How I Got Here: A career in game design led Karen Chang to medical training, Mister Mart


Karen Chang found game design on Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). She started out as a child of the fine arts, making life drawings and still art. But her love for video games led her to change majors, moving to the interactive art department at Baltimore Arts College in her senior year.

“At that time, for my thesis, I joined forces with my classmate Cole Prichard“, said Chang. Together they founded Studio217an independent game studio.

“Our thesis was actually Mr Mart, our flagship game,” she said, referring to the virtual reality game the studio showcased at events such as GameScape and Baltimore Innovation Week. “We made a prototype for this game in 2015 with the Oculus DK1, which is one of the first VR headsets.

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In 2018, the game was commercially released on the Steam store. It’s the dream job – the entrepreneurial adventure that fulfills Chang’s creative side. Chang also has a day job applying game design in the medical field, working as an XR generalist with Medstar Health.

At MedStar, Chang creates VR training simulations of medical scenarios that healthcare providers can learn from to build knowledge for recertification. At Studio 217, the goal is as simple as making people laugh.

Whether designing games for education or purely for entertainment, discovering what feels intuitive and enjoyable is always the name of the game.

“I’m like a jack-of-all-trades, but I’m not in control, but I want to make sure the product is finished,” Chang said of his work at MedStar.

For MedStar projects, she writes game design documents, game tests, and creates the art. For his own studio, double all those responsibilities and reduce a five-person team to a two-person team. Next, add the responsibilities of owning a business.

“It’s just the two of us,” Chang said of herself and Pritchard at Studio 217. “We don’t even have a CPA or a lawyer or anything like that. It’s just a really fundamental initiative on our part.

Karen Chang and Cole Pritchard of Studio 2017. (Courtesy photo)

It meant more than three years of work: working on the game, demoing at trade shows like MAGFest and PAX Eastand networking with local organizations like the Baltimore Chapter of the International Association of Game Developers.

She has worked at MedStar for five years and has run her own independent studio for just as long.

Chang didn’t know that game design could be applied in the medical field until her senior year at MICA, when she found a post on Facebook in a game design group looking for an artist to play. comfortable learning medical information. She got the job at MedStar Health using her artistic skills and passion for game design. Once she got the job, she learned from her peers and grew in her position, learning the ins and outs of educational game design.

That meant designing for an audience that might not be as familiar with games and VR.

“When you give [medical professionals] a VR headset,” she said, the question is, “How can we make this the most intuitive, clear, and simple type of controls you can access? she says.

For Chang, the lessons of game development are universal, whether creating games for educational or entertainment purposes.

“Game development is not easy,” Chang said. “It’s a lot of iterations, and it can be disheartening if you get negative feedback and it’s not what you expected. It’s the determination there, where you’re like, ‘Let me improve this product, show it to these people again and see what they say.”

Play Mr. Mart. (Photo courtesy of Studio 217)

For Mister Mart, Chang and Pritchard discovered that people like chaotic motion in virtual reality, and they capitalized on that. It turns out that hitting anime characters is cathartic and enjoyable for gamers. From there, it was all about the determination and the sweat to take the game from ideas in his head to a controller in someone’s hand. For those who want to do the same, just have the audacity to get started.

“Just test that interaction and whatever mechanics you want,” Chang told new game designers, whether they’re looking to make board games, live role-playing games, or an app. “See if it’s fun and enjoyable, and work from there.”


Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member of Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-


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