August 2016, Madison: Games+Learning+Society 12

Website: glsconference.org

17-19 August 2016, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

This is, without much doubt, the main annual conference for games and learning in North America. Madison itself has been a centre for games and learning companies for a while now; this, and GLS, are somewhat by-products of the games research undertaken there.

This year’s schedule.

From the conference website: “The GLS Conference is the premier videogames and learning event. Now in it’s twelfth year, our event continues to be one of the top destinations where the people who create and research high-quality digital learning media can gather to discuss and help shape the direction of the field. GLS is best known for its high quality program, top notch attendees list, and playful atmosphere. Each year, we foster in-depth conversation across diverse disciplines including game studies and culture, game design, learning sciences and education research, industry, and policy. Our aim is to connect, learn, and explore.”

The journal of Digital Culture and Education

I’ve been accepted onto the editorial board of the journal of Digital Culture and Education. This particular online journal:

…is devoted to analysing the impact of digital culture on identity, education, art, society, culture and narrative within social, political, economic, cultural and historical contexts.

They have a nice archive of articles. It’s good – and healthy – to read academic research writing which isn’t just about games, but covers other aspects of online and digital uses. It’s also an Open Access journal, so content within is free to read.

In addition, I am currently:

Previously, I was also a member of the editorial board of Ariadne, specialising in games and gamification in the library and information science sectors.

July 2016, Manchester: Playful Learning

Website: conference.playthinklearn.net/blog

13-15 July 2016, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, England.

The conference is being chaired by Mark Langan, Alex Moseley and Nicola Whitton

Call for papers: conference.playthinklearn.net/blog/call-for-papers

From the website: “Playful Learning is pitched at the intersection of learning and play for adults. Playful in approach and outlook, yet underpinned by robust research and working practices, we’ll be providing a space where teachers, researchers and students can play, learn and think together. A space to meet other playful people and be inspired by talks, workshops, activities and events. Based in the heart of Manchester, we’ll also be exploring some of the city’s playful spaces with evening activities to continue the fun and conversations after the formal programme ends.”

(I’m on the conference committee and therefore officially endorse this event 🙂 )

April 2016, Tampere: Money and Games

Website: gamemoneyseminar.wordpress.com

18-19 April 2016, Game Research Lab, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.

Organised by: gamelab.uta.fi

From the website: “It may be the classic view among scholars of play to see games as separate from everyday, and to maintain that nothing of value is created in them. In contemporary perspective, this notion does no longer appear as valid. Games have evolved into commercial, designed products and services, which influence the surrounding economy and culture. Furthermore, although games may be free, games set up endogenous systems of meaning with proprietary monetary systems, virtual economies, that are natural monopolies for the companies that created the games. Yet, even these monopolies have several links to global networks of monetary flows. The game industry is a major player in world economy, and effects like regional tax subsidiaries, playbour performed by participants, and sweatshop work on consoles are archetypical examples of information labour in a network society.

In addition to monetary effects of games at macro level, also micro level effects are significant. Money influences how games are experienced at the individual level of players and games influence players’ perception of money before, during and after playing, for example in gambling games. Games have various currencies and reward systems comparable to money and, on the other hand, money itself can represent these same reward systems, which have also social and cultural meanings for players.

Money and Games is the 12th annual spring seminar organized by University of Tampere Game Research Lab. The seminar welcomes any and all scholarly work on the intersection of money and games.”

As I’ve happily said before, the Game Research Lab at Tampere University are also a friendly group of pro-active researchers; the best conference I have ever attended was their 2007 Gamers in Society seminar.

Meta-Game Studies

Meta-Game Studies, the editorial by Espen Aarseth in volume 15 issue 1 of Game Studies, is an entertaining and interesting read on the issues of research and peer review in this field.

(contains almost obligatory reference to Tom Malone‘s 1980 paper)

Virtual World Watch

It’s taken a bit of time but the files for the Virtual World Watch (VWW) service are now all back online. The introductory and index page is elsewhere on this website.

Though now a fading memory, VWW took up a chunk of working life for several years towards the end of the last decade. It kicked off when Andy Powell, ex-colleague from UKOLN and then the Director of Research at the Eduserv Foundation, spotted I was spending some time in Second Life, wandering around the various education sites. He got in touch and asked if I’d like to do a report for them on this subject.

Which I did. The response to the report was somewhat unexpected. Many – and I mean many – academics in UK universities and colleges appeared out of the woodwork and got in touch, some using the report to justify their work to their peers, others using it as leverage to obtain either internal or external funding to continue their research, or to find peers doing similar work in other UK universities and colleges.

Further stand-alone snapshot reports were commissioned by the Eduserv Foundation. Then, the Foundation went full-in and funded a more holistic service – Virtual World Watch – for a few years. As well as the snapshot reports, VWW produced:

  • A bundle of conference presentations, especially in 2009.
  • Podcasts where I interviewed UK academics who were using virtual worlds.
  • Tweets, Facebook postings, and other social media.
  • Several articles in academic journals and other media; for example [1] [2] and [3].
  • And, of course, collecting data. Lots and lots of lovely data.

Thankfully, we quickly moved away from VWW being solely about the contentious virtual world Second Life, though throughout the life of the service SL remained – arguably regrettably – the predominant virtual world in UK academia.

This was a good time for research into this particular technology; as well as the Eduserv Foundation funding VWW and a variety of other virtual world projects, Jisc also supported several projects across various programmes. There was a lot of activity; at one point every UK university had someone using this particular technology for research or formal/informal learning, with some institutions (more the newer ones) using it across courses and departments, sometimes over several academic years. This led to some spreadsheets containing lovely data – for example:

VWW snapshot data spreadsheet

(and I am so glad I archived all of this data)

However, the data collection and dissemination was definitely not problem-free. The range of funding for this techology against other EdTech technologies, a dislike of virtual worlds (or anything that looked like a game) in academia, and the (very unhelpful) over-the-top hype in some parts of the media over Second Life contributed to a Marmite-effect, with more than a few vocal academics being entrenched in either near-evangelical advocacy or near-hatred of the technology. Interesting times, though sometimes weary on social media.

The high-point for this specific iteration of technology interest, funding, use and discussion in UK academia was probably around the spring and summer of 2009. The keynote at the Jisc RSC Northern conference on virtual worlds in April of that year was especially fun to do – and a big event (side point: even back in 2009, 23 of the 25 speakers at that event were tweeting). The slides from the event are probably the best summary to come out of the Virtual World Watch project:

After several years, things were wrapped up with VWW. All of the snapshot reports, plus three other reports I wrote under my own steam, are online and free. Between them they contain a large amount of data, much of it deliberately unedited (and sometimes frank) survey responses. Do use, but please use responsibly, attributing authors and using their text responsibly and in context.

Overall it was an interesting experience, though it feels somewhat unfinished. It’s good to see that quality research has been continuing elsewhere in this field in UK academia (example), though with significant changes in technology, funding, practice and all manner of other attributes, things seem startlingly different now to even just half a decade ago.

Now, deep into 2015, there’s two pieces of contemporary research I’d like to do if or when funding becomes available:

  1. Another snapshot of virtual world use in UK academia, which would also include a comparison of the data to that of the previous snapshots. I’ve kept all of the contact and other data from the VWW service, so that’s one starting point.
  2. A clear-headed analysis of the (still) contentious reasons for and against the use of virtual worlds in education, possibly involving interviews with pro- and anti- academics from back then, and now.

I’ll see what happens (and if you are a potential funder then please do get in touch). It would be interesting, and hopefully useful to the education technology community, to be able to provide an enlightened and unbiased retrospective, especially as virtual reality emerges as a viable EdTech.

October 2015, Ann Arbor: Gender and Gaming

Website: www.lib.umich.edu/events/university-michigan-gender-gaming-symposium-2015

24 October 2015, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

From the event website: In the past few years, issues of gender have become prominent in the discussion around gaming, both as relates to the games themselves and in the larger gaming culture. This symposium aims to critically engage these ongoing narratives, explore how gaming culture can impact broader social spheres, and indicate how gender relations in gaming can be improved going forward through two keynote talks, a series of roundtable discussions, a panel discussion of student gamers, and a game gallery of significant texts. Attendees can expect to participate heavily throughout the day and leave with a deeper understanding of game culture, its social significance, and what its future might entail.

Keynote Speakers:

  • Rabindra (Robby) Ratan, assistant professor, Department of Media & Information, Michigan State University. “Avatars for Empowerment: A research trajectory aimed toward reducing social disparity in education through avatar use”
  • Adrienne Shaw, assistant professor, Department of Media Studies and Production, Temple University. “Representation Matters: Reframing arguments for diversity in digital games”

Sponsored by: University of Michigan Library Computer and Video Game Archive; University of Michigan Library Diversity Council; University of Michigan Institute for Humanities; Ann Arbor District Library.

August 2016, Dundee: DiGRA/FDG

Website: digra-fdg2016.org/

1-6 August 2016, Abertay University, Dundee, Scotland.

(From the blog of Frans Mäyrä)

Abertay University is the home of the Europe’s oldest computer games program and the UK’s first university Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education, offering undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in games technology, game design and production management, and computer arts. The city of Dundee has been a major hub for game development since the release of Lemmings in 1991 by DMA – now known as Rockstar North.

Dundee is less than an hour away by train from the city centre of Edinburgh, and the 2016 conference will be held in the week immediately preceding the Edinburgh Festival (including the Fringe), the largest annual cultural festival in the world. Abertay also hosts the Dare Protoplay festival, one of the largest indie games festivals in the UK, and the Dare to be Digital game design competition, which will be held just before the conference.

(Updated information, from the DiGRA website)

For the first time, the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) and the Foundation of Digital Games (FDG) will partner in an unprecedented gathering of games researchers. We invite researchers and educators within game research, broadly construed, to submit their work.

DiGRA/FDG aims at being a venue for game research from all research disciplines. In line with this, it accepts and encourages submissions in the following six tracks, on a wide range of subjects including, but not limited to:

  • Game design: Design techniques, practices, methods, post mortems, etc.
  • Game criticism and analysis: Close readings, ontologies and frameworks, historical studies, philosophical explorations, and other humanities-informed approaches
  • Play studies + Interaction and player experience: studies of play, observations and interviews of players, and research based on other methods from the social sciences; game interfaces, player metrics, modeling player experience
  • Artificial intelligence: agents, motion/camera planning, navigation, adaptivity, procedural content generation, dialog, authoring tools, general game playing
  • Game technology: engines, frameworks, graphics, networking, animation
  • Game production: studies of game production processes, studio studies, software studies, platform studies and software engineering

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the DiGRA/FDG conference, authors and reviewers alike will be required to describe their research background and field of study as part of the submission process. The intention for this is to help reviewers be conscious of when they are reviewing work outside their own field as well as making clear the proportions of contributing fields.