I’m at the Games, Learning, and Society conference for the rest of the week; here are my notes on today’s events.

I started the day by finally getting to meet Roger Travis in person! I’ve been hearing his disembodied voice weekly for ages now at the VGHVI gaming sessions that I feel like I know him rather well, but it was great to finally get to meet him in person! (Incidentally, I spent the previous evening hanging out with Jordan; great to see him where he’s now living, looking forward to seeing his family tomorrow.)

I then spent the rest of the morning at the Mobile Learning Summit. This was structured around coming up with a game idea; my table’s brainstorming sentence was: “create an engaging game about playing piano for parents in an artistic/social context”. (We ended up ditching the parent idea, though.)

And, after a fair amount of chatter, we ended up with a game idea, a sort of musical version of foursquare which we called Starter Culture Sounds. It’s location based; if you’re at a location, you can upload a snippet of music to that location. These pieces of music get classified (to detect similar themes, or even moods; we thought it might be cool to find a way to algorithmically merge them, though that sounded pretty hard to me), resulting in a visual representation of popular themes at that location. You can also vote for other people’s tunes, and upload edited version of people’s tunes; either of those actions increases the prominence of that theme in the visual classification. (Maybe those would feed into some sort of badges/achievement system, too.) Votes age over time. Once you’ve been to a place and contributed to hit (just voting is enough), you get a virtual mic that lets you later listen in on the music there. (But you can only contribute if you’re physically present.)

After that, Michael Abbott showed up; great to see him, as always! (A pity that Roger is on the East coast, Michael is in the middle of the country, and I’m on the West coast…) We went off to lunch, where Kurt Squire gave a keynote on Games and Education.

He started off talking about Sid Meier’s Pirates! as an educational game. Here, he mainly discussed the various short-, medium-, and long-term goals that the game gives you: for the first several hours, you always have something clear to do, enriching your understanding of the game’s mechanics, and eventually leading to more free-form experimentation with those mechanics.

He then moved on to social spaces: World of Warcraft and a discussion of MUDs, where a fifth grade teacher he knew had discovered kids in her class were participating in one, and she ended up joining (serving as a Jane Jacobs-style “watchful eye”) and incorporating this into the classroom work. (For example, kids produced versions of the Hundred-Acre Woods and of their school in the MUD.)

He wove these examples into a taxonomy of progression: controls -> basic knowledge -> systemic expertise -> tools/tinkering -> fundamental design, plus another branch systemic expertise -> social control of play.

He also presented a rubric for quality of games:

  • Interesting choices, good progression
  • Enable systemic understanding
  • Scope for transgression
  • Immersive possibilities
  • Room for socialization
  • Does it inspire creativity?
  • Smooth ramp from consumer to creator?
  • (One or two other things – he talks really fast…)

I only have sporadic notes for the rest. He listed some educational game genres: microworlds, linear action, role playing, open-ended sandbox, persistent worlds. He had an interesting discussion of Civilization as a learning tool, including the biases it has: management is good, technology is good, people will attack you for oil, geography is destiny. He said some nice things about Montessori, and showed bits from a cool game about saving the lake that students had made.

At 2pm, I went to a presentation about a game called WolfQuest. Which was billed as a “Chat and Frag”, but was a straight lecture; too bad. Still, the game sounded interesting enough – you play as a wolf trying to survive in Yellowstone. I’ll mention it to Miranda, maybe she’ll like it?

And at 3:30pm, I went to a talk about Unity. Which was also misleading: it was labeled as a workshop, but it was really just a straight talk. Or at least I think it was: I seem to be incapable of going to a conference without sleeping through one of the sessions, and that session was today’s choice.

After that I wandered around the poster session, and then had dinner with Michael and Roger. (Where I got to eat green jackfruit for the first time in almost 17 years; it continues to be very good stuff.) A lovely way to end the day.

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