A statement on games and expert gaming

I wrote 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.

First, some definitions:

  • 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.
    • IE. Games can be understood through systems thinking with a focus on the interrelatedness of objects rather than a focus on the objects themselves.
    • The exploration is interactional, associational, and emergent; it is not static nor inert.
    • Game experience is open to player interpretation and influenced by out-of-game context.
    • It’s self directed (and self-discovered) and problem based.
    • Exploring the associations in the system is our definition of “play.”
  • Encouraging players to push at these rules necessarily also encourages subversion and destabilization.
    • This decenters power, challenging top-down approaches to leveraging games (i.e., many gamification models).
    • Pushing at the bounds of a system is our definition of “expert play.”
  • There is little distinction between the make-believe of games and the projected identity or role taking people do in their everyday lives in settings where they imagine a future possibility. (cf. Gee, McGonigal, Sutton-Smith)
    • This realization allows us to merge pretend problems and pretend identities with authentic problems and identities and move onto the question of “so how does that affect how we design learning experiences/environments?”
  • Yes, everything is a game. More precisely, every domain/discourse can be thought of as a game world.
    • This includes both what Jim Gee calls the little g game and the big G Game (akin to Gee’s little d discourse and big D Discourse).
      • Little g: A particular domain/game has its set of rules or grammar about how objects in that domain interact with each other. Think of this as content.
      • Big G: Domains/Games also exist within a community of (literacy) practices that govern how to be within that domain. Think of this as setting, context, or ecology.
  • Participating in this broader view of games discourse is our definition of “gaming” or “gaming practice.”
    • Therefore, “expert gaming” is not just mastery of game content but also the ability to participate authentically and the possession of well-above average social and cultural capital in the broader discourse.
  • The practice within this broader discourse can be thought of as a mangle.
    • As with any culture or community of practice, what determines capital production changes over time and is in constant tension.
    • Different parties in the actor-network are constantly renegotiating what it means to “game” and the division of labor within the landscape of gaming.

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