Category Archives: Academia

History of Ed Tech for lay people

Audrey Watters recently posted a really good, concise explanation about ed tech and how it seems to keep reinforcing content-delivery systems rather than project-based learning initiatives. She wrote it as a blog post since it seemed too long for an individual email response to a question she got.

I tweeted it out yesterday, and, as it happens, my mom reads my tweets and wrote me asking what this paragraph by Audrey Watters means:

Ed-tech has always been more Thorndike than Dewey because education has been more Thorndike than Dewey. That means more instructivism than constructionism. That means more multiple choice tests than projects. That means more surveillance than justice.

As I was writing a response, it seemed like maybe I should also blog the answer in case it’s useful for other people wholly unfamiliar with what Audrey was talking about:


The field of educational technology is always treated as new in academia, but it’s actually grounded in the history of education in general. In the US in the early 20th century, there were two main philosophers whose work informed how the US could head towards national policy.

Thorndike based his theories on psychology and behaviorism, which is focused on memorizing facts and getting people to do and learn things by simple cause and effect mechanics. His model focused on a teacher standing in front of the classroom and doing a lecture, pouring knowledge into students’ minds.

Dewey, in contrast, was much more about a Montesorri style way of doing things. Have kids engage in projects, ask them to solve problems, let them explore and see the connections between phenomena.

Thorndike = instruction

Dewey = project=based learning

So, a lot of people keep saying that educational technology has great potential as a site for project-based learning, but a lot of what we see ends up being more efficient ways of delivering content. This mirrors the overall trend in education in the US to focus on content and not learning by doing.

The last part… since we are so focused on assessing whether people know things, we surveil them. We tabulate and measure. We don’t empower and let them do things and enact change. Education is about instilling shit rather than empowering.

MMSEE 2017 plenary session details

I just submitted my talk for the proceedings for MMSEE 2017.

There’s a bunch of keynotes and plenary talks. I’m set as a plenary talk. Here’s what I wrote (I’ll post slides later this summer as I finish them):

What Does It Mean to Be Gaming Literate? Meaning Making Through Games

Literacy can be defined as the ability to legitimately perform particular practices that are consequential within a community or setting (Street, 1984). In this way, gaming spans a number of literacy practices (Steinkuehler, 2007). Likewise, expertise is socially defined through performative actions that others consider as signs of “expertness” through their understanding of what that means as legitimate participants of their situated community (Collins & Evans, 2007). This emphasis on the doing of things rather than the knowing of things calls for researchers to use an analytical lens that focuses on the relationships between actors in a particular setting and how they affect each other (Pickering, 1993; Latour, 2005). The lens thereby focuses on their practice and change in practice over time and necessarily describes the narrative of a dynamic system that is ever changing and struggling in its continual rebirth (Chen, 2012). This talk will give examples of some of these gaming practices and add nuance to our understanding of how they are socially and culturally situated.

More and more, however, I’ve come to understand gaming as not just another example of new literacies but also as a particularly effective way to increase personal agency and empathy in the world at large. Through exploration and play within a game’s systems, we learn about those systems and what works and what doesn’t towards an imagined goal. We become empowered and gain agency to affect our future, projective selves (Gee, 2003/2007). We also are asked to believe… to believe that the choices matter, that the people and situations we meet in games are understandable in a way that we become empathetic to their conditions. In other words, by engaging in gaming practice, we learn how to act and be through games and we strengthen moral and valued identities. Moreover, this new sense of agency and the new feeling of empathy are evidence that players make meaning through their gaming practice. This talk will, therefore, also cover this newer line of thought and make a case for games as spaces for cultural inclusion, understanding, and deep meaning making. Gaming literacy, then, is more than expertise in how to do stuff in games but also how to make connections to others and find meaning through games.

Finally, this talk will end with a call for gaming and play at large. Learning a game and learning to play it well requires critical examination of its systems. Play encourages participation and communicative acts, and play can act as subversive moves to make the world a better place (Zimmerman, ). As educators who want to empower our learners, we have an obligation to cultivate play and play communities that struggle for fairness, inclusion, and equality (DeKoven, 1978/2013).


Chen, M. (2012). Leet noobs: The life and death of an expert player group in World of Warcraft. Peter Lang.

Collins, H., & Evans, R. (2007). Rethinking expertise. University of Chicago Press.

DeKoven, B. (1978/2013). The well-played game: A player’s philosophy. The MIT Press.

Gee, J. (2003/2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Palgrave Macmillan.

Latour, B. (2005).  Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford University Press.

Pickering, A. (1993). The mangle of practice: Agency and emergence in the sociology of science. American Journal of Sociology, 99(3), 559–589.

Steinkuehler, C. (2007). Massively multiplayer online gaming as a constellation of literacy practices. E-Learning and Digital Media, 4(3), 297-318.

Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.

Zimmerman, E. (2013). Manifesto: The 21st Century will be defined by games. Kotaku (September 9, 2013).

Slides from my talk the Societal Benefits of Gaming at the Pacific Science Center

Due to a death in the family, we moved the talk from Dec 20 to Dec 27 (last night). I think it was well attended, but I really have no idea. I was told it had the most pre-sale tickets of all the lectures, but maybe right after xmas was tough to get a huuuge crowd. I think there were about 30 people.

But, whoa, those people! We had an excellent QA session after the presentation. Some very smart people in the audience. Anyway, here’re the slides I used for the event:

Two awesome things with the Pacific Science Center!

Pacific Science Center is hosting a month-long theme around play, featuring numerous events around play and learning including the current Sherlock Holmes exhibit! I’m involved with two things:

First, students from one of the courses I’m teaching this quarter at UW Bothell will be showcasing their games about mystery, exploration, and play at the Pacific Science Center TODAY!

Game Design Lab

Second, PacSci hosts a lecture series Science in the City, and I’m giving one about the benefits of gaming on Dec 20!

Societal Benefits of Gaming lecture



ANNOUNCING 1st issue of Esoteric Gaming!

I am extremely pleased to announce the first collection of stories for Esoteric Gaming, a new website/book project that features accounts of diverse and niche player practice.

This is not an academic journal and doesn’t necessarily include deep thoughts, conclusions, or research. Instead, it’s a bevy of detail–a space for us to share extreme, nuanced, amazing, arcane, and totally rad things that players and communities do to play the perfect game and to make life meaningful.

I started this project (initially a coffee table art book idea) to give games scholars a venue to be creative and to not stress about deadlines or worry about our CV. This is for us to celebrate why we love games and the people who play them.

Please take a moment to read about the first issue, learn more about the mission, and submit your own stories!

Thanks for any interest and HUGE thanks to the first round of authors: Matt Bouchard, Andy Keenan, Johansen Quijano, Bjorn Shrijen, Osvaldo Jimenez, and Shannon Mortimore-Smith!

Keynoting at SHACS FutureTech 2016!

I’m giving my first keynote talk at the Sam Houston Association of Computer Scientists FutureTech conference at Sam Houston State University in a couple of weeks! Here’s the abstract:

Transportation Games and Intentional Constraints

Games are about deliberately imposing obstacles on a task to make the task fun, challenging, engaging, rewarding. Yet this hasn’t been especially true with games about transportation. Instead, most transportation games, where players are building transportation infrastructure or managing the operations of a fleet of vehicles, attempt to simulate real-world logistics problems and often force players to manage them while still working under some sort of budget or using a limited resource. These simulations occupy enough of players’ cognition to satisfy their desire for challenge and reward. Simulations, by necessity, however, are only semi-real; they are incomplete systems, and finding solutions to their problems can sometimes blind us to other issues that aren’t included in the systems they portray. How can we be intentional about the constraints we design into games such that they are more inclusive? This keynote will cover the above (i.e., introduce the audience to games about transportation, examine systems in transportation games through a science and technology studies lens, and make an argument about inclusive design practices) while also describing the work Mark has been doing with the Gameful Design Lab at Pepperdine University and others. The audience might also be asked to play a game. 😉

Late update: New NASAGA podcast!

This is late reporting, but Melissa Peterson and I started to do a NASAGA podcast. In the first one we talk about identity: in games, NASAGA’s, our personal ones, etc. It’s necessarily pretty short, and there’s a TON of stuff out there on identity in and with games that we didn’t touch upon…

Anyway, here it is:

Leet Noobs color images

One thing I was disappointed about was that I had to get rid of a bunch of color images from Leet Noobs when I rewrote it as a more general audience book.


I have no idea why it took so long for me to think of this, but I’ve collected the images from my original dissertation and put them all in one PDF. Here you go: Leet Noobs images!

The book has the cover illustration, though, so maybe it’s all a wash.

NASAGA 2015!!!

Last week I was at North American Simulations and Gaming Association (NASAGA) 2015, in Seattle this year.

NASAGA2015 logo

After loving it last year (see this write-up), I volunteered as soon as I got back to Seattle from LA over the summer and basically got put in charge of the conference website by the conference co-chairs, John Chen (no relation) and Jeannette Davidson from Geoteaming.

Volunteering ballooned into a bigger job than I thought it would, but that’s fine. I still had a ton of fun and met so many awesome people. In addition to the website, I also designed a geolocation game that we played Thursday evening using GPS devices and featuring a puzzle inspired by the light rail that everyone had to take to get downtown. Wee!

Most of the work was done in partnership with Melissa Peterson, who I got to know a lot better this year than last year. She and I were two of the people in the group I was with that was trying the #gameaweek challenge last year, but this past week I really enjoyed working with her… She’s awesome.

As it happens, I also was invited (first by Melissa… so maybe she was buttering me up) and accepted nomination and then a vote into the board! So now I’m a board member for NASAGA! Other board members include Samantha Knight, Melissa Peterson, Christy Cavanaugh, Jeannette Davidson, Jen McCann, Linda Slack, Dani Abrams, Chuck Needlman, and Chris Saeger. I can’t be excited more to be working with them. 🙂

One thing I’d like to work on is stronger ties with other associations (ABSEL, ISAGA, JASAG, SAGSAG, etc. Basically everything associated with the journal Simulation & Gaming). I also wouldn’t mind if NASAGA did a bit more to bridge the gap between research and practice… and so I’m volunteering to help out with NASAGA 16 in Bloomington, Indiana Oct 26-29 with Christy Cavanaugh chairing. At one point she invited me to co-chair but hadn’t realized I was also being invited to the board… I have been advised that serving on both is really, really ill-advised. Tho she’s doing it, so who knows?

On the last day, I did a rapid-fire game jam after a quick intro to 12 free game-making tools from the big list I did in August. Here’s the slides from that:

Jam w Free Digital Game Making Apps!

Jam with Free Digital Game Making Apps!

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.