Designing Women: Catherine Croft

Catlilli Games has successfully bridged the gap between learning AND fun, developing educational games that are exciting to play in addition to teaching STEM. 

Since the company was formed they’ve won numerous awards including awards from the Imagination Gaming Awards, three International Serious Play Awards this year, bronze in the Serious Play Awards for Crazy Cats and Insect Intersection, and bronze in the Imagination Gaming Awards for Insect Intersection in the Cross Curriculum and Family categories.

I had the good fortune to meet the driving force behind Catlilli Games, Dr. Catherine Croft, at my first game demo at WashingCon 2017. I was immediately hooked by Tacto, a programming in the guise of Tic-Tac-Toe that both teaches programming AND is genuinely fun to play. Last year, Catherine and I talked about games role in education, women in the industry, and the design process.

What prompted you to get into game design, and why educational games?

I’ve loved board games my whole life.  I used to collect them and my parents would become exasperated when they took up so much room.  When I became a teacher, I started creating them (simple, short ones) whenever I could for the classroom.  One of my colleagues, Jon Nardolilli, did the same thing, and I discovered that not only was he a board game lover, too, but that he had designed his own actual full-length game.  I became inspired and started to design games, also.  We decided to form our own company, Catlilli Games (part of my first name and part of his last name).  We are both STEM teachers, and as a former scientist, I am passionate about educating the public about STEM concepts.  It’s the reason I became a teacher.  My company, Catlilli Games, is extremely mission-driven.  We want to transform STEM education with gaming.

How long have you been gaming?

I’ve collected/played/loved board games my entire life. I only started designing games in Jan. 2015 when Catlilli Games was founded.

Do you feel like the game design industry and tabletop community is positive towards women? Why?

Overall, I have to say that no, I don’t feel the game design industry/tabletop community is welcoming towards women.  I haven’t experienced outright animosity, but I am naturally excluded from gaming groups, and I do feel slightly uncomfortable when I want to attend game nights at stores but they are mostly men.  However, there are pockets of very welcoming communities, such as Labyrinth on Capitol Hill (Washington DC), where I have found men and women present in equal numbers and I have always felt a warm, friendly, accepting vibe toward women.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite?

My favorite game is so very difficult to choose!  In general, I like cooperative games (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Mole Rats in Space – basically anything by Matt Leacock), although I do have a special place in my heart for Machi Koro.  My absolute LEAST favorite game is PieFace – I call it my archenemy.  It goes against everything I stand for as a game designer.

Why do you think educational games are beneficial/important?
Games are important for education because they are a natural way of engaging students.  They automatically stimulate their attention, and they let them interact with the material in a hands-on, creative, exciting way.  Even better, they allow students to talk through questions/problems and learn from each other in many ways.  I also believe that gaming experiences will help them retain the material for longer periods of time.

Whats your favorite stage of the design process?

My favorite part of the design process are the very earliest stages, when I or my former partner had the seed of an idea and knew it has the potential to make a great game, so we would sit for hours going through all the permutations to set up an initial prototype.  The excitement is indescribable.

Since that 2018 chat, Catherine has been busy with game development as well as publishing and speaking engagements. I caught back up with Catherine to find out whats new for the publisher:

“We published two new games:  Neuro Hero ( a wallet game for ages 8+  based on neuroscience, which is my expertise) and Atomic Adventures, an applied chemistry memory/matching game for ages 4+. “

I spoke on the subject of STEM games at the 2018 annual meeting for ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association.  I also spoke on this topic for the 2018 Serious Play Conference.  Additionally, I demo-ed our games at the 2018 annual meeting for NASAGA, the North American Simulation and Gaming Association.”

We performed a two-year long research project in collaboration with the Yale Learning Center, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Simulation & Gaming in June 2018.  Essentially, together we examined the effectiveness of games for learning content knowledge.  We created an immunology digital game for them called Operation:  Ebola! which they used tested using various Yale Global Scholars immunology classes.  Take-home message:  the more often the students played the game, the higher they scored on the test. ”

We are demo-ing our games at AAAS Family Science Days next weekend, a free event in DC which is affiliated with the AAAS Annual Meeting.  This is a science policy organization consisting of the world’s leading scientists.  As a neurobiologist, I am really excited about this.”

Looking for an entertaining way to help a kid in your life with science? You can purchase Catlilli Games from their website. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. (Seriously tho, try Tacto – its outstanding!)