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.
We, the Web Kids.
(translated by Marta Szreder)
There is probably no other word that would be as overused in the media discourse as ‘generation’. I once tried to count the ‘generations’ that have been proclaimed in the past ten years, since the well-known article about the so-called ‘Generation Nothing’; I believe there were as many as twelve. They all had one thing in common: they only existed on paper. Reality never provided us with a single tangible, meaningful, unforgettable impulse, the common experience of which would forever distinguish us from the previous generations. We had been looking for it, but instead the groundbreaking change came unnoticed, along with cable TV, mobile phones, and, most of all, Internet access. It is only today that we can fully comprehend how much has changed during the past fifteen years.
We, the Web kids; we, who have grown up with the Internet and on the Internet, are a generation who meet the criteria for the term in a somewhat subversive way. We did not experience an impulse from reality, but rather a metamorphosis of the reality itself. What unites us is not a common, limited cultural context, but the belief that the context is self-defined and an effect of free choice.
Writing this, I am aware that I am abusing the pronoun ‘we’, as our ‘we’ is fluctuating, discontinuous, blurred, according to old categories: temporary. When I say ‘we’, it means ‘many of us’ or ‘some of us’. When I say ‘we are’, it means ‘we often are’. I say ‘we’ only so as to be able to talk about us at all.
We grew up with the Internet and on the Internet. This is what makes us different; this is what makes the crucial, although surprising from your point of view, difference: we do not ‘surf’ and the internet to us is not a ‘place’ or ‘virtual space’. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has shaped us. We made friends and enemies online, we prepared cribs for tests online, we planned parties and studying sessions online, we fell in love and broke up online. The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us. Technologies appear and then dissolve in the peripheries, websites are built, they bloom and then pass away, but the Web continues, because we are the Web; we, communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.
Brought up on the Web we think differently. The ability to find information is to us something as basic, as the ability to find a railway station or a post office in an unknown city is to you. When we want to know something - the first symptoms of chickenpox, the reasons behind the sinking of ‘Estonia’, or whether the water bill is not suspiciously high - we take measures with the certainty of a driver in a SatNav-equipped car. We know that we are going to find the information we need in a lot of places, we know how to get to those places, we know how to assess their credibility. We have learned to accept that instead of one answer we find many different ones, and out of these we can abstract the most likely version, disregarding the ones which do not seem credible. We select, we filter, we remember, and we are ready to swap the learned information for a new, better one, when it comes along.
To us, the Web is a sort of shared external memory. We do not have to remember unnecessary details: dates, sums, formulas, clauses, street names, detailed definitions. It is enough for us to have an abstract, the essence that is needed to process the information and relate it to others. Should we need the details, we can look them up within seconds. Similarly, we do not have to be experts in everything, because we know where to find people who specialise in what we ourselves do not know, and whom we can trust. People who will share their expertise with us not for profit, but because of our shared belief that information exists in motion, that it wants to be free, that we all benefit from the exchange of information. Every day: studying, working, solving everyday issues, pursuing interests. We know how to compete and we like to do it, but our competition, our desire to be different, is built on knowledge, on the ability to interpret and process information, and not on monopolising it.
Participating in cultural life is not something out of ordinary to us: global culture is the fundamental building block of our identity, more important for defining ourselves than traditions, historical narratives, social status, ancestry, or even the language that we use. From the ocean of cultural events we pick the ones that suit us the most; we interact with them, we review them, we save our reviews on websites created for that purpose, which also give us suggestions of other albums, films or games that we might like. Some films, series or videos we watch together with colleagues or with friends from around the world; our appreciation of some is only shared by a small group of people that perhaps we will never meet face to face. This is why we feel that culture is becoming simultaneously global and individual. This is why we need free access to it.
This does not mean that we demand that all products of culture be available to us without charge, although when we create something, we usually just give it back for circulation. We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and investment. We are prepared to pay, but the giant commission that distributors ask for seems to us to be obviously overestimated. Why should we pay for the distribution of information that can be easily and perfectly copied without any loss of the original quality? If we are only getting the information alone, we want the price to be proportional to it. We are willing to pay more, but then we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the file to download. We are capable of showing appreciation and we do want to reward the artist (since money stopped being paper notes and became a string of numbers on the screen, paying has become a somewhat symbolic act of exchange that is supposed to benefit both parties), but the sales goals of corporations are of no interest to us whatsoever. It is not our fault that their business has ceased to make sense in its traditional form, and that instead of accepting the challenge and trying to reach us with something more than we can get for free they have decided to defend their obsolete ways.
One more thing: we do not want to pay for our memories. The films that remind us of our childhood, the music that accompanied us ten years ago: in the external memory network these are simply memories. Remembering them, exchanging them, and developing them is to us something as natural as the memory of ‘Casablanca’ is to you. We find online the films that we watched as children and we show them to our children, just as you told us the story about the Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. Can you imagine that someone could accuse you of breaking the law in this way? We cannot, either.
We are used to our bills being paid automatically, as long as our account balance allows for it; we know that starting a bank account or changing the mobile network is just the question of filling in a single form online and signing an agreement delivered by a courier; that even a trip to the other side of Europe with a short sightseeing of another city on the way can be organised in two hours. Consequently, being the users of the state, we are increasingly annoyed by its archaic interface. We do not understand why tax act takes several forms to complete, the main of which has more than a hundred questions. We do not understand why we are required to formally confirm moving out of one permanent address to move in to another, as if councils could not communicate with each other without our intervention (not to mention that the necessity to have a permanent address is itself absurd enough.)
There is not a trace in us of that humble acceptance displayed by our parents, who were convinced that administrative issues were of utmost importance and who considered interaction with the state as something to be celebrated. We do not feel that respect, rooted in the distance between the lonely citizen and the majestic heights where the ruling class reside, barely visible through the clouds. Our view of the social structure is different from yours: society is a network, not a hierarchy. We are used to being able to start a dialogue with anyone, be it a professor or a pop star, and we do not need any special qualifications related to social status. The success of the interaction depends solely on whether the content of our message will be regarded as important and worthy of reply. And if, thanks to cooperation, continuous dispute, defending our arguments against critique, we have a feeling that our opinions on many matters are simply better, why would we not expect a serious dialogue with the government?
We do not feel a religious respect for ‘institutions of democracy’ in their current form, we do not believe in their axiomatic role, as do those who see ‘institutions of democracy’ as a monument for and by themselves. We do not need monuments. We need a system that will live up to our expectations, a system that is transparent and proficient. And we have learned that change is possible: that every uncomfortable system can be replaced and is replaced by a new one, one that is more efficient, better suited to our needs, giving more opportunities.
What we value the most is freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of access to information and to culture. We feel that it is thanks to freedom that the Web is what it is, and that it is our duty to protect that freedom. We owe that to next generations, just as much as we owe to protect the environment.
Perhaps we have not yet given it a name, perhaps we are not yet fully aware of it, but I guess what we want is real, genuine democracy. Democracy that, perhaps, is more than is dreamt of in your journalism.
"My, dzieci sieci" by Piotr Czerski is licensed under a Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Na tych samych warunkach 3.0 Unported License:
Contact the author: piotr[at]czerski.art.pl
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
Suzanne Freyjadis is interested in changing how bias and perspective work in the media to create barriers.