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 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, 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 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 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 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?

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.

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.

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.

The Interest Driven Curriculum and Online Affinity Communities

The more I explore informal affinity communities, like the Civ modder community, or the RPG Maker Community, the more intriguing I find them. While the communities are themselves interesting, I think there are lessons in these spaces for rethinking more formal learning environments. This post is an attempt to refine some of this line of thinking. For the last few weeks I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what that something is. There are lots of individual things, for example the way participants in these communities learn to give and take criticism is important. But, I think there is something much bigger here too.

Here is what I have for the moment. The most important thing that happens in these spaces is that participants experience what it feels like to commit to a project, invest in it, and over a long process, see it grow. At the heart of these communities, I think the real value is in their ability to let a participant chase their own interest and get a feeling for how pleasurable that interest chasing experience is.

Everyone needs to find Flow
This is fundamentally about experiencing a kind of motivation. Csíkszentmihályi calls these experiences flow. It’s a terrible name, but a critical concept. Flow is a kind of single-minded immersion in a task. It is a pleasurable experience, and it is a fundamental part of developing competence and eventually expertise in a domain. The idea of flow can get rather squishy, but it does describe the generic experience of developing competence and mastery across a wide range of domains.

What troubles me, is that I think many young people never get to experience flow in school, and if they do, only experience it in a single domain. I think places like the RPG Maker Community, and Civ Modders sites could serve as tools for schools to use to help give this experience to all students.

I will borrow an argument from my high school gym teacher as an example of what I think schools need to do in this area. My gym teacher frequently explained to the class that the real value of gym class was for for every student to feel what it is like to exercise frequently enough to be healthy. Without that gym class, many of the students would never have felt what being healthy/ fit was. Without that frame of reference, many students who never exercise would not have any idea of how good it feels to be healthy.

If students are not experiencing flow in schools there is a good chance that they will never have a frame of reference for how good it feels to develop competence in a domain they are passionate about. Schools do a reasonably good job at demonstrating some kinds of motivation to students. Every student experiences extrinsic motivation (do your homework or you fail the class), and many students internalize that carrot and stick, (If I do well on this assignment I will go out for ice cream). However, I don’t think many students get to feel what it is like to feel the kind of intrinsic motivation that comes from flow, and without ever knowing what that feels like, what it feels like to get lost in your work, what do those students have to compare their later experiences in work and life with?

There are places in schools that provide these kinds of experiences, like music and art classes, and theater and athletic programs. However, when students experience flow in a single domain, they are likely to attribute the positive experience associated with flow to the domain. For example, a student that experiences flow as a violinist may well become convinced that playing violin is the only thing that makes them feel that way. In this case, they become convinced that there is one thing that they can do. Beyond the need to have this kind of flow experience, I think we need to think about helping young people find that experience in a range of fields.

The Interest Driven Curriculum
When thinking about the value of the Civ Modder’s space, or the RPG Maker Community, what I find most striking is that these spaces and communities provide a powerful means to engage in flow experiences. There are a wide range of other interest driven communities like these. Flickr has hundreds of active photo pools where budding photographers can engage in the same kinds of experience. Galaxy Zoo has a very active community of participants exploring and teaching each other about astronomy. Places like provide the same kind of experiences for writing about a range of characters from popular media.

Imagine if, for an hour or two a day, schools told students to chase their interests. Facilitators for this kind of experience could well send kids interested in making video games to explore the RPG Maker or Civ communities, Flickr for those interested in photography, fan fic for the kids excited about their pokemons. I think the best way to get students to experience flow is to let them chase their interests. These kinds of web communities provide a great place to get to feel that. At this point, those interest driven experiences of competence are only available to the students that discover them on their own. If we think that equity is one of the most important values of our education system I think we need to seriously think about how we can get these kinds of experiences in the schools.

Becoming Storytellers and Game Makers in the RPG Maker VX Community

A while back, I wrote a post about a very neat piece of software called RPG Maker. I never really got to building a game with it, but I have become fascinated with the community that has come together around the software.  This post begins a series of entries about a research project I have started to explore how this community is scaffolding game players into game makers. In this post I will briefly outline some of the interesting. The image below shows an screen shot from Prelude to Identity, a well received game in the community.

Image from popular RPG Maker Game Prelude of Identity

Daily Composition on the RPG Maker VX boards

Everyday several hundred members of the RPG Maker VX Community read through a new set of project development posts on the community’s forums. In each of these posts amateur game designers, primarily between the ages of 18 and 24, share 500-1000 word game proposals for community critique. These posts include elements of traditional composition, like the proposed games setting, characters, and storyline. They also include elements unique to games as new media, like the proposed game’s mechanics, artwork, and audio. Over the next few days, each of these proposed projects receives extensive feedback from the community. After substantial revision, refinement, development, and continued engagement with the community, some of the community members’ complete their games and share them with the group.

For an example of some of the thoughtful kinds of design and composition that goes into creating game maps see Mr. Moo‘s video of a follow up game Crescendo of Identity.

Short Outline of Project Methods

I have received permission from my schools human subjects review board to explore the community through a diverse set of methods. I have started conducting a survey to get a sense of community members activity, behaviors, and participation. In a few weeks I will start and a set of interviews with community members to get a deeper sense of how members understand their participation and explore some of the various roles they are taking on. My goal is to then use the survey and interviews to help add texture and context to a detailed analysis of community interactions as preserved on the message boards.

I have already started to get back survey results. I am excited to share some of the preliminary information here in the next few weeks.

Evolution in Spore: A Case Study in Player Agency

Spore is not a good game for learning about evolution. As many have eloquently articulated the games mechanics clearly place the player in the role of intelligent designer. With that said, I think this case provides an interesting moment to explore the relationship between the role the game puts players in and what players do with that role.

While I would agree that the game does not teach people about evolution, I haven’t seen anything about how players are actually understanding and interpreting the game. This is indicative of a trend across game criticism and scholarship. Instead of exploring how games are understood by their players, they are most frequently analyzed with the assumption that any perceived in adequacies in the mechanics of a game will transfer uninterrupted into the minds of the games players.

To underscore the problems that arise in this kind of thinking I present an extreme case. Below is Youtube user, KyoraMishiso’s interpretation and presentation of the game. Kyora is a young aspiring cartoonist who reports her favorite artist as Enriquo Rermi. Two years ago she posted this video, titled. “Spore Evolution” Below is her video.

In this example Kyora has used the game as a platform for telling a story. She is using the game, not the other way around. She took the mechanics of the game and filled in the gaps in the games treatment of evolution with her own knowledge. She then created this video, which has now been watched more than 60,000 times, to articulate her interpretation of the game. While I see no reason to accept her understanding of the game as anything more than a personal one, quite frankly, an understanding of how one individual engages with the game is more than most analysis of the game which I have seen.

I offer this example to illustrate one way in which a player has engaged with the game. With that said, this sort of example should provide a wake-up call to individuals that think understanding games does not require understanding how players understand, interact with, and make use of their game play experiences. While analysis of the game as artifact can provide valuable information about it’s creator’s intentions those intentions are just one layer of a games meaning. Each player brings their own experience into dialog with the artifact to make their own meaning, and I think this example helps illuminate the need to understand the meaning players make as they co-construct their experiences in games.

I think cases like this point out how frequently those interested in studying games start out by asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking, what does a game mean; we should be asking what does a game mean in a given context? We should be looking at how are players using the game and what kind of agency they are expressing through interaction with the game. What argument is the games creator making and how are it’s players understanding, misunderstanding, agreeing with, rejecting, or otherwise complicating that meaning?

Simulation As A Way of Knowing: First Reflections on Will Wright's Keynote at the 5th Annual Innovations in e-Learning Conference.

It’s not everyday that one gets to swoon as a big time fan boy. Will Wright spoke at the Innovations and e-Learning Symposium and I had the chance to stake out a spot right in the center of the room and soak up a bit of Wright’s visionary gamer visions. Beyond making some of the biggest games of all time (SimCity, The Sims, and Spore to name a few), Wright is also one of the most thoughtful game thinkers around. Below are a few of the pieces in his approach to his sort of games that I think are the most interesting/ innovative/ and crucial.


1. Simulation itself is a powerful, and constant way in which everyone understands the world. We are always creating models of what will happen, how people will react, based on our schema’s and our experiences which ultimately inform our actions.

2. The games he builds create possibility spaces. You make your own stories, you have the ability to restart and take a different branch. On a very basic level this like the branching narrative you get in those old chose your own adventure novels. The bigger sandbox worlds we see in things like Civilization, The Sims, and GTA offer much more sophisticated multidimensional trees, but the concept is the same.

3. For Will when gamers play games they are actually reverse engineering the game as they play it. While a parent watching their child play Wolfenstein might be taken back by the violence Wright suggests that Kids see the higher level of abstraction the power-ups, a door to the next level. In their minds its more like playing chess.  They are abstracting the grammar of these game worlds. Inside the mind of the player they are honing in on the elements, the design decisions, the mechanics that make the game work and testing their theories, making choices and taking the feedback the game provides to refine and improve those theories. In his opinion the “Best games are the games you keep playing after you walk away from your computer. The games you keep playing through in your own imagination.”

I have a lot of mental digestion to do on this talk, but I have one first thought. If we need to think seriously about the role of the reader when studying a text that need is at least ten times greater when studying the relationship between the gamer and the game. The possibilities afforded by the game are just so much larger. I have some more thoughts on this but I will pick them up later.

New Genre: Non-Fiction Video Games

I think our games vocabulary is a bit impoverished. When most people think of games they think of fictional, often fantastic stories. Killing elves, post apocalyptic settings, shooting up all sorts of big bads. But games can also offer interesting ways to engage with the real world. To borrow a word from print I think that non-fiction can provide a compelling way to describe games that create playable environments out of real world data, documents and statistics.
There are other approaches for describing game genres. Terms like educational games, games for change, and serious games try to define genre of games by the intended user experience. Each is a description of the goal of the games, not their content. In my experience this is not the way we describe other media, at least other successful generals of media. Do you want to watch a educational film? Are you interested in reading an exciting new educational book? The idea of serious games is equally problematic. If a military simulation like Americas Army is a serious game are we suggesting that engaging games like Fallout 3 or Bioshock are frivolous?

I think there is a much broader, largely unexplored category for games.

I think we are getting to a point where dividing games into fiction and non-fiction makes sense. Gamers are getting older and there is good reason to believe that as they do they will be looking for other ways to engage with games. If we think about the experiences of watching a documentary, or reading a great work of non-fiction, we can get a taste of what these games could be like. Take those appeals to facts, to real data, and make playable experiences. Below I have three examples of different kinds of games that fit within this genre. Each of these create playable experiences out of real world data.

Science Games:

Example Operation Resilient Planet

In Operation Resilient Planet you recreate the field work of contemporary underwater ecologists. Through a series of mini games built around these scientists’ actual work, players gather data which they then deploy in arguments with other scientists. In practice it is a bit like Phoenix Wright meets a great episode of Nova. The game is built for middle school students, but I found it to be quite engaging. The same basic idea, using real scientific data to make a engaging game space, is in action in the discovery channel’s Sharkrunners game.

Historical Games:

Example Colonial Williamsburg Revolution

Grounded in the historical expertise of folks at Colonial Williamsburg this multi-player Neverwitner Nights mod lets people play through the events around the American Revolution. There are a lot of other examples of games that model a variety of different historical ideas. Commercial games like Civilization, military games like Rome Total War, and the Romance of the Three Kingdom’s series. There are still a lot of less explored ways to build historical games. Things like biographical games, and non-military period piece games are still largely unexplored.

Political Games:

Ayiti: The Cost of Life

Try managing the health, education and finances of a family in Haiti. Don’t let the cartoon-y look of this one fool you, its pretty grim. There are a ton of other examples of these sort of political games, and some lively discussion of these sorts of games as journalism or as games for change. For some other neat examples of these sorts of games see Peacemaker, a Civ style middle east simulator, or the game of non-violent resistance, A Force More Powerful.


To abstract a little bit from these specific examples, the game play in each of these games hinges on real world experience; scientific data, historical documents, economic information, and develops a playable space from those experiences. History, science and politics were the first three sub-genera that came to me. What other sub-categories of non-fiction games should we be thinking about? Or am I just completely wrong headed about this?

Why we need to Play History

In the last few years there has been a wealth of interest in games for learning. A growing body of research on the educational value of games underlines the ways the can engage students like no previous media. There are now conferences and journals dedicated to games and learning, the MacArthur foundation last year granted 50 million dollars to different groups to build educational games, articles in Nature and Science have explored the potential for games to simulated health emergencies and elicit scientific thinking. In short there is a lot of interest and excitement about the potential for games, many of these games are under-construction and many are ready for students and teachers to start playing.With all the interest and infrastructure that has been invested in games for learning there is no comprehensive spot for connecting teachers with the resources which have now cost foundations and universities hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of these games are rapidly built, tested, and promptly shelved, often never having been played by more than a handful of students. It is clear that there is a need to connect these games with teachers. Bringing this bleeding edge technology and learning theory to the finger tips of teachers around the world through a web community.

Aggregating these games is simply not enough. Teachers are overworked, underpaid and often stretched to the limit. This project’s success is contingent on making it as easy as possible for teachers to find high quality content related to their immediate needs in only a matter of minuets. By enabling teachers to search for games by time periods, historical keywords, educational standards and associated lesson ideas the tool would be built to make it as easy as possible for teachers to integrate high quality games and simulations into their daily plans.

As more teachers begin to use the tool it will have the potential to engage other audiences. Several communities have emerged in the last few years as places for independent game developers to share their games with the public. Once Playing History reaches a critical mass of teachers and potential classrooms to play these games it can become a spot for developers to try building games for the classroom with easy distribution across the world. This has the potential for building a community where these developers respond directly to the needs of practicing teachers improving the quality and quantity of games available for theses purposes.

Once this relationship is cemented it will become a rich resource for educational researchers. Through a separate interface researchers will be able to track which games are successful at what times in what parts of the world giving them further information to inform game design.

There is something tragic in the fact that so much money is being spent to develop so many amazing games and simulations, but those resources are often lost and kept out of the hands of the teachers who could put them directly into use. With a small investment in Playing History we can connect the research and development community with the teaching community and in so doing tremendously benefit both groups.