Interest in Media and Media in Interest

In Constance Steinkuehler’s video on Interest Driven Learning, she relates how she studies video games and how they are an example of interest driven learning. School doesn’t require interest, and she states she found that games have to engage kids and get them to care, which drives their learning in such a scenario. Steinkuehler studies online games in particular and their capabilities for learning. She describes how she studied teenage boys and how they were far more receptive to learning when it applied to video games that they were interested in, and that they were disaffected by school. She also found that the kids would be able to accomplish greater tasks (such as reading advanced texts) when they were related to their video game interests. We need to use education as a means to the kids goals, not to predetermined standards and goals. In “A Phenomenological Multi-Case Study About Social Success Skills, Aspirations, and Related Media Experiences” by Darnel Degand, Dr. Degand describes his study of two Haitian-American high school students and their definitions of success and “social success skills” in light of their background (their sociocultural context and their media experiences).

I have certainly been aware of the impact that interest in video games and media have on my learning (as Steinkuehler claims) and of the reverse (as Degand claims). Games like Age of Empires fed the “history buff” side of me, and games like Skyrim inspired an amount of creativity and writing for me. In addition, ever since I learned some amount of programming, I have seen games from a different light, and I know always think of how the games that I play are made, and what mechanics make them work behind the scenes. The video games that I play have fed my existing interests, but the choice of video games (and other media) have been influenced by my aspirations. While some games of mine are purely for entertainment, I have played FIFA soccer games for many years as a result of playing (and loving) soccer for the majority of my life. Also, I engage most on social media with writing, D&D, and programming communities when I am not engaging with real-life friends. I seek out the things that move me further towards my aspirations.

My question to the class is: what is an example in your life where a game fed your interest and contributed to your learning of a certain topic?

FOE: Free thoughts

I am still not participating in my guild, chat or otherwise, and I don’t pay attention to the global chat either. I tend to like to play games solo, or only with friends that I know in real life. This is not conducive to a game like Forge of Empires, where guild mechanics and interactions seem to be a big part of the game.

Overall, I have found that the game is much more complex than I initially believed. I thought it was going to be a simple resource-management game, but it actually has a lot of features, from guilds and guild expeditions to event minigames to tactical battles. I certainly enjoy certain parts more than others. My primary motivations early in the game were expanding my city and trying to keep up with classmates in the game, but since then it has more become a based in a desire to advance technologically and to get better troops so that I can play more of the battles. The event minigame turned out to be better, once I realized that you could pay scrolls to get more shovels and dynamite. That brings me to one aspect of the game that I continue to dislike: the sheer number of different resources that are needed. It’s annoying to have to manage supplies, gold, medals, scrolls, iron, marble, population, and all of the other stuff. I often find myself stuck with several researched technologies that I still need to buy. This stagnates the game and makes it less enjoyable. However, the game has overall been pretty interesting, and I’m glad that I’ve played.

Video Games and Health

This week’s readings had a general theme of how video games can impact ones physical and emotional health. “Wearing, Thinking, and Moving: Testing the Feasibility of Fitness Tracking with Urban Youth” by Schaefer et. al. explores the use of a Fitbit device to get students to track their own quantitative health data, most notable their steps per day. They found that “in general, student participants had a low level of engagement with the Fitbit device.” The students tended to only get more involved when the researchers were present and supporting or encouraging them. The authors speculate that this may be because of access to technology, or because showing data-over-time is not the most effective method to engage youth at that age.

Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, “The game that can give you extra years of life,” relates her story of how a game that she developed helped her work through a traumatic brain injury that gave her depression and suicidal thoughts. She even states that “even while I was in pain, I stopped suffering” after playing the game. The mechanism for this is that the game asks the player to perform specific activities that improve the four types of “resilience” (physical, mental, emotional, and social) that have been scientifically proven to increase a person’s life span. One of her overarching points is that video games don’t have to be a waste of time: they can actually solve things that people truly regret on their death beds, in this case by giving people more time to be with the ones they love and giving them more time to be who they want to be.

I found Jane McGonigal’s talk inspiring, as I have grown up in an environment that very much had the belief that games were simply wasted time. I don’t disagree (now) with my parents’ restriction of my video game play as a kid, since I probably would have played games over do schoolwork any day of the week, but I think that their attitude towards games was not as positive as it could and should have been. Seeing proof that games can have a positive impact in a person’s life was very validating, and as a hopeful future game creator, it makes me happy that what I’m doing can help people. However, I think that the Schaefer et. al. article shows that we need to be careful about how we implement games, because there is a disparity of access between certain demographics, and as I have mentioned in previous posts, having a technology that aids a single group more than another group, it only increases the inequalities between them.

If you were to come up with a game that was meant to improve people’s lives, what would it be?

FOE: Guild Thread and Growth

Unfortunately my guild is pretty inactive. I joined a random guild, as I have mentioned before, and I don’t feel the need to communicate with them. So, our guild chat is empty. I imagine that at least a few of the other guild members feel the same way, and it’s possible that a couple of the members are no longer playing the game. If I were to join a guild with friends I would be more active, but that is not the case.

My city has grown considerably, in my opinion. Almost all of the buildings have been upgraded, and the plot of land on which my city resides has grown by several expansions. And unlike the early game, I am actually concerned with collecting resources. When I initially started playing the game, I was really excited to get to play a video game for a class. Since then, I have become a little more cynical about the game, but I still get a little pleasure out of seeing my city progress. Mostly I am trying to keep up with the others in the rankings among your friends on the game. I knew from the beginning that it would be a struggle for me to stay invested and active in the game, because I tire of these kinds of games pretty quickly, but I’ve been able to play pretty steadily, although there have been times where I go AFK for multiple days and waste a lot of potential resources.

Inclusion in Education

In Maisha T. Winn’s essay “Toward a Restorative English Education,” she describes both the need and the solution for a “Restorative English Education.” To her, this is “a pedagogy of possibilities that employs literature and writing to seek justice and restore … peace” (Pg. 126) in order to end the cycle that turns “at risk youths” into criminal adults. She examines various classrooms that have accomplished something towards this goal, where creative writing and critical thinking are accepted from everyone, regardless of academic success. Leah Buechley’s speech for Eyeo 2014 speaks about the lack of diversity in the Maker Movement, a movement that promised to be open and inclusive. She describes how the people that are the bulk of the Maker community are those who already have access and power. She then gives Make suggestions for how to improve the diversity of their base, showing that it’s not only possible, but that the fact that it isn’t already happening is only a detriment to the Maker community. Lastly is “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the Remix” by Gloria Ladson-Billings, which acknowledges the fact that pedagogy should be dynamic and changing, and she addresses the changes to make in her theory in light of a more fluid view of culture. This leads to a “culturally sustaining pedagogy.”

To me, all of these pieces have an extremely important message of inclusiveness that has to be taken to the forefront today. The reason for this is also addressed for the articles: the current education system is largely not focused towards this. This is particularly unfortunate because I have always viewed education as the best way to ensure equality of opportunity. When everyone is educated fairly, and when we give students a growth mindset, we foster a spirit and practice of more equality, and we make more progress. Last night I had a friend tell me about how her high school would ask kids who might not have the grades to graduate to transfer to another (“easier”) school, quite obviously to keep their own graduation rates artificially high. This makes it seem like the burden of a student can only be a product of their own inability, and not the ineffectiveness or unwillingness of the educational institution to measure its success by its lowest achieving students, not its highest.

My question to the class is: How inclusive (or not) was your K-12 education? How might you change it in light of these readings?

FOE: Guilds and Game Pace

My experiences in a guild have been nominal. I just joined a random guild, mostly to stop getting the pop ups. I tend to play games in a more solitary manner, so I haven’t really thought about participating in my guild. If we had a class guild I might participate more, but you have to be playing in the same realm as the other members of the guild, and I don’t think much of the class ended up in the same realm. The game feels slow to me, mostly because I often get stuck with too much of one resource and not enough of another, forcing me to wait a while before I have enough of every necessary resource. But, I am progressing fast enough to keep me at least semi interested, and the continent map battles are fun games to play every so often, although they have recently become fairly taxing on my army, so I can accomplish fewer of them. Most of the other video games have either a short, match-oriented structure (like League of Legends or Call of Duty) or a longer but still narrative oriented structure (like Skyrim). In both of these games, there are long-term goals for more dedicated players, but also shorter rewards to make the experience rewarding even if you only play for half an hour. Forge of Empires seems to be mostly focusing on long-run goals, which I believe is causing the slower pace. The battles give a form of short-term satisfaction, and it works to a certain degree on me as well, but I am personally not a huge fan of complex mobile games in general. I like mobile games to be simple and skill-based, so that you can play for a time and master the game, then move on to a new game. That’s just a personal preference, and I think that Forge of Empires pretty adequately ties the attention of the players, despite a somewhat slow pace.

FOE: City Layout, Battles, Guild Expeditions

Redesigning my city is a chore, but it’s one that I enjoy to a certain extent. In the beginning, I was constantly redesigning the layout of my city, because the rate of expansion and construction of new buildings was so fast. I quickly found a layout that worked well and was scalable with the territory expansions that I would be getting. It basically has lanes of varying sizes (to accommodate the varying sizes of buildings) that branch out from the town hall on one side. There was a point where I really had to conserve space, and every so often I have to rearrange things so that I get more space, but for the time being I actually have some extra space, thanks to a recent influx of technologies that gave me reward expansions.

As far as battles go, I have only ever done battles on the continent map. I haven’t tried Player versus Player (PvP) because I usually find it less enjoyable than fighting bots (when you fight bots, a real person doesn’t have to lose!), and I didn’t realize that Guild Expeditions existed until I started writing this post. The fact that PvP and Guild Expeditions haven’t been advertised or guided to surprises me, as it seems like Guilds are of high importance in the game ( the game gave me a pop-up every day until I joined a random guild). However, I enjoy the battles on the Continent Map, because I enjoy tactics-based fighting games (like Age of Empires or Fire Emblem). I favor a strategy where I surround my ranged units with melee units and wait for the enemy to come to me, at which point my units “jump out” of formation and attack. The battles have actually been getting harder, as the enemies frequently have more advanced troops than me. I have had to be more careful about what lineup I send into battle, as I have almost lost a fight or two (but I still maintain my perfect record!). I find the “infiltrate” option almost worthless, as I rarely ever find myself in a situation where I reduce my enemy to 1 health bar and don’t kill them (which is the only situation in which infiltrating would help).

Play the Knave

Play the Knave is an attempt by UC Davis faculty and graduate students to use modern video game technology to help teach and popularize Shakespeare and theater. Gina Bloom describes the game in an excerpt from Learning, Education, and Games: 100 Games to Use in the Classroom and Beyond. In the game, the players select scenes from Shakespeare and then design the scene as a director, choosing avatars and backgrounds. Then they act out the scene, with the Kinect recording their movements and assigning them to the avatar. Words show up on the bottom of the screen so that the player can recite the lines. She also offers tips and advice on using the game in classrooms. “Videogame Shakespeare: Enskilling Audiences through Theater-making Games” is an essay also by Gina Bloom, that makes the case for why Play the Knave is needed, and how it fills the hole that it was intended to. She describes “scholar-making” and “drama-making” games that focus on knowledge about Shakespeare and becoming the character in Shakespeare, respectively. Then, the describes the niche that Play the Knave, fills: “theater-making” games. Theater-making games teach ins and outs of producing a play, but Bloom claims that they are limited because they do not add any physical element to the game: you can’t actually perform the gestures of a play. Play the Knave fixes this with its interactive Kinect experience.

I think that the idea of Play the Knave is great. I would have loved it in my high school English classes, and I would probably still love it in a college level class. My favorite part of learning Shakespeare was getting to read the parts aloud in class, or when we would have to perform a monologue from the play. The need for a Kinect may be a hindrance for allowing students to use the game away from the classroom (for homework or remote classes), but if a creative solution could be found for that the possibilities are great. I found it interesting (and a bit humorous) that Bloom acknowledged some glitches in the game, but gave advice on how to spin it into a teachable moment.

My question for the class is: would you have enjoyed playing Play the Knave in class when you were in high school? Do you think it would have benefited your knowledge or interest in theater/Shakespeare?

FOE: Storylines, Tasks, and Events

The storyline that FOE presents is something that I’ve mostly ignored. To me, it’s nice to fulfill the quests for some sort of direction and the rewards are nice, but I am not invested in the narrative at all. Many of the side quests are just annoying because they sometimes require payment and don’t give back anything worthwhile. I regret a little bit that I didn’t follow the narrative, because it might make the game more interesting in the long run. As a game feature, I feel like the quests work well as a kind of motivation to play the game, but I don’t think they build a good narrative (although I don’t think a good narrative is the purpose). The daily quests are also nice, because they give some direction, but I largely ignore them to follow my own goals, which are guided more by the age/technology progression.

The archaeology event that began recently has been interesting, although it adds a lot of unnecessary complications to the game. We suddenly have a new currency: scrolls! I was excited to have a minigame, but honestly it’s pretty boring. You run out of items to dig with very quickly, and it seems like if you want to keep playing (by digging up more shovels and dynamite and such) you need to expend all of your existing resources, which gets you nowhere.

FOE: In-game Time and Space

One of the primary ways that progress is measured in Forge of Empires is by the age that a player is in. You start in the Stone Age, and progress all the way to the far future, with space travel and Mars colonies. Currently I am in the Iron Age. I think that this is a fairly good system, although the way that Forge of Empires goes about it is not optimal. They require Research Points, which are obtained every hour, to a cap of 10. You use Forge Points to “buy” research items, and then you have to use resources to finish getting the research item. I’m not opposed to using normal resources to buy research, but the Forge Point system has a ton of waste (it’s easy to go to sleep and cap out on Forge Points, which wastes time that you could normally get Forge Points in). I do like the general idea of progressing along different Ages, and getting new technology the further you get.

The world map is interesting, as it gives the player a bit more of an “empire” perspective. However, it’s too directional: you don’t have much freedom about where to explore, and you don’t come across any actual civilizations, only bots that can only defend. The names of the territories and leaders are very Euro-centric, which is disappointing, as the inclusion of different cultures would add a lot of depth to the game.