April 2018, Tampere: Making Games

Website: makinggamesseminar.wordpress.com

“The seminar welcomes contributions relating to all types of games and game making. Traditionally, games have been situated in the public domain – communally created and played – and even today, games are not only created by commercial game studios but also by independent developers, game jammers, students, enthusiasts, experts, and amateurs. In addition, we can identify a wide network of intermediaries ranging from commercial enterprises to non-profits and government agencies that actively shape the ecosystem of game making.

We are seeking submissions from scholars studying different aspects of game making. Prominent work is done in many fields ranging from design research and organizational ethnography to production studies and political economy. We hope that the seminar can address some of the theoretical and methodological approaches that will help us to start to bridge the hitherto disconnected fields.”

24-25 April 2018, The Finnish Museum of Games, Tampere, Finland.

Organised by: gamelab.uta.fi

“Making Games is the 14th annual international spring seminar organized by University of Tampere Game Research Lab. The theme changes each year, as do the expert commentators. The Game Research Lab Spring Seminar is the longest running game studies seminar.”

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

Game designing, again. At last.

I haven’t designed, written or coded a digital games in … a long time. Years. Too many years. My first attempts, back in the early 1980s on a Sinclair ZX81, were unsurprisingly crude. A few programs did make it into computer magazines as boringly long code listings for people to type in; there’s a vague recollection of being excited by this, and not realising for several years that I wasn’t getting paid for my work.

I did, however, get paid for a basic (in every respect of the word) flight landing simulator which was published as an actual game that you bought on a cassette and spent an eternity loading. But not richly paid as it sold five copies on the shelf of Evesham Micros (when this was a tiny store in Evesham, the location of which ironically is now my solicitors), and I was left with a stock of C60 tapes from WHSmith in anticipation of doing multiple production runs to keep up with demand. Thankfully, I’d cornered the market at school in Panini football sticker trading (irony: never liked football) and so I was able to support failed enterprises such as ‘Independent 13 year old Game Designer and Publisher’.

Snippet from text adventure I’m designing

Rolling forward over a third of a century and I’m using an online service called inklewriter to, well, write Interactive Fiction. I’ve never, to be honest, got on well with traditional branch-oriented Interactive Fiction. You know, “To hit the goblin, turn to page 36; to run away from the goblin, turn to page 112”; that kind of book. Typically, I’d become quickly bored and try to reverse-engineer the entire story by reading it sequentially to figure out the path to the end. The better – or more frustrating – IF books were designed so you’d have to read the entire thing, and draw a complex graph, to figure this out.

Me: more of a location-oriented computer game player; the classic text adventures from Infocom, or The Hobbit from Melbourne House, and the like. “Exits are North, South, or West” – that kind of thing. Over the years since, I’ve tried various bits of software that help (or claim to help) the construction of such stories, but with limited success or interest held. Twine, for example, I’ve been playing around with of late but has some fussy shortcomings that bog me down to the point of giving up. I may return to it in the future as it has some interesting functionality, to be fair.

Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account
Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account

However, more recently – and this may yet come to nothing – inklewriter is proving intriguing and surprisingly easy and fast to work with. It has very limited options in terms of look and feel; just one style of display (see the screenshots in this post of things I’ve been writing with it), though you can incorporate some outside content and interesting randomness within. And the logic operations are also few and simplistic – but, I’ve noticed, just about functional enough to make something like a location-oriented games possible.

I’m a little reluctant to say more at the moment because, as said, this may still go wrong. Also, spoilers and meta-spoilers. Oh, and it’s a free and web browser-based bit of software that isn’t actively supported, so it may disappear at any point and is therefore somewhat risky to use.

Another text adventure snippet
Another text adventure snippet

But there’s some potential here so I’m tentatively building an Interactive Fiction adventure that, surprisingly to me, is starting to take a playable shape. There’s a major arc plot, an end-goal, a fair amount of content already, and several puzzle concepts at various stages of implementation which provide different degrees of difficulty. Construction and testing are a fun exercise and it’s forcing me to confront game design decisions in a logical and unavoidable manner. More on this as it hopefully progresses; I’m keeping a design log which is already useful and, if and when it’s all done (there is a rough plan for this), this log and other materials, as well as the game itself, will be publicly available.

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.