Before worlds are created, they must be understood from the perspective of the players as well as the creators. World building can create as many barriers for players as it can break down. It’s important to understand how to avoid creating barriers that interrupt gameplay or keep a player from understanding the lesson of the game.
Designer bias creates barriers and keeps people from playing games. While game designers don’t set out to create these boundaries and barriers they nevertheless exist because most people are unaware of their own biases and how they affect the worlds they create.
Everyone has biases that have been formed through their life experiences which form their perspective and understanding of the world. No two people have had the exact same life experience and no one has the exact same biases, but players can experience these nonetheless.
When biases go unexamined games are created that form barriers, such as excluding female playable characters from the game. Because, as Judith Lorber argues, “gender signs and signals are so ubiquitous that we usually fail to notice them—unless they are missing or ambiguous” (Lorber 14) there is often little attention given to the fact that video games make the assumption that the player is a heterosexual male. Even in games with no necessarily gendered characteristics the playable characters are made gendered during development through the use of various signs that reinforce the idea that the game player is male.
These biases affect the decisions players make in which games to purchase as well as how these games are played. When players are continually asked to play games from a perspective different from their own, be it gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation it shifts the players experience of the game to one where the player is constantly transgressing their sense of self.
Barriers are not only created through visual cues and game design, these barriers can be even more prevalent in the audio design of games where the character’s voice and soundscape reinforces the game creator’s perspective as being different from the player.
We all try to be unbiased about our potential audience, but the truth is that everyone creates games using some basic assumptions about who will play the game, which can lead to games that have no female playable characters or where African American playable characters are absent.
Bias is so ubiquitous for all of us that it takes not only an awareness of the bias, but also an understanding of how to counteract the bias for change to occur. It’s not enough to know that games should have an equal gender balance; the creators need to also understand how their personal biases work so that they can create such a game.
Bias is tricky and slippery. It’s hard to see and even harder to understand, but it’s essential for the game industry to understand how bias operates so that games can go to the next level of entertainment.
Each game is created with an idea of who the players will be. The designers work with the marketing team and create plans for how to reach the target market. Most often, that target is the same for each and every game no matter the genre, game play, etc. with very little thought about who else might be playing the games.
Our first workshop is called Designer Bias: Identifying and Minimizing Assumptions About Players From the Design Process. The goal is to show designers how their biases about who their players are affect all different aspects of their games, often to their detriment.
This workshop is about the assumptions made about a game’s players. In an attempt to create a workshop where the attendees can’t game the system I designed an interactive program that keeps the attendees engaged, but a bit off center so the players can’t game the system.
This short workshop is part of a larger workshop series Chanel and I are creating that focus on world building for games and challenge designers to see their worlds differently.
We’ll be showcasing at the Edugaming Conference in August 2014 at Lehigh Carbon Community College. You can find information here.
Video games have been applied to a variety of disciplines, and recent work has created video games for Computer Science (CS). For example, EleMental, Alice and MindRover are three 3D interactive programming environments in which players are motivated to learn programming concepts under the context of game design; the Scalable Game Design, Game2Learn and Gaming in Computer Science are three projects aiming at attracting talented and committed students to computer science classes with bigger ambition to transform them into next generation of computer scientists. Here is a new venture ($16 billion) announced by IBM to embed educational games in its smart phones that could be quite interesting: http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680499/meet-ms-siri-your-new-teacher
In the last year, I reviewed a large number of articles involving using video games in CS. I find the focus of these articles can be divided into two areas: playing games and making games, but the majority of projects focus on making games, especially in the introductory programming courses. For example, Figure 1 shows a scenario in MindRover. Each scenario is a challenge, such as “push the opponent off the wrestling mat”. The job of players is to program robotic vehicles to solve it. These vehicles can be equipped with different components from rocket launchers to radars and speakers, and programmed to do anything from following a track to seeking and destroying other vehicles. It is noted in Figure 1 that there is a text editor behind the graphical interface. The programming language used in this game is called ICE. Every time players add a component, set or modify its properties, new lines of ICE code are generated. Although in this release of MindRover the ICE code is regenerated and recompiled when players hit the GO button (which means they don’t need to write and modify the ICE code manually), the aim is to help players connect abstract programming languages with concrete game elements that they are familiar with and passionate about. Here is another programming game called Robocode (http://robocode.sourceforge.net/). This open source educational game is designed to help players learn to program in Java, or .NET (C#, VB.NET, etc.). Similar to MindRover, players have to develop a robot battle tank to battle against other tanks, but what makes it special is that the players have to write the code by themselves. A simple robot can be written in just a few minutes, but a more sophisticated one can take months more in order to complete higher levels of challenge. In this case, making a game can fix the disconnection between students’ perception of computer programming and the reality behind what it takes to build programming skill. It services as a motivation to know.
Figure 1 Screenshot of MindRover (Downloaded from http://www.gamershell.com/pc/mindrover/screenshots.html?id=60853)
The added benefits of using games in CS education are quite similar to those we have talked a lot, like increasing motivation and knowledge acquisition, developing 21st skills, developing computational thinking, etc. The most distinctive benefit is actively engaging students in learning process, especially in learning programming. This is mainly an attempt to increase the enrollment in CS courses. However, there is no agreement with the relationship between the interest in playing/making video games and the commitment of pursuing a CS degree. Being interested in playing video games doesn’t necessary mean higher commitment to improving programming skills and pursuing a CS degree.
Teaching CS concepts through making games is the strategy used most to integrate games into CS education. The majority of related researches focus on teaching programming by completing game-oriented programming assignments. These assignments use game programming as a vehicle to deliver CS topics. Other implication strategies include using games as environment or examples to motivate students and teach CS topics. However, the establishment of concrete guidelines or principles for how to implement these strategies in CS context, and in which context each strategy can work best, hasn’t get enough attention.
Current literature presents a positive picture of the learning effectiveness of using video games in CS, but I also find empirical evidence of supporting this conclusion is rather limited, fragmentary, and even contradictory. So, researches concerning using video games in CS are full of uncertainty and disagreement, which is not surprising based on the fact that there are too many different variables at play in education context to make valid inferences about which factors are responsible for the differences.
Above is current research about the use of video games in CS education-a field with uncertainty and disagreement. Here is a TED talk, called “Science is for everyone, kids included”: http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_amy_o_toole_science_is_for_everyone_kids_included.html. I love this quote in the talk:” The best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty”. In this field, I’ve always hear conflicted voice about the educational use of video games. However, for so many years’ experiences of being a student, I’ve seen how happy and active I am when I collaborate with other students and learn by doing, and I’ve learnt that my learning effectiveness is the best when I learn by engaging in something and from my errors. I’ve experienced how I immerge in the role I take, and how it changes the way in which I approach to others and my communicative language. This experience renders my thoughts about how different types of role-player games attract to players. However, I’ve also experienced that too much of the official learning in school situation is boring and disconnected from real practice. Therefore, the research around the educational use of video games in a special domain such as CS is absolutely worthwhile of striving for even though it’s a very demanding task.
I am a second-year PhD in the program of Educational Technology and Learning Design at Simon Fraser University (SFU). I am interested in how games change lives and affect human learning. I spend a lot of my time figuring out what kinds of learning are involved in game playing and how we know whether players get them, what the unique added value and potential of video games for learning and assessment in the digital environment is, and how instructional designers integrate video games into their design.
The first lesson for the Game Creation Class was about how games need to work in the real world as well as on a screen. This lesson is really in thanks to conversations I have had Brenda Brathwaite on her teaching experience.
I asked the students to write down their favorite video game. The rules were that they could only write down one and there would be no grief given or teasing for the game they chose.
It was really fascinating to see how much of a challenge this was for the students. I was really expecting this to be a rather quick exercise, but it stumped most of the students. They were used to thinking of video games as something on a screen and wholly separate from games played in real space.
It was really enjoyable to watch the students go from thinking of games as separate from the rest of the world to something that could come off of the screen and be part of the world.
For Mario Cart one girl asked for help and I suggested that she think of using hot wheels tracks or wooden train tracks. She then took that suggestion and ran with it creating a really great idea for putting the game together using two hot wheels tracks.
It was easy for me to see Minecraft as Legos on the computer, but the two children who chose Minecraft had a really difficult time thinking of the game in that way. They were never able to completely come up with a concept for how they could play Minecraft with objects that were not on the screen. However, they were able to begin to see how Legos could be used to replicate Minecraft to some extent.
One of the girls chose Lord of the Rings as her game and she came up with a brilliant idea for using outdoor space and lots of people who bring lots of imagination and creative weapons to reenact the battles from the game. She felt silly sharing this idea since she had never heard of anything like this happening and it sounded crazy to her.
When I told her that she had come up with a brilliant game idea that could easily be implemented and was similar to games being played right now, she was really surprised and pleased with herself. Only two of the students in the class had been to any sort of LARPing event or Renaissance Faire so they were surprised to learn that games are played in Renaissance Fairs like this and that there were even Quiddich Teams at local high schools.
I view this lesson as a success since the students were forced to think differently about games in general and they seemed to come away from the class with a different understanding of gam
On Monday I taught my first game creation class. I have decided that since I have worked with game education programs for so many years doing research and running conferences it was time to put my ideas to work and see if my research would be applicable in the real world.
The first class had 13 students attend who are in the 6th grade in an Austin public elementary school. The school is diverse both racially and socioeconomically and the class had 4 African American students, 4 Latino students, 4 European-American students, and 1 Asian-American student. Some of the students who had signed up for the class were not able to attend on the first day so these numbers will change as the class progresses.
One of the goals for this class was to try out some theories regarding how to increase the number of women in technology careers. While the number of women in STEM fields is increasing there is still a long way to go before parity will be reached. I had run STEM classes and empowerment classes for middle school girls in the 90s and witnessed and advised some of the girl technology classes in the past 10 years, but even with all of that support, women are still not entering STEM fields in the same numbers as men.
After doing several years of research on this topic I have come to the conclusion that both genders benefit from mixed-gender classes. Girls and boys need to learn how to work together in a technology setting so that they will be comfortable with each other in the classroom as they progress through their education. If boys become used to technology classes where they are the vastly dominant gender in high school or college, then they will not notice the missing women in their workplace.
In an effort to try and fix this I implemented a potential solution when I created the class before I started the class I let the students know that, it had to be 50% female and 50% male for the class to go forward and if we lose anyone we need to recruit another person of the same gender to replace them, using the idea that the boys and girls had to be equally invested in the attendance of the students who had signed up for the class. This rule was implemented as a way to look at how to increase the number of female students in mixed-gender technology programs.
Since we didn’t have everyone show up on the first day I am not sure how practical this will be to implement perfectly since I am working with such a small number and one student missing class really challenges the numbers.
However, we did have 7 female students and 6 male students attend the first class and they were all equally excited to be there and happy with the mix.
Suzanne Freyjadis is interested in changing how bias and perspective work in the media to create barriers.