Game designers, who must capture and retain players' attention and interest quickly, need to understand human psychology and culture
Every summer, fifty fifth graders converge on Manhattan for a week-long game design camp called Mobile Quest and magic happens. In only a few days, the familiar urban landscape is transformed. The mesh metal trash cans on every street corner become portals to a vast underground enemy fortress. The squirrels in Washington Square Park become spies burying secrets. And the huge central fountain becomes a sunken spaceship.
Of course, the fountain is still a fountain. But an important shift in the campers' perspective is underway. They are beginning to view the world not as it is, but as it could be. They start to experience every object as a possibility. They begin to sense in every encounter with the "real world" an opportunity to re-write the underlying value, function, or meaning of its objects in support of the games they are learning to design and play.
This shift in perspective is tremendously empowering, especially for young people transitioning into adulthood, with all its alien rules and expectations. It puts them in touch with their own creative power, their agency to act in the world, to participate, to choose. And because all this occurs in the highly collaborative context of a camp, they simultaneously realize that creativity, power, and agency have value only insofar as they connect to, engage with, and inspire other people. In other words, the fountain takes on the reality of a spaceship only because a group of kids was inspired to come together and agree to play the same game, to abide by the same set of rules.