awarm.spacenewsletter | fast | slow

Gameplan for Season 2

Hello again! If you've been with us a bit, nice to see you again, and if you've just tuned in welcome! It's Season Two 1, of this weekly newsletter, chronicling my learnings around data, computers, people, life, and of course, learning.

This time around, the plan is to do things a little differently. For a bit of context check out the review I wrote on writing the last season of this newsletter, and some of my favorite posts.

My main goal is to introduce a bit of structure. The core loop is going to look something like this:

  1. I'll publish a newsletter a week
  2. For four weeks I'll stick to a single topic, but can write anything within it. All four editions might connect, or they might be entirely independant.
  3. During those four weeks I'll simultaneously be working on an essay on the same topic. Each week I'll publish, alongside the regular newsletter, the intermediate artifacts2 from the longer essay:
    • Week one: A series of prompts and questions
    • Week two: An outline
    • Week three: A first draft
    • Week four: The final essay
  4. I'll publish the essay to the public sometime in between newsletters, so y'all get a bit of an exclusivity period ;) (and I get a little time to make any final tweaks)

This accomplishes a couple different things. I had two big takeaways from last season. One, I want to get better at writing, and two I want to deeply explore ideas. The single topic for four weeks helps with the latter, and the slowly evolving essay helps with the former.

As a side effect, I'm hoping this constraint forces me to evolve my notetaking and information management. If I can't just use this newsletter as an outlet for whatever I'm thinking about (as it might not fit the topic), I'll have to put those thoughts somewhere.

As you know if you've read last season, this is all very much an experiment. I reserve the right to drift, twist, mangle, or break free free from this structure if it seems like it isn't working. But I'm optimistic, and it sounds like a lot of fun! Alright, on to it.

So what's the first theme? It's right up there in the title! I'm going to be writing about games. Specifically games and learning.

I'm frustrated and fascinated by the intersection of these two fields. When I play the games I love I'm obviously learning. I can viscerally feel myself get better at doging arrows in Spelunky 2, or slowly piecing together the knowledge hiding in Outer Wilds, or absorbing the language of puzzles in The Witness.

These games give rich, immediate feedback, tuned towards a very specific goal that many people spent years designing. The plain feeling of being in conversation with them, is absolutely incredible.

At the same time, it's pretty clear that games created primarily for learning purposes never quite meet the mark. They often feel a little bolted together, and have a little bit of the "spoonful-of-sugar" vibe that many early "edutainment" games did.

There are of course some counter examples. Many Zachtronics games, though framed as puzzles, require learning concepts that are extremely close to other widely used domains of knowledge, like programming and electrical engineering.

But, even those are designed primarily as games, whatever that means. So I worry that this kind of inquiry, looking at learning and games in the abstract, is a little cursed.

I hope to avoid this by going granular. Instead of asking how we can create games for learning, we ask how we can use game design to learn. And how we can use learning design to make better games.

Well, this is a first issue so I'm starting off slow, that's all I got for you today!

Here's those prompts for an essay I promised you. Let me know if you think of anything else, or want to dive into something in particular! See you next week.

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  1. Seasons are a very good idea for a personal newsletter. But don't take my word for it, go read Robin Sloan, master newsletterer, on the subject
  2. I still haven't quite figured out how I'm going to publish these artifacts. I think it would be pretty neat if they could stick around, even after the final essay is published, but for now I'm just going to have them be in the essay file and evolve via git.