Hej Henrike! How are you? How is Johannesburg treating you?
Hi! I’m doing great, enjoying the warm weather and fantastic company. I’m very excited to attend A MAZE./ Johannesburg and preparing for my performance: a spoken word poem about games and empathy, interlaced with songs that I will be playing and singing myself.
I know, that you do a lot of cool things, but let’s start with the best one. Lohika Aps, what is it about? What do you do and what do you want to achieve with your products? Why did you decide to have this approach (learning by playing games)?
While I’m a curious person who loves learning new things, primary and high school almost extinguished that flame entirely by forcing me to execute repetitive tasks, that was neither interesting or challenging for me, and didn’t present me with any real life applications or motivation. I founded my company Lohika in 2013 after graduating from a Master degree in Game Design at the IT University of Copenhagen. During my studies, I realized how passionate I was about transforming the concept of education and about making great educational games. I like exploring the core of a given scientific subject and turn it into game mechanics that are engaging and challenging. At Lohika we create an environment and atmosphere where the players are given plenty of motivation to explore on their own, where their curiosity is stimulated so that they will want to practice and enhance their skills in order to achieve goals they personally care about.
In our current game, To Be A Whale, that I’m working on together with Richard Baxter, the player’s’ avatar is a newborn whale whose movements are controlled through text commands. The player types command like “tail up” and “tail down” into a terminal to move the whale, and learns to write small behaviors in “whale code”, which is a fully functional programming language for controlling the avatar.
How is it to be a teacher for you? Could you tell us more about your course “Game design with a purpose” you teach at Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts?
I love teaching because it gives me a chance to study the games I care about in more depth, discuss them with the students, and spark the idea in their minds that they can find a deeper meaning in the games they go on to develop. We have been covering educational games, games for health, games for social impact and gamification projects, by analyzing and discussing games, and creating prototypes in small groups. Every week the students study a game, article, podcast or video recording of a talk and present their analysis in class. Over the course of the semester, the students create 5 different prototypes in paper or digital form. Throughout the years I have been attending many different games conventions, making connections with indie developers all over the world, judging games at competitions, and I have attended every edition of the Lyst symposium on love, sex, and romance in video games. I was lucky to be exposed to many different games that deal with taboo topics or have been made by people that are underrepresented in the games industry.
Teaching allows me to pass on my experience and knowledge, and give my students a chance to see games in a different light than the classic commercial way.
I know you are interested in other things apart from games and learning. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
I am a feminist, and I’m working hard towards making the games industry a more fair, safe, and diverse place, where women, people of color, people of non-traditional sexual orientation and identity, and other minorities are as welcome and respected as anyone else. Making games and giving talks allows me to travel the world, grow my network of friends and creatives, and get to know new people, cultures, and lifestyles. I love going to game jams and always aim to work on games that push the boundaries of game design, as well as the topics games can cover. For example, I made a few personal games for my family, a game about identifying and banning female nipples on Instagram, and am working on concepts for games about menstruation and abortion.
Imagine, you happened to be a teacher at high school for one day in one class. What would you do?
The most important thing for kids in highschool is to figure out what they are personally passionate about and to learn that anyone can be creative.
I would introduce the class to some creative game design techniques, and demo some simple and free prototyping tools for apps, games, stories, websites, and film, to help them get started in the creative process. In my experience, once presented with a blank canvas and a set of tools, it becomes much easier for children to apply themselves, dig deeper into the creative technologies they are interested in, and create content that they deeply care about.
Henrike, thank you for the interview and see you soon, take care 🙂