GLS day 2, early afternoon

Narrative, Contingency, and Humor

Narrative Engagement: Games as Mnemonic Devices for Process Learning – Jay Laird and Ann McDonald

Jay and Ann are more practitioners rather than learning scientist theorists. They say that a mnemonic system can be used over and over to remember something and that players could use to remember and navigate a system. Things have to be accessible and relevant for them to be meaningful for players. I’m wondering how much of their concepts overlap with memes (Lankshear and Knobel) and unit operations (Bogost).

jay laird and ann mcdonald

Anyway, Jay and Ann then showed off 5 of their games and gave very brief post-mortems on each one. Here’s a real brief summary and some notes that I’m jotting down. Each game built upon the previous ones, addressing the problems they encountered with each game. A lot of these can be seen on Jay’s website.

  • Jellytown (a SimCity-esque game that kept track of ocean pollution as a city expands)
  • Rovers (kind of like Minesweeper with radar things to triangulate where landmines are on a field) – sidenote: they found that a group of students playing this single-player game turned it into a multiplayer game by yelling out how many moves it took them, how much time it took them, etc. In other words they turned it into a social experience. Jay says that students didn’t have enough just-in-time info and not enough sense of agency.
  • Shortfall (a boardgame modeling automobile manufacturing and then the online version)
  • Geckoman (nano-manufacturing)
  • Race for Your Future (a carbon cycle/renewable energy sources game where you’re trying to get your band across the country as fast as possible)

Anything but Routine: Games and the Post-Bureaucratic Institution – Thomas Malaby

Modern institutions today are defined by bureaucracies, an attempt to order everything. No matter how much you try to contain and emcompass everything, to define every eventuality, there’s no way you can predict every exceptional case. By contrast, Linden Lab with Second Life encourages exceptions and emergent effects and behavior. Linden Lab’s dilemma is that they cannot run themselves as a bureaucracy because the company identity is consistently anti-bureaucratic. It’s tricky for LL to make legitimate decisions. One way of deciding which tasks to complete first was to rank them by having different tasks “play” each other (a la online versus wars). Is the new way of making legitimate decisions through a ludic (or gaming) of the system?

eric zimmerman with decoy talk while thomas malaby helps shawna kelly set up

Importance of Humor in Gaming Culture – Shawna Kelly

What’s funny? humor as relief of tension, surprising incongruity, or feeling of superiority. Humor is universal but highly contextual and varies by individual.


Use of jargon enhances enculturation. Humor creates a space to critique social norms or expectations.

I remember leading a class discussion on ethnography a year or so ago where I asked the students to write an ethnographic account of an in joke shared by each of them and their friends. Shawna mentioned that one way to get cross-cultural learning to happen would be through exploration of humor in specific cultures. Totally right on.

Eric Zimmerman tied the three presentations together pretty well by showing how each talk touched on the same thing Jim Gee talked about in his keynote–that there’s a sort of new way for making decisions and assessing and that these come out of a deeply, highly contextualized emergent culture. The games culture [I argue] is really a sub-culture within a larger participatory culture (or maybe a parallel culture…). This ties in really well with what Henry and Alice were talking about this morning. Learning is process, a way of navigating a system rather than knowing hard facts. Those hard facts don’t exist anymore.

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