Sunday, February 28, 2016

Learning Reflections of Games & Learning Part 1

Understanding of games and learning

My understanding of games and game-based learning (GBL) this semester has been transformed by the myriad of ways in which I have been engaged in course work in INTE 5320 at University of Colorado Denver. Participation in this course so far has only taken shape over 6 weeks. It’s really been a blur, and I feel as though I am being assimilated into a culture of both playful and academic cohorts without really being totally cognizant. It just sort of happens in Remi’s courses by implementation of profound ecological pedagogy. Which finally comes crashing into a sense of awareness when reflecting upon the course.

Through the course readings I have learnt what it means to be a player of games and why games and learning are important for the development of 21st century skills and knowledge. As a class, we’ve dissected portions of seminal games and learning works such as:

“Situated Language and Learning: A critique of traditional schooling. James Paul Gee (Ch 1, Ch5) (2004).

“Toward an Ecology of Gaming." The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Salen, Katie. (Ch1) (2008)

“Games, gods and grades” Fred Goodman (2007)

“Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Game-Based Learning” James Paul Gee & Elisabeth Hayes. (2011)

“Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Henry Jenkins with Katie Clinton Ravi Purushotma Alice J. Robison Margaret Weigel. (2006)

“In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives." Stevens, Reed, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy. (2008).

'Gamification Is Bullshit' Ian Bogost (2011).

“Reality is Alright: A review of Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken.” Ian Bogost (2011).

“Gamestar Mechanic: Reflections on the Design & Research of a Game About Game Design.” Ivan Alex Games (2008).

“A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification.” Scott Nicholson (2012).

“Gaming Fluencies: Pathways into Participatory Culture in a Community Design Studio.”

Kylie A. Peppler, Yasmin B. Kafal. (2010).

The shear amount of reading and comprehension of the listed sources in a six week time span is an incredible undertaking. I can say that it would be hard to commit to this, among the many other tasks, of a graduate student without some sort of facilitation, motivation, or driving factor. Which is exactly what was implemented this semester in the course by the use of is an add-on to Google Chrome that allows users to sign into an account to annotate a live document. Students in the course were not simply engaged with the texts on their own. The negotiation of meaning of the readings was created by the class as a whole, and a few other influential outsiders.

The course texts and are “open,” meaning anyone interested can join the conversation or choose to be a part of the discourse. What this means is anyone can highlight an area of text, write something about it, and tag the comment with the course label “ilt5320” and the comments with the quoted text would populate the discussion list for the reading selection in the course. This drives the discussion forward in a way I’ve never experienced before and in a way that was motivating to engage with a text. It’s easy to get turned off to a text if the meaning is beyond the ability of oneself to grasp. Or if the text is frustrating to engage with because the material is out of date or just hard to believe. The ability to express what one is learning, or not, by use of, with negotiated meaning through dialogue, promotes deep level understanding of critical concepts. Perhaps otherwise, this level of understanding would not have been achieved by use of LMS discussion or solitary engagement with texts.

By studying the mentioned works of Gee, we learned how schools and games are different. And how games can often times promote learning of 21st century skills, many times not afforded in typical schooling. The ability to make choices, take risks, experiment, and receive feedback on time and task are all possible play experiences in games. Playing and learning become one in the same. We learned that games can provide opportunities for deep learning by facilitating play by game design, modding, and robust nurturing communities. Often times transcending the game itself and inspiring affinity spaces which have the potential to inspire learning and growth. Salen’s concept of “gaming ecology” reminds us how learning with games extends beyond playing the game itself. Games are systems which people participate as players, developers, designers, and learners. From “Confronting Challenges of Participatory Cultures,” we learned about “young learners” as media creators and members of participatory cultures. Yet there may still be issues with equity and accessibility that are concerning. “In Game, In Room, In World,” captured the “multiplicity” of settings and how games and learning is situated by social context.

Ian Bogost shattered our notion of games as being “benign” learning tools with “Gamification Is Bullshit.” We learned how game mechanics or parts of games can be extracted to exploit players. And there is a difference between a game and “gamification.” Yet, when gamification is applied with a user-centered focus, when the user is put first instead of the organization, we learned that gamification can be beneficial for learners (Nicholson 2012). We also learned about games design and how learning is situated for players as game designers with the “Gamestar Mechanic.” Through game design and play, skills transfer to promote learning of 21st century skills and contribute to Discourse, and language about new literacies (Gee 2004). “Gaming Fluencies,” sought to make the distinction about game design as a new approach to pedagogy, or “Constructionism,” through the use of a game tool Scratch. Gaming literacy and the production of games involves some level of multi-faceted media competencies. With Scratch, “fluency” is explored by making fluid transitions to different forms of media for games.

This is just a brief summarization of what was learned through study of the course readings. A great more, deep, and evocative discussions happened within I encourage readers to explore the linked texts and with the “ilt5320” tag to see how learning was shaped in this manner. See course readings.

Exploding Kittens (shared play session)

Playing games to learn about GBL

Learning by playing games with shared play sessions promoted learning by doing. A sense of cognition developed while games were played to understand game mechanics or different ways in which games are understood. We discussed as a class social context, game mechanics, and what players could learn by participating in the games. Some of the play session discussions were held in Canvas, while others, blog posts were generated. Both types of reflective play session practices resulted in better understanding of the games we studied. The practice also contributes to a more holistic approach to GBL, rather than simply theorizing or reading about games, we played them too. You can learn more about some of my experiences in the play journal entries I created thus far.

A Life of Play, A Personal Introduction to Games Based Learning

Crafting Accessibility and Affinity Spaces, What I Learned by Playing Hearthstone

Preconceptions about games

One of the preconceptions I had about games and learning was the primary focus of GBL was about games for children. Although a significant amount of course texts have revealed a focus on “young people” my own research and scholarship has lead me to find that most adults are video game players. Thus, adults may greatly benefit from GBL. Yet, research and information about adult game based learning is not as readily available or talked about. I’ve found a similar K-12 focus in Twitter chats as well, such as #games4ed or #GBL. It seems “Minecraft” is on the tip of everyone’s tongue (or fingertips) but seldom do we talk about what games are used for adult learning. This “hole” in the discussion about GBL lead me to seek out more information about GBL and adults. I found three great resources for research about how adults are navigating games and learning:

“Game-Based Learning and Nontraditional Students – A Report By The Muzzy Lane Team.” January 19, 2016.

“2015 Essential Facts About The Computer and Video Game Industry.” Entertainment Software Association. (2015)

“Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games.” New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Takeuchi, L. M., & Vaala, S. (2014).

Level up learning profiles

According to the ESA I learned that the average game player is 35 years old. Only 26% of game players are under 18. The “level up learning” survey indicated that 82% of the teachers surveyed play games and 74% use games for instruction in K-8 classrooms. The Muzzy Lane report indicated mobile needs for adult learners (nontraditional students) to access at the right time and place along with five potential directions for GBL. Although, I barely scratched the surface of this research, we can see how adults are very much situated to be participants in game-based learning. In the coming years it will be interesting to see how instructional modules and curriculums will be implemented for adults based on some of these findings should academia choose to heed the call indicated in these reports. You can read more in depth critiques incorporating the research in some of my blog posts:

What Does Game-Based Learning Mean for Many Adult Learners?

Who Are Modern Learners and Why is Mobile GBL Important?

Teachers Need To Level Up Too

Learning networks with peers and "others"

As mentioned previously, there is a great deal of discussion about meaning of course texts through the use of Students in the course have also been engaged in social media platforms as well as Canvas (LMS) discussions. Conversations have the possibility to transfer from place to place, however the use of Twitter and seems to be the primary means of course discussion. Occasionally, people outside of those enrolled in the course, have also participated in discussions about course topics. Such as those on the course blog, or the developers, or those others engaged in Twitter chats. My personal choice of engagement is usually by use of Twitter as it’s very easy to connect professionals, teachers, academics, authors, developers, etc. to the course topic at hand. The ability to reach out in a simple and rather informal way by use of Twitter, especially during Twitter chats about #GBL or the course tag #ilt5320, usually yields positive results.

Why are games so useful as learning tools?

Games are useful as learning devices because they have the ability to provide learning experiences that promote skills and knowledge that otherwise may not be achieved through typical education. What Gee refers to as big “G” games or “Games+,” games that offer opportunities to mod, design, or become members of participatory cultures usually lend themselves to the exploration and demonstration of 21st skills and knowledge. (Gee 2004) Games offer mechanics that serve players by providing feedback and assessment while performing certain tasks. They allow players to make choices and take risks that may not have any real consequences, i.e. a failing grade for the course. They shape identities and create roles for players to enact. Social learning is common, accepted, and typical for gaming environments. All of these things are rarely typical for people to experience while attending a lecture, or doing homework, or sitting in a classroom quietly writing. Not to suggest that all learning should be done in a game or about games, but implementation of the right kinds of gaming experiences combined with other curricular activities create opportunities for growth and learning that may not otherwise be achieved.

What am I curious to learn about gbl?

As I continue to move forward through the semester in the games & learning course, I’m looking forward to learn how, and under what circumstances, instructors for higher ed courses integrated game-based learning. From the Muzzy Lane study, I learned that non-traditional students pursue online classes and make education fit in time chunks that work for them. They may have a career, family, and other life circumstances that prevent them from being engaged for long periods of time during typical daytime hours. Mobile is also important for these types of learners. I also learned that most gamers are adults averaging 35 years old according to the 2015 survey by ESA. Assuming most adults play games, and have access to online courses via computers or mobile devices, there are some clear opportunities to implement game-based curriculums for adults. I wish to continue looking for ways in which some programs have made this possible, which will be the focus of my continued scholarship in GBL.

“Situated Language and Learning: A critique of traditional schooling. James Paul Gee (Ch 1Ch5) (2004).
“Toward an Ecology of Gaming." The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Salen, Katie. (Ch1) (2008)
“Games, gods and grades” Fred Goodman (2007)
“Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Game-Based Learning” James Paul Gee & Elisabeth Hayes. (2011)
“Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Henry Jenkins with Katie Clinton Ravi Purushotma Alice J. Robison Margaret Weigel. (2006)
“In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives." Stevens, Reed, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy. (2008).
'Gamification Is Bullshit' Ian Bogost (2011).
“Reality is Alright: A review of Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken.” Ian Bogost (2011).
“Gamestar Mechanic: Reflections on the Design & Research of a Game About Game Design.” Ivan Alex Games (2008).
“A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification.” Scott Nicholson (2012).
“Gaming Fluencies: Pathways into Participatory Culture in a Community Design Studio.” Kylie A. Peppler, Yasmin B. Kafal. (2010).
“Game-Based Learning and Nontraditional Students – A Report By The Muzzy Lane Team.” January 19, 2016.
“2015 Essential Facts About The Computer and Video Game Industry.” Entertainment Software Association. (2015)
“Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games.” New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Takeuchi, L. M., & Vaala, S. (2014).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Affinity With Unity 3D


As part of the graduate course work in INTE 5320 at University of Colorado Denver, and continued scholarship in games & learning, I’m sharing my experiences as a participant in an affinity space about games and games & learning. This is an ongoing project focused on affinity spaces and participatory cultures with syntheses of theory and the works of James Paul Gee and Elizabeth Hayes “Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Game-Based Learning.”


I’m a gamer, game artist, and wanna-be game creator or developer. I’ve “paid my dues” so to speak as an artist in the game industry for six plus years (see example of work here). There were moments of incredible satisfaction and joy in work. But since the mobile game market exploded (sometime between the iPhone 3 and 4), I can say my interest in the types of games I’m willing to be part of has dramatically declined. I started to ask myself why? Why would I want to spend my day making sprites for monotonous and boring clicker games? As an artist and gamer, I crave big worlds rich in beauty and steeped in history. But above all else, I want my work to mean something. I didn’t want to wake up one day and realize I spent my entire career making graphics for enhanced frontal lobotomies. I’m still on a five year hiatus from working full time in the games industry. I’ve been on a search for meaning and purpose beyond the bottom line, which brought me to University of Colorado Denver to study, among many other things, games and learning or GBL. My hope for games, in particular digital games, has been renewed. As I progress through my career as an instructional designer, I really hope I have the chance to be a part of a digital game development team once again, with a focus on education and value for human development.

Source:Unity Community

The Affinity Space Unity Community

To be more engaged with the video game development community again, I chose to take a closer look at Unity Community as an affinity space about the engine and games in general. I have used this engine before for a couple of brief projects but nothing too fancy. However what I do know about the engine is that it’s very intuitive and easy to learn with a robust community of avid players, tinkerers, and developers. There are also local developers in Colorado that I have worked with before who are using Unity to make games, as well as Colorado Unity Dev’s, who may offer a more face to face encounter with an affinity space about Unity.

The Unity Community offers many forums for discussion, but of primary focus for games and learning, I will participate in “Game Design,” “Teaching,” and “Works in Progress.” These forums offer rich opportunities to observe, learn, interact, reflect, and develop a sense of identity through participation in the affinity space. Although the ultimate goal of interacting with this space is educational in nature, I hope that I would have learnt enough about Unity to begin to create a game of my own interest-driven choice. My creations will further enhance my ability to participate in the space. I will no longer be observing and commenting, but actively contributing content. Which of course, community members are open to critique, in turn, offering a unique chance for myself to reflect upon my own learning experience.

Initial Impressions

I’ve only been involved with Unity Community for a couple of weeks. Because I’m not a prolific and well versed Unity developer, and because game design isn't my day job, I’m initially prone to being more observational in nature. If I was neck deep in a game and needed help figuring some nuances out, my engagement in this affinity space would probably be different. I’m a casual member only at this time. This gives me the luxury of being very intentional. I dove into the “Game Design” forum first to observe discussions about games. A thread already caught my eye as being directly relatable to course readings for INTE 5320. In cycle 3 of course readings in the Games & Learning course at UC Denver, there’s been lot’s of discussion about Ian Bogost and “Gamification is Bullshit.” Gigiwoo, a member of Unity Community, started a thread titled “[Discuss] The Design of Clicker Games!” In his initial post he mentioned Ian Bogost and his Cow Clicker game, a game that was inspired by sadistic satire of social games. Gigiwoo mentioned that clicker games, or “incremental games,” have become their own genre and he wants to know what we can learn from them. The thread of comments looks pretty impressive and people are really adding their critique of the genre seriously. It’s this ability to connect with other designers or developers who have so much experience and history with games that makes Unity Community compelling to me. I can’t wait to see what I will learn, who I will meet, and what I will do with this affinity space.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Teachers Need To Level Up Too

When considering a digital game based learning curriculum, there are potentially many barriers. Curriculum requirements, game content, accessibility, and community support to name a few. But what about the teachers themselves? What kinds of teachers are using games in their classroom? Could the teachers be a barrier to the digital game based learning (DGBL) curriculum? An article I read last week from called “Strategies to Level Up Learning” by Matthew Farber briefly addressed some of these questions while examining a 2014 report titled “Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games.” The article really piqued my interest because I am very interested in how adults are navigating DGBL as learners and also in teaching scenarios. The teachers who use DGBL in the classroom are referred to as GUTS or NUTS game-using teachers or non-game using teachers. I find it interesting how the teachers were classified and defined in a way that may affect DGBL. It’s easy to think of DGBL for elementary school in so many ways about children, but it also appears to be of utmost importance to include adults and teachers in order to understand a more complete picture of DGBL for K-8.

Source:Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games

How teachers are characterized

The instructors surveyed were categorically profiled and defined as “Dabblers, Players, Barrier Busters, and Naturals.” The article did not go into great detail about these profiles, but it did mention the disparity between teachers that play games and use games to teach in the classroom 78%, versus non-game using teachers only 55% use games in the classroom. A simple solution, as Matthew seems to suggest, is to lower the barriers for non-game using teachers. Such as the use of trustworthy platforms for educational games. Or to provide a “common discourse” about games for non-game using teachers so teachers can simply become educated about how and why games can be used in the classroom. These are definitely ways we can move forward with DGBL for non-game using teachers, but there are still concerns with teachers ability to know enough about the games without actually playing them. Is it still too much to ask teachers to “playtest” games before implementing them into the classroom? I would ask the same question about textbooks. Would we expect a teacher to implement a text without reading it first?

Ways for teachers to “level up”

Perhaps we can assume non-game playing teachers, through “common discourse,” could be assimilated into digital game culture, making them more likely to appreciate and play games. Matthew does bring attention to this briefly by mentioning However, this site could be so much more if it had forums and other ways to connect socially. The site appears to only be a service to provide information and news. Wouldn’t these teachers like to connect and talk about games? This question brought me back to the original report. I wanted to learn more about these “Dabblers, Players, Barrier Busters, and Naturals. After scanning the information provided about these profiles, I found the “Barrier Busters” most interesting in regards to “common discourse.” These teachers face the highest number of barriers to DGBL curriculum than any other profile, but somehow they overcome this. How and why? The study offers several hypotheses to explain this, further research would be required to reach any conclusion. However, I found “professional development,” as the “Barrier Busters” frequently cited as engaging with (more than any other profile) may be a good place to start. Assuming professional development helps one become a member of a community of practice, or affinity space, this could create opportunities to network and build confidence in implementing DGBL curriculum.

Matthew Farber February 5, 2015 Strategies to Level Up Learning

Takeuchi, L. M., & Vaala, S. (2014). Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Who Are Modern Learners and Why is Mobile GBL Important?

Designing Learning in the Digital Age - Sydney

Let’s face it, in any given day of the week there could be plenty of down time that has the potential to be a learning moment rather than wasted in the mundane. Waiting in line for coffee or lunch, on the commuter rail, or otherwise waiting on something. Most of us reach for our phones in these moments and check emails, Facebook notifications, Twitter feeds, or perhaps play games. Since I started graduate school at University of Colorado Denver a year ago, I now tend to reach for Canvas, Twitter, and our course blogs on my phone or iPad. These platforms for social learning are all part of the Information and Learning Technology courses and learning ecology at CU Denver. I have yet to play mobile games as part of the requirements for the courses, but I imagine it would be well received, and highly possible to fit “playful” moments in the learning experience at CU Denver. In fact, I decided to take a Games & Learning course this term due to my own interest in the subject.

Educational engagement, on demand, anytime, anyplace

Part of my journey so far in the Games & Learning course has been to focus on my own interest-driven research about game based learning. After reading the cycle 2 selections for the course, and building upon cycle 1 focus, I have come to appreciate mobile games as it applies to accessibility and environment. This is precisely why I chose to examine an article published by elearningindustry.com5 Things Modern Learners Love About Game-Based Mobile Learning,” by Arunima Majumdar. In relationship to “In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives,” part of The Ecology of Games, by Stevens, Reed, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy, as a selection for cycle 2 readings in the Games & Learning course. Although the “Stevens” reading selection focuses on what children are doing when they are playing games in their homes, I find mobile learning, as mentioned in the article, relatable to adult learning and how multiple worlds are blurred by social context and environment. The article sheds some light on this briefly with point “3. Learning and playing – anywhere.” Such as, “making use of non-productive times like travelling, waiting between jobs, and so on.” Of course this could also mean being engaged in game based learning while at a sporting event with your children, or during a wasteful meeting, at the coffee shop, or home. The point is, the ability to access and engage in learning through a mobile game anywhere is very powerful because users have the ability to make time for learning in these odd or random moments in the day.

Social collaboration and experimental play

The article also mentions social aspects of games such as collaboration with other players in networked play. It mentions “leaderboards” and “discussion threads” but I also think there is great potential for collaboration in multi-player game situations. Such as, working together with other players to complete in game tasks or missions. With mobile games, really, play can transcend the virtual environment and involve physical “real world” situations naturally. Like playing a sim game to preview tasks before physically manipulating real world objects. I can see great potential for this with chemistry, or biology, or mechanical or electrical fields where it’s important to obtain knowledge and practice before actually, physically performing potentially dangerous tasks. In a lab situation, it’s common to have lab partners which could give additional feedback on virtual lab performances which then carries over into physical performance and social collaboration in reality. The mobile device could perhaps then be referenced while performing the “real” lab task to reassure and reference learnt scenarios in a virtual setting then applied to “real” practice. The ability to have a virtual scenario on a mobile device makes it easy to reference at the right time and place when needed rather than being tethered to a desktop computer, as what would have been more common in the past. The perfect example of this is Labster, and it’s available in a web browser or on an iPad.

Superficial mobile learning assessments

Overall the article really serves as a very brief example of what may be possible with mobile game based learning. However many of the points described in the article apply to games in general. I think the writing could have done a better job at describing game based learning more exclusive to mobile. The article could have been written in such a way to call out clear examples of games that involve mobile learning rather than simply linking text that is not directly related to specific games like “games which provide lots of learning opportunities,” (insert hyperlink). Are these mobile games? What games are they? Can you call attention to one or two and make the point more clear? When the reader clicks the links in the article they are taken to GCube, a games for learning developer. I’m wondering why weren’t some of these games directly mentioned in the article? Because the article did not go into specifics I’m left feeling like the purpose of this particular writing was to generate some brief traffic to the linked website.

In addition to wanting to know more specifically about mobile game based learning (GBL) by reading this article, I wanted to see statistics or proof about what “modern learners” love about mobile GBL. I would love to see real statistics about mobile GBL versus desktop GBL, or simply, mobile distance learning versus everything else. And how do we define “modern learners?” The article simply did not clarify this at all. Because of this, I’m really interested in seeking more resources to help answer the many questions I have such as: What types of fields and students prefer mobile GBL? How can we measure this? Do we give students the option to play the same game on a desktop computer as they would on an iPad and use data to see how much time or tasks were completed on each device? What types of learning scenarios are created by mobile GBL versus desktop? Such as social context time and place - how does this affect game play?

Know any resources or care to share your story about mobile GBL? I’d love to know! Please comment.

5 Things Modern Learners Love About Game-Based Mobile Learning,” by Arunima Majumdar.
In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives,” part of The Ecology of Games, by Stevens, Reed, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy.
Credits: Photo attribution Vanguard Visions Flickr

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Crafting Accessibility and Affinity Spaces, What I Learned by Playing Hearthstone

What are Play Journals?

As part of the Games and Learning course and study with University of Colorado Denver Information and Learning Technologies Master’s program, students will participate in both shared and individual play sessions. These play sessions are part of “learning by doing” and reflection necessary to understand what it means to be a learner through playing games. The play journals are a synthesis of scholarship and reflection on play per the chosen game.

Playing Hearthstone

Hearthstone is a single player, card, turned based, strategy game that can be played against an artificial intelligence (AI) opponent, in “Solo Adventures.” It can also be played against other players over the internet including friends on your Battlenet list. Hearthstone is available on a computer and most mobile devices making it very accessible, and it’s free to play! Playing the game in solo mode will initially unlock cards and other heroes. This serves as a sort of tutorial that must be completed to reach the full potential of play. The game is free to play, but to compete with other players you must unlock cards through purchased game adventures and expansions. These adventures include bosses in a dungeon like sequence that unlock cards for the player to own and use. These cards are added to your personal collection that can be used for crafting decks.
Of course, you could enjoy the game without playing dungeon adventures and try “Play” mode and daily quests to get new cards. For each daily quest and win the player earns in game currency that can be used to purchase packs. Once a player has a handle on how to achieve new cards, he or she must learn how to craft decks effectively to be competitive with other players online. Players who want to progress through matches to earn in game rewards typically seek out websites that include strategies, deck building tips, and complete decks. Ultimately, Hearthstone is a strategy game played individually but played well through the help of others online in hearthstone affinity groups. Because success in this game relies heavily on affinity spaces, and it’s available on many platforms (thus it is easily accessible) I chose to focus on Hearthstone because it relates to the topics of cycle 2 readings directly.

What I learned by playing Hearthstone
The “Solo Adventure” tutorials do a great job at teaching the player the mechanics of the game, like hero powers, the cards in your hand, mana crystals, minions, spells, and effects. The player learns about these things before they learn about deck crafting. Deck crafting can be learned more in depth by playing against bosses in adventure expansions or other players. The game is deceptively simple for anyone to play well enough to enjoy it for limited amounts of time. But to play it long term, competitively, players must learn how to combine play of cards and effects and manage usage of mana crystals. Great players will have knowledge of various types of decks and strategies to be able to predict other players moves and probable outcomes. Think chess with seemingly many, many more possible moves. This level of play requires calculating moves well in advance in order to win the game or achieve successful combinations. You can learn more about how to play the game here.

The brutality of competitive free to play. Pay or grind?
The most frustrating part of playing hearthstone is realizing the need for certain cards in order to win against another players or the AI as a boss in adventure mode. To achieve success one must then either pay for a bunch of packs that can be bought with real world currency, or play the game enough to earn in game currency to buy the packs and cards needed. Of course, this currency mechanic serves the creators of the game well. Blizzard needs money to continue to develop games. Although it’s clever that the game is “free” to play, in order to achieve sustained periods of progression, a player must buy something. This model works really well for many types of games and especially mobile games. But it can be aggravating to play, player after player, who owns every legendary card created. Here are a couple examples of the most annoying ones I’ve encountered: Alexstrasza, Ysera, Justicar Trueheart. The player starts to wonder how they can compete? Must I pay lots of money to open packs to get these cards? Or play many games to win currency to buy these cards? The success of the game hinges on whether the player can accept the possible answers to these questions in order to wish to continue playing competitively, or give up.

How what I learned by playing Hearthstone relates to course readings

There are several interesting components to playing Hearthstone that relate to cycle two readings. If I had to pick one connection to the readings, I would say affinity spaces are very important for prolonged, successful Hearthstone play. It’s very easy to get stumped on a boss or get frustrated playing other players with seemingly unbeatable decks. The ability to turn to websites dedicated to Hearthstone strategies and decks among many other helpful things allows people to continue to progress in the game. The affinity spaces for Hearthstone range in nurturing to hardcore, but mostly, these groups will feature content readily accessible to both newbies that require nurturing and hardcore players looking for professional decks and strategies. To name a few of these affinity spaces: HearthPwn and Icy Veins do particularly well and have a robust community of contributors. Because Hearthstone utilizes rich story developed over the life of Blizzard entertainment products, and it allows players to craft their own decks, there is rich metagame potential. I’m reminded of how simply it was put by J. Gee, in “Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Game Based Learning,”

“Of course, we will argue that a principle of good metagame design is involving players as designers. That is, most positive social engagement in and around games involves, in part, players acting and thinking like designers.”

We can see this come to life in HearthPwn and Icy Veins simply by scanning the landing page. There are forums for each class, recent discussions highlighted, top decks, contests, videos, and the like, all created around this deceptively simple game. This proves that people don’t necessarily need 3D worlds with multitudes of levels and systems to mod a game to engage people in the activities that Gee would call big “G” “Games” or “Games+”. Contrary to what we have learnt in cycle two readings regarding The Sims. The real key to success is just making games accessible on many platforms, easy to play, and easy to strategize or craft play experiences that can be played in 15 minutes or 3 hours. That’s what Blizzard proved to us extremely well with Hearthstone. I would definitely give it a “Games+” rating!

GEE, J. P. & HAYES E, Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Game-Based Learning