“Welcome to the Center for Calamity Control!” bellowed Greg Trefry as fourth-graders sat attentively on the floor of the Bryan Innovation Lab
for a workshop with Mr. Trefry, Steward’s latest Visiting Innovator
. “Are you ready to be scientists?” Mr. Trefry is an experiential game designer and co-founder of Gigantic Mechanic, a game studio in Brooklyn, New York that explores ways to bring engaging experiences to students through physical and social play.
“Yes!” exclaimed the students, and with that, Mr. Trefry explained his game, How Many Zombies Are Too Many Zombies? in which students take on the roles of humans or zombies and simulate a “zombie outbreak.” On the surface, the goal of the game is for the zombies to tag the humans, while the humans try to avoid being tagged. But it goes deeper than that: The game introduces participants to the ways that mathematical modeling can be used to simulate, analyze, and make predictions about complex, real-world phenomena.
After deciding collectively how many steps each of the appointed zombies and humans would be allowed to take (two and three, respectively), the students were quickly on their feet, ready to play. Mr. Trefry called out, “Okay, humans, take three steps. Zombies, take two steps!” After several rounds of Mr. Trefry’s callouts, all of the students had been tagged into becoming zombies.
Mr. Trefry then explained the concept of variables, asking the group, “What if the humans had been allowed more steps? What would have happened if the zombies were allowed more steps?” Hands shot up as students pondered endless possibilities.
Later in the day, Mr. Trefry met with Middle School and Upper School students. Megan Young
, Bryan Innovation Lab program coordinator, introduced Mr. Trefry, noting, “Games are such a big part of our lives. They help connect us with our friends, they challenge us, they ask us to solve problems … and they bring us joy, which is why the Bryan Lab has been focusing on game design
for the 2021-22 schoolwide theme of play
.” Mr. Trefry showed an engaging slideshow and shared how he became interested in game design and ultimately co-founded Gigantic Mechanic. His advice to students: “Always remember to follow the fun,” he said.
Mr. Trefry also had lunch with Lower Schoolers and visited Upper School math classes, where students played How Many Zombies Are Too Many Zombies?
Ms. Young said that Mr. Trefry’s visit to Steward “showed how rich games are. As a game designer, he is developing narratives and thinking through the experiences of his players. His games find fun, engaging ways to explore information and gain new perspectives.”
The Visiting Innovator Program
The Visiting Innovators program features national and local experts who are leading thinkers and change-makers in their fields. Past Visiting Innovators include Carolyn Schuyler
(founder and executive director of Wildrock; and Steward’s 2021-22 Visiting Innovator), Leland Melvin
(former astronaut and NFL player), Molly Bloom
(host and producer of an award-winning podcast), Doug Pick
(CEO of Feed More), and many others. Take a look at the Steward Snaps from Mr. Trefry's visit to Steward.