A Twitter account move

Twitter is a social media/networking … thing … that I’ve had a long love-hate relationship with. Great for quips – and at its best during Eurovision – and amplifying very simple messages; awful for nuanced discussions, readability, privacy and safety. My first account was within a few weeks of the service going live, but I gave up on it shortly afterwards due to a lack of networking with other people. But, come November 2008 and at a conference in Chicago, I found myself surrounded by people tweeting and so picked it up again. Over the many years now I’ve had various accounts – geoshore, joe_librarian and wordshore were three of many – and not all of of them were completely serious.

But now I just have one – solstraler. This used to be the twitter account for the 2007-12 Virtual World Watch project, but it was overhauled while largely keeping the existing small follower/following base. Hence it was created some time ago, but the content in there is relatively recent (unless you are reading this post several years from now).

The name? This is Norwegian for (roughly) sunbeam or ray of sunlight. The idea is that it is positive, and it’s something I try and get a lot of in real life by doing the “going outside and wandering around” thing. And, most importantly, it’s to do with shining a little light on certain things that are work-related, but more of that another time when other content elsewhere has been created. In the meantime, the solstraler account is heavily focused on games, games in learning, EdTech (education technology), various cultural things, and the odd meme and joke. Much less focused on heavy stuff, or politics, or grim things as you can get those (waves at the TV, the Internet, the shops, people talking outside) anywhere else.

So, if you were following me on a different twitter account, then you may want to consider following me there. Or, not. At the end of the day, it’s just short text messages.

Rejoining DiGRA

Today I rejoined DiGRA, the Digital Games Research Association. This feels appropriate.

Sweden

What does DiGRA do? It’s easiest just to look at the website, but basically it’s a standard organisation for – as it says on the tin – people who research games. There’s the usual executive board, mailing lists (most communications thankfully done online), and a major conference somewhere in the world, which used to be every two years but is now annual. An OA journal, plus a few special interest groups, covering player experience, game accessibility and role-playing studies, are also supported as is a bubbling community of younger researchers and students.

It’s an interesting organisation; though not a huge one, it’s been slowly growing over the years as the quantity of games research, and researchers, increases across not just academia but other sectors. There’s a slight Nordic/European tilt to DiGRA, but they have members, and conferences, in other places. In the UK there’s plenty (and last years conference was held in Dundee), and there’s more than a few in the US. DiGRA also has chapters in a gradually increasing list of countries, such as China, Israel, Italy and Japan.

I was a member for a while in the early days, and presented at the first DiGRA conference, in Utrecht in 2003. It was a small, but friendly and positive, conference. My paper and presentation were … not very good … and it’s very unlikely that an equivalent quality of paper would be accepted now. That is a good thing: the niche of games in learning has moved on a lot, my own personal research and writing have also hopefully improved, many more game researchers makes for (hopefully positive) competition and quality threshold increases, and the standard of content at DiGRA events is a lot higher.

I haven’t been back since, and dropped out of DiGRA after a while. Several major life changes, relocating and moving to various places and countries (an island with no proper broadband for five years didn’t help), and non-gaming work opportunities meant I drifted to only doing game-based research occasionally. Despite this, I’m still regularly startled to see – and have mixed feelings about – some of my publications of that time continuing to be heavily cited. But, despite being otherwise busy over the last nearly fifteen years or so, I’ve kept in touch with some DiGRA members and other game researchers (social media helps with this tremendously), as well as popping up to attend and speak at various events, predominantly in the Nordic countries and the USA.

Now, I have a sort-of plan for the medium term which is very much focused on games in learning research and work activities. Whether it works is dependent on a little luck, and a lot of hard work. Therefore, it seems sensible to plug into various relevant networks, and I’m pleased that DiGRA is not only still around but flourishing. So I joined earlier today, and I’m hoping to attend, possibly even present, at some future DiGRA annual conference – and therefore maybe set a record for the longest gap between presenting at two such events. It’s good to be back.

The lead picture? Today is Sveriges Nationaldag, so I thought I’d choose a picture I’ve taken there. This has nothing to do with games, but what the heck – going around the Stockholm archipelago on ferries was one of the most enjoyable days of travel I’ve ever had. Happy National Day of Sweden!

Five hopes for 2016

A new year is upon us, and who knows what it will bring. Global peace, or global chaos? Advances in medicine and science, or pandemics and problems?

However, this is a game research website so I’m restricting my hopes to game-related ones. Here’s five.

1. Google Scholar is still around at the end of the year. I’ve come to rely on GS a lot – though not exclusively – in recent times for picking up on game research articles and papers. Google Scholar Alerts in particular is a nifty thing for being rapidly told when a cool researchers work has appeared. While it’s not the only service of its kind – there’s also academia.edu and researchgate, as well as databases researchers inside a university can use – it’s still a pretty useful source of materials and notifications about materials. The problem is that Google has a habit of shuttering niche services (Reader was far more popular and that didn’t survive), but I’m hoping they won’t take the axe to Scholar, especially as the tiny number of GS staff – less than ten – means it costs very little to maintain. Plus, looking at own citation graph which is starting to tail off is a good nudge to publish more.

2. Let the next Zelda game be a classic. Whenever it appears. Everyone has a different view on the Legend of Zelda games franchise. I really, seriously, enjoyed Ocarina of Time on the N64, to the extent that work was neglected for two months while exploring it as much as the internal system allowed (and occasionally, progressing the main quest). Since then, other Zelda games have fallen short. I didn’t like the constant moon-crashing-into-you time pressure of Mask, and the sailing of Windwaker, though initially lovely, soon became samey. Thus, a classic Zelda game would be most welcome. With just some elements of previous ones, such as shooting arrows while riding a horse, though original enough not to be a total remake. Also, it would be nice to see it available actually in 2016. While Nintendo do the quality-perfectionist-finished-when-its-absolutely-finished development thing more than most, there are limits and many other distractions for expectant gamers.

2.1 While we’re in Nintendo territory, a new Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo 3DS, please. There’s next to no chance of getting that, and I’m not picking up any 3DS-AC vibes so am not counting on that as a hopeful hope. Alas.

3. Reasonable reporting and consideration about Virtual Reality hardware, software and systems. Especially in academia (where you would think that cooler heads would and should prevail) we’ve often seen the “Tech X will disrupt education” vs “The Tech X is dead” polarising divide which doesn’t help anyone. Social media and its tendencies to be a platform for shooting off, and amplifying, pithy soundbites, is not always a great help either; edtech is often complicated and nuanced – like it or not. There is going to be a lot of ephemera around VR for the remainder of this decade at least; too many venture capitalists and companies have sunk too many dollars into this particular tech, and they want their investment plus a bit of profit back. But, as it does, this is leading to a giddy numbers headline race while not answering the reasonable issues educators have (note you can swap out VR for another tech in these questions):

  1. How much will VR cost (that’s the total cost of everything, including time to learn, set-up and run the tech in a educational situation)?
  2. Are there relevant and independently analysed examples of VR use in education?
  3. Is there independent research showing it works in education i.e. VR gives “better” results than using other tech, or no tech at all, in comparable pedagogic scenarios?
  4. How supported and sustainable is VR tech? Will the same kit still be relevant, useful and actually usable across several academic year cycles?
  5. Can the robust and relevant pedagogic evidence for VR to date be summarised in an easy-to-read manner?

…and not uncited “Look, LOOK, at my massive bar chart!!” graphical sales guesses I mean forecasts for 2019.

4. Running on from that last hope, it would be good to see Jisc and similar organisations in other countries more fundamentally commission and update reasonable, useful, timely and evidence-based guides and reports on gaming and other technologies. Yes, there’s an element of self-interest here as I am one of those people who occasionally writes a few of these. But they are needed, especially – as in the previous point – where educators otherwise just encounter polarising arguments and grandstanding while looking for more relevant materials. In the recent case of Jisc it is pleasing to see guides gradually come back to the foreground as something open, free and useful that they provide. Having an explicit guide search option for reducing costs is also pretty useful in these times; the most feedback I received about the gamification infokit compiled last year for Jisc Digital Media concerned the low-cost options as opposed to expensive shiny systems (see 8.5 and 8.6). It would be good to see many more such guides commissioned and updated regularly, not just for games, gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality but for the wider spectrum of other technologies which educators may consider investing in and using.

5. Please: just one decent regular TV series on video games. The UK hasn’t had one since BITS and that was a very long time ago. It’s a weirdly strange thing, this almost total lack of intelligent game analysis on TV, especially as this particular medium outsells most other in the wider entertainment sector. The BBC in particular has a regular film review show, and book review and author programs, and even regular gardening programs – but no games show. It can be done on mainstream TV; Charlie Brooker hosted an excellent documentary on games not that long ago…

…but it was just a one-off, not a series or regular TV slot. So we’re back to games being pretty absent from terrestrial TV, and predominantly mentioned in the mainstream media for some negative reason, whether accurate or just blatant opportunistic bandwagon joining. Just one, weekly, fifteen minutes show that considers the wider range of digital and analog games which a large proportion of the viewing audience choose to indulge in, doesn’t seem much to ask. Or maybe it’s really too late and the audience has already gone to other places.

Anyway; that’s my wishlist. I wish all games researcher, developers and players everywhere a great year of great games, no matter what else happens.

LinkedIn is surprisingly useful

LinkedIn is one of the (many) networks or social media websites where I created an account years ago and quickly lost interest. The interface seemed underdeveloped, and still does (though this is not isolated just to LinkedIn; I’m looking at you, Flickr). And at the time, there was not the critical mass of people in the educational games, games in education, and games research sectors signed up to it, so it felt like a “lonely researchers club”.

I’ve returned to it of late; largely because of needing to sort out my entire online work presence, but also because there was a sudden ticking over of “connection requests”. And I’ve found it – now – to be surprisingly useful from a work perspective. Rather than bumble around on university websites looking to find actual research and researchers – which is increasingly difficult as universities become relentlessly commercial and non-profit activities become buried under layers of other stuff (often non-academic stuff) – it’s been easier to home in on directly relevant research, and researchers, through this service.

In addition, the suggested connections algorithm of LinkedIn has been throwing up a lot of directly relevant researchers who I did not know existed. True, there’s also some misses in there, and some suspicions about where LinkedIn is pulling all of the primary data from (I suspect various places on my laptop it perhaps shouldn’t be nosing in). But the hit rate for interesting – from the perspective of work – people has been usefully high. It also doesn’t take long before getting a sense of the main centers of games in education research and academic activity, especially the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the University of Skövde in Sweden, the IT University of Copenhagen, and Tampere University in Finland. Putting the names of some of the suggested people straight into Google Scholar has thrown up quite a few articles and papers of completely direct use that I also was not aware of and hadn’t come up in previous literature searches.

So, despite the 2003-style interface and the fact that LinkedIn may be quietly harvesting my entire laptop and wider social network for data (really, why else does it suggest my solicitor for connecting to?), I’m finding this particular service useful. If you do similar research or work and want to hit me up, I’m at:

https://uk.linkedin.com/in/silversprite

Flipping the chocolate-covered broccoli

Last month I was in a distinctly middle class English supermarket which shall go nameless. In the confectionary section, an oddly vegetable-like display required closer examination. And this is what it was:

Milk chocolate with a sprout wrapping

Chocolate balls (image: yummy) covered in surprisingly realistic foil wrapping to make them appear like small sprouts (image: getitoutofmymouth).

Which is a reminder of the metaphor, or analogy, of chocolate-covered broccoli. Here, the theory goes, learning is not fun (like eating broccoli) but if you wrap a video game around it which is fun and attractive and enticing (like eating chocolate) then learning will take place (the broccoli will be eaten).

It’s kind of a bit weird as an example, being so extreme. Though that’s what makes it a simple and clear example. But, although widely used, it’s also never one I’ve been totally comfortable with as on analysis it doesn’t hold up very well:

  1. It reduces the game player, or broccoli eater, to someone who is gullible or not very bright. A person able to literally swallow the broccoli, or learning, without realising. In this respect, it’s a somewhat patronising analogy.
  2. In fact, it reduces the player, learner, broccoli consumer to a sub-human level, like a pet. A dog being made to take a pill from the vet by covering it in dog food to disguise the appearance and taste. And some dogs manage to detect the pill and avoid it anyway.
  3. Not everyone likes chocolate – not everyone likes video games. Those who do like different kinds of chocolate. I like plain chocolate, but not milk chocolate (too sweet), for example.
  4. Not everyone dislikes broccoli – not everyone dislikes learning. It depends on the person, and what is being learnt. And those who like broccoli prefer it in different ways. Some steamed, some boiled, a few raw. That’s possibly a better analogy for learning, albeit more nuanced than a simplistic yummy/vile one.
  5. Once the player, learner, broccoli eater realises they have been “fooled”, they may be forever wary of the dispenser of chocolate covered items. Trust is broken.

Anyway, the sprout-appearance chocolate balls in the posh supermarket reminded me of this last night. I suspect there will be a lot of these severely marked down in sale price just after Christmas, so that may be a better time to buy. After remembering that it’s chocolate, wrapped in leaf-effect shiny green foil. But still, just chocolate.

Outside is the best game

It is the Samhain/Halloween, a cultural, spiritual and historical time of the year. Yesterday afternoon, I watched the sun set across from a direction plate on top of a nearby hill:

Sunset from the dial

This also seems like a good starting point for a more relevant set of short blog posts (or “notes“) related to gaming work and interests.