Tell about a time you hacked a non-computer system.
Variations on that question have been making the rounds lately, often in applications for funds or services that are looking for out-of-the-box thinkers, or some might even say disruptive thinkers.
I was a bit stymied the first time I encountered the hacking question. Hacking is a bad thing that starts with using your modem to hack into the local phone company and ends with a jail sentence for creating some malicious self-replicating virus that exploits some tiny security flaw thus crippling some corner of the internet. But then your career picks up again when the FBI hires you to professionally hack into secure systems, thus turning your bad habits into service for your country.
That’s the cinematic definition, I realized. A more practical definition is to think of hacking as a mindset for creative problem solving, in which you manipulate a system in an unusual way to solve your problem. In other words, the hacking question rephrased is
Tell about a time you creatively solved a problem (without using computers).
If I pose the question in this way, I can say I hack all the time. Game designers have to prototype ideas to know if they’re workable or any good. Full-blown digital prototyping costs resources ($$, time, staff, assets, etc). So we save that for later, when we know our idea is at least on the way to becoming feasible.
So what are some of our secrets of hacking out a quick, dirty, rapid prototype?
Level 1: Raid the children’s art supplies
Whatever gets the job done, be it crayons, sticky notes, glue sticks and poster board.
Level 2: Digital but low-tech
You’d be amazed what you can do with Powerpoint or other presentation programs. There’s a whole subculture of teachers who make classroom games in Powerpoint!
Level 3: Game-y but not really for public consumption
Sometimes we use tools like Scratch or GameMaker. These are great for playable, digital prototypes. We can still manage on a relatively low-level of coding knowledge but can also look at how the mechanics play as a system.
After that, the project will tell us what to do, whether to continue prototyping or whether it’s time to move into production.
Now I at least have one answer for the hacking question. In case you’re wondering, I have no idea what the correct (or an acceptable) answer is to the question “Tell about a time you hacked a non-computer system.” It’s like your worst nightmare of interview questions. (Ever seen Google interview questions? Google them!) The answers can vary far and wide and the correctness of the answer varies just as far and wide.
So how do you hack? Let us know at kidsGotGame@noCrusts.com or @noCrusts on Twitter!