A new First-Year Odyssey seminar, created by University of Georgia assistant professor Shira Chess, is dedicated to board game design.

Between attending classes, writing papers, working on projects and getting acquainted with the University of Georgia’s vast campus, freshmen have very little time to dedicate to leisure.

Shira Chess, the assistant professor of entertainment and media studies in Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, recognizes the often-stressful schedule of freshmen on campus and rolled the dice on a new First-Year Odyssey seminar dedicated to board game design to tackle the issue.

Inspired by her background in media and video game research, Chess created the course to emphasize the value of play, which she defines as “free movement in a more rigid structure,” a description from Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals.”

“As we veer towards adulthood, we try to make our play productive and to our own detriment, we stop having play for the sake of play,” Chess said. “Finding spaces in our lives for play that can help create communities and that is cathartic can only improve our state of being and make us better humans to each other.”

Because Chess was unsatisfied with the diminishing value of leisure for college students, she designed the course to encourage students to utilize the available resources on campus and in Athens to destress in a way that doesn’t include scrolling through emails or social media on cell phones.

“Leisure needs to be talked about as an aspect of mental health,” Chess said. “Finding those ways to have downtime can make better students and this conversation needs to happen when students are freshmen.”

The first part of this eight-week course led Chess’ class of 12 students through the components of game design, resurfaced childhood memories through the play of popular kids’ games and introduced the freshman students to The Rook & Pawn, a local board game café.

To start the second part of the semester, the class was divided into groups of three or four students and directed to create their own board game. Employing a “game jam style” that required each group to work within the space of the given theme of extinction, students worked together to create prototypes and test each others’ games before finally presenting and playing their final project.

Kurt List, a freshman international affairs major and student in Chess’ class, worked with his group to create a post-apocalyptic game called Capital, in which players take the roles of mayors and attempt to be the first one to rebuild the capital city. List said the two-hour class provided him with time to de-stress, even if it was just for one day a week.

“[The class] was a time that I got to live for the moment rather than focusing on studying,” List said. “I could just focus on board game design with my group and focus on making a game that’s fun for everybody.”

Although the class learned how to utilize critical thinking and strategy during the creation process, the skills obtained in the class go far beyond the eight-week course.

List said since the conclusion of the class, he and members of his group have hosted gaming sessions where they gather in a group to play board games he believes have had a positive impact, achieving Chess’ goal of bringing the community together.

“Part of the importance of board games is the sense of physical community and everyone gathering around,” Chess said. “It changes the dynamic.”

Chess also said although some of the students were dubious about the creation process, they were satisfied by the final result.

“I think all the students were ‘game’ and surprised with how enjoyable the games they came of with were,” Chess said.

With plans to teach the class again in the fall, Chess hopes Board Game Design can continue to create lasting friendships, help students utilize stress relievers and improve the community.

“When you’re playing a good game, it makes you see the world in a different way for that brief period of time and that experience is so beneficial,” Chess said. “It unlocks something.”

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