Instructor Spotlight: Krys Ziska Strange

Meet Krys Ziska Strange, the instructor of Gaming Culture & Contexts: From Mario to Meeples.
Krys Ziska

Tell us about your background and what inspired you to teach this course.

Krys Ziska Strange: I've wandered a bit in my professional life but I have spent the better part of two decades working in education.  Early in my career, I noticed that there is an overlap between education and games:  what can make games so powerful and engaging can also work in the classroom.  I was teaching English in summer school for students who needed it to graduate and decided it was the best time ever to make a literature RPG (Role Playing Game).  I broke out my Dungeons and Dragons player manual and my course calendar and went to work creating my first RPG-driven class.  Several years later I noticed how great tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs) are for developing and building confidence and reducing isolation.  A counselor friend and I put our heads together and we started exploring applying TTRPGs as therapy, exploring how we can use these games to help with identity, social skills, communication, anxiety, and PTSD.  And if some paper and dice can do all that, imagine what video games can teach us!  The course was inspired as a love letter to all the ways gaming can influence and inspire us.

What game would you recommend people play if they want to get into gaming?

KZS: I think I would have more questions, honestly.  Like what is drawing you into gaming?  Are you looking to connect with other people?  Is it something to do with your friends on a snowy winter night?  Or are you looking to dive into a story and explore a new world?  My biggest suggestion if you are looking to explore games is to find some friends and grab a board game.  It moves at a pace you set and you can connect with the people around you.  (Personal favorites are Pandemic, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, Wingspan, and Betrayal at House on the Hill.)  A lot of my new-to-video-games friends have enjoyed more cozy games like Stardew Valley and Untitled Goose Game.  If you love a story, there are some amazing story-driven video games like Life is Strange and Firewatch.  It really depends on what draws you in.

What do you hope that students will take away from your course?

KZS: I hope that as a part of our collective experience, we are able to think a bit more abstractly about gaming and especially the games we love.  One of the things we have been working on lately is exploring the exchange that happens in the context of the game between the designer and the player.  I think it is a powerful skill to be able to have an experience and to be able to follow the threads from designed intent to user and back again.  We all have unique experiences and ways that we approach the world.  The way I approach an experience and what I take away from that experience is going to be different than what you take away.  I hope that we all get just a little bit more practice exploring approaches to design with empathy and curiosity.

What is something you are looking forward to in your course later in the semester?

KZS: Honestly, this next class is probably one of my favorites.  It is our "midterm exam."  They need to play a cooperative board game (on "hard mode") and beat that game in the span of the class.  To do this, they have to fully understand what can be controlled (the mechanics of the game) and how to use those rules and the incredibly smart humans at their tables to overcome the pieces they can't control.  Playing a board game really helps us launch into using the community around a game as a part of the game design.  Those people at the table are absolutely a part of the game design and the fabric of the game in that moment and it changes how the game is played and viewed by all involved. 

What is your favorite video game?

KZS: Asking about favorite games is like asking about favorite books.  You're going to get a list.  Portal 2 has always been a favorite (GLaDOS... how I wish I had her proclivity for witty banter and shade) and I quite literally force any friend with an interest in gaming to play it with me.  I credit Stardew Valley for helping me disconnect and escape the pressures of my work during the pandemic (Steam tells me I have 600 hours and Switch tells me I have another 300) and my farm is actually pretty amazing.  I love Warzone because I play it with my gaming guild and I'm horrible at it so I get to die in really stupid ways.  I'm also in the middle of trying to 100% (get all of the achievements) for the entire Mass Effect series and complete every shrine in Breath of the Wild.  So, maybe one of those?

Krys Ziska Strange (also known as Dr. Strange) is the Associate Director of Faculty Development & Instructional Design for Tufts University. For fun, Strange teaches courses on gaming culture and game studies. She also volunteers as a researcher for a non-profit focused on tabletop roleplaying games as therapy, runs Dungeons & Dragons tables for at-risk populations, and maintains a moderately successful farm in Stardew Valley. She holds a PhD from Northern Arizona University.