field that’s reshaping learning as we know it. (Full disclosure: gaming is a personal passion of mine, so I had more than a little vested interest in what Tracy had to say about where gaming and education are going.) Take a look at our conversation here, and find more on Tracy’s story and links to some of her work below.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
Building the games program at USC. This program, which is the number-one game design program in the nation, has been a key contributor to the development of independent game communities over the past decade. Our graduates are going out and making a difference in the industry and in the world, using their understanding of games and play.
Additionally, I’m very proud of my book, Game Design Workshop, and the influence it has had on game design curriculum. This book came out of experiences I had when I was learning to design games, and also when I was learning to teach about design. It gets beginning designers working quickly, iterating and learning about their designs from players right from the start. This kind of hands-on learning is the best way to approach game design, in my opinion.
What are your most recent projects?
I’ve been working on several game projects that I’m very proud of. The first is a game about Thoreau’s experience at Walden. I’m also working on a suite of games to increase college knowledge. And am very excited about a new experimental game for the freshmen at the School of Cinematic Arts. It has completely energized the incoming students.
What has changed in your school as a result of your efforts?
I think that our program and its emphasis on the artistry of game design has been an influence on a lot of other programs starting up in this area. This emphasis on the expressive and aesthetic aspects of play and game design are fairly unique, I think, and critically important to the development of great talent. The designers coming out of our program are young, but they are already making experiences that may redefine the boundaries of how games are thought of and our expectations of their potential.
How can other educators facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned?
I think everyone’s situation will be personal, but the common things to keep in mind are passion and perseverance.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
I don’t work directly with students in underserved areas, but from the projects we’ve done working with kids for our college knowledge games, I think the biggest obstacle is bureaucracy. The system is over weighted with bureaucracy in ways that keeps innovation from occurring.
What is your country doing right to support education?
Some teachers and schools are working in completely out-of-the-box ways – I’d point to schools like Quest to Learn, for an example of education that seems to be headed in the right direction.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
Teachers need the freedom and support to innovate. Change often happens when one or two people really care enough to create something new, so we need to support those pockets of experimentation and creativity. The emphasis on standards versus personal learning is a huge anvil dragging us down, I think.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Moving toward a personalized, learner-centric model rather than a top-down, standards-driven model.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Make sure you’re in an environment where you can do good work.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be?
About Tracy Fullerton
Tracy Fullerton, M.F.A., is an experimental game designer, professor and director of
the Game Innovation Lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she holds the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment. The USC Game Innovation Lab is a design research center that has produced several of the most influential projects to be released in the emerging field of independent games, including games like Cloud, flOw, Darfur is Dying, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and The Night Journey — a collaboration with media artist Bill Viola. Tracy is also the author of “Game Design workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games,” a design textbook in use at game programs worldwide. Prior to entering academia, she was a professional game designer and entrepreneur making games for companies including Microsoft, Sony, and MTV, among many others.
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
Current residence: Los Angeles, California
Education: M.F.A. USC School of Cinematic Arts, B.A. UC Santa Cruz
Website I check every day: Not a website, but I check twitter every half hour or so.
Person who inspires me most: Bill Viola
Favorite childhood memory: Making Super 8 movies
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Phoenix, Arizona
Favorite book: Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Favorite music: X, The Clash, Talking Heads