Tag Archives: university

Secret Sartre

Games about human life are often interesting, and for those in academia, or who survived academia, games about university life specifically can hold a special fascination. From Scandinavia, here’s the full instructions for a card-based game (complete with the card designs). Secret Sartre:

In Secret Sartre, the faculty members of an unnamed university department battle for ideological supremacy. A fragile alliance of upstanding rationalists, logical positivists, empiricists, liberal humanists, scientists and other fetishizers of the Enlightenment must work together to stem the rising tide of postmodernism. Watch out, though – there are closet postmodernists among you, and someone is Secret Sartre.

Even if you don’t play games, the description of the rules is amusing.

July 2016, Manchester: Playful Learning

Website: http://conference.playthinklearn.net/blog/
The conference is being chaired by Mark Langan, Alex Moseley and Nicola Whitton
13-15 July 2016, Manchester, England

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

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 :) )

GRL spring seminar: Money and Games

Website: https://gamemoneyseminar.wordpress.com/
Call for Papers, Game Studies Spring Seminar
18-19 April 2016, Game Research Lab, University of Tampere, Finland

Organised by: http://gamelab.uta.fi

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.

Virtual World Watch

It’s taken a bit of time (well, a few years tbh) 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. Dozens of academics in UK universities and colleges got in touch, some using the report to justify what they were doing 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, or having similar views, in other UK universities and colleges.

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

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

Thankfully, we quickly moved away from VWW being solely about the contentious and sometimes problematic virtual world Second Life, though throughout the life of the service it stayed 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. So, there was a lot going on – 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 nicely full spreadsheets – for example:

VWW snapshot data spreadsheet

…all of the data of which I (thankfully) archived away.

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

The high-point for this specific generation of virtual world 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 it 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, 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.

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 the 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 snapshot from several years ago. 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 Second Life 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 EdTech community, to be able to provide an enlightened and unbiased retrospective.

University of Michigan Gender and Gaming Symposium 2015

Website: http://www.lib.umich.edu/events/university-michigan-gender-gaming-symposium-2015
24 October 2015, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

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 & Video Game Archive; University of Michigan Library Diversity Council; University of Michigan Institute for Humanities; Ann Arbor District Library.

DiGRA/FDG 2016

Website: http://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.

Mostly unproven

I’ve been quiet on here, and on social media, of late. This is partially due to a periodic tiredness and low tolerance of the negative side of social media resulting in a gradual, and messy, withdrawal; time and emotion invested in letting go of some legacy things; partially because, in the greater scheme of things social media doesn’t matter to most of us one diddly squat; and partially as I’m immersed (hah!) in progressing a piece of work on the use – and misuse – of gamification in education.

Now I’ve finished most of the current batch of reading, my position, or summative feeling, on this topic has shifted a bit. It’s now probably best summarized as “Mostly unproven”. If you want a more detailed analysis, I’d currently go for “Interesting, but still mostly unproven”. Check back in a few months and that will have expanded by several thousand words. And speaking of words, from reading a lot around this subject, recurring bugbears include authors who:

  • flip between ‘gamification’ and ‘games’ when talking about the same thing
  • detail examples of ‘gamification in education’ which are, well, not really anything to do with education
  • use the default citation of DuoLingo as the best/main example, by many many people [1].
  • mention badges as one of the main, or the sole, mechanic
  • treat this like it’s a new thing
  • cite “Digital Natives” as a “reason” why gamification will apparently work. Please, do some science, folks.

On the plus side, there is at least a growing body of research (of variable quality) out there. The crudest measure of this, a Google Scholar search on the term, now throws up over 10,000 results. Even though digital-IT examples of gamification which are truly in education are still on the thin side; one major reason for this being the cost of implementation as opposed to e.g. the sticky stars on a wallchart, cost probably 50p in total, that formed our learning metrics in the first year of secondary school [2].

I do think, perhaps contradictory, that despite the arguable flaws, dubious ethics, largely unproven psychology, and blanket “one size fits all” application to absolutely everything advocated by some – yes, everything – that this is going to be around for a good while yet. Despite (or perhaps because) of the underlying reason [3] why no-one has done a scientific test where academics either strive for a badge, or strive for tenure and a pay rise. Heck, most UK academics have been unwillingly sucked into a particularly strange example of gamification of late (though one that produces a plethora of league tables where everyone seems to have done well, somehow).

Anyway. Sanity [4] has been retained, so far. Then again, there is the cod-philosophy argument that a madman is convinced that he is sane while everyone else is mad. So, yeah.

Though slightly behind I appear to be on track for completion by the due date, especially with further withdrawal from the irrelevant and banal distractions of online and real life. So, there won’t be much, if anything, new on here until deep into Spring. That’s one of the advantages of an intense piece of work over the winter months here in the Northern Hemisphere; by the time it’s over, you suddenly realise that there’s daylight in the late afternoon, and the evenings, and decent vitamin-D producing walks are quite feasible.

And to those who are into this kind of thing: 328 days till Christmas.


[1] Oh look, I’ve done this myself. #hypocrite

[2] This particular gamification system failed. It did little to additionally motivate those who already found school engaging. And possibly was a motivational factor in one pupil, who was near the bottom of class and the very visible league table on the wall, burning the school down over the summer holiday.

[3] That’s one piece of research where ending up in the wrong one of the control/experimental group would be a very bad thing.

[4] Apart from the word ‘gamification’ itself, which I loathe with the fiery heat of a thousand suns.