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Honors course combines creativity and analysis through game design

Chris HlasIt's game time for University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students enrolled in Dr. Chris Hlas' Honors course in game analysis and design. 

Hlas, a mathematics professor specializing in mathematics education and motivation, developed the Honors course to analyze the experience of games and how they intersect with education and learning. The University Honors Program is a stimulating community of learners, designed for academically talented, high-potential students. The courses are designed to provide close interaction between students and faculty and emphasize active learning, civic engagement, global expertise and sustainability. 

Each week's class is based on readings centered on a specific theme, including what makes a game, what defines fun and the necessity for conflict within a game. Students then form teams, select a topic of interest and start developing a board game based on that topic.

"The focus of the class is mostly on communication and how games work," Hlas said. "Grading is based on how well students discuss the intended player experience and the changes they make to work toward that experience after testing. I hope students come away with an appreciation of design thinking;the process of creating something, testing it, accepting feedback, making changes and then retesting. Students can carry the process of design into other areas as well." 

Cammy Rathsack, a junior Spanish education major from Appleton, found the design process useful in many of the classes required for her theatre education minor.

"I learned that designing a game, or anything for that matter, is a process of trial and error and to always think about what you as the designer want the player/audience to get out of your design," Rathsack said. "As a theatre education minor, we are taught to always think about how the audience would view what we are doing or if it would make sense to them. Everything you make, whether it be a paper, a project or a simple homework assignment, has an intended audience, and this class made me realize that even more." 

Teaching the design process and combining theory and practice is part of what makes the game analysis and design course so effective, said Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, University Honors Program director.

"A great education needs both hands-on experience and theoretical understanding," Vahlbusch said. "This course provides an opportunity for students working in teams to move from theory to practice. Dr. Hlas brings an incredible amount of knowledge from his field into every class, and his game analysis and design course is a great example of the exciting, cutting-edge courses offered in the University Honors Program."

For more information about the Honors course in game analysis and design, contact Dr. Chris Hlas at hlascs@uwec.edu or 715-836-2837. For information about the University Honors Program, contact Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch at vahlbujb@uwec.edu or 715-836-4490.