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.

Digital Games, Design, and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

In the April 2015 edition of Review of Educational Research can be found:

Digital Games, Design, and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

Authors: Douglas B. Clark, Emily E. Tanner-Smith, and Stephen S. Killingsworth.

Abstract: In this meta-analysis, we systematically reviewed research on digital games and learning for K–16 students. We synthesized comparisons of game versus nongame conditions (i.e., media comparisons) and comparisons of augmented games versus standard game designs (i.e., value-added comparisons). We used random-effects meta-regression models with robust variance estimates to summarize overall effects and explore potential moderator effects. Results from media comparisons indicated that digital games significantly enhanced student learning relative to nongame conditions (g = 0.33, 95% confidence interval [0.19, 0.48], k = 57, n = 209). Results from value added comparisons indicated significant learning benefits associated with augmented game designs (g = 0.34, 95% confidence interval [0.17, 0.51], k = 20, n = 40). Moderator analyses demonstrated that effects varied across various game mechanics characteristics, visual and narrative characteristics, and research quality characteristics. Taken together, the results highlight the affordances of games for learning as well as the key role of design beyond medium.

My notes: One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and one paper doesn’t “prove” that digital games are jolly useful things to use in education, learning and teaching. However, every so often an article, paper or report of the thousands (yes, thousands) published on games in learning every year comes along that does show something significant, has some persuasive analysis in it, and is definitely worth a read. This recent paper is one. The work looks at research published between 2000 and 2012 and was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There’s a brief, and far less technical, summary document which introduces the various hypotheses. It’s a long text; the statistics within are somewhat hardcore (and my first degree was in statistics), and it’s a good few hours of concentrated reading. The reference section is also pretty good.

More information at:

n.b. Thanks to Doug for a copy of a version of the paper.

Jisc Digital Media gamification infokit

Jisc Digital Media have just launched their latest infokit, concerning Gamification. I am the researcher and author behind it.

This work took a bit longer than planned, for several reasons. One of which was the trip into the heart of gamification being somewhat long and winding; there’s only so many points and leaderboards you can look at before you start going a bit Benjamin L. Willard. A few of the systems I looked at are listed in the infokit; there were more. (Too) many more.

Despite being the sole author of the infokit, there have been a lot of influences on it. These include Karla Youngs with chat and comments, Martin Hamilton (Digital Futures) and Jon Knight for various chats about gamification, and Lawrie Phipps (lawrie : converged), with whom I had a long chat on a barge several years back about the value(s) of technology in education. Some of that talk has stuck in the mind and was influential on the chapter concerning gamifying your learning situation.

The quality writing of several academic education specialists has also been useful and thought provoking. These include Lorna Campbell (Open World), David Kernohan (Followers of the Apocalypse), Nicola Whitton (play think learn) and Sheila McNeill (howsheilaseesIT). The writing of Richard Hall (Richard Hall’s Space) was especially influential on the appendix concerning academia as a gamified system. And Rachel Bruce is always awesome to bounce academic ideas off, no matter the timezone.

I’ve also spoken to, heck, a *lot* of teachers (especially) and lecturers through 2015 about gamification. Their views have been … diverse, and often strongly worded. But always useful.

Jisc Digital Media gamification infokit

My own thoughts on gamification – specifically, gamification in education – are … complicated. To greatly simply: the attractiveness of gamification, from a ‘shiny’ perspective, is clear. As is the possibility of nudging or motivating or engaging a part of a cohort. However, the dangers are also clear; some students who were doing okay before gamification came along could be demotivated, repelled or excluded by a gamified learning system. And many other things can go wrong; it’s not surprising that the longest chapter in the infokit deals with issues, problems and weaknesses. Vendors are everywhere, selling the shiny. And that shiny may or may not work; many factors influence, and the research base is in a state of catch-up. Even if it does work, that shiny may be expensive; vendors don’t do sales pitches because they love the smell of leaderboards in the morning, either.

Additionally, there are data privacy concerns. Generating micro-data about learning performances of students is one thing. Showing comparative performances in a leaderboard, or some other game mechanic, is another. Doing the same for schoolchildren: even more problematic. Storing and displaying gamified data about their classroom behavior, as opposed to learning performances: seriously problematic. Where there is personalised data, there is usually, eventually, a marketplace for it.

But returning to the issue of expense and cost, one area that seems positive is the homebrew, DIY, low tech, low complexity, gamification scene. Sticky stars on wallcharts; google spreadsheets adaptations; gamification plugins for WordPress, Joomla and Drupal; extensions for moodle; additional functionality for your VLE. Structures and content which you can build yourself, without losing control, data privacy and a huge chunk of budget to some third-party company. Systems that do not overawe the students who were happily working anyway, before people suggested gamifying their learning processes. There could be something there. More quality research, as ever, would be useful.

And there are other positive attributes. Badges are a distinctly interesting thing that have been around for a long time; since probably the first organisation and ranking of people in any way. Open Badges are especially interesting, as they seem to be solving some of the problems within digital badges. They also won’t ruin your departmental budget.

If you read the infokit, I hope you find some of it interesting. I don’t expect you to agree with all of it; in fact, some parts should incite discomfort or profound disagreement in many people; if they don’t, I’ve probably failed. But I hope the final section makes you ponder (though please do not quit your job in academia because of something in there; I do not want that burden on me).


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.

Minecraft in Northern Ireland schools

BBC News has a short piece today on the use of this particular software in schools:

Fifty-thousand schoolchildren in Northern Ireland could soon be playing one of the world’s most popular video games in class. Minecraft will be made available to every post-primary school as part of an innovative technology project.

The Guardian follows up with Minecraft free for every secondary school in Northern Ireland:

Minecraft will be given to secondary schools in Northern Ireland as part of a project organised by the annual CultureTECH festival and funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The hugely popular building-block game will be supplied to 200 schools and 30 libraries and community organisations, which will all receive download codes for MinecraftEdu, the educational version of the game.

(Update: August 2015)

More from BBC News: Northern Ireland teachers to attend training school in Stranmillis:

Topics covered in the camp include classroom leadership, e-safety, helping pupils with dyslexia, using Minecraft in teaching, pastoral care and effective science teaching.

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.

The DuoLingo experience

At the end of last year, I met up with the Jisc Futurist again for what’s becoming our seasonal meal out. This one was ‘winter’, spent indoors in a pleasant Mediterranean restaurant. Once I’d gotten used to DMs and RTs illuminating on his watch, we were served some excellent vegetarian and burnt animal foods.

Med food

And in our meals one thing we regularly do is, inevitably, discuss DuoLingo at some point. Martin has young children who do this, without parental support or prodding, so he sees how they use it. I keep coming across DuoLingo (and am using it, albeit haphazardly) as it keeps being mentioned as the flagship for gamification-enhanced education, though the gamification and game elements are arguably the least interesting (neat though they are).

DuoLingo is a persistently interesting example. As TJF points out, there are a lot of people using it; the kind of numbers that the education sector need to keep an eye on. It’s free, easy to use, quick to get started, and there’s the nice intrinsic hooks of achieving through earning gamified things and learning a language at the same time. In fact it’s so easy to get going (old tech is fine; seconds, not minutes, to start) that there’s little excuse for EdTech commentators to not try it before commenting.

And, and this may be the attribute that makes it so usable, it is ferociously quick to move through a lesson – even though you have to achieve more right answers than wrong. Got a few minutes? You can do a new lesson or repeat a previously completed one.


It’s not perfect. Languages come out of an incubator somewhat rough around the edges, and not of academically rigorous quality. Volunteers, rather than certified experts, develop this initial content. Speech and sound, vital to speaking a new language correctly, is of variable quality. And the translations that players are given (which are part of the business model) are sometimes random, irrelevant or things you will never say.

But it’s been around for a few years and the numbers do add up. And by that I mean the large number of users/players/learners, and the proportion reaching advanced stages and completing (as opposed to MOOC drop-out rates). Not everyone benefits; there’s always losers. While taxi drivers complain about Uber taking away their business, there’s less in the press about the language teaching and translation sectors taking substantial damage with individuals fearing for their futures. But it’s happening.


So, yes. Worth a “play”, at the very least.

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.