Last week I attended the Games, Learning, Society conference in Madison, WI. It was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning through games. The first day was spent at the ARIS summit. ARIS or Augment Reality for Interactive Storytelling is the platform we plan to use for our Performing History project. At the summit I met the very affable David Gagnon, who started ARIS while doing his masters. I also heard about some great projects using ARIS and participated in a workshop to use ARIS in its current format. In September ARIS is rolling out its 2.0 version that uses HTML 5.
The second day of the conference I saw many different presentations discussing games in a learning environment. The first talk I saw was on the obligatory nature of games in the classroom and whether the context kills the fun. It was interesting as an outsider to see an important debate within this context about the imperative that games be ‘fun’. That session linked really well with the next session I went to on failure in games. This series of papers addressed how failure is built into commercial games and the prescriptive nature of ‘winning’ games versus exploring games. These papers examined how we define success and if there is room for other kinds of players that explore, subvert, or circumvent the game protocols and world. A big word in this conference was agency. Agency was the key to getting players immersed, involved and invested in the game. Without it players will learn less and are less likely to even finish a game. Another paper’s research focused on the player’s empathic connection to his/her avatar. There was an extensively detailed paper on how avatars that are created by players (versus generic avatars) allow for the players to be immersed in the world and fully identify with their characters.
In the afternoon I went to a paper session on analytics. How do we get data from games that are useful, and how do we get qualitative information from the click stream? There was a lot of talk about testing as often as possible during the development of the game. The second afternoon session was dedicated to getting students to understand ideologies and how they operate in the worldview of politicians. This was interesting, since the connection between the two proved to be difficult for most undergraduate students. Despite many iterations of similar games, students couldn’t make the connection between an ideology of e.g. ‘Libertarianism’ and politicians who call themselves Libertarian. There was also discussion about creating a cognitive empathic response in players which boiled down to more peer-to-peer interactions.
On the third day the keynote was Scot Osterweil from MIT. He, echoing conversations from the day before, talked about making sure that the game is a space of freedom and play. He saw many games as being deterministic but saw freedom to play in the world of a subject to be as good as it could get in terms of engagement. The morning session was about interactions in games. The first paper was a science school project, using ARIS, to get students to solve a mystery using science. What I got out of this paper was the nature of language in determining how players interact with each other and the game—if a player used positive language, their interactions and learning were stronger.
The afternoon was focused on the role that gender plays in games. As you might imagine, the world of games is quite male-oriented, and this session analyzed the reason why through interviews with women in the industry. There was also an analysis of Lego in determining gender roles and agency. The final program was about how role-playing games can be used in the classroom. Overall the week was great. I met a lot of people, as GLS is a very friendly conference.
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