Heidi McDonald

Creative Director and Head Troublemaker for iThrive Games

Heidi McDonald worked as a narrative, features and systems designer at Schell Games in Pittsburgh, shipping eight titles including award-winning serious games. McDonald has been academically published numerous times and lectures internationally on the topic of romance in single-player RPG’s. Winner of Women in Gaming’s Rising Star Award in 2013 and an IGF Honorable Mention for Narrative Excellence in 2016 for her work on Orion Trail, she currently does client-side creative direction for iThrive, and works on several side projects. Residing in the Los Angeles area, McDonald has dedicated her career to the idea that games can be a force for positive change in human beings. She is chaotic good, a wearer of magnificent hats, a goth pirate adventuress, a shameless practical joker and singer of karaoke, and someone who seeks to fill the world with more joy, cupcakes and music.

Talk One Description:

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines Expressed in Game Design

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a concept in education that assists educators in constructing lessons that appeal to a wide variety of learners. The UDL guidelines co-developed by Dr. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann at CAST, an outshoot of Harvard University, are used to prepare lessons in education, but, these same guidelines can be used to design games that appeal to a wider range of player abilities and motivations. UDL is rooted in neurological science, and the guidelines are designed to stimulate specific skills and areas of the brain. Designer Heidi McDonald relays specific game mechanics, game types and systems that could address each of the guidelines in UDL. Learn what UDL is, and how it can be applied to game design!

Talk Two Description:

The Sentimental Value of Digital Objects

A week after Pokemon GO’s release, designer Heidi McDonald surveyed hundreds of players about how their excitement toward their Pokemon in Pokemon GO differed from their feelings toward Pokemon in DS games, and from other digital objects in other games identified by the respondents as having sentimental value to the players. The difference is that once augmented reality is added to games, digital objects can now have deeper context and emotional value for players. McDonald found that there’s a difference between “a Pidgey you caught in a random patch of grass on your DS game” versus “the Pidgey you caught with your grandma on her birthday.” Design flaws of Pokemon GO gameplay aside, studying this particular facet of it has shown that adding augmented reality to Pokemon, in addition to the nostalgia, has re-defined the term “rare Pokemon.” The aforementioned random Pidgey, crap…those things are everywhere. But, the moment a player can prove via time and location stamp that they caught a Pidgey onstage at a rock concert, the day before the band broke up? Or on the shoulder of a world leader? Or in a situation that made that particular creature “Twitter famous?” (One particular example is the “Hanke Mankey”…caught by an audience member during Niantic CEO John Hanke’s GamesBeat talk, onstage with Hanke, and the photo went viral. What value does a “famous Pokemon” now have, as Niantic looks toward adding the trading component to the game?) The context added by augmented reality into collection games is adding a level of sentimentality and context that’s akin to a way of digital scrapbooking, which raises interesting questions and has a lot of potential for building communities and retaining players. (This talk, by the way, has excellent opportunities for hilarious slides of Pokemon being PhotoShopped into various real-world situations.)

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