Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen

Dr. Kat Schrier - We The Gamers

August 08, 2021 Scott J. Allen Season 1 Episode 81
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen
Dr. Kat Schrier - We The Gamers
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Kat Schrier is an Associate Professor, Director of the Play Innovation Lab, and Director of the Games and Emerging Media program at Marist College. She is the author of We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics & Civics, published by Oxford University Press (2021), and Knowledge Games, published by Johns Hopkins University Press (2016). She has previously edited two book series, Ethics and Game Design and Learning, Education, & Games. She was a Belfer Fellow with the ADL's Center for Technology & Society, and she is co-PI for a Templeton Grant on designing VR games for empathy. Prior to joining the Marist College faculty, she worked as a media producer at Scholastic, Nickelodeon, BrainPOP, and ESI Design. She has a doctorate from Columbia University, a master’s from MIT, and a bachelor’s from Amherst College.

Connecting with Kat

  • Kat's Website -

Quotes From This Episode

  • "Even Fornite, Among Us, Minecraft, are games where you're managing your resources, communicating with others, and you might be building stories...and these are games where people are really practicing civic discourse."
  • "I think the big takeaway is that we are learning when we play games. We are learning through play. It doesn't matter if it's specifically an educational game, or it's a game that is like Minecraft or Fortnite."
  • "I think that games are really helping us to practice ethics, ethical thinking, and ethical decision making."

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Publications by Kat

About The International Leadership Association (ILA)

  • The ILA was created in 1999 to bring together professionals with a keen interest in the study, practice, and teaching of leadership. 

Connect with Scott Allen

Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate. 

Scott Allen  0:00  
Good afternoon. Good evening. Good morning. This is the first I have had a guest recording outside. So you may hear a little wishing in the background. But that's totally cool because Kat Schrier is here today. And she is - she's many things. She is a scholar. She's an innovator, designer, and educator, visionary. She's a game player, and she's a creator. She's an associate professor. She's an associate professor and director of the play innovation lab and Director of the Games and Emerging Media Program at Marist College. Kat, that's a lot. She is an individual who has just this really cool knowledge of games. And Kat, I'm excited about this conversation. I had a discussion or podcast episode with a gentleman named Bruce Avolio. And Bruce for decades has been really just at the leading edge of leader development and that whole space, and he's really gotten into what he's calling "gamulation," which are simulations and gaming. And I co-founded 2015, a leadership competition. And so we use a lot of games, and this last year's online experiences to help create that competition. So your area of expertise, a friend of mine sent along with your information, and I jumped right away. And I said, I need to speak with Kat, because her knowledge I'm sure is very, very cool. So welcome.

Kat Schrier  1:30  
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here. And I do like doing all the things. So I'm that's me.

Scott Allen  1:40  
That's great. Well, Kat, your undergrad was Amhurst, your grad was MIT, your PhD was at Columbia are where they are in this space of gaming and game design. And that whole area of exploration?

Kat Schrier  2:05  
Well, I don't want to tell you when I went to undergrad, and I could, but I could I will say that they didn't have any such thing as gaming programs back then. But by the time I got to MIT for my masters, they were starting to talk about educational games, which is when I really got inspired to continue to work on that. And prior to going MIT, I've been working in the educational media space for a few years, which is why I was super interested in the power of media to teach and to inspire, and help people grow. And then going to MIT, you helped me realize that you know, my love of games, coupled with my excitement and interest in educating people could really be actualized. And that was, you know, a wonderful time to be at MIT. This was from 2003 to 2005. Because that was really the start of people thinking about using games for education. And it was sort of like the hot thing, right? Everybody was like, Oh, I got to get into this. This is very interesting. And so it was just fun. You could go to these conferences, and everybody was so excited and so enthusiastic, and you were kind of like, you know, in the start of things, and I've been I've continued for the last over 15 years now working in this field, and you know, the ups and downs of it, you know, some people are like, "Oh, it's not, it's not up to snuff. It's not as good as we had hoped it would be." But I think the thing is that you know, like everything, it's complicated. There's a lot of potential, but then there's a lot of limitations and drawbacks of using games for learning.

Scott Allen  3:46  
Well, I was saying to Bruce, in my episode with him, my son, literally while we were recording, was outside of the room playing I believe it was Fornite he was playing. And he's on a team of five or six people, we were talking leadership and gaming. He's on a team of five or six people. He's kind of giving commands, helping coordinate the team as to what needs to be done. And I thought to myself if we just latched on some leadership education, I mean, it's all happening, all of those team dynamics, all of the leadership and influence probably and trying to influence this team to move in a certain direction. It's a great platform from which to, and there's so much energy for it. I mean, is you know, they can be addictive, right?

Kat Schrier  4:32  
I mean, it's funny, I just published an article today for The Conversation about five civics games, games that support civics and things like you said leadership and resource management, and one of the games I talked about is Fornite because you are you really have to prepare for survival. You have to manage resources, you need to communicate with others, you need to think about,  the different routes sources that you have and how to make sure that you have enough for the whole entire game. And there are also other kinds of things that happened like they had a like a Black Lives Matters conversation in Fornite last summer. I mean, there, there's a lot of different kinds of ways that people are using these games like fortnight and among us and World of Warcraft. Yes, so even games like Fornite, Among Us, Minecraft, are games where you're managing your resources, you have to communicate with others, you might be building stories, you might be building actual, you know, objects and buildings in the game. And these are games where people are really practicing civic discourse. They're practicing, play and creativity, self-expression, they're learning how to be in the world, they're learning how literally learning how to shape their world through shaping a virtual world. And that is helping them to be part of the Civic world?

Scott Allen  6:06  
Yeah. Well, you mentioned you mentioned, Oh, my gosh, Minecraft, you mentioned Minecraft. And so my daughter's both of them are just fascinated by Minecraft. And when they show me these worlds they've developed. I mean, the creativity is absolutely incredible. So I think I think you're right, so many different ways, whether it's design and space, or whether it's coordinating with others resourcing strategies, a lot of those topics are embedded in these experiences. So give us a 101. How do you think about this topic? It may be the longer route, maybe it's a long elevator ride. But how do you think about this space? in your, in your research? What are you finding?

Kat Schrier  6:55  
I think the big takeaway for this is that we are learning when we play games, we are learning through play, it doesn't matter if it's specifically an educational game, or it's a game that is like Minecraft or Fortnite that is, you know, maybe has educational benefits, but isn't specifically made for education, we're learning and we can't help it because play is civics play. And, you know, playing games is civics gaming is civics, we are engaging with our world, we're interacting with a virtual space and understanding how we govern it, how we interact with each other, how we empathize with others, how we show compassion, we're learning that through the play that we have in these virtual spaces. Now, there are limitations, also - it's not just learning and growing and getting inspired, we have a lot of limitations to, for example, take Minecraft, right, there's research that says, you know, on the one hand, you can express your identity through Minecraft, and it's, you know, a wonderful space to really explore who you are and what you want to become. But on the other hand, it's also very limiting and who is represented in Minecraft, and who isn't represented, who are the people that are excluded from those spaces. And so the research suggests that Minecraft is just like another civic community where you could be excluded based on your identity. And that's unfortunate, we need to find ways to support all different kinds of identities and perspectives in these virtual spaces.

Scott Allen  8:33  
So the big takeaway. What are a couple of other takeaways? How else do you think about this topic?

Kat Schrier  8:39  
I think that games are really helping us to practice ethics, ethical thinking ethical decision making, making choices. So for example, for my dissertation at Columbia, I did my research on Fable III, which you wouldn't think of as an ethics game. It's not an educational game. But it is a really fun role-playing game where you play as a prince or princess or king or queen of a magical world called Albion, and you have to make ethical decisions about what happens in that world. So everything from "Do you drain a lake and though in the world," and what are the consequences of draining it or not draining it? Or do you build an orphanage and, you know, make those choices for yourself, for your world. And what's interesting is that the non-player characters, those virtual little characters in your game will respond and react to the ethical decisions that you make, which has an effect on you. I mean, you really start to think, "Oh, my gosh, I need to really think about these ethical decisions because it has an impact on this virtual world" and you start to get worried about them. Like you start to really empathize and care about these characters. You really get immersed in that story world, and it helps you because, you know, when I did this research people were reading really spending time thinking about these ethical decisions. They weren't just choosing things, they were really thinking through them. For example, there was one guy who every time he made an ethical decision in the game, he would call up his dad and talk through the pros and cons of the decision. And he really wanted to make sure that he made the right decisions. And he really wanted to reflect on those decisions with his father. So not only did he really practice, ethical thinking, he also was connected more to his dad, because he really, you know, had those interesting ethical conversations with him. And he got to understand his dad's moral perspectives, too. 

Oh, that's really cool. And how about leadership, anything come to mind or any games or findings from your research?

Sure. So I mean, leadership, right. So you know, for example, in that game Fabel III, you are the leader, you're the one who has to make decisions for this entire world. And you have to see the consequences of those decisions, you have to experience them. So you are really having to be a strong leader, who is not only trying to be that role model for your world, but you also have to be listening to your constituents. So you have to be listening to the people and what they want, right, you also are gathering multiple perspectives and gathering evidence. There's another game that does this really well called Quandary, an inquiry Quandary you are in this new society called Braxos. And it's on a, you know, a distant planet, and you have to rebuild the society and make ethical decisions for your world. And so through that, you have to actually gather evidence, you need to talk to different people in this world and find out what they think and compare and contrast. And then based on that, you have to make what you think is the best decision. Now there are multiple decisions you could make, right? There are some decisions that maybe are, you know, slightly stronger, slightly weaker. But what the designers did that was really interesting, is that they give you points not just on making the decision, but they give you points on how you think through the decision. So how did you use evidence? How did you compare and contrast evidence? How did you decide if something was an opinion or a fact? And how did you use that in making your decision? So it's not just the actual decision itself, but the decision-making process that's valued in the game? 

Scott Allen  12:36  
Kat? How have you incorporated these experiences into your classes? Have you played Fable III in class and had it as an assignment? Have you explored that yet?

Kat Schrier  12:46  
Yeah, so actually teach a class called ethics in gaming at Marist College and Marist. Super fun. Yeah, it's such a fun class, right? I love that class. And so I do everything in that class, you know, from having them play games, like Quandary and Fable III, to creating our own games. So we actually make our own games where people have to make ethical choices, or there may be some kind of ethical issue that's happening. We also talk about ethical issues in gaming, right? So every week, almost, there's another issue that's related to gaming that we discuss, and we think about how that applies, or our own design work, or how that might apply to the kinds of issues that we are grappling with as humans. We're also you know, not only that but trying to create our own community in the class. So like, the class becomes a community of, you know, thinking about values and think about ethics and thinking about, like you said, leadership and how we can become better leaders in the future.

Scott Allen  12:57  
And what kind of feedback do you get from the students? Is this the most popular class at Marist? I can imagine my 18-year-old brain being like, we're gonna play games, okay.

Kat Schrier  13:58  
You know, it's funny, because a lot of students, it's, it's a big shift because some of them will say, "Wait, so we're playing games, like, Among Us in this class, like, we're just gonna hang out for an hour and playing among us and interpret it and talk about the ethics of communication and trying to figure out who the imposter is?" And among us, wow, okay, this is not the class I expected.

Scott Allen  14:25  
But I had a course at the University of Minnesota. This is like the 1995 version of this. My roommate comes home and he says, hey, there's a course it's called the Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. "You watch Hitchcock movies, and then you just write two papers. It's the best!" And I was like, "Oh, yeah, let's do that." Well, you know, that's the one class I got to be in that semester. Because I knew nothing about Film Studies. It was a whole world and it's a complex world. And I imagine it's the same that you experienced with some students at least.

Kat Schrier  14:59  
I mean, we do take the game seriously, right? It's you know, we, we are playful and we have fun and we, you know, love to talk about games. And it's a silly and informal class and a lot of ways, but we do talk about serious issues. I mean, we, you know, we learn ethical frameworks, as we talk about hedonism and Kantian ethics and utilitarianism. I mean, these are like major ethical frameworks that we apply to games. And we write papers and do presentations. And we, you know, got really excited about, you know, taking a serious look at the ethics of games. But on the other hand, we, you know, there's, there's something to be said about being experimental and playful, and, you know, trying on new identities and trying on new ethical frameworks and trying on new moral perspectives, that helps us to grow as people.

Scott Allen  15:49  
That's so interesting because you're exactly right. I mean, I may choose to play the game for a period of time as an unethical leader, and I get to experience how others experience me what ramifications that has. And in a way, it's a practice field in some, in some ways to think about it, wouldn't you agree?

Kat Schrier  16:10  
Yeah, I mean, definitely, these games are helping us practice what it's like to be ethical thinkers. When you take a game like Fallout - Fallout 3, you can play it kind of like a pretty bad, bad person, right? You can, you know, set off bombs, and you can, you know, shoot people to steal things. And that doesn't mean that we're bad people in real life, but it's helping us to kind of go through the motions of what it would be like to be a character that maybe does things that aren't quite right, you know, maybe are doing things that are that we wouldn't agree are ethical in our everyday lives. And when I teach an ethics class, it's not about like, "Well, here's what's right, and here's what's wrong. And these are the things that we have to follow." It's more about exploration and experimentation, and application, and really decision-making skills. It's really practicing those important skills that you can apply to the situations that you come across and that you encounter, you're not going to be encountering the kinds of things in Fallout 3, hopefully, because we're not in a post-apocalyptic world and killing zombies, you know, underground for hundreds of years...

Scott Allen  17:19  
That would be bad!

Kat Schrier  17:20  
That would be bad. But you might be addressing those kinds of, you know, decisions about how to manage your resources, or you know, who to help. Or, you know, what kinds of times do we need to break rules to support people in the ways that we need to? And those are the kinds of things that you could practice in a game.

Scott Allen  17:42  
Kat, this is a whole world I know so little about and I would love for you to spend a little bit of time discussing it for me and for listeners. What are some entry points? How for someone who is just really a novice in this whole space. I don't even know where to go to start playing Fortnite - My son could tell me, so I do know. Fable III,  I've never heard of it. So what are some entry points for listeners to begin exploring this? This domain? 

Kat Schrier  18:20  
So I don't think games have to be complicated. Some of the games I mentioned are the kinds of games that you would find, maybe if you downloaded Steam, and you could download the game through Steam, or you could, you know, use it on, you know, an Xbox or a PlayStation. But it doesn't need to be even an expensive game, right, you can start there are so many games out there that are free and easy to download. There are games like Mission US, which is a series of historic moments where you can relive the moment as a historic character and practice ethics and leadership skills through the choices that you make in those games totally free created by WNET channel 13. You just go to the website, "Mission US Game," and you can download it through that. And even games like I mentioned, Quandry, totally free, open to the public, go to the Quandary Game. And you can play it through that. And then there are games you know, there's a lot of games that you can play on your phone that you can download through an app store. But there are so many riches even online. In my book, We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics I talk about a lot of free games. Yeah, so there's plenty of games out there Parable of the Polygons is a really nice interactive simulation, where you can see right there in your browser, how individual biases can influence and affect in a way that causes systemic bias. So even you know, even things like that, you know, you could see how your individual ethical decisions can have systemic consequences.

Scott Allen  20:01  
Well, what's so exciting about this whole space is, again, whether it's Fortnite, or whether it's Minecraft, and I know there are a couple of different versions of Minecraft, my, my daughter was talking about one where it's more competitive, but you can look at it through the lens of equity and inclusion, ethical decision making leadership, teaming, problem-solving, strategy negotiation, we can start going down the list of literally all of what we teach when we're discussing the topic of leadership. And it's there, it's embedded, it exists. And we don't necessarily need to spend 1000s and 1000s of dollars developing these they've been developed, but we can use them as tools. And look at our topic through that lens, right?

Kat Schrier  20:51  
And it doesn't even need to be a digital game. Like, for example, in my ethics and gaming class, I created a game in five minutes that I play with my students, that just involves them trading pieces of paper, where they've written an X or an O. And depending on the rules of the game, they might trade it in a way that's more collaborative, or that's more competitive. And you can see how just the rules of the game can influence how you treat other people, and how you might work as a team. And again, nondigital, in person, using some scraps of paper still can be like a really valuable lesson for the students, and it could be very memorable for them.

Scott Allen  21:32  
Talk a little bit about that. Are there some analog games that listeners could explore that you think also nicely get to some of these topics?

Kat Schrier  21:42  
Oh, absolutely. So one of the famous games right now is Pandemic, right. It's a board game, where you're playing together as a team, different roles related to pandemic relief, and you have to make decisions, and you're almost playing against the board, right. The game is the enemy, and it keeps like causing a pandemic to happen. And you need to work together with all the other players to try to mitigate the pandemic that is, you know, going all through the world. And it's a great board game for, you know, treat, you know, working on communication skills, cooperation, skills, role-playing skills, it's good, leadership because you need to be really working as a team. 

Kat, I have a funny story about that game. So we were in Bend, Oregon, probably two summers ago, okay. And we went to this, it was a shop where they had games and you could you get a beer, and you could sit and play board games. And so there were people in there that were really into this. And then there were people just out for the night. We were there with our children. So at the time, I think they were probably like, you know, 10 and seven. My son pulled Pandemic off of the shelf. And we started trying, and, you know, you have small children, you know what that's like, it's we aren't going to, you know, learn this in the next 10 minutes and just get going, right? So it was so hilarious because my wife and I finally looked at my son and said, "Look, I don't think we can play Pandemic." And he got very upset. He was like, "I want to play Pandemic! "We pulled Connect Four off the shelf and played Kinect for and about a year ago, we looked at my son and said, so how do you like pandemic? You played it now - in real life. And so it was just it reminded me of that story when you mentioned that game. But I imagine Yeah, you're working as a team to try and minimize and mitigate the effects, right?

Yeah, it's a really, really fun game. It's actually hard to win sometimes like you can play on different levels. And the first couple of times I played, we all lost, right? And that's one part about it is you either all win, or you all lose together.

Scott Allen  24:02  
That's wonderful. Any other tips of analog games that come to mind for you that, that you've experimented with within the classroom?

Kat Schrier  24:10  
Yeah, so actually, I'm always playing games with the students, and a lot of them are board games. And sometimes I have my students make their own board games. So for example, we've made a number of games about fake news, right? So I have my students make their own fake news games where you have to figure out which of the players have the fake headline who's trying to trick everybody else with their fake news headline, or we have, we've made board games about actual like news events, like when there were fires happening in the west of United States. We are made some games about that. So it's kind of interesting, not only to play some of these board games, but also the act of designing them helps you to really have to think about the skills that you want the players to play. And you have to practice those skills to in the fact that you're communicating with your team and working together to design something together.

Scott Allen  25:07  
Yeah. Well, it's really interesting because as I mentioned, a colleague and I co-founded a leadership competition. And one of the most challenging parts of that is designing activities that meet a bunch of these different decision criteria, we can train people quickly, it's a low supply, it's a low-cost supply. So there are all of these decision criteria that we have to we can see the leadership concepts we're looking for emerging, we can see all of that. And so I have incredible respect for how you think about the world and how you think about these activities. Because it's not easy. It's not easy to design. But I imagine there's some really, there are some good resources out there about some principles to accelerate that process. Because right now, we have no knowledge, we're just kind of putting these things into practice, and then playtesting them and, and then putting them into the competition if they appropriate.

Kat Schrier  26:02  
Yeah, well, in my book, We the Gamers, I do have a list of design principles that people can use, you don't have to use all of them. But you can think of it as a toolbox where you can kind of take it out and try it on and see if it works. And if it doesn't work, put it back in the toolbox. So some of them are, you know, things like collaboration and role-playing, and using evidence. And but there's, you know, I have like, 30 different principles. And then, uh, yeah, and then I also created a white paper called Designing Ourselves. And that in that white paper, I have principles for making empathy games, too. So, again, all different kinds of principles that you can kind of mix and match, depending on the kind of game that you're creating.

Scott Allen  26:49  
Kat, this is really cool. As soon as we get off, I'm going to be ordering We the Gamers on Amazon, and for my team that that is helping to design some of these activities that we're going to be doing for spring 2022. Because I think we need that knowledge. Any final thoughts you want to share with listeners about games about gaming in this space? Is there a large community in higher education that what's the association that you're a member of? And I know there's an organization called NASAGA that I've heard of, but what are you a member of where people could learn more?

Kat Schrier  27:29  
Yeah, so I used to be a member. While I'm still a member, I used to be the president of the Learning, Education and Games special interest group as part of the IGDA, which is the International Game Developers Association. And we did a lot of work, we published three different books on learning, education, and games, all free to download, and you just, you know, search for that and search for my name. And you'll find it and you could download it. Yeah, so lots of work there. But there's a lot of there are a lot of people working on these kinds of either educational games, games for you use in higher education games for use or key k 12. There's a lot of us, and I hope that you'll join us and become part of our world.

Scott Allen  28:16  
Well, and I hope I imagine there are just sub-genres right, like escape room experts. And

Kat Schrier  28:21  
Yes, definitely there are definitely escape room experts. Experts have all kinds of VR and AR experts and people who are focused more on live, live-action LARPing role-playing games in the classroom, and many more if you're interested in getting in touch with any of us, please please contact me, Kat Schreier. You can also go to my website,, and check out more awesome.

Scott Allen  28:54  
OK, Kat, I always wind down these conversations by saying What are you reading, listening to streaming? What have you I watched something really interesting last night it was on HBOMAX. And it was called LFG and it was about the women's, the US women's soccer team, and their lawsuit against US Soccer. And that was just incredible. That's another it's another example of where here's something that exists. And we can look at it through the lens of all of these different topics, ethics, leadership teams, any number of different topics, problem-solving. And it just really stood out for me as something that I'm going to use in the classroom for sure. Are there any other What have you been listening to streaming or watching? It doesn't have to do with what we've just discussed, but what's caught your eye recently?

Kat Schrier  29:48  
There's something very interesting that I want to check out. I haven't had a chance to yet but it's called We the People on Netflix. And it's kind of like the new schoolhouse rocks. Do you remember the schoolhouse rocks from When you were a kid, yeah, right so it's like a new version of that where they have it's like musical gas and they have but focused on civics and the classroom in for today. You know the today's today's youth. And it looks really good. I can't wait to check it out We the People, okay,

Scott Allen  30:22  
I'll put that in the show notes. I will put connections to you in the show notes. I will put all of that information there. And Kat thank you so much for joining us as our first outdoor guest, which I love. I wish I was there outdoors with you. But we still are doing this digitally. Maybe somewhere down the road. But thank you so much for the work that you do. You're doing very, very cool things. I want to take your class!

Kat Schrier  30:47  
You should! I actually last year I did my class on Discord. So you could have joined in.

Scott Allen  30:53  
Wow, that's so cool. I have to learn what Discord is! and Steam. But I'm gonna buy the book. And then I'll learn a little bit on that on that. Well, I would love to have you back and continue the conversation someday. But I hope you have a wonderful rest of your summer. Thank you so much for being with us, Kat.

Kat Schrier  31:15  
Thank you. Thanks for having me. This was awesome. I really appreciate it.

Scott Allen  31:18  
Okay, be well. Take care.

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