What do you call an enthusiastic gathering of game devs and psychologists? In the world of iThrive Games, that’s an #iThriveDesignHive!
Our third Hive took place Sept. 21-24, 2017 in Anaheim, CA. We added a fantastic group of individuals to our collective Hive Mind, which includes indie, educational, and AAA devs and studio heads, top researchers and professors of game design, and social and emotional learning experts.
For Hive #3, we were lucky to host 6 stellar influencers who joined us in a series of discussions about what makes games meaningful and where there are opportunities to help games, game devs, and players more fully realize their potential. Attendees were:

  • Jason VandenBerghe, ArenaNet’s brilliant studio director of design and former creative director at Ubisoft, who lent an invaluable AAA industry perspective.
  • Sheri Graner Ray, also from the world of commercial games, who’s a game industry veteran and the founder/CEO of Zombie Cat Studios. She’s been called an “industry hero” for championing gender diversity in games.
  • Mitu Khandaker, PhD, an entrepreneur, BAFTA Breakout Brit, game scholar, and professor at the NYU Game Center who helped us to think deeply and critically about what gives players an authentic emotional stake in their gameplay.
  • Chris Hazard, PhD, of Hazardous Software, who lent his point of view as a computer scientist, game engine architect, and game theory expert who’s working to make AI more responsive and emotionally compelling.
  • Paul Darvasi, a doctoral candidate and educator who’s an expert at engaging his 12th grade English students in deep learning using a range of games, many of his own invention. For more on that, check out his blog “Ludic Learning” and the post he guest authored for us. Darvasi also wrote UNESCO’s report on empathy in games.
  • Barbara Chamberlin, PhD, professor and project director for the Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University. She knows pretty much everything about building engaging games that teach and assess the skills students need most. Look out for her forthcoming book on transformational game design with Jesse Schell.

From left: Hivers Chris Hazard, Mitu Khandaker, and Sheri Graner Ray discuss meaningful game design.

We also were thrilled to host as a guest presenter Diana Divecha, PhD, a developmental psychologist with expertise in adolescence and social and emotional learning. Diana encouraged this group of game devs to consider teens’ unique potential as well as their vulnerabilities. She reminded us all that “If you’re producing experiences for teens, you’re hard-wiring their brains.” A big responsibility, yes, and also an amazing opportunity!

Diana Divecha (center) with iThrive team members Susan Rivers (left) and Michelle Bertoli (right).

Dr. Divecha shared some compelling design challenges for teen audiences that attendees were eager to explore. For example, how can we use games to empower players to manage feelings of loneliness? What about dealing with discrimination and microaggressions? Or harnessing the power of strong feelings to guide wise actions and choices?

Hive attendees Jason VandenBerghe (left) and Chris Hazard.

The highlight of the weekend for us — beyond getting to know and work with these industry heavy hitters — was making progress on shaping our strategy for spurring the production of more meaningful games that can improve players’ lives and maybe even the world. Feedback from our Hivers validated and opened new pathways for our focus on:

  • Expanding our current offering of developer tools
  • Exploring the potential of games for learning and building social and emotional skills
  • Engaging teens both as reflective players and designers of games, as we have begun to do in Game Design Studio and through other strategic partnerships

iThrive team members Jane Lee and Sean Weiland enjoying the Hive.

At iThrive Games, we continue to build a network of passionate and thoughtful partners on the road to making more meaningful games. We are so grateful for their contributions to our vision and mission. Thank you, Hivers!