In this week's reading we considered the nature of games and their relationship to learning. In Salen and Zimmerman the definition of a game was sought, resulting in the authors definition: "A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome. "
We then moved onto Gee, and considered how games can help us learn, and the type of learning that occurs when playing games. Gee argues that video gaming is a "multimodal literacy par excellence." To acquire this literacy, one must learn how to read and write within the context or "semiotic domain" of video gaming. Gee goes on to explain that, "we can say that people are (or are not) literate (partially or fully) in a domain if they can recognize (the equivalent of 'reading') and/or produce (the equivalent of 'writing') meanings in the domain."
Unfortunately, many people never acquire this literacy because they consider video games a waste of time because people aren't learning any content. Gee refers to this as the "problem of content." He asserts that we often view content as knowledge that is: a) usually gained in school; and b) a distinct entity that is separate from any associated activity. He illustrates with the example of basketball; we can certainly read about the game but how much more engaged and motivated would we be if we actually played the game?
Rather than simply read about the game of basketball and view it as the "passive content of school-based facts", Gee argues that active learning allows us to: 1) experience the world in new ways, 2) form new affiliations; and 3) prepare for future learning.
Gee goes on to distinguish between active learning and critical learning where one learns "not only how to understand and produce meanings in a particular semiotic domain but, in addition, needs to learn how to think about the domain at a 'meta' level as a complex system of interrelated parts. The learner also needs to learn how to innovate in the domain—how to produce meanings that, while recognizable to experts in the domain, are seen as somehow novel or unpredictable."
When played actively and critically, Gee describes the resulting video game content as this: "They situate meaning in a multimodal space through embodied experiences to solve problems and reflect on the intricacies of the design of imagined worlds and the design of both real and imagined social relationships and identities in the modern world."
In the supplemental readings, Fortugno and Zimmerman point out the difficulties found in the current crop of educational games, that game development is hard, and that educators and game developers are each experts in their domains and there is a lot that needs to be learned on both sides. Lastly, in Kafai we see that the constructionist approach to games, having children builds games to teach others certain concepts, results in the students learning the material very thoroughly.
Please post your answers to the following questions:
Unfortunately I am very unfamiliar with games, especially video games. Any of the games that I have played do seem to rest upon the definitions of Salen and Zimmerman. However, in the Gee article, he discusses the nature of the role-playing game Dungeon's and Dragons as not having a conclusive ending. The players can keep playing with different characters. This contradicts Salen and Zimmerman's last quality of "game" as having a quantifiable outcome.
I feel like I might be the only person in this class unprepared to answer this question, as I have not played any overtly sophisticated video games in my life. There was a short period of time (a couple of months maybe) when I was around 10 when I played a fair amount of Super Mario Bros., Mariokart, and Tetris. When I was really young, I watched my brother play Zelda and being fascinated by the aesthetics more than anything else. The landscapes were basically color blocks with large pixels. I was interested in how my brother was able to navigate through this abstract, blocky landscape and understand what all of the different features symbolized. He was able to learn the nuanced language within the semiotic domain and navigate his way through the game. Through his interest in the game, he was able to learn what Gee would call the "internal design grammar" of the games. My dad (who purchased the personal computer for my brother in the mid 80's as well as the game) was also interested in Zelda, as it was so new, and the two of them would discuss some of the hidden tricks in the game. Anytime I played a game, I think I basically learned the rules of the game through my brother. I did not have the patience or interest to explore new games on my own (I found it difficult to stay indoors while the sun was shining-which was quite often in Hawaii).
Posted by JC
I appreciate your concern with being unfamiliar with games, specifically video games. I grew up playing similar games - Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. At the time I didn't feel like I was learning, of course. Playing video games was no different than going out and playing kickball to me; it was just a game. There is a different experience and learning with video games, such as the language and symbols of the games. Like you, I didn't explore games on my own. I would if it was a group game or it was social. I often wonder if I would enjoy multi-player games as they incorporate a social aspect.
Posted by VC
- Like AL, I'm unfamiliar with games in general (we were not a game-playing household), especially video games, so my input on the first question is probably not very helpful. I was thinking that instead of using "rules" as one of the tenets of Salen and Zimmerman's definition, perhaps it would be useful to use the term "culture". I think of rules being something fixed or hard and fast, but when I was a kid, sometimes I would end up playing games with people who would occasionally change the rules without telling anyone unless it came up. Obviously, these were not very fun games for me (I was, alas, the youngest in my neighborhood and never got to change the rules myself), but I still kept playing and whatever we were doing still had an objective and fulfilled the other elements of the definition as well. Culture is more flexible-people generally have an idea of what they're supposed to do, but under the term "culture", these guidelines or notions of how the activity works can change.
- My video gaming experience ended with Super Mario Brothers 3 on SNES when I was about 8 years-old. I wasn't allowed to play video games (I would secretly do it at a neighbor's house) because it was supposedly bad for my brain (cognitive science suggests otherwise). I was never very good at Mario and therefore didn't get many turns at the controller, but I think playing occasionally and even just observing other kids playing was helpful for my assimilation into American culture. I was born in the states, but my parents are both immigrants and kept a very Chinese household when I was younger. So even if I didn't actually play much, those Super Mario afternoons allowed me to experience the world in a new way, that is, understand life as an American child as opposed to a Taiwanese child. Furthermore, it's given me a cultural touchstone that allows me to connect with my peers today. I don't know if using Super Mario as a topic for small talk counts as helping me form new affiliations, but it's certainly been a useful ice-breaker more than a few times in my life!
Posted by FG
VC's post is the one that resonates the most with me so far. Her astute observations on games' 'rules' and suggestion that we replace that concept with a broader consideration for players' individual cultures is something I would wholeheartedly support. This, however, would amount to the introduction of a new practice in game-playing and design, and I don't foresee that it would pass easily. For all the innovative developments in the field, the field is still based on a perhaps outdated and rigid model of 'rules'. Perhaps, embracing more diverse perspectives and strategies in our approach to games, just as we discussed with regards to computer science and computers in general during our Arduino/painting assignment, might not be a bad idea for attracting and including more people to games, especially the non-game-minded ones:).
What I also find interesting in what Vicky wrote, is that even a small amount of exposure, as she received when she went to her neighbor's place, seems to have some benefits teaching you some basic ideas about games. It's a distance look at them of course, but it's better than nothing, and I wish I had had at least that kind of exposure.
Posted by AL
How interesting that the founders of Guitar Hero had tried and failed to push their music video "tools" but failed until they embedded it in a game! This reinforces the type of learning that Gee speaks about (and which Jenkins mentioned a lot in the MacArthur report) in terms of affinity groups. These gaming communities comprising self-selected members who are learning from each other and based on their interests. We have a lot to learn from the kind of learning that occurs when it is driven by interest and through games. Maybe I will try to co-opt someone's video game console this winter break and learn more about them!
Posted by VC
Your story about Harmonix somehow reminds me of my teaching experience in Taiwan, when I had to trick kids into learning by turning grammar points into games. It's not directly related to your comment, I suppose, but it does underscore (what I assume is) the point of this week's class: the clear delineation between learning and fun does not have to exist, and we can learn while having fun too!
I've been wondering how quickly notions of the compartmentalization or blurring of different aspects of life can spread within a culture. As an undergrad, I had an Israeli friend who grew up in a Kibbutz and always seemed a little confused about the way we separated school and work from our lives at home-apparently where he grew up, there wasn't this distinction. I, on the other hand, thought life in the US had a lot of free flow between these activities, but my basis of comparison was Taiwan, where there is (a limited amount of) time for fun and a (lot of time for) work and studying. There is time for family, and this is separate from other times too. The idea of education games probably seems more commonplace now than it did 30 years ago (which I imagine looked a lot more like Taiwan), and I wonder how receptive people in my parents' generation are to the idea of learning through games.
Posted by SL
You bring up a design point I've been struggling with as I've explored a virtual environment. Recently I joined Second Life, as it gets so much air time in Ed School. Playing with the interfaces and the design affordances and constraints has been fascinating. I too find that I enjoy flying over spaces and navigating this world in new ways that produce new perspectives. It has been the meta-level reflection on the design elements and "rules" that I've found most interesting, and the bugs are particularly interesting. Unlike your experience with WOW however, I have yet to be able to find any meaningful social aspects to the game, despite advertisements to the contrary. I haven't played WOW, but I've watched and listened for hours as my husband has played similar games. His experience is also very social and very international. He loves being exposed to this larger community, and to hone his competitive skills in this environment. Your family's game redesign of Trivial Pursuit also points to a very social activity. As I tentatively design my first game, it seems that the social aspects of gaming hold powerful potential and should be integrated into any learning game if possible. As a more experienced designer, have you been able to incorporate social aspects into your game? Any advice on ways to approach this design element?
Posted by AB
Ah, you mention errors - a fascinating topic. Learning how things fail is a good way of learning how they work. Don't take my word for it - read Mako's "Revealing Errors" blog.
Posted by JC
I would agree that building is indeed a game; especially being there is an excitement in doing so, there are physics and design rules, a battle exists, and an outcome. This would fit the definition.
Posted by DL
When Gee talks about "gaining the potential to join and collaborate with a new affinity group" I believe that he is referring to the community in which the content is a part of (so physics and physics community, games and gaming community). But you brought up the important interaction between school subject content and the school community, which is what many researchers have argued to be the "hidden curriculum" of schools. It argues that what students are really learning in school aren't "real" content and thinking skills of different semiotic (school subject) domains, but just one domain (the "school/organizational" domain) of how to navigate the school system to do well in schools. So doing well in science class doesn't necessary mean that it will help you gain access to join the scientific community.....but it may mean that you have learned to "manipulate" the school "design space" better. I guess games are good in that it isn't a part of an institution with perhaps a hidden/unconscious agenda (or maybe it is?) and that you are learning skills in its true form.
1 & 2.
Like a few others, I too do not have much experience with games, except for my recent experiences with Wii, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero, as they are more approachable games for the novice gamer, if I can even call myself that. Despite these being relatively simple games (compare to strategic games), I do feel that I am engaged in active learning- learning how to navigate the interface, and deciphering the meanings of different sounds and blinking lights. However, I wouldn't say that these games allowed me to "experience the world in new ways" (at least not yet), but I do feel that it has allowed me to experience new worlds. Of course, it would be ideal that I can make connections between the imagined world and the real world, but even without this connection I think it's still a valuable experience.
One thing that I think wasn't emphasized enough in the Gee article is that we need to prepare students for the unknown, and hence teach for the unknown (not just teach things that are already known)…and video games do a good job at that. They provide skills that one may not draw parallels to in the real world right away, but adds new dimensions to their world-views and ways of thinking that when novel situations presents itself, they will have novel/creative ways of interacting with it.
Posted by JL
The great thing about game interfaces is that once you learned one video game then you basically understand any other game within the same genre. For example, for RPGs you can learn one game and understand that the basics is that you have X amount of energy, X amount of money, X amount of health. They replenish after X amount of time, but if you need to more health or energy ASAP you can use potions or buy spells. Throughout the game, you are learning different skills and gaining different weapons, which can level up after each conquest. Those are the minimum basics that you can carry with you all through the RPG gaming world.
1. "A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome. "
I find this definition too restrictive, too focused on a particular form of gaming, that of competitive gaming. There are two games that come to mind from the past that don't exactly fit into this mold. The first is Myst, a game in which the player explores a fictional universe to figure out the story behind the main characters in the game. So you as player are an observer, with a book that transports you to different worlds where you pick up clues to solving the mystery and completing the tale. In Myst you learned how to navigate in different environments, how to best find clues, the rules of play. You learned about fictitious worlds in which you found yourself and the characters you sought to follow—situated meaning in multimodal environment. You did not have other players to interact with, and there was no conflict in which you were engaged. While the main characters were in conflict, your goal was to find out why, rather than to participate in the conflict. In this case, navigation in this universe, exploration, learning (information and tricks to find clues), and building a story were the essential elements for play. There was encouragement to explore and try things, a trial and error approach to problem-solving. It was a lone activity, but an engrossing one, and players would spend hours and hours glued to their monitors. You did learn a literacy that you could share with a community of players, outside of the game environment,. The game created a simulated semiotic domain in which you leaned in contextualized, multimodal ways. You had to think hard about the internal and external design aspects as you navigated through different worlds and constructed your own version of the story, a meta-reflection on the design.
Similarly, another older game is Eve, created by Peter Gabriel. Once again lone players are immersed in fictitious environments. The goal is to solve the riddle of "the relationship between men, women and nature" and turn the landscape into a paradise. The way to do this is to explore objects in different worlds, revealing music and video clips, and finally constructing a landscape into a paradise by clicking on the spots that reveal media and help form a new landscape. In the process you build your own music and videos from clips you find in the different worlds. It's pretty esoteric, but again, very absorbing and very creative. It too causes one to reflect on the design, to participate in the design of a world, paradise, as well as create one's own videos and musical works.
In both cases I would modify Salen and Zimmerman's definition as follows:
A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial environment, with defined goals or challenges, and rules by which to reach those goals or meet the challenges.
2. I had the good fortune of playing Alien Contact!, a game in development at HGSE under Chris Dede. This is a Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE), played on a mobile device, using Augmented Reality (AR) in the design. It was a revelation in many ways. A short description of how it works: Aliens have landed in a nearby location, and you and your team have to figure out why and whether their motives are friendly or no, using clues you pick up in the AR environment. The learning goals for the game are to teach math and literacy skills. Players form teams of 4, each player assuming a different role: chemist, linguist, FBI agent, or computer expert. Each player has his/her own mobile device, equipped with GPS. Information and clues are imparted to you based on your role in the team—so each team player has different parts of the puzzle to add to the hypothesis. It is a collaborative problem solving environment, and very engaging. To get information you can interview witnesses or experts you find as you wander through the physical environment.
For me, embedding information and data in a real, physical environment was new and interesting. Augmenting the physical reality with a virtual landscape and population helped contextualize data and information. The fact that the team had to work together to form a picture, to form a hypothesis about why the aliens landed, and their intent toward the community was a terrific way to make collaboration an integral element in the problem-solving realm. This is how it usually works in the adult world of work, and I found this to be potentially excellent training for the work environment. One often has to turn to and depend on experts and partners to problem solve, rather than work in isolation. The team approach also forces players to form affiliations and tight communication loops in order to come, as a group, to a solution as quickly as possible. Reaching out to others outside of your team, experts and witnesses, was also a good exercise in how to seek and find information resources. Knowledge gained in this exploration is situated in a context. It is also an example of community knowledge, how bringing together a group's knowledge creates a better, more informed hypothesis than a single player could achieve alone.
Upon reflection, Alien Contact! demonstrates rather well some of the good learning potential Gee sees in gaming and points toward a very interesting direction for this future learning technology.
Posted by MN
Thanks for sharing your experiences with Myst, Eve and Alien Contact!, SL.
"A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial environment, with defined goals or challenges, and rules by which to reach those goals or meet the challenges."
I like your new definition of a video game- "environment" in place of conflict and "goal" and "challenges" as additional elements. I've never heard of Myst before, but it sounds like an interesting game by the way you described it. Myst, through its fictional universe and the player as an observer, truly gives the players opportunities to experience the world in new ways and thus addresses Gee's "problem of content". By learning to see the universe in the "meta-level" and understanding the intricately related parts in the complex system the game allows the players to understand the very universe we're part from a different dimension. If done right, I would imagine that this will lead to future learning in out-of-the-box and innovative thinking in all other areas.
Total - and I mean total - non-gamer here. In view of this, I will find it hard to make an informed comment on- or contribution to the proposed questions from our presenters: suggest a game that extends Salen' and Zimmerman's definition, and describe my own experiences playing.
My contact with video games is limited to hearing about them, reading about them [which mind you is quite informative, as this week's readings show, but of course does not replace the actual playing experience], and cursorily casting a glance at the players in the Arcade at the Trocadero in London when passing through it on various visits. That's it. Even board games were virtually absent from my childhood play, as having a brother 6 years older than me meant that the age gap was too big for us to play together. Also, I was brought up in a very strict home environment, replete with rules and dos' and don'ts. Seeking more rules in games and in play in general simply didn't occur to me. In fact, defying my mother's rules became a game in itself, perhaps I could say that by trying to survive in this difficult home environment, with its rules, its 'big bad wolf/baddies/enemies [parental controls], etc., I turned my home into my own video game of sorts. It was 'safer' than the world out there still, but it had its dangers and obstacles to be surmounted.
I am sure that this is stretching it, and that I have missed all the intrinsic experiences and benefits of real games, but this is my own version and understanding of a gaming environment.
I have however a few points and observations to make that are inspired by the readings:
As a non-gamer, I am a little struggling to understand exactly what it is that we are learning by playing video games, and sometimes I find that the gamers, game designers and 'insiders' in the game industry themselves are having a hard time too, taking great pains to define the learning experience and stressing its benefits. Our own authors this week offer some examples. From them, I understand that games teach not so much 'hard facts' but some 'processes,' as Fortugno and Zimmerman wrote. But even Gee's list of 36 principles from the additional suggested readings do little to clarify that concept. To sum up my understanding of what is being learned, I would say that playing games help develop and foster general, life-long skills such as critical thinking, strategic planning, organizational/prioritizing responses and resourcefulness. Given that these skills can and are being learned in other ways/through other venues, it would be interesting to see what additional benefits playing games is bringing to their acquisition than the traditional methods do. What would help here I think is to see some concrete examples of how the skills learned in video games can be applied to other contexts and situations, especially real life ones. One stumbling block I found in our authors' arguments is that most of their good reasons for learning games and the skills learned in playing them are self-referential, that is, the skills learned are especially useful in the context of game-playing. The learning involved often consists primarily in learning about the game we are playing itself - which to a person not initially interested in games like me is a poor incentive.
Generally, I could see that in discussions about game design and the educational values of games, the word 'learning' in being thrown around a lot - a point that Fortugno and Zimmerman make indirectly in their criticisms of the current approach to games in education. But like them, I would like to question the reasons for pushing the educational values of games - as they say: why do developers engage in making such games and why are educators eager to adopt them and integrate them into their classroom activities? One reason these two authors do not mention, and which I think still has some weight, is the commercial motive. Game design and -making is a business, and the industry needs all the motives it can find to sell these games. Today, it seems that every toy on the market has some educational value for children, including toddlers and even babies, promising to develop their brain cells and turn them into little Einsteins as they interact with the colorful plastic elements of their toys. Just as I am suspicious of the claimed medical values to dental health that certain chewing gum brands use, I think I would like to see some concrete evidence that certain skills learned in a game play do actually translate into a skill that can be used in real life and has been assimilated 'for good' so to speak by the player for life-long use.
But something tells me that all this - those learning values of games - will be much clearer to me if I just head for a console/computer and have a go myself at playing some!:)...
Posted by SL
Great push back, FG. I too question the validity of what is currently being learned in the gaming environment. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I've dabbled with games here and there, but never been engaged enough to continue the activity over time or to develop any expertise in the gaming environment. I clearly haven't developed the literacy, I'm still quite awkward with the controls and movements, and I rarely achieve any quantifiable outcome. The process of learning gaming has been mostly about attempting NOT to become a part of the generation gap. It's been a very frustrating endeavor.
That being said, I interpreted Gee's approach to gaming as partially looking at the potential for using games as learning technologies rather than currently being good learning technologies. What gamers learn now is, as you say, self-referential to the gaming environment and community, and produces skills that can be learned in other ways. But I think the potential to use games as a vehicle for learning beyond the gaming environment is quite large. Engaging young people through games can blur the line between learning and fun (as I think Victoria noted above) and in doing so, can create new opportunities to build knowledge outside of the current pedagogical practices in school that are failing.
In reading Gee, I finally understood why Chris Dede's work at Harvard on gaming, VR, and augmented reality is so powerful. And why Scratch is so powerful. Through this gaming world that youth seem to adore, we can teach them new skills that do matter, like programming, or in the case of Dede's work with Alien Contact, skills like math and writing literacy- in addition to the collaboration and problem-solving that gaming proponents advertise as learning attributes of gaming. Gamers do learn these important skills, but it's harder and more interesting to imagine teaching core competencies and content through games in ways that do engage and are transferable.
I'm not sure that going out and playing is going to help clear up the values question. That might be fun, but your critique is well-posed.
Recently, I played a popular iPhone game, called "Boxed-In." It was a game where you are trapped into a rectangular space and need to figure out a way to get out by moving boxes. You could only push the boxes, so if you pushed it wrong, sometimes it's impossible to put it back to its original position, making it necessary to work out the strategy and visualize the process way in advance. Tying this experience with Gee's characteristics of active learning, this definitely prepared me for future learning in puzzle, go, chess, strategic activities, and even system dynamics. By constraining the outcomes, I was able to learn to strategize in a progressive way without the pressure of getting it right the first time (it was possible to reset each round, if I got stuck).
Salen and Zimmerman begin their quest to define the word "game" by saying that it is a foolish endeavor. And in the end they produce a definition that is just derived from other definitions and is equally too general and at the same time too narrow. They already present an example of a game that does not fit in their definition: RPGs. RPGs do not have a "quantifiable outcome" in the overall sense, but they still FIT the definition over RPGs by saying that they have emergent quantifiable outcomes throughout the game.
The Artificial component to their definition I feel is a bit limiting. I understand the meaning they are trying to convey but I feel the word artificial is improperly used. There is nothing artificial about when you lose your lunch money over a night of poker. I also feel that they missed out on a key element in games: entertainment. Games are FUN! Defining the word certainly isn't. I feel the authors lost the soul and essence of games.
In middle school, I became obsessed with an online multiplayer game called ARC (Attack, Retrieve, Capture). The game was fairly simple in that there were two teams, and the object of the game is to capture the other team's flag and bring it back to the home base. The players are in ships that are armed with short ranged missiles, torpedos, and bombs. The game itself wasn't the reason why I became so addicted, but the social culture of the game. People formed clans and alliances. People had to try out to be part of a clan, and through seniority people rose in ranks. There were tournaments held between clans, and brackets that formed. Clan members were supportive and actually held meetings to talk about strategy and just to catch up on each other's life. No one cared how old you were, what gender you were, what ethnic you were, what social class, what car you drove, what education you had. Yet everyone got along. In these affinity groups, I learned different tricks and strategies to the game that I would probably never figured out by myself.