Category Archives: Games

Glitch, Circuit Bending & Breaking as a Way of Knowing

A big idea in the digital humanities is that building is a hermeneutic, an iterative interpretive process that leads toward knowing and understanding. I saw this great video on The Art of Glitch toady that made me think a bit more about how much breaking can is an essential related way of knowing. I realize I’m not necessarily breaking any new ground here, but I think these few examples I’ve pulled together do a nice job at getting at what it is we learn when we break the slick world of computing a bit.

You should watch the whole thing, its’ great (you should also watch their video on Animated Gifs). But the part that I found most compelling was Scott Fitzgerald‘s basic demonstration of how to glitch some files (change a .mp3 to a .raw and open it in photoshop or open a .jpg in a text editor and delete some chunks of it. It’s fun, in that it is something you can follow along at home with, but the act of doing these things actually teaches something about the nature of digital files. He does a good job of explaining this in the following statement.

“Part of the process is empowering people to understand the tools and underlying structures you know what is going on in the computer. As soon as you understand the system enough to know why you’re breaking it then you have a better understanding of what the tool was built for.”

In short, breaking the files exposes their logic. In a way it helps us escape screen essentialism and see a different side of the nature of the files, file formats, compression algorithms, and structure of digital objects. The whole experience reminded me that I never got around to sharing some of the amazingly cool exhibit on circuit bending at Milwaukee’s Discovery Zone.

Breaking and Bending the Hardware

Circuit Bending at Discovery Zone

If you are unfamiliar, here is how Wikipedia describes Circuit Bending.

Circuit bending is the creative customization of the circuits within electronic devices such as low voltage, battery-powered guitar effects, children’s toys and small digital synthesizers to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators.

Here is a little video I took of messing with the dials on the bent NES.

In this case, messing with the hardware is producing glitches. In this case, the artist (Luke Reddington) bent a series of different devices. He went in and put a bunch of toggles on this NES that lets you flip a bunch of different switches inside the device that no one is supposed to be messing around with.

In my mind, this works just the same as changing the file extensions. When you poke around inside the Nintendo and set a few different switches to toggle things that aren’t supposed to be toggled you can get this. Sure it’s art, there is an aesthetics to the whole thing, but there is also an element of coming to know in here. I think these are all examples of the ways in which breaking is as much a way of knowing as building.

Breaking & Bending as Knowing & Learning about the Machine

In each case, much like what happens when you set an augmented reality app like wordlens to the wrong language and have it try and read things that aren’t text, or when you go on a quest to find oddities in the digitized corpus of google books, circuit bending and glitch art draw out attention away from the way things are intended to be presented, away from being seemless things that obfuscate their nature, and get us to peek behind the curtain of the technologies and see a bit of the logic of computing.

Crowdsourcing Cultural Heritage: The Objectives Are Upside Down

Still not the droid… By Stéfan: Our crowdsourcing conversation is upside down, much like how Calculon is holding these stormtroopers upside down.

Some fantastic work is going on in crowdsourcing the transcription of cultural heritage collections. After some recent thinking and conversation on these projects I want to more strongly and forcefully push a point about this work. This is the same line of thinking I started nearly a year ago in Meaningification and Crowdscafolding: Forget Badges. I’ve come to believe that conversations about the objective of this work, as broadly discussed, are exactly upside down. Transcripts and other data are great, but when done right, crowdsourcing projects are the best way of accomplishing the entire point of putting collections online. I think a lot of the people who work on these projects think this way but we are still in a situation where we need to justify this work by the product instead of justifying it by the process.

Getting transcriptions, or for that matter getting any kind of data or work is a by-product of something that is actually far more amazing than being able to better search through a collection.  The process of crowdsourcing projects fulfills the mission of digital collections better than the resulting searches. That is, when someone sits down to transcribe a document they are actually better fulfilling the mission of the cultural heritage organization than anyone who simply stops by to flip through the pages.

Why are we putting cultural heritage collections online again?

There are a range of reasons that we put digital collections online. With that said the single most important reason to do so is to make history accessible and invite students, researchers, teachers, and anyone in the public to explore and connect with our past. Historians, Librarians, Archivists, and Curators who share digital collections and exhibits can measure their success toward this goal in how people use, reuse, explore and understand these objects.

In general, crowdsourcing transcription is first and foremost described as a means by which we can get better data to help better enable the kinds of use and reuse that we want people to make of our collections. In this respect, the general idea of crowdsourcing is described as an instrument for getting data that we can use to make collections more accessible. Don’t get me wrong, crowdsourcing does this. With that said it does so much more than this. In the process of developing these crowdsourcing projects we have stumbled into something far more exciting than speeding up or lowering the costs of document transcription. Far better than being an instrument for generating data that we can use to get our collections more used it is actually the single greatest advancement in getting people using and interacting with our collections. A few examples will help illustrate this.

Increased Use, Deeper Use, Crowdsourcing Civil War Diaries

Last year, the University of Iowa libraries crowdsourced the transcription of a set of civil war diaries. I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Nicole Saylor, the head of Digital Library Services, about the project. From any perspective the project was very successful. They got great transcriptions and they ended up attracting more donors to support their work.

The project also succeeded in dramatically increasing site traffic. As Nicole explained, “On June 9, 2011, we went from about 1000 daily hits to our digital library on a really good day to more than 70,000.” As great as all this is, as far as I’m concerned, the most valuable thing that happened is that when people come to transcribe the diaries they engage with the objects more deeply than they would have if transcription was not an option. Consider this quote from Nicole explaining how one particular transcriptionist interacted with the collection. It is worth quoting her at length;

The transcriptionists actually follow the story told in these manuscripts and often become invested in the story or motivated by the thought of furthering research by making these written texts accessible. One of our most engaged transcribers, a man from the north of England, has written us to say that the people in the diaries have become almost an extended part of his family. He gets caught up in their lives, and even mourns their deaths. He has enlisted one of his friends, who has a PhD in military history, to look for errors in the transcriptions already submitted. “You can do it when you want as long as you want, and you are, literally, making history,” he once wrote us.  That kind of patron passion for a manuscript collection is a dream. Of the user feedback we’ve received, a few of my other favorites are: “This is one of the COOLEST and most historically interesting things I have seen since I first saw a dinosaur fossil and realized how big they actually were.” “I got hooked and did about 20. It’s getting easier the longer I transcribe for him because I’m understanding his handwriting and syntax better.” “Best thing ever. Will be my new guilty pleasure. That I don’t even need to feel that guilty about.

The transcriptions are great, they make the content more accessible, but as Nicole explains, “The connections we’ve made with users and their sustained interest in the collection is the most exciting and gratifying part.”  This is exactly as it should be! The invitation of crowdsourcing and the event of the project are the most valuable and precious user experiences that a cultural heritage institution can offer its users. It is essential that the project offer meaningful work. These projects invite the public to leave a mark and help enhance the collections. With that said, if the goal is to get people to engage with collections and engage deeply with the past then the transcripts are actually a fantastic byproduct that is created by offering meaningful activities for the public to engage in.

Rationing out Transcription

Part of what prompted this post is a story that Ben Brumfield gave on crowdsourcing transcription at the recent Institute for Museum and Library Services Web Wise conference. It was a great talk, and when they get around to posting it online you should all go watch it. There was one particular moment in the talk that I thought was essential for this discussion.

At one point in a transcription project he noticed that one of his most valuable power users was slowing down on their transcriptions. The user had started to cut back significantly in the time they spent transcribing this particular set of manuscripts. Ben reached out to the user and asked about it. Interestingly, the user responded to explain that they had noticed that there weren’t as many scanned documents showing up that required transcription. For this user, the 2-3 hours they spent each day working on transcriptions was such an important experience, such an important part of their day, that they had decided to cut back and deny themselves some of that experience. The user needed to ration out that experience. It was such an important part of their day that they needed to make sure that it lasted.

At its best, crowdsourcing is not about getting someone to do work for you, it is about offering your users the opportunity to participate in public memory.

Crowdsourcing is better at Digital Collections than Displaying Digital Collections

What crowdsourcing does, that most digital collection platforms fail to do, is offers an opportunity for someone to do something more than consume information. When done well, crowdsourcing offers us an opportunity to provide meaningful ways for individuals to engage with and contribute to public memory. Far from being an instrument which enables us to ultimately better deliver content to end users, crowdsourcing is the best way to actually engage our users in the fundamental reason that these digital collections exist in the first place.

Meaningful Activity is the Apex of User Experience for Cultural Heritage Collections

When we adopt this mindset, the money spent on crowdsourcing projects in terms of designing and building systems, in terms of staff time to manage, etc. is not something that can be compared to the costs of having someone transcribe documents on mechanical turk. Think about it this way, the transcription of those documents is actually a precious resource, a precious bit of activity that would mean the world to someone. It isn’t that any task or obstacle for users to take on will do, for example, if you asked users to transcribe documents that could easily be OCRed the whole thing loses its meaning and purpose. It isn’t about sisyphean tasks, it is about providing meaningful ways for the public to enhance collections while more deeply engaging and exploring them.

Just as Ben’s user rationed out the transcription of those documents we might actually think about crowdsourcing experiences as one of the most precious things we can offer our users. Instead of simply offering them the ability to browse or poke around in digital collections we can invite them to participate. We are in a position to let our users engage in a personal way that is only for them at that moment. Instead of browsing through a collection they literally become a part of our historical record.

The Important Difference between Exploitation-ware and Software for the Soul

Slide from Ruling the World

As a bit of a coda, what is tricky here is that there is (strangely) an important and  but somewhat subtle line between exploiting people and giving people the most valuable kinds of experience that we can offer for digital collections. The trick is that gamification is (for the most part) bullshit. You can trick people into doing things with gimmicks, but when you do so you frequently betray their trust and can ruin the innately enjoyable nature of being a part of something that matters to you, in our case, the way that  users could deeply interact with and explore the past via your online collections. What sucks about what has happened in the idea of gamification is that it is about the least interesting parts of games. It’s about leaderboards and badges. As Sebastian Deterding has explained, many times and many ways, the best part of games, the things that we should actually try to emulate in a gamification that attempts to be more than pointsification or exploitationware are the part of games that let us participate in something bigger. It is the part of games that invites us to playfully take on big challenges. Be wary of anyone who tries to suggest we should trick people or entice them into this work. We can offer users an opportunity to deeply explore, connect with and contribute to public memory and we can’t let anything get in the way of that.

Reading the Sporum: What Players do with Spore

It appears the stars have aligned and several papers I have had in the works for a while are hitting the streets at the same time. I’m excited to announce that an article I wrote for Cultural Studies of Science Education is now up in “Online First.” I thought I would share the abstract, and one section from the paper where I talk through some of the ways that people role play at natural history in the forums.

Owens, T. J. (2012). Teaching intelligent design or sparking interest in science?
What players do with and take away from Will Wright’s Spore. Cultural Studies of Science Education  DOI: 10.1007/s11422-012-9383-5

Abstract: Teaching intelligent design or sparking interest in science?

The 2008 commercial video game Spore allowed more than a million players to design their own life forms. Starting from single-celled organisms players played through a caricature of natural history. Press coverage of the game’s release offer two frames for thinking about the implications of the game. Some scientists and educators saw the game as a troubling teacher of intelligent design, while others suggested it might excite public interest in science. This paper explores the extent to which these two ways of thinking about the game are consistent with what players have done with the game in its online community. This analysis suggests that, at least for the players participating in this community, the game has not seduced them into believing in intelligent design. Instead the activities of these players suggest that the game has played a catalytic role in engaging the public with science. These findings indicate that designers of educational games may wish to consider more deeply tensions between prioritizing accuracy of content in educational games over player engagement.

The Evolution of the Javelin Hawk

I had a ton of fun with this paper. The Sporum, the Spore web forums, is a crazy place and a good time. I think it also turns out to be a great place to test ideas about what people who play sand box games like Spore end up doing as a result of their experiences playing the game. In any event, writing about the “Javelin Hawk” will likely be my only chance to discuss something that has a “prehensile throat” which it uses to “spear live prey and drink its innards using gastric juices vomited up through the throat”. Enjoy!

Stylistically written to evoke what might be described as, ‘‘textbook language’’ a player describes how the ‘‘Javelin Hawk evolved from the Archeopteryx, an early bird.’’ The player explains, Archeopteryx developed a ‘‘strange mutation in which part of the esophagus was extended into the mouth, resembling a hose.’’ It is important to note that the game itself does not employ the idea of mutation. In Spore, players spend ‘‘DNA points’’ to add features to their creatures. This player brought in the idea of mutation to serve as a layer of explanation for how their creature came about. The player goes on to explain that this mutation ‘‘was usually fatal, until the opening evolved to be prehensile.’’ This is, yet again, a significant addition to the way the game works. Not only is the player using the idea of mutation, she is also presenting mutation as something that, for most of the creatures who exhibited the mutation, is fatal. Only coupled with an additional mutation, the player explains, did these creatures’ esophagi became prehensile resulting in a viable new species. The player explains and names this creature as an intermediate form; ‘‘This creature with a prehensile throat was known as the Perlingua.’’ From there, the player reports, ‘‘Eventually, with the extinction of the succulent plants it fed on in the area, it evolved a larger longue [sic] that was very sharp to spear live prey and drink it’s [sic] innards using gastric juices vomited up through the throat.’’ In this explanation, the player identifies that the loss of the creatures’ food source, the plants, led to it ‘‘evolving’’ a larger tongue with which it could spear live prey. The description here sounds a bit Lamarkian: the extinction of the plants that the creatures ate could have led to their extinction but could not prompt them to ‘‘evolve.’’ Instead, a loss of a creatures’ food source could act as a factor in natural selection.

For those without access to the official copy you can see my personal unofficial archival HTML copy here on my website.

Techies You Decide! You’re either a Feminist or a Misogynist

I got caught up reading Margaret Robertson’s great post today, In Which I don’t try to write like a man. She describes how she has self-censored herself. How she has tried to frequently go out of her way to de-gender herself in her writing on games.

Here is a particularly good quote:

It’s taken me a while to recognise that a big part of why I don’t post things like this is because I’m *scared*. Actually scared. Actually worried that I’ll terminally undermine my credibility. And that’s because the degree of abuse you can attract is of a different order from the generality of internet rough-and-tumble

This depressed me. This feeling of depression took me back to reading Skud’s post, On being Harassed. (Seriously, if you haven’t read Skud’s post go read it now, and some of the links.)

See, I work on open source, but I work on it in libraries and the digital humanities. I also do things with games, but it’s humanities research. In both cases, I end up spending my time on the web hanging with feminists like myself. In general, I think folks in the digital humanities respond rather well to issues around gender and technology. For example, I think the What Do Girl’s Dig conversation that Bethany kicked off was really productive. Heck, it became a book chapter. With that said, we are working on it. I think DH folks do a rather good job in realizing that conversations about technology come pre-loaded with gender problems.

If you read Robertson’s post, and the comments, and Skud’s post I think this becomes rather self-evident. You are either a expressed feminist or you are a witting or un-witting misogynist. I just wanted to make where I stand clear, and invite anyone else who wants to make this clear to say so as well.

Mysogony or Feminism: The Choice is Yours

But I’m an equalist!!!!111!! No, you’re not. If you are an equalist you are a feminist. The situation is as follows. Society is normative. Society is anti-feminist. That is just how power works. You can choose to recognize this. If you do, the result is that you need to think very carefully about what you are going to do to try to help make sure that your actions don’t further exacerbate the problem. Otherwise you can accept that you are an unwitting accomplice in perpetuating the status quo. Seriously, go read about some of the psychological research on stereotype threat. (For those unaware of stereotype threat research, the gist is that you can quantify the effects of gender and race stereotypes effects on academic achievement on tests.)

This is Not Novel But It Needs to be Restated

The purpose of this post is not to make a new or novel point. I make no claim to be breaking new ground. I just think we need more people in tech, more men in particular, who will explicitly and unambitious state that they are feminists. There are plenty of people out there waiting to shout women down and the more people willing to clearly state that this is a problem the better we will all be.

This is not a women’s issue. I want to live in a more just society. That is why I am a feminist. If you want to live in a more just society then you’re a feminist too. It upsets me when I am reminded of just how unkind and abrasive the web, technology and gaming communities are to women. I feel rather strongly that the world needs more people in technology, men in particular, who are willing to clearly state that they are feminists. To me that means being someone who is willing to think through and second guess my own actions. It also means that I consciously try to advocate on behalf of women in technology.

So, which side are you on? Remember, you get to choose, but choosing not to choose is also choosing a side.

Newbs, N00bs and Elitists: Neologisms for learners and teachers in open online communities

The openness of online communities is one of the things that make them so exciting. Anyone, anywhere, can create an account and start participating. The more I think about some of the research I did on RPGmakerVX.net the more I think that the neologisms for dispositions of a few different kinds of users on the site capture some important parts of defining teachers and learners in open interest driven web communities. In this post I will briefly describe how the terms Newbs, N00b and Elitist Bastards expressed in the ground rules of the RPGmakerVX community serve to define the roles for learners and teachers in this space.

As a frame of reference, RPGmakerVX.net is an online discussion board where those interested in creating SNES looking role-playing games congregate to discuss, develop, and share their projects. Elsewhere I’ve written about how this operates as a community of learners. When I first visited the site though, I was struck by the discussion boards simple guidelines.

Eletist Bastardly Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated

The following appears at the top of the Board Rules page. For our purposes, the first prime directive and its first bullet point are particularly relevant.

This prime directive classifies three kinds of users. First and foremost, the elitist bastard, the kind of person who is not tolerated on the boards. The elitist bastard refuses to understand the difference between two different kinds of new members to the site, the newb and and n00b. Before parsing through all of this in a bit more depth it is worth following the link for newb and n00b from the rules to see how the terms are used here. Following the link leads to this comic from CTL+ALT+DELETE

Glossary: Newb/Noob

The following is the comic linked to from the RPGmakerVX.net discussion boards. (Actually it looks like the link is broken now but this is what it linked to a few months back.) This 2006 web comic walks through the distinctions between these two terms for gamers who are new to a particular game.

The newb is inexperienced, but is wants to learn and when given guidance is happy to take it and act on it. In contrast, the n00b, while similarly clueless is unwilling to submit to respect the elders, the gamers who know how to play the game, or in this case the game makers who have developed expertise. The comic explains what , “newbs should be cared for and nurtured so that they may grow into valuable skilled players” while “N00bs deserve our wrath” and our apparent pity as they are likely to have problems in finding or making any meaningful relationships.

Newbs Respect the Authority/Wisdom of the Open Knowledge Community, N00bs are Unwilling to Learn the Ground Rules for Being a Novice

These neologisms are widespread. Turning to the OED of Internet slang, the Urban Dictionary. We find that a newb is “A term used to describe a inexperienced gamer/person/etc. Unlike a noob, a newb is someone who actually wants to get better.” Aside from just being part of the rules of the community, when I asked participants in my study of the RPG Maker VX community what the difference between a N00b and a newb most of the participants could parse the difference between the two terms.

The Elitist Bastard Fails to Nurture the Novice

The elitist bastard is one who fails to recognize the difference between new learners. There is almost no barrier to entry to RPGmakerVX.net. All you need to do is sign up for an account to join and start posting. This means that new community members are going to need to be vetted and filtered after they have already come in the virtual door and started talking. Some of the new users are newbs, that is individuals who are want to learn to make games and are willing to show deference to the elders of this online community. Some of those users are n00bs, who are unwilling to do things like read the FAQ, read stickied posts on how to ask questions and post about their projects, and when told follow the rules will simply become disgruntled and argumentative. In short, experienced members of the community need to know who to nurture and who to moderate, call out, and judge for not respecting the rules of the community.

Necessary Neologisms for Learning on the Open Web?

I’m curious to hear from those who talk about learning webs, about massively open online courses, or for that matter any bread of open online education projects about this. It strikes me that the story of RPGmakervx.net is very similar to my experience with any number of online communities. Things like open source communities, fan fiction communities, photo sharing communities on sites like Flickr, the guild of Wikipedians, each seem to have this kind of operational structure. Are these necessary neologisms for learning on the open web, or are newbs, n00bs, and elitist bastards just 1337 way of talking about things we already have names for?

My First Citation! Not my writing but my gaming?

Well it’s happened. I have been cited for my work! While it would be fun to say that it was one of my fantastic research articles, it is actually for my chops as a Druid a few years back in World of Warcraft.

See the excerpt below from Kurt Squire‘s book Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age.

I still do look forward to the day when someone actually cites one of my papers or my book (ideally in a positive way). With that said, there is something kind of cool in knowing that my exploits as a Druid have been immortalized in print.

To add one more layer to the story for folks who know WoW: While I was healing in Molten Core, and switched to bear form to pick up agro, I was in fact specced as a Moonkin Druid at the time. So I was actually doubly out of my element. Oh, and in the fight I was tanking one of the Sulfuron Harbinger adds.

I do like that my story falls under the heading of “The Fantasy of Being an Expert. I can relate to that 🙂

Designing Learning Environments: Lessons from RPGmakervx.net

I am thrilled to announce that the first of a few publications resulting from my research on the RPGmakervx.net community has been published. I’m thrilled that, almost a year-to-the-day after I announced the start of the project the first of the resulting publications is out. Over the last year I had a lot of fun sharing  preliminary results from my survey on this blog and present a poster about the project at Games+Learning+Society conference last June. With that said, it is really exciting to see the results of that work ending up in  peer reviewed journal.

In this particular essay, I try to document the how and what people are learning in the community and try to abstract some principles from the kind of learning that occurs “in the wild” into lessons we can think about incorporating into more formal learning environments.

You can see a screenshot of a screenshot of the forums which I included in the paper below.

The folks at On the Horizon were great to work with. Specifically the guest editor, Christine Greenhow, and the reviewers gave me very invaluable feedback as I refined the essay. I should also note that I am quite excited to dig into the other articles in the issue.

I have included the structured abstract for the article below. Below that you can find links to it.

Trevor Owens, (2011) “Social videogame creation: lessons from RPG Maker”, On the Horizon, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.52 – 61 DOI: 10.1108/10748121111107708

Purpose – Online community sites devoted to RPG Maker, an inexpensive software for creating role-playing video games, have emerged as spaces where young people are developing valuable competencies with digital media. This study seeks to examine the largest of these communities.

Design/methodology/approach – The study uses a mix of qualitative methods including a survey, interviews and analysis of the structure of the site. The study uses discourse analysis and is grounded in work on situated learning.

Findings – The study suggests that the site and community are scaffolding young people into deeper understanding of digital production and the development of practical skills, like programming, as individuals take on identities associated with different roles in game design.

Research limitations/implications – This study reinforces the value of research focused on young people’s social media creation and also suggests that there is still much to be learned about technologically simple but socially rich platforms like web forums. As qualitative research it does not generate statistical generalizations.

Practical implications – This research suggests three implications for the design of online learning environments focused on media production. Designers should: start with learners’ interests and basic skills will evolve; support a diverse range of production roles and identities; and offer simple technical systems that can support sophisticated digital learning communities.

Originality/value – While there is much work on learning in online communities, little of that work has focused on the importance of the role-taking of young people in those communities and on implications of these spaces for designing online learning environments.

If you don’t have access to the very nice looking official PDF you are free to take a look at my personal less nice looking PDF. I should note that I am able to deposit this copy of my paper on my personal website because of Emerald Publishing’s very reasonable author charter.

Teaching with RPG Maker: Interview with Caleb Gentry

I had a ton of fun talking to folks about my research on RPG Maker at the Games Learning and Society Conference last month. I am a big fan of the opportunity for conversation that poster sessions provide. I expected most people that visited my poster would be unfamiliar with RPG Maker and the community. That was true for about half of them. The other half consisted of people that had been using the software themselves and educators that had used the software for teaching computer programing or game design.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask one of these educators, Caleb Gentry, some questions about teaching with the software. Caleb teaches some very cool courses on digital media and programing at Sequim Middle School in Washington. His reflections on teaching with the software offer some interesting points of comparison and consideration for thinking about working with the software in a completely informal learning space.

Where did you first find out about RPG Maker? What were your first impressions of the software and what made you think it could be a teaching tool?
I was already teaching game design to middle school students and a few of them wanted to make RPG style games and the product we were using (Multimedia Fusion 2) to make our games wasn’t very efficient for this task. I began to look online for new software solutions and I came across the RPG Maker series. There are quite a few versions that I evaluated and some lacked essential features that I needed such as network folder support.

How did you first use the software in a classroom? What were your learning objectives? What kind of curricula did you develop around it?
After I tested RPG Maker VX myself I installed it for a single team of students in order to test how the students would react. They picked up on how the software worked quickly and easily and so I allowed them to continue to use it for their team game design unit. I now have a simple RPG unit in the game design class that is required. This summer I began testing Gamestar Mechanic and I think it fits well as a unit following the Gamestar Mechanic training. Moving middle school students of various levels of proficiency through the game design process can be challenging but I think there are great off the shelf products at this point that make it a legitimate choice as an elective class or as a unit in a core class. You can check out TexasGames.net for more reviews of software.

How did/does it work in a classroom? What kind of reflections do you have on using RPG Maker to teach and how would you compare and contrast it to other tools?
The product is a great fit for my needs. It is easy enough to use quickly yet complicated and flexible enough to keep the students engaged for months. In caparison to other tools we use I would say the basic programming is a bit easier, it really works for students who want to tell a story through their game. Girls usually excel with RPG Maker…probably because they tend to not care as much about shooter games.

At the poster session I was able to tell you a bit about my research on the RPG Maker VX community. Using the application in a classroom is clearly very different from this community, but I am curious to know what kind of similarities and differences you saw between students learning to make games with the application in your classroom and the individuals from the web community we discussed?

Just like an online community a learning community within a classroom has individuals that step up and lead the way. There are usually a handful of students who “get it” and assist others with figuring out the complexities of the software tools and process of game design and development. I think that it’s easier for most students to share face to face…mostly because posting to online communities requires more effort. The biggest difference is in the fact that in my classroom all the students are one age and in the online communities people of all ages can contribute. There are risks involved of course when people of many ages coexist in virtual space but I think it’s important for students to realize that they can become an expert in something at a young age and contribute to a larger community.

If there was one piece of advice you would give to someone that wanted to use a game making application, like RPG Maker, to in their classroom what would it be?

I think it would be to try and not worry about not being an expert of the software to begin with. Eventually you will need to be at least competent with it but at first you can figure it out together with the students. Obviously if an online community exists for help it’s a big plus so it should be a variable that you should consider when choosing game design software. I was extremely fortunate to have support early on in my teaching career from other teachers in the TexasGames.net community who made it possible to not only learn how to use the software but it figure out the best approach to teaching such a dynamic subject. I’ve tried as much as possible to give back to that community.

Divergent Design Competence in the RPG Maker Community: GLS Presentation

I am thrilled to be back in Madison, if only for a few days, for the Games Learning and Society conference. Now in it’s 6th year, it is very cool to see how much the conference has grown and matured since I worked on the first two years of the conferences organizing committee. This year I am excited to be presenting a poster on some of my RPG research. Along with presenting my poster in person I wanted to put it up to share with everyone who isn’t at the conference.

I have included the brief text from my poster here too.

Abstract:
The RPG Maker VX Community site provides its more than 40,000 members a space to collaboratively critique and design PC role-playing games. This poster presents preliminary results from a qualitative study of this community. Analysis of interviews and discussions on the RPG Maker site, combined with information gathered through a survey suggest that the RPG Maker Community is scaffolding young game enthusiasts into a deeper understanding of game design and allied digital art perspectives. The study proposes a model for how members join, advance, and develop new literacy competencies through participation in the community.

Conceptual Context:
Online affinity communities are increasingly being explored as places where young people are acquiring new literacies (Gee, 2004). Through extensive ethnographic fieldwork Ito and others (2010) found young people “geeking out” in web based affinity communities where individuals are “learning to navigate esoteric domains of knowledge and practice and participating in communities that traffic in these forms of expertise” (p. 28). Studies of Flickr (Davies, 2006), fan fiction sites (Black, 2005), and Civilization fan-sites (Squire & giovanetto 2008; Owens 2010) support the idea that young people are acquiring critical new literacy skills in these communities.

The communal and cooperative nature of these informal learning communities suggests that they be understood as communities of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991). Community members develop competence and refine their skills toward mastery through interaction and engagement, and encouragement from expert community members. The RPG Maker community offers a space to further examine these kinds of interest and affinity driven spaces.

Research Design:
This poster presents part of a larger multi-method study of the RPG Maker Community. The larger study uses a randomized survey of participants to chart general demographic information and involvement in the community, in-depth interviews with a purposeful sample of ten community members to document participant reactions and understanding, and analysis of forum discussions and rules posted on the community site to examine the actual interactions of community participants. This poster reports preliminary results from these three data sets, focusing primarily on articulating a model of community engagement and the competencies community members develop.

Model of Individual Community Engagement and Competence Development:


Snippets from Interviews:
The poster format does not really provide an extensive space to analyze data, but I did want to give a sense of the kind of materials I have been working with to develop this model. In the future I will do some more in depth analysis of these kinds of materials. With that said, this does provide a flavor for the kinds of data I am drawing on.

Conclusions:
Analysis of the interviews and discussions on the RPG Maker site, combined with information gathered through a survey suggest that the RPG Maker Community is scaffolding game enthusiasts into a deeper understanding of game design and art and allied art and design perspectives. This work supports the following theory for engagement in the community. Members join to gain access to the resources, character sprites, maps, scripts, and other artwork. Some then engage in a cycle of critical dialog with other community members. The evidence suggests that those who persist in engaging in this dialog develop a range of critical competencies 21st century skills and new literacies in art and design.

Read My Article On Civ Modders in the Journal Simulation & Gaming

I am excited to announce that an article I wrote about how the game Civilization modders, players that edit and alter the game’s code, is now available as OnlineFirst through Sage. The project was a ton of fun and I hope it sparks some good conversations. You can find the abstract bellow.

Sid Meier’s CIVILIZATION has been promoted as an educational tool, used as a platform for building educational simulations, and maligned as promoting Eurocentrism, bioimperialism, and racial superiority. This article explores the complex issues involved in interpreting a game through analysis of the ways modders (gamers who modify the game) have approached the history of science, technology, and knowledge embod- ied in the game. Through text analysis of modder discussion, this article explores the assumed values and tone of the community’s discourse. The study offers initial findings that CIVILIZATION modders value a variety of positive discursive practices for devel- oping historical models. Community members value a form of historical authenticity, they prize subtlety and nuance in models for science in the game, and they communicate through civil consensus building. Game theorists, players, and scholars, as well as those interested in modeling the history, sociology, and philosophy of science, will be inter- ested to see the ways in which CIVILIZATION III cultivates an audience of modders who spend their time reimagining how science and technology could work in the game.

For those of you outside the great paywall, I have a copy of the article here on my personal website.