Angela Ferraiolo and Surya Sangwan ’17

Meaningful Games

Surya Sangwan ’17 had the opportunity to take video game design to a personal level in Angela Ferraiolo’s “Radical Game Design” course. They sat down to talk about the project, their collaboration, and their Sarah Lawrence conference experience.

How would you describe this conference project?

Surya: My conference project was creating a video game titled Henri. In the game, you play as a boy named Henri who has legs that are way too long and out of proportion with the rest of his body. Henri is new to a school and he endures obstacles that prevent him from keeping up with a group of kids as they make their way to the bus. The obstacles in the game represent the mental blocks that Henri has in approaching the other kids and making friends.

Angela: The final output was a PC video game. Surya started with storyboarding. This forces you to be visual. A deeper game might be in your head, but if it’s all language that’s not useful.

Surya: So I made paper prototypes. Then I made my characters in Photoshop.

Angela: Surya learned so much. Animation, spread animation, object pooling, game audio, user interface elements, etc.

Angela, what was your role in this project?

Angela: In this class, my students are really beginning game developers. My role is to keep them aware that games have definite social content, and that it’s important to use games as an expressive medium and not just as a timewaster or mindless entertainment. So that’s the real role of the faculty member in this class: keeping the “radical” in “Radical Game Design.” Your game has to have a cultural perspective to it, which is really uncommon in the way game design is often taught.

Surya, how did Angela advance your project?

Surya: Every time I’d present a little of my game, she’d ask me to dig deeper: “What do the obstacles represent? Why does the background look a certain way? Why do the characters look a certain way?” There had to be meaning behind everything that I made.

So it’s not like, “Oh, this is just a fun thing to throw in,” but rather, “in the context of this game, what purpose does it serve?” I felt like that was really important. Angela also kept reinforcing that our social message shouldn’t beat the player over the head. A player should uncover what it means while playing it. The game has to be fun and entertaining so that people actually want to discover what it’s all about.

What do you see as the value of conference work at Sarah Lawrence?

Surya: Conference projects helped me stick with an idea and see it through. Left to my own devices, I’d have kept switching concepts until I found something I could be certain would work, and that probably wouldn’t be the best way to go about it.

Angela: You also integrate in conference work. Like, you have one project and you learn something and then use it in another class.

Surya: Right. In my psychology lecture course, I started exploring anxiety. That’s when I saw how being the new kid in school is a great example of feeling out of place, and decided to use that in this project. You’re always drawing from other classes when you’re coming up with a conference project.

Angela: And that’s how learning happens at Sarah Lawrence. All of my classes are set up to encourage students to feel a sense of ownership. My students are never doing assignments for me. They’re doing their work. It’s truly personal.