Remake Learning Days: Schell Games Open House

By Grace Doerfler – 10th Grade, Oakland Catholic High School

Schell Games, a South Side-based game design and development company, hosted an open house for game enthusiasts on the evening of May 12 as part of Remake Learning Days.

In the company’s headquarters, attendees gathered in a vast, open-plan workspace and looked curiously around, buzzing excitedly about gaming and game design. CEO Jesse Schell, who founded Schell Games in 2002, proudly told the story of his company before turning the audience loose on about a dozen games set up for demonstration. Schell Games employees tied balloons to their wrists and bobbed through rows of computers, ready to answer questions and help guests use the games.

Dozens of people ranging in age from about seven to seventy immediately made a beeline for the games. “This is so cool!” a fifth-grader gushed, picking up a turtle-shaped controller for a sea turtle-themed game. “There are some games at school, but they’re not as fun as this!” In an instant, she was immersed in the game. Close by, some of the youngest children explored a game based on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, created in collaboration with PBS. By far the most popular was a virtual-reality game, I Expect You To Die. Each player donned a helmet that held a smartphone about six inches from his eyes. A long line waited impatiently, watching players respond to their imaginary surroundings.

In addition to the entertainment games, Schell Games develops a number of educational games. When designing the educational games, the company tries to make each game as entertaining as possible, so users learn while having fun. Several employees gushed about World of Lexica, one of the most successful educational games. The tablet game encourages reading by placing users in a virtual library where characters come out of books and talk to players. “The kids get to meet all these different book characters, which makes them more excited about reading,” explained an engineer who develops game prototypes at Schell Games. World of Lexica can help reluctant readers feel more enthusiastic about books by bringing characters to life onscreen.

Game development, particularly making programs geared towards education, can be a long process. When creating an educational game, Schell Games often collaborates with schools to test ideas. The company invites students to test games at “game jams” or visits schools to get input from teachers. Communication is key for a successful game, one employee explained. “We need that back and forth so we know that a game is good,” he said.

If the open house held during Remake Learning Days was any indication, Schell Games is doing an excellent job of appealing to its audience. Kids departed the event reluctantly, unwilling to leave behind the games. The parents seemed pleased by the games, too. “I think it’s great that my kids are getting to see these games, getting to try them out,” a mother of two told me as her children skipped toward the sea turtle game. She noted that her children recently started using similar games at school. “The kids love these games. I think this is the wave of the future.”

 

Grace DoerflerGrace Doerfler is a sophomore at Oakland Catholic High School who lives in West View. In her spare time, she enjoys running cross-country, playing the oboe, and baking. 

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