My AirBnB experience: 9 different places in 9 weeks.

For the most part, my AirBnB experiences have been really positive. So far each one has had at least one thing wrong with it, but often getting to meet someone new or seeing a different part of the city or having other really nice amenities easily makes up for it. Better experience and/or cheaper than many hotels, and, as with hotels, if you spend more you get a nicer experience. Still, this post is a listing of those nigglings.

Once I got to LA in September, I decided that I wanted to live in a bunch of different places to check out different neighborhoods before committing to a place more permanently. My appointment at Pepperdine is for this school year, which is about 8 months, so the plan was to check out different places for 2 months and then sign a 6-month lease. At the time, this plan also made sense because I knew I was going to be gone for 3 weeks at a couple of different conferences in October, so why pay rent for those 3 weeks?

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What has Mark and the new Gameful Design Lab been up to? Read this draft mission statement excerpt!

Empathy and Agency and Radical Games

Gaming is not a valueless activity. Deep, meaningful relationships develop through gaming, and the cultural life one leads defines their existence as human. To devalue someone’s life is to dehumanize them.

Empathy: Players build meaningful relationships with other players.

Like any other activity with a community around it, gaming is a social and cultural phenomenon. People can bond and form lasting relationships over any affinity. Furthermore, gaming is often about mentorship, hanging out with friends, learning together, and can be about dealing with difference and learning to play off each others’ strengths.

The Pepperdine Gameful Design Lab wants to encourage this community building, to encourage empathy and friendships among all of gaming’s aficionados and hobbyists. By taking gaming seriously but with a playful attitude and tackling what it means to be a gamer collectively means we can live happier more fulfilling lives. We can develop an inclusive community about being good to each other in the shared pursuit of the well-played game.

Agency: Players build meaningful relationships with games.

Games are made up of interconnected systems (rules, mechanics, structures). Players explore and learn how these systems are interrelated through their play, and, in doing so, they become part of the system. A game doesn’t exist except in the enactment.

Players bring with them some sort of imagined future, an ideal state or outcome or maybe even just the hope for some improvement to the current state. Through their activity and “living the system,” players attempt to exercise agency and steer the game’s narrative, all the while themselves being constrained and controlled by the game.

The Gameful Design Lab also wants to encourage resistance towards the inherent control in a game’s rules and structure, to make the narrative emerge from this struggle and transgression. In playing games and designing games, players gain a gaming literacy. They start to understand systems through experience.

Our lives are made up of interrelated systems, of course. From navigating health care to applying to college, from dealing with bullies (online or otherwise) to being a community activist, success often depends on being savvy to our lived systems and understanding them enough to make meaningful decisions. Understanding them well enough to critique them, to resist, and be radical in the face of stupid systems.

Radical Games

If gaming literacy is about deconstructing systems and building meaningful relationships, and our mission is about increasing this literacy, it stands to reason that we need especially to help those who are continually screwed by our life’s systems.

To this end, we propose two main strands of action: 1) develop radical games that encourage transgressive play and empathy building (and moral and ethical reasoning), and 2) host workshops and game jams for those most in need that will encourage the creation of deeply personal radical games.

 

#GameAWeek NASAGA edition: Curate! or Stuff Matters! or some other title here…

This past week I was at the North American Simulations and Games Association (NASAGA) conference for the first time.

The stories are true; it’s unlike any other conference. There’s a purity and sincerity to it that’s pretty refreshing. Other academic conferences can get pretty cynical and snarky. I like snarky, probably more than the next guy, but there’s no place for that at NASAGA. Everyone is just so enthusiastic and optimistic and really fucking cares about other people, it’s crazy awesome and really hard not to feed off that energy.

All the sessions I went to were semi-structured, hands-on play and debrief of mostly tabletop simulation games that address serious issues and are meant to be used in varying contexts (schools, NGOs, indigenous, healthcare, etc.).  Some of the people attending have been doing this work since the late 60s! They lived the new games movement. Wow…

When I first heard of the conference, in my naivete, I assumed “simulations” were all about the 3D virtual world stuff for the military, since that’s how I’ve come to associate the word in the last 10 years. But NASAGA’s “simulations” are about learning games that simulate complex systems for players to grok and critique. The best games are pretty damn great, remind me of great euro games…  and I’m sorry this conference has been under my radar for so long.

Anyway, the last day had a 3-hour gamejam for local museums and historical societies. Specifically, Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage and Abram Fox from the Laurel Historical Society  were there as our gamejam clients. I made this card game with the help of new friend and comrade-in-arms Bret Staudt Willet. I’m using this to fulfill my #gameaweek challenge. :p

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HUGE NEWS: NEW JOB, NEW CITY

Yes, that’s right.

I started a one-year appointment as the Director for the brand-new Gameful Design Lab at Pepperdine this week, funded by a Waves of Innovation grant!

I’m in Los Angeles, where the locals inconsistently pronounce street names correctly in Spanish and horribly in Americanese.

I couldn’t find moon cake for Monday’s Moon Festival but apologized profusely to the full (super)moon.

The Gameful Design Lab’s main mission is to help people gain personal agency through gaming practice and game design. Games are systems to explore, experiences to empathize with. Exploring and creating systems is one way people can start to see the everyday systems they inhabit. This recognition is the first step towards rebellion, not settling for status quo, and gaining social mobility.

We’ll be working with faculty to make their courses more engaging through gaming, designing minigames for empathy and moral/ethical reasoning, and holding a ton of events and workshops/gamejams for Pepperdine as well as the larger LA area with an emphasis to target underserved populations.

Here’s a video of the pitch my main collaborator Victoria Stay and I did back in January to get the funding (skip to minute 35):

#GameAWeek Challenge: DiGRA Edition! Six Degrees of Tweetsperation

During this year’s Digital Games Research Association meeting at Salt Lake City in early August, Dennis Ramirez and I got together to collaborate on a Twitter game for the conference!

It’s a play on Six Degrees of Separation/Kevin Bacon and my personal intent is to add noise to the conference hive mind twitter cabal. I think Dennis was more interested in making a good game. :)

Read the rules here:

Six Degrees of Tweetsperation

#GameAWeek Challenge: Sploder Trifecta – sHMUP bLUFF, Friends Ignore You, and Using Friends

Sploder is nominally a web-based game-making tool, but, actually, it’s more a collection of tools that make different yet somehow all sort of same-ish platform games. I think either different developers made different tools and then one person bundled them together or one developer kept starting and stopping projects and decided to release all of them instead of making one really good tool. They all sort of are meh with inconsistent creation metaphors, inconsistent levels of in-tool help, etc. It’s all sot of haphazard, and it’s hard to recommend Sploder over something like Construct 2 or GameMaker Studio. I basically wrote this in a review for Graphite (not yet published), too.

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#GameAWeek (Month) Challenge: sHMUP bLUFF

I’m reviewing Sploder for Graphite.

It’s a web-based game-making tool meant for kids and classrooms. Everything is driven through the web interface and there’s no programming involved. There’s also tons of pre-built sprites with animations and pre-defined behaviors (friendly NPCs, enemy AI, etc.).

The first thing I noticed about Sploder is that when you create a game, you have the option of creating a specific kind of game: a platformer, a puzzler, a top-down shooter, etc., and each of these choices gets you to a particular interface specifically for making that type of game.

And this made me want to try to push Sploder as much as possible, to create games within particular genres that break the genre. For example, what if we (Sandra and I) made a shooter game where the enemy aren’t trying to kill you and instead actually heal you or something?

In trying this out, I discovered that all you do in Sploder is drag and drop art onto a stage. Each object has behavior associated with it that cannot be tweaked. You can’t, for example, change how often and for how much damage a particular enemy ship shoots. You can’t change its speed or anything…

So, I played around with it a bit and came up with the game sHMUP bLUFF, where you are meant NOT to do anything other than watch. But Sploder still has built-in controls, so you could take control of your ship whenever you want. So the game is an exercise in trust… trusting that your wingman is there for you and will protect you. And maybe it’ll succeed and maybe it won’t. And if you take control of your ship, do you break that trust?

And I sort of saw this as a metaphor for living with a loved one who suffers from depression. The player ship is the person who suffers from depression and sometimes just can’t bring themselves to do anything… The wingman is a friend or family member who is trying to protect. (But perhaps this is the wrong metaphor… like often there’s just nothing anyone can do, really… there’s no “fixing” or solving the problems of depression… there’s only coping, so I don’t know how good a metaphor this game is, really, but there you have it… what it can sometimes feel like.)

sHMUP bLUFF

In other news, Ana and Dennis are still making games regularly!

Most recently, Ana made a game about moving called Mover, based sort of on her previous game Paper Pusher. (Grats on the new *house Ana!)

Dennis continues his trend of making small Unity games. Check out Mental Block and Hello, Universe!

And in other other news, we got a session accepted at NASAGA on our Game A Week Challenge!

History of collaborative note-taking at conferences

I hear that the International Conference for the Learning Sciences (ICLS) this year actually has a social media planning group and they’re interested in how I did collaborative notes for past conferences. Yay!

If only there was interest when I was actually doing it in years past, but maybe the time has finally come for critical mass?

One of the main issues with taking effective collaborative notes is getting critical mass of people doing it so that all the sessions are covered. For that there really needs to be exposure, but my tactics usually were to just tweet the urls of the google docs (or etherpad back in the day), and it’s pretty surprising how few academics are on twitter, even for the kinds of conferences I go to…

Another equally (if not more) important issue is when the conference doesn’t have good wifi, which is also surprisingly very often… For as long as I’ve had an Android phone, I’ve been able to get around this by tethering my phone and creating an ad-hoc wifi network for anyone to join. Sometimes, though, even cell reception is bad, like in the basement of a hotel…  This issue with access is even worse (for me) when the conference is outside the US, since I’m not likely to tether my phone with international data rates.

Besides taking collaborative notes, I would often also set up a backchannel (besides twitter, too), either through IRC or, like with GLS 2013, a private google doc with specific people I want to be more informal with (snarky, commenting on other things in our lives, planning dinners, etc.)… There’s definitely a research study waiting to happen about how conference goers manage their communication. :)

If anyone is interested, here’s some of the collaborative notes from various conferences I’ve been to in the past few years:

Digital Media and Learning

National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2011

American Educational Research Association

  • AERA 2011 gdoc which basically leads to the wiki that Stian created
  • the sad, sad AERA 2012 gdoc that isn’t populated at all since the conf was in Vancouver, making doing online notes pretty costly over cell networks, and because it’s AERA, the wifi sucked.

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning

Games Learning Society

  • Games Learning Society 2011
  • volunteered for GLS 2012, meaning I had no time to take notes!
  • at GLS 2013, I took notes with my Pepperdine students rather than with the conference at large, but I think this year I’ll make us all do open notes.

sporadic ramblings of a gamer in academia