February 27, 2005

Sackler Exhibition: Asian Games: The Art of Contest

The Sackler Gallery is hosting Asian Games: The Art of Contest through May 15.

Using boards, pieces, and other game-playing paraphernalia as well as paintings, prints, and decorative arts that depict people playing games, Asian Games: The Art of Contest explores the role of games as social and cultural activities in the diverse societies of pre-modern Asia. It also highlights the paramount importance of Asia as a source of many games—chess, backgammon, Parcheesi, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and playing cards, not to mention polo and field hockey—now played in the West. In addition to games familiar to Western audiences, the exhibition also examines the Japanese shell-matching game (kai-oi) and incense competition (jishu-ko).

The exhibition received support from NEH, and is also highlighted in "Playful Pursuits," an article in the July/August issue of Humanities Magazine.

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February 22, 2005

XML, Interface, and WoW

Grockwel's latest entry reminded me to start a list for the plugins being developed for World of Warcraft, which sound strikingly similar in a lot of ways to many of the Asheron's Call plugins developed - many of which used XML backend to drive anything from an automated buffing sequence to reading the packets in order to allow users to "see" far beyond their avatar's range.

I'm not currently playing WoW (that would be a dangerous timesuck, however tempting it is - especially after loving the beta test), but I certainly want to keep track of these things, since I'm trying to wrap up that section of my dissertation sometime... this ... lifetime.

As Geoffrey's son points out - these kids of plugins can rapidly change the way the game is played far beyond any empowerment given to players in terms of "storyline agency."

These were all things I examined in my paper for AoIR in 2003 and have subsequently been incorporated into my dissertation. Hopefully I can live vicariously through others' virtual lives in the more recent MMoRPGs.

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February 19, 2005

Wiki Software Suggestions?

The title says it all. Currently, my front runners are MediaWiki, which runs on PHP/MySQL (and is what wikipedia is built on) and MoinMoin, which appears to run on Python.

Both seem to get good reviews, though I'm currently leaning towards MediaWiki, since I know a little php/mysql.

So, my questions:
1. Am I missing some great wiki software in my list?
2. Do either or both of these support some sort of export (I'm always concerned about my data)?
3. Are they relatively easy and quick to set up and maintain? I don't have time to fuss (and if I do, I prefer to fuss over keeping Wordherders running and up-to-date).

Thanks for any suggestions and/or comments...

Useful article reviewing various wiki software packages.

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February 18, 2005

Baby Names

Cool visualization tool (and baby name finder) -- The Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager [via Jerz].

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DIGRA 2005 List of Papers

A list of the DIGRA 2005 Presenters, Abstracts, and Papers, including my abstract: "Who’s on First? Competing Points-of-View in Computer Games."

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February 11, 2005

Entering the Education Arcade: Learning Through Computer and Video Games

Henry Jenkins, Professor of Literature and Director of Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented on the 11th of February as part of the University of Maryland’s Teaching, Learning, Technology lecture series. Jenkins is one of the founding members of the Education Arcade, an initiative dedicated to investigating the use of games and game technology in the classroom.

Jenkins began with an opening slide depicting the 1996 Doonesbury Election game, which places the player in the role of Campaign Manager. Jenkins’ accompanying anecdote detailed how his son came to learn important components of the electoral process (the electoral college, etc.) during his play, but when he tried to play the game on school computers during open lab time, his request was denied because “games” were not educational and therefore not allowed. The school is now a test pilot for the Education Arcade.

Jenkins’ anecdote pointed towards a few key elements when discussing games and education. First, often games that are not meant to be “educational” actually are; oftentimes games meant to be educational are carrot-stick approaches, where learning a fact or figure results in a “reward” of game-play. These games frequently are less successful. Second, games are rarely considered educational, even though a quick review of some of the bestselling titles reveals games are “Rollercoaster Tycoon,” “Civilization,” and a variety of other strategy and simulation games that necessitate a growing understanding of resource management, history, and so on. Finally, games less frequently teach facts, but more frequently teach process; Civilization might not teach specific dates or simulate actual history, but it does teach the importance of various resources in developing various aspects of culture; Jenkins noted later in the lecture that Kurt Squire (U. of Wisconsin-Madison) found that while Civilization 3 might not be ideal for “teaching to the test,” he did count over 300 words that Civilization uses in the game and that are found on the history standardized tests.

“What’s the worst thing about homework?” Jenkins asked. “It’s too hard. What’s the worst thing about a game? It’s too easy.” It is this contradiction that initiatives like the Education Arcade would like to investigate and exploit to better education. What drives people to play games, and how can educators harness that same kind of energy for school-appropriate topics? Collaborations between industry, educators, and researchers to create engaging educational initiatives using popular media isn’t new – earlier attempts in television resulted in shows such as “Our Mr. Sun,” which circulated schools for years (one TV executive called the project “Operation Frontal Lobe”). That collaboration is what the Education Arcade is trying to foster.

While some researchers, like Kurt Squire, study the use of existing games in the classroom, the Educational Arcade also used initial funding to create several design documents (descriptions and rules for games that could be developed) for new educational games. One example: Prospero’s Island, based on the world described in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and developed in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Rather than trying to recreate the play (which would serve little purpose), they propose developing a version of the island that enables students to explore the richness of both the language and the story; one possibility was to turn metaphors into challenges, which allows students to work through how a metaphor works (in general and in the specific Shakespearian context).

Jenkins also described an Augmented Reality Game (a game played in an actual, physical space, such as a museum) actually developed in collaboration with the Boston Museum of Science. Kids teamed up with other kids and parents and solved a series of puzzles using clues around the museum; all of this was coordinated with handheld computers. The experience varied from student to student, and required that they teach each other and their parents – peer-to-peer teaching and learning was built into the game mechanism, reinforcing their learning. Many of these kinds of games can be developed around local community resources.

Media literacy is also a primary goal of the Education Arcade. Jenkins provided some context for this need: in a 2003 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey [available in PDF format here: Let the Games Begin: Gaming Technology and Entertainment Among College Students], 100% of students surveyed said they had at one point played games; 70% still played “once in a while,” and 65% played regularly. 48% agreed that game playing kept them from studying “some” or “a lot,” and – this is the truly disheartening figure – 32% admitted playing games that were not part of the instructional material during class. In a separate study Jenkins’ team did at MIT, incoming students stated that they played games more than they used any other media, including television, the movies, and books. One method for tackling media literacy is to make students media producers; in one example, students were asked to consider the politics of a colonizing process as they created a Flash game called Tropical America [relevant links: Tropical America Game website and the description on the Education Arcade].

Jenkins discussed some of the merits of games in the classroom and, in doing so, highlighted some of the scholarship in the field. He referenced Jim Gee’s What Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, noting Gee’s assertion that games are about problem solving; gamers learn through hypothesis and discovery in an environment free of risk. By virtue of the fact that game-play is re-loadable and repeatable, players (and by analogy, students) can make mistakes and then learn to correct them; the price of a mistake in a contemporary classroom is much higher – so much better then to enable practice. Furthermore, games constantly push at the outer limits of players’ competency by the careful staging of levels that can adjust to the player’s needs and abilities. He also reminded the audience that types of games and simulations, such as Model UN, are already used in education to great effect, emphasizing that their value is not just in the simulation, but in the student work that is necessary as they prepare for the simulation.

The focus of the talk turned to Revolution, a game about Colonial Williamsburg in 1773. The game is being developed by the Education Arcade, with the help of student programmers and graduate students, with support from Colonial Williamsburg. The first chapter is based on an incident where the jittery British confiscated guns under the pretense of an impending slave revolt. Students play characters in the accurately modeled town, and depending on what kind of character the student chooses, they have different influences with various factions (royalists, slaves, and so on). The programmers have customized the game engine so that talking to members of different factions has an effect on game play. Making flamboyant choices – such as aggressive rebellion in the presence of royalists – can have severe consequences.

Available outside game-play are historical documents – newspapers of the time and other primary sources – that detail the events the game is based on, so the game is not – and should not be – played in a vacuum. Teachers are absolutely necessary to the enterprise. Part of the challenge, Jenkins noted, was that 40% of Colonial Williamsburg was comprised of black slaves. Accounting for master / slave relationships in the game was difficult, because making those roles “unplayable” wasn’t a reasonable option; teachers must be present, he asserted, to ensure a cautious and careful approach to these sensitive topics. Currently, Revolution is being tested in Boston schools. Jenkins indicated that the budget for Revolution was around $100,000, but this was using student programmers and involved customizing an already existing game engine (from Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights) rather than building their own.

Jenkins concluded that games are not always fun, but good games are always engaging; part of the challenge is convincing the public, funders, and school administrators that games are not just “for fun,” but that their ability to engage students can enhance their educational experience. A healthy discussion followed Jenkins’ presentation. I asked what how successful fund raising had been, and he admitted that funders were wary for a variety of reasons. I also asked what kind of curriculum support had been built around Revolution. If I understood correctly, while they have collected primary sources (newspapers, etc.) and have the game, it was not clear that there was a specific series of lesson plans integrating the primary sources with game-play. Developing those types of materials may, in fact, make potential funders less wary, if the game component appears balanced with other Internet and computing resources available for teachers, such as what EDSITEment currently provides.

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Bigger? Not always better...

Flannery O'Connor, towards the end of her life, wrote the following:

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock ~ to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures [from The Fiction Writer and His Country, 1957; emphasis mine].

I suppose shouting might help with the hard of hearing... but drawing bigger pictures for the blind?

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BlogBib, "an annotated bibliography on weblogs and blogging, with a focus on library/librarian blogs" put together by Susan Herzog, Information Literacy Librarian @ Eastern Connecticut State University.

[via Jeremy]

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February 9, 2005

Ludonauts' 2004 Best Reads

Ludonauts - 2004 in Review: Best Reads

The best reads on gaming in 2004. Considered: the uselessness of academic game writing, the usefulness of academic game writing, some things you probably missed.

Also of interest - their 2004 in Review: Best Games

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February 8, 2005

Online Bibliography Tool

I'm looking for a relatively straight-forward pre-fab bibliography database. I'd be happiest if it was hosted on my server, if it was php/mysql or something else I could understand, and if it was free. It would be great if it exported to something like html or pdf. In MLA format.

Basically, I'm tired of not being able to enter records into something like ProCite unless I have my main computer next to me.

Any suggestions?

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Jenkins / Education Arcade Lecture at UMD

Entering the Education Arcade: Learning Through Computer and Video Games

The Education Arcade represents a consortium of international game designers, publishers, scholars, educators, and policy makers who are exploring the new frontiers of educational media that have been opened by computer and video games. Our mission is to demonstrate the social, cultural, and educational potentials of games by initiating new game development projects, coordinating interdisciplinary research efforts, and informing public conversations about the broader and sometimes unexpected uses of this emerging art form in education. In short, we want to lead change in the way the world learns through computer and video games. In this talk, Professor Jenkins, a founder and co-director of the Education Arcade, makes the case for educational gaming, outlining what video games can bring to education, why the time is right to re-examine this concept, and what the Education Arcade is doing to make it a reality.

February 11, 2005
2:00 - 4:00 PM
McKeldin Library, Room 6137

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February 7, 2005

Galactic Conquest

Galactic Conquest is a mod for Battlefield 1942 set in the Star Wars universe. The latest - and final - release is now available.

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February 3, 2005

Neat Parsing Tool

Whatever your politics, check out the style.org State of the Union Parsing Tool, which allows you to search for key terms within different texts over time.

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