Steve Jacobs

Steve Jacobs Headshot

Stephen Jacobs is Director of the Laboratory for Technological Literacy and professor in the School of Interactive Games and Media. This month, he shares with us how he uses graphic novels to teach gaming concepts and critical thinking skills that impact his student’s ability to create games that are both successful and engaging. He also explains how those same skills carry over into everyday life. Read his answers to a few critical questions...

1. How Do You Teach Applied Critical Thinking?

I’ve got an academic background in Media Studies and Media Theory and I use the intellectual tools from that discipline when teaching game design. Why was game X a good game? Games have formal elements like goals, rule sets, game mechanics (the individual pieces of game play) themes and sometimes narrative elements. We look at these alone and in combination to decide why a game is succeeding or failing.

One of my favorite tools for teaching critical thinking is “Understanding Comics.” It’s a graphic novel that teaches the formal elements of comic books and graphic novels in the format of a graphic novel. It’s a brilliant approach.

2. Why Do You Think Applied Critical Thinking is Important in Your Domain?

If you can’t define, analyze and critique games you can’t learn to make good ones, you can just hope you hit it lucky by accident.

3. Can You Share a Story Where Quality Applied Critical Thinking Was Key to Your Success?

I was working as a game and narrative design consultant for an educational video game created by local educational video game company Second Avenue learning on a project called Martha Madison’s Marvelous Machines, a game that teaches middle school science curriculum concepts like simple machines using teamwork between players. Two students must choose two of six different animals, each with different abilities, to solve problems using simple machines. The challenge should be solvable using multiple combinations of animals and approaches and we had to go back to the drawing board and redraft the puzzle by analyzing all the different possible solutions an working backwards from there.

4. How Do You Use Critical Thinking in Other Areas of Your Life Outside of RIT?

As a member of the Rochester Ukulele Orchestra I, and my band mates, play a wide variety of nenes and formats from concerts, to benefits, to religious service and even farmers markets. We need to review our repertoire to see what music and songs fit each situation and what we might want to learn to add to the experience. Then of course there’s post-performance critique, usually over a beverage :-)

5. Any Last Critical Thoughts?

I hope the readers have found this critical to their greater understanding of the subject.