Final Thoughts on Game Design

I think one of the most important elements of game design and its connection to learning theory and instructional design is the ability, if done well, to engage learners. All the learning theories in the world won’t matter if the learner isn’t engaged. As a high school teacher, it is expected that I know how to reach individual students in their learning style every day. This is an impossible task for any instructor. So, student engagement is a constant issue for teachers. Utilizing learning games may not reach 100% of students, but it will reach a majority since learning games incorporate a variety of learning theories. For example, learning games often are able to personalize learning, adaptive to student needs, reward good behavior, and enable students to work together to find answers or new strategies to be successful. Ultimately, all of these learning theories help to increase time on task for students. Increasing time on task is directly related to student success in learning outcomes. The real trick to the whole system is the existence of those games that support the curriculum.

The relationship between immersive learning and my academic goals is the role of online collaboration in gaming and what we can take away and apply to the classroom. With the emergence of Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), players who are also students now have the expectation of live interaction, social collaboration, and Googling support resources. These same components can work in the classroom as well; it is just a matter of creating that same culture in an online classroom environment. I don’t think it is necessary to create a gaming feel in an online classroom because that does turn some students off, but creating the culture of student created tutorials, student ownership for their contributions, and student lead social collaboration can be the expectation in an online classroom. The real question is does it make a different in student outcomes or student’s perceptions of their classes? That is where the research is.

I think gamified and immersive learning is still coming to the classroom. What is happening in education is always, what feels like decades, behind what is going on in the world. That might be why education today is struggling to be relevant to high school and college age students. In an era where you can be a YouTube star or make a living full of side-hustles like driving for Uber, traditional education is unappealing. So, as the rest of the tech world keeps evolving, the cost of older technology will drop. When the cost drops, it will end up in the classroom. So, I still think immersive learning is coming, but it is going over the next ten years, not the next two. However, if we continue the research now, then by the time it is affordable and accessible in the classroom, we can utilize it more effectively because we will have the research to back it up.

Advertisements

Future of Gaming

I think the future of gaming is Virtual Reality (VR) on handheld consoles. I know that VR has had a bit of a slow start in the gaming world, but I still think that is the next big boom in gaming. I think the difference is transferring the VR experience into something more mobile like our phones instead of the home console like the PS4 or XBOX 1.

I think the VR technology has had a slower start for two reasons: cost and accessibility. Players who add VR to their current gaming set up will spend more on a VR bundle than the system they have. Since the demand hasn’t been too high, and this is something coming from a Playstation sales guy who specifically deals with VR technology, the cost of the bundles are still high. Further, once you have the gear, finding the games you love to play in the VR format is rare. Last Christmas, I got a VR bundle for my PS4. However, the game selection was really limited. I was lucky to have found Skyrim in VR for the PS4, but honestly the rest of the options were not too appealing. So, when you consider how much you have to spend on the gear just to play games you aren’t that interested in playing, the whole thing becomes not really worth it. Even more, if you’ve dropped hundreds of dollars, over the years, on the games you want to play then you have to rebuy the game in the VR version, it just stops making sense. So, while the VR tech has been available, it just isn’t a smart buy yet.

However, to build demand, there needs to be easier access to the technology and a lower upfront cost in order to reach mainstream. What better way to add the goggles to a smart phone for app games? App games reach the main stream more than your typical game. So, why not start there to build an audience for the VR technology? VR isn’t going away. It has infiltrated the military, is being developed for industry, and has been integrated into blockbuster movies. It is time to bring VR into the mainstream.

Game Design Documents

I think the Game Design Document (GDD) is paramount for beginning game designers. It forces designers to think about components of their game that they most likely hadn’t thought about before. For example, the programming aspect of the document is super important but is probably the most difficult aspect of the document. Honestly, it is the part that I have no idea how to do, so if I am just designing a game, I wouldn’t think about including the programming part because I am just going to be thinking that is someone else’s job. Also, the art aspect that is included on the document was an aspect I hadn’t considered. I know that visuals matter; the quality of graphics makes or breaks a game for me. However, when I am creating a game in my mind, I do visual some elements of the game, but what I am really thinking about is how it works and why I want it to do that, not what colors or sounds the player is hearing. That is exactly why the GDD is important to use.

However, the more you design games and use a GDD, the less and less you need it to design the games. So, for more experienced game designers, maybe the super detailed GDD isn’t as important for a quality game design. But, it is important to remember that if you are working with a team to design a game, the GDD becomes the blueprints for your game. So, if you want your vision to be represented, you must articulate it in a game design document!

 

So, bottomline, use the Game Design Document. Modify it for your purpose and clarify for yourself and your people all aspects of your game.

Scratch-ing

I have done coding before, so this kind of game design was somewhat familiar. I looked at the online version of Scratch and compared it with the desktop version. I went with the desktop version because it matched up with the tutorial videos. So, it just made more sense to me. I am not really a detail person. It takes more work for me. It is the big ideas that I am better with. So, I really needed the tutorial to match the platform so that it was less translation work for me. Overall, I was happy with the final product, but it took 3 different versions with different sprites before I decided what I would go with. I wanted to use the skills from the tutorial without designing an identical game as the tutorial.

I think game design requires synthesizing information, imagination, and problem solving. A designer in Scratch needs to be able to take the commands available, synthesize how they might work together, and then use their imagination to creatively apply that to a design. Then, in the midst of the design, a designer needs to be able to troubleshoot problems to get the program to do what you want it to do. A designer who is unwilling to try a method and see it fail then problem solve a solution will not be successful as a designer.

High Achiever

My gamer archetype was achiever. The description for this is that “Achievers keep their eyes on the prize…  An achiever can be counted on to keep on task or find a way to complete a goal everyone else thought was too much to pull off.” I think this is a fair description of me as a gamer. I specifically think of player versus player (PVP) environments when I think about what it means to be an achiever. When I play PVP, it is not difficult for me to sacrifice what I might want to do in order to win the game. What I mean by that is I am willing to defend a flag/point even if it is boring so that our team can win since holding flags/points is literally how you win. However, other player types who are not achievers often lose sight of the purpose of the match. So, they may win a point but leave that flag behind when they’d rather go kill enemies. As an achiever, it is more important to me to win the point, defend the point, and stay focused on the path to winning than my kill to death (K2D) ratio or being at the top of the leaderboard in damage. Neither K2D nor the damage leaderboard will win the game.

 

I also think the description that an achiever will “find a way to complete a goal everyone else thought was too much to pull off” is an accurate description of me as a gamer. I specifically think of World of Warcraft (WoW) pet battling situations. My husband will regularly look up methods for defeating different challenge pet tamers, but sometimes he doesn’t have the same pets in his collection that the tutorial video uses. He often decides he won’t be able to do it. I never think that. I can always find a way to beat the pet tamers based on the skills of my pets, not based on a tutorial video. It is standard now that my husband will come to me to do the battle instead of looking up videos, especially in the newly released zone where tutorial videos aren’t available yet.

 

My gaming and board game motivation profiles showed some similar characteristics. Both showed that I like high action, strategy games. This makes sense because I like think on your feet games that require interaction with others rather than flying solo in game doing stuff. This makes me think of the Sims games. While the game has the potential for social interaction, which I like, it isn’t really an action driven game; it is really about building. So, I get bored. Same with trivia board games. While I like to play trivia games, it matters more the people I am playing with. There must be some kind of competition, some kind of skill, and some kind of strategy. Trivia games don’t really have much competition or strategy. It is mostly just a game of knowledge which keeps me motivated for only a short period of time.

 

Overall, I think these surveys were pretty interesting, partly because I always want to know more about myself, but also because as a game designer, knowing these elements of our audience will ultimately help meet the motivational needs of our players. Meeting those needs will increase long term play and influence the effectiveness of the learning game itself.

What’s a Game? Does it Matter?

After watching the PBS video discussing the definition of a game, I was stuck on the question of why it matters. Specifically, the speaker said that some people think defining a game is moot, irrelevant. It really got me thinking and wondering if it does matter if we know what a game is. Ultimately though, for both sustainability and for education, I think knowing what a game is and more importantly, how it connects to learning is important for both educational and non-educational games.

For non-educational games, I think having a clear definition for what a game is so that design is based on that, is really important for the game’s longevity. What I mean by that is that gamers play a game with a certain set of expectations whether they are aware of them or not. Those expectations for how a game works or should work influence how interested and how motivated they are to continue to play. Those expectations can be called rules and those rules are intrinsically linked to the definition of what a game is. For example, Minecraft is an open environment where users can kind of do what they want, but there are still a set of minimal rules to the game like how to gather resources, how often you need to eat, and if you die, you start over. Even with a limited number of rules, once you know these things, the conditions of the environment is set. The player can figure it out from there which is part of the fun. Without those rules or expectations, then a player will lose interest pretty quick because they will just be asking the question, What’s the point? So, having a clear definition of what a game is will help drive the design of a game that will ultimately influence how long a game will be played.

For educational games, there must be a clear definition for a game to drive the purpose of playing it. In education, we must know why we are doing something before we do it. The activities we do in class must somehow support student learning. If we support our content with “games” that are not really games, then students may not be learning what you had intended. So, it is really important that we know what a game is, know how the game is supporting content, and ideally, know that it is an effective tool to meet our educational goals. If we do not have a clear definition of what a game is, then we will end up just entertaining our students without knowing what skills should be learned and transferred into real life. Having a clear understanding of what a game is will help us to also know what a game does. If we can know what a game does, then we can start to link that game to learning outcomes. For educational gaming, this is an imperative.

Gaming Innovations

The development of the First Person Shooter (FPS) games is a really interesting innovation. Historically, the majority of “gamers” have most likely been male, so I think that the market really drove the FPS to the forefront of successful games. That is not to say that females do not enjoy FPS games, but I wonder if the FPS game would have evolved the same way if females had been the primary demographic. However, I think with the evolution of the FPS came the evolution of game design. With FPS, game play transitioned into first person view where players could view the game through their avatar’s eyes instead of being an outside spectator watching the character respond to the controls. This shift probably had some psychological affects as well. Before the FPS gaming was something a player participated in but there were more boundaries. After the influence of FPS, players are more able to personalize their experience gaming and that may lead to more drive to play more often and for longer periods of time. This is probably also what led to role playing games. Under the influence of FPS, players are now able to create their own character and role play as that character, not just playing character that was already designed by the game itself.

Another really interesting development in game development is the evolution of user interaction in the game. I remember growing up playing games, the only physical interaction we had with a game was either fighting over the controller or flailing your arms around to avoid the digital content coming at you. But now, with Wii Sports games and Dance Dance Revolution, gaming has become far more interactive and appealing to a wider market. With this innovation, the reputation of gaming being physically unhealthy is slowly changing. I also can see a link between these kinds of physically interactive games and the future of gaming: Virtual Reality games. I am not talking about the VR games that you put a headset on and sit in a chair to play. I am really envisioning the kind of VR games that was described in Read Player One. In the movie, VR gaming included full body suits and treadmills. It wasn’t just the mind that was engaged, it was also the body and even the senses. This makes me thinking of the Holodeck on Star Trek the Next Generation. While the Holodeck wasn’t a gaming console, it could be a gaming environment with full-body. interactive experience. That is the experience I cannot wait for.

Game Stuff

I think my first memorable experience with learning games was in elementary school playing The Oregon Trail. I don’t remember how it was exactly related to what we were learning in class, but I do remember thinking that it was really hard to survive on The Oregon Trail. I was able to make the connection between my game experience and what real people may have experienced while they were on the Trail. So, I do remember learning. I also remember playing a math game called Number Cruncher (I think). It wasn’t a game where I was learning new things like The Oregon Trail, but I do remember practicing math. I always looked forward to playing the games though. It was just a different way to experience things as a learner, plus I could get on the computer which was fun for me even if they were those black and green screens with a flashing cursor.

 

As an instructor, learning games have played an interesting part of my class. There is something to supplementing learning in class with games. While it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that happens, it is clear that it is positive. Student engagement goes up which increases genuine time on task. There is also an element of fun which changes the psychological environment of the classroom.  Learning doesn’t feel like such a burden to high school students when games are integrated into the class. However, the games being used are more effective if there is an agenda behind them rather than just a busy work mentality. If there is no real purpose to the game in relation to the curriculum, then often the “learning game” is really just entertainment.

 

I am interested in games in general which also drives my interest in learning games. I have spent the last few years gaming with my husband in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG). I have learned a lot following his lead and learning how to strategize in game. We have done a ton of discussion about how group play should work and where it fails. It is through these kinds of experiences and reflections that I began to recognize what is actually being learned in these kinds of entertainment games.  I’ve also done a lot of reflection about what makes MMORPGs so addictive and are there components in those style of games that could cross over into the classroom. What I know for sure right now is that learning at the high school level is not addictive, cannot compete with social games, and actually seems to be less and less valuable to students because of these shortcomings.

Theory and research cannot explain everything: a case study.

My husband and I are both teachers. I teach English while he teaches Architecture. Our content only matters because it helps to determine how we approach actually teaching it. Teaching English is a little tricky because it involves such a variety of skills that require loads of abstract thinking then turn that thinking into a physical product. Most courses do that as well, but in English, we typically start with the abstract then move to the concrete. In architecture, my husband’s students get to start with the concrete and move into the abstract. What I mean by this is, in an English class we may start with a big idea worth reflecting on like is love stronger than hate? The thinking part is abstract, the discussion part is still abstract, and then the writing part becomes the concrete version of those abstract ideas. Whereas in Architecture, students will learn how to measure, learn how to draw lines, then learn how to draw a house. All of those skills are concrete. Once the concrete skills are in place, then students are asked to design their own house using those concrete sills. Their design they have in their head is the abstract version of their concrete skills before they create the final product. Neither way of learning is right or wrong; they just make sense for the kind of content being taught. But, what happens when a student doesn’t respond to either method? We have to dig deeper.

 

There are 3 typical views of learning: behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. Each theory of learning determines how we approach students, content, and mastery. Behaviorism focuses on the behavior of the student. If the student behaves/responds to the curriculum in the right way, they will be more successful in learning. For example, if a student repeats their times tables over and over, they will finally know it. If a student listens quietly, they will learn whatever the teacher is teaching. This approach always shocks a teacher when a well-behaved, obedient, and respectful student falls  behind or fails mastery. Cognitivism relies on what students already know to add on new knowledge. If we go back to the multiplication tables example, cognitivism would use a student’s ability to add and expand that pre-existing knowledge into multiplication. What happens though, when your student can’t add yet when they are supposed to? Finally, constructivism focuses on discovery of knowledge through social interaction. An example would be to provide those same math students with tootsie rolls in equal groups and have them figure out the fastest way to determine the totals. In this method, some students will count one at a time, some will add the groups, and some may discover their version of multiplication. The trick with constructivism is that not all students are willing to do the more complex thinking to answer the questions. They are only willing to do what is easiest.

 

So, how much theory and how much research can actually explain what happens in a learning experience? I don’t think I can quantify it, but I will say theory and research cannot explain everything in a learning experience. How do I know this? Experience.

 

I started playing World of Warcraft four or five years ago. The game has been around much longer, since 2004. When I started playing, I was part of a small group who had been playing for years. One player specifically has been playing the game for over ten years. It has been one of her hobbies for a decade, and yet playing together now is a strange experience. She doesn’t know how to quest, how to follow the map, or how to do basic troubleshooting in the game. It’s been over ten years and she still gets lost in zones she has played a million times. So, what’s going on? Behaviorally, when she is in a group she looks like she knows what’s going on. She has the right gear, the right skills set up, and picks up then turns in quests with the group. She knows the language of the game and has all the hardware to play with voice chat and no lagging. However, if she plays alone, she regularly calls for help to do basic things in the game. Cognitively, she should be able to use previous experience in the game to build on when new content is released. However, what really happens is that she Googles directions on how to do specific quests or how to get a certain pet and then forgets what she was told to do as soon as she has completed the task she was needing help on. Collaboratively, when we are in a group together, the group will answer her questions and support her sometimes confusion with the expectation that next time, she will have learned how to do things on her own. For example, just last night, she couldn’t turn in a quest that the group could. So, we waited and waited and waited. Finally someone asked what was going on. She just said she couldn’t turn it in. So she just sat there waiting on the problem to solve itself or for someone to tell her exactly what to do. The group leader told her to log out and in. No fix. Then, he just said to abandon the quest and pick it up again. She did. Then she got mad that we had to run the quest again for her to turn it in. So, the point here, is that after ten years, and with group support, this player hasn’t’ seemed to have learned anything. There is no theory listed here which has provided useful to her in created transferable skills. She functions off of directions like a recipe card for pumpkin muffins. If she can follow direction, she never has to learn anything.

 

This example seems isolated because I am talking about a video game experience. But, as teachers, my husband and I experience similar things with our own students. No method we practice applies to all students. There is always at least one student who does not respond to any method. There is no research or theory that can solve the problem of refusing to learn, of always taking the easy road. Learning is a struggle. You must grapple with concepts and skills in order to figure them out. There is no amount of research or theory that can force a student to do the work of learning if they can just follow directions and then forget. It is the easiest way.

Being an Educator

I’ve spent the last ten years formally teaching as either a high school English teacher or adjunct faculty at the community college. When I think about it, I’ve always been some kind of teacher, but I haven’t always been an Educator.

When I was younger, I was one of those kids who caught on fast to concepts. I could anticipate answers before the question was fully asked, and I laughed at jokes before they were fully told. It’s because of my quick thinking that I was often called on to re-explain concepts ot the class or asked to tutor classmates one-on-one. But, none of this made me an Educator.

When I enter the work-world, I was quickly identified as a capable employee who could then train others. I was known to be hard-working, patient, and practiced integrity on the job. More often than not, I was a responsible employee on the clock and a positive influence off. But, these qualities still did not make me an Educator.

After years of being the tutor, trainer, and general “smart girl,” I found out what it really meant to be an Educator.  I was teaching English 1301 at the community college as an adjunct. My final paper assignment was to write a research based argument for or against legalizing gay  marriage. This was at a time before many states had legalized it and in the midst of a religious and conservative community. The one condition for the paper was that he resources had to be academic. One student, Kevin, showed up for his paper conference confused and disgruntled the last week of the semester. He revealed to me almost immediately that this assignment had caused heated arguments between him and a his wife. He explained that because he had to make an academic-only argument, he’s discovered that the more logical stance was counter to his and his wife’s moral beliefs. He didn’t know what to do to both appease his wife and to finish the assignment with integrity.

It was in that moment that I discovered what it meant to be an Educator. It wasn’t  about curriculum, content, or right answers. It wasn’t about being in charge or in control. Being an Educator was about drawing out the reality of life to create a human experience. In these moments of self-discovery, of challenge, and of wrestling that we are genuinely shaped in meaningful ways. Having an Education means discovering in yourself a whole person that has many identities.  As an Educator, I must attempt to design environments that allow for that experience then facilitate when it happens. It is more than just teaching.

I’m lucky to be called into this profession. It allows me to witness some of people’s greatest moments in life; it also creates, if I am lucky, those same experiences for me.