All posts by Mark Chen

Mark Chen is an independent researcher of gaming culture and spare-time game designer. He is the author of Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. Currently, he is looking into experimental and artistic games to promote exploration of moral dilemmas and human nature, researching DIY subcultures of Board Game Geek users, and generally investigating esoteric gaming practices. Mark also holds appointments at Pepperdine University, University of Washington, and University of Ontario Institute of Technology, teaching a variety of online and offline courses on game studies, game design, and games for learning. He earned a PhD in Learning Sciences/Educational Technology from the University of Washington and a BA in Studio Art from Reed College.

#gameaweek moar card gamez

This week continued to see some great #gameaweek games from Ana, Dennis, Melissa, and, new to the mix, Greg Koeser. It’s astonishing how much we’re providing commentary for academia. So far we’ve seen my Flappy Bird clone that shows the futility of trying to succeed as an academic, Ana’s work/life balance game that also seems pretty futile last week and now this week her IF game about grief but also about getting tenure, Dennis’s IRB approval game that is yet another sisyphean experience. Melissa created an old-school first-person RPG, similar to the old Wizardrys, except that it’s sort of mashed up with Desktop Dungeon in that you need to explore and kill things in a certain order like a puzzle game. Greg’s entry is a card game! It uses standard decks of cards and features bidding and winning cards using other cards.

I continued to work on the Space 4X Co-op Card Game ^TM.

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Space 4X Co-op Card Game version 3 overview

#GameAWeek Challenge Game Two: Space 4X Co-op Card Game

This is really long; I apologize. What started as a write-up for the second game in the #GameAWeek challenge that I’m doing with awesome Ana Salter, Melissa Peterson, and Dennis Ramirez (and soon Nick Lalone!) has turned into a monster of a post as I try to cobble together my memory for this card game I’ve been developing off and on for about 9 months now (yes, I know I cheated!).

Anyway, go read their reflections about their second games! Ana’s chilling My Town, Melissa’s clever merging of the crafting genre with the one room genre Solution, and Dennis’s retro-adventure game Time Enough to Travel. They’re also much better at writing reflections on each others’ work, sorry.

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Unflappable Academic start screen

A game a week challenge! Game One: The Unflappable Academic (and his hoverboard)

A little over a week ago, I saw and tweeted Adriel Wallick’s ( @MsMinotaur ) debrief post on IndieGames about how she did a game a week, she in turn inspired by Rami Ismail’s Gamasutra post. I just thought it was really cool and inspiring.

Ana Salter retweeted and mentioned that she’d love to give it a go. I replied “I’m in!” and she quickly invited others. So, right now we’ve got:

The others have already written reflections about their games, so go read about Ana’s Nowhere, Dennis’s Blackjack framework, and Melissa’s Weather Worker!

The game I made is The Unflappable Academic (and his hoverboard).

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depression quest

Depression Quest is the most important game I’ve ever played

[This article originally appeared on Critical Gaming Project as part of the "Critical Exemplars" features series.]

Whenever I’m defining what games are with new students, usually, someone mentions that games must be fun. I love it when this happens because it’s the perfect entryway into getting students to start thinking critically and reflectively about games and gaming. The discussion requires clarification on what “fun” means and whether games really have to be it. I usually argue that if we treat games as an expressive medium like film, we can apply the same standards of criticism on them. Not all films must be fun (think Schindler’s List), so why should all games be fun? In the last year or so, my go-to example to challenge this existing definition of games is Depression Quest (DQ) (before that it was usually Hush).

Depression Quest is an amazing game.

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Fallen Enchantress Legendary Heroes

A new definition for games

Fallen Enchantress Legendary Heroes
Fallen Enchantress Legendary Heroes

Gameplay and Learning

There’s a perennial problem in games for learning: the mechanics of a game are often disassociated from the desired learning. I think part of this stems from educational game designers placing too much emphasis on specific subject matter content exacerbated by a misunderstanding of the object of their creation.

Too many educational games aren’t really that engaging as games. They focus on content and sometimes use only the superficial reward layer of games to motivate players to engage in the activity. (This is often called “gamification.”) These types of “games” keep getting made and will continue to be made so long as our educational policy/system continues to emphasize discrete disciplinary content assessed with brute force testing methods. In our effort to meet decontextualized standards, we’ve lost student engagement and somehow think that by making our stupidly meaningless activities give out badges and points that everything will be fine.

Sometimes engaging gameplay does exist, but the learning content is just inserted as interstitial segments between layers or levels of the actual game. An example could be a game that features pop-up screens with trivia between levels of, say, a first-person exploration game.[1] Again this is because the designers are placing too much value onto these subject matter chunks of facts. They may understand what makes a game engaging but not how to incorporate these fact chunks into the activity. (Good examples of games that focus on the educational content in their game design include the work from CGS and Ululab.)

It should be obvious that I don’t think we should be dividing our education into disciplinary silos. Additionally, if you know me, you know that I’m much more interested in the processes of learning that players engage in during gaming than the actual content of their learning. I think these processes are the true power of gaming and that they can transfer to many other non-game situations.

To understand where I’m coming from, it helps to understand my definition of games. Recently, however, I’ve rethought and changed my definition, so I’ll explain that transformation here, too.

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marks-dice

A statement on games and expert gaming (annotated!)

marks-dice

I wrote the first draft of this with Theresa Horstman a while ago when we were launching AGILE (Advancing Games in Innovative Learning Environments) at UW. Sadly, we didn’t really do anything with AGILE, but I thought this statement should be salvaged.

Annotations are written in “burnt orange”. (<–WP’s name for the color. :) )

Games are systems of rules/constraints that present players with goals that can best be accomplished by exploring and pushing at the limits of these rules/constraints.

I’ve since started thinking that goals need not be inherent to the system/platform for something to be called a game. Instead, people can set their own goals and bring with them a playful attitude, and, in so doing, the activity becomes a game (so long as it still meets the other criteria: rules, constraints, etc.). In other words, yes, a “game” has goals, but the game is more than just the designed artifact; it’s the larger social and cultural context. The whole ecology has goals and is constrained by rules that can best be learned through exploration and resistance. Also, *good* games require careful decision making. Chutes and Ladders or Sorry! suck as games.

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mage from barefootliam at deviant art!

Bonus Dice: Designing Tabletop Games for Better Game Culture

(first appeared on Critical Gaming Project’s new blog series, Better Game Culture)

barefootliam's five ivory dice
image from barefootliam at deviant art!

I’m going to make two statements (interleaved with ideas) that converge later.

What Is Better Game Culture?

One is that, as we argue for better game culture, I think we’re basically arguing for more critical and reflective consumers, creators, and scholars of games and gaming practice. “More” in the sense that we just need proportionally more people who do think critically and reflectively about games and gaming. But also “more” in the sense that who we do have are continually learning and making connections and generally becoming better at what they do.

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