Wired Science

Dave Barton chats to game design professor and pro maker/coder/creative, Jerry Belich, about his interactive gaming workshops and how Makey Makey helps lift the ‘fog of understanding’.

It’s always reassuring to discover that those teaching you aren’t just accumulators of knowledge; they’re active participants and practitioners of the craft they’re so passionate about.

Deep in the American Midwest you’ll find Miami University (the Ohio one). And it’s here that Jerry Belich, a game design professor, continues to inspire, engage, and educate students with his infectious enthusiasm for interactive gaming experiences.

A seasoned games designer, who’s also pursuing an MFA in Experience Design, Jerry’s been creating video games since high school, studying computer science and theatre at college, before embarking on a career in mobile development and digital marketing. He’s now teaching classes and running workshops on alternative controller design.

“My job at the university is pretty much the culmination of everything I’ve done in my career so far,” he says “I love creating experiences for people, telling stories, weaving narratives, and learning to create things people want to engage with.”

Jerry’s focus is on deconstructing existing games and getting students to understand the player experience, primarily using Teensy microcontrollers and Makey Makeys for alternative controller workshops.

“I really want students to start prototyping ideas as soon as they have them and begin building completely original games. For teaching, Makey Makey is priceless. It does such an excellent job of stripping away the fog of understanding: the scary bits about working with electronics, electricity, and even code.”

To explain his approach is, he gives the example of a workshop he ran as game designer-in-residence at Eastern Kentucky University, involving both adults and children.

“For the kids it was about giving them building blocks to understand ways to bring their ideas to life,” he says. “But most of the adults who came to the workshop had never worked directly with electronics, and were a bit embarrassed about how little they understood. But using tech like Makey Makey gave them small victories to get over that block.”

Armed with a box of Teensy microcontrollers, custom firmware, a few Makey Makeys, and lots of cardboard, wire, buttons, switches, and copper tape, the Kentucky workshop group created a four player ‘fencing’ game. Using wands tipped with tinfoil, players stabbed at a hanging ball after pressing buttons with their feet.

Here are some pictures of the game.
“A super simple computer app was made, using Sketch, to keep score. It was all possible with the Makey Makeys. They really helped to stimulate the whole group’s appetite for creativity,” he explains.

As Jerry continues to explore what he calls ‘the unique Venn intersection of game design, storytelling, and making’, his passion is also fuelled by a number of side projects -- including an interactive fiction arcade called The Choosatron, which started as a personal project, but has since gained over $75,000 of Kickstarter funding. Not bad considering the original goal was $22,000.

It’s being able to bring ideas to life that continues to send Jerry deeper down the rabbit hole of mad science.

“Teaching is going to be my bag for a while. The experience has allowed me to interact with other creators and students from all over the world, sharing everything I’ve learned and discovered. I'm just so excited to help teach game designers how to DESIGN.”

Thanks Jerry! Keep us in the loop on any other neat stuff you and your students bring to life.

Want to follow Jerry? Find him on Twitter @j3rrytron and check out his website: jerrytron.com