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.
This is from TED Phoenix in November of last year, but it is a really valuable way to think about how games can be important to our society and how we learn.
I saw these games in person when I invited Brenda to show them at the Game Education Summit in 2009 and was blown away.
July 26, 2012
Normally I write for everybody, but this month's column is a call to arms, addressed to the reasonable, decent, but much too silent majority of male gamers and developers.
Guys, we have a problem. We are letting way too many boys get into adulthood without actually becoming men. We're seeing more and more adult males around who are not men. They're as old as men, but they have the mentality of nine-year-old boys. They're causing a lot of trouble, both in general and for the game industry specifically. We need to deal with this.
Why us? Because it's our job to see to it that a boy becomes a man, and we are failing.
When we were little boys we all went through a stage when we said we hated girls. Girls had "cooties." They were silly and frilly and everything that a boy isn't supposed to be. We got into this stage at about age seven, and we left it again at maybe 10 or 11.
Then puberty hit and, if we were straight, we actively wanted the company of girls. We wanted to "go with" them, date them, and eventually we wanted to fall in love and live with one, maybe for the rest of our lives. That's the way heterosexual boys are supposed to mature, unless they become monks.
My point is, you're supposed to leave that phase of hating girls behind. Straight or gay, you're supposed to grow the hell up.
What might be temporarily tolerable in a boy when he's nine is pretty damned ugly when he's fifteen and it's downright psychopathic when he's twenty. Instead of maturing into a man's role and a man's responsibilities, a lot of boys are stuck at the phase of hating girls and women. The boys continue to treat them like diseased subhumans right through adolescence and into adulthood.
Men are more powerful than women: financially, politically, and physically. What distinguishes a real man from a boy is that a man takes responsibility for his actions and does not abuse this power. If you don't treat women with courtesy and respect – if you're still stuck in that "I hate girls" phase – then no matter what age you are, you are a boy and not entitled to the privileges of adulthood.
Of course, I don't mean all boys are like this. Most of them get out of the cootie phase quickly and grow up just fine. But far too many don't. If we don't do something about these permanent nine-year-olds pretty soon, they're going to start having boys of their own who will be just as bad if not worse, and life will not be worth living. Life is already not worth living on Xbox Live Chat.
In addition to the harm they do to women – our mothers, our sisters, our daughters – these full -grown juveniles harm us, too. A boy who refuses to grow up has lousy social skills, a short attention span, and a poor attitude to work. Furthermore, all men – that's you and me, bro – get the blame for their bad behavior. And we deserve it, because we've been sitting on our butts for too long. We let them be bullies online and get away with it.
Some of you might think it's sexist that I'm dumping this problem on us men. It isn't; it's just pragmatic. Women can not solve this problem. A boy who hates girls and women simply isn't going to pay attention to a woman's opinion. The only people who can ensure that boys are taught, or if necessary forced, to grow up into men are other men.
Let's be clear about something else. This is not a political issue. This is not a subject for debate, any more than whether your son is allowed to swear at his mother or molest his sister is a subject for debate. There is no "other point of view." The real-world analogy is not to social issues but to violent crime. Muggers don't get to have a point of view.
So how do we change things?
First, we need to serve as positive examples. With the very little boys, we need to guide them gently but firmly out of the cootie phase. To the impressionable teenagers, we must demonstrate how a man behaves and how he doesn't. Be the change you want to see. Use your real name and your real picture online, to show that you are a man who stands behind his words. Of course, you can't prove your name is real, but it doesn't matter. If you consistently behave with integrity online, the message will get across.
Secondly, we men need to stand up for courtesy and decency online . We can't just treat this as a problem for women (or blacks, or gays, or anybody else the juvenile bullies have in their sights). Tell them and their friends that their behavior is not acceptable, that real men don't agree with them, that they are in the minority. Say these words into your headset: "I'm disappointed in you. I thought you were a man, not a whiny, insecure little boy." Don't argue or engage with them. Never answer their questions or remarks, just repeat your disgust and disapproval. Assume the absolute moral superiority to which you are entitled over a bully or a criminal.
Finally, we need to put a stop to this behavior. It's time for us to force the permanent nine-year -olds to grow up or get out of our games and forums. It's not enough just to mute them. We need to build the infrastructure that precludes this kind of behavior entirely – Club Penguin has already done it for children – or failing that, we have to make the bullies pay a price for their behavior. Appealing to their better nature won't work; bullies have none. We do not request, we do not debate, we demand and we punish.
I have some specific suggestions, from the least to the most extreme.
This is not about "protecting women." It's about cleaning out the sewers that our games have become. This will not be easy and it will not be fun. Standing up to these little jerks will require the same courage from us that women like Anita Sarkeesian have already shown. We will become objects of hatred, ridicule, and contempt. Our manhood will be questioned. But if we remember who we are and stand strong together, we can beat them. In any case we won't be threatened with sexual violence the way women are. We have it easier than they do.
It's time to stand up. If you're a writer, blogger, or forum moderator, please write your own piece spreading the message, or at least link to this one. I also encourage you to visit Gamers Against Bigotry, sign the pledge, are share it.
Use your heavy man's hand in the online spaces where you go – and especially the ones you control – to demand courtesy and punish abuse. Don't just mute them. Report them, block them, ban them, use every weapon you have. (They may try to report us in return. That won't work. If you always behave with integrity, it will be clear who's in the right.)
Let's stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women we love, and work with, and game with, and say, "We're with you. And we're going to win."
First of all, GLS is the most warm-hearted conference I have ever attended. The feel is more like going on an amazing cruise with the best people you can imagine to hear really interesting sessions and have great conversations. I now know why so many people attend GLS every year, it’s because you just want to come back and hang out some more with these amazing people.
From the sessions that I attended I came away with some interesting ideas about how failure is helpful and necessary in games and education.
An interesting concept that Colleen Macklin discussed during her keynote was the idea that the base language of games is iterative failure. It is how games either reward or punish this repeated failure that can change the way the failure is perceived.
Colleen Macklin also brought up an interesting point about grinding in games. She discussed whether grinding as game play reinforces the idea of a meritocracy; that people just need to work hard to succeed. Her idea is that if this is the case then games could be used to create a more nuances idea about different political ideals.
In another session the importance of gaming as a literacy was discussed. The player needs to be able to read (understand) a game so they can play it. In the same way that a person watching a movie can read the movie poster and understand that the movie will be a certain genre targeted toward a certain age group starting a particular actor a video game player can read a game to understand how the controls work and what the goals are of the game.
Drew Davidson gave a talk where he discussed why we need to change the way we think about games and education. People often talk about why games are useful in an education setting is because games are fun. Games are fun because a challenge is fun, but games are hard in the same way that learning is hard and that is key to understanding the use of games in a learning environment.
Learning needs challenges and success needs failure, which makes the rapid prototyping of games important because children need to learn how to fail.
Drew Davidson also talks about the importance of looking at ways to make games for impact, games that change people’s daily lives. This view of games also requires educators to look at more interdisciplinary collaboration. Academics are not necessarily great game designers and too often when educators or academics set out to make an educational game for kids they make a “Creepy Treehouse;” something built by adults with the objective of luring kids in. Kids can recognize this easily and are turned off of the game.
Overall the conference was useful both in terms of my research interest in boundaries and exclusion in the videogame industry but also in my work designing a game development class that I will teach to a 6th grade class in Austin this year.
The networking through the catered meals and videogame arcade was amazing and allowed me to make new friends and connections.
Why the ESA Should Incorporate Academia into E3
How is E3 educational and worthwhile in regards to academia and job seekers?
There is not currently a focus on academia at E3, there could be and I believe there should be, as it is the responsibility of the industry to encourage future professionals’ intellectual integrity. Academia should be an additional fun focal point at E3. I met a lot of industry professionals at E3, but I don’t recall meeting many if any academia professionals at E3 especially those with a focus in Game Education.
The main question is: If people in the industry don't know of the available game education resources how will future students, professionals, or educators?
There is a lacking of support for game academia and education at E3. With the increasing number of game academic programs and institutions popping up globally it concerns me that the ESA who is "dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish computer and video games" is not concerned with aiding the knowledge of aspiring professionals. The ways the games are made, and the future of the industry is reliant on the students in the current game education programs whether they be practically based or theoretical. The industry needs to know what knowledge is out there in the academic space and the ESA needs to play its role in making knowledge accessible to the future of the industry.
One could argue with me and say that E3 is about being educated about the new products coming out, yes fine. E3 however, does provide students and academics with experiences, industry knowledge, opportunities, connections, a great time, and a warm feeling in your heart because you were lucky enough to attend.
Advice for Students Who Attend
For students finishing their degrees, job opportunities and business opportunities are readily available. E3 is all about business, which is its core purpose. It functions and operates as a business, for other businesses to grow their business, there is no reason that a person should not be able to go to E3 and not find job opportunities. Make sure that you have a lot of business cards available. If you don't have paper business cards have electronic cards, there are free ones available now.
Students should also remember to drink and party responsibly as E3 parties are a major part of the E3 experience. The parties are a great place to network. There will be a lot of people everywhere that are drunk and having a lot of fun, but remember E3 lasts a whole week and you still have to take that flight or drive home. You also have to wake up and talk to people, attend business meetings, and walk the floor the next day. Do you really want to do that hung over from a full night of partying the day before? If you really have to party your heart out save it for the last night, most people do. Believe me, there will be more than enough parties and you can have a great time with one or two drinks spending a short bit of time checking out each party getting to know people and doing business with a clear head.
Be nice to everyone. Honestly it is a small world and being a good, moral person should be an integral part of every person’s agenda, no questions asked. Talk to everyone. Make an effort to be social. Everyone is there for games and technology. Nerd out, and enjoy yourself. You will find a lot of people to talk to and a lot of people you can learn from.
Heather Ross is the Austin WIGI chapter Leader, Delegate for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, an Entrepreneur, and an Ambassador for Purple for Epilepsy Awareness. Heather cares greatly about the preservation and care of the universe from the past into the future.
Suzanne Freyjadis is interested in changing how bias and perspective work in the media to create barriers.