Sunday, March 20, 2016

Situated Learning As a Member of Unity Community

Unity Community, an affinity space for all things Unity and game development is a robust online space with many forums. The study of this space, as part of the University of Colorado Games and Learning Course, is just one of many things cooking in the fire of learning ecology. We have our own interest-driven research, participation in course readings through shared annotation via, we have our play sessions, and play journals or other blog posts. As a participant of the chosen affinity space, I am shaped by these various means of simultaneous learning and production. I am not participating in the affinity space as a typical person looking for self-improvement through production of games or game assets, rather my participation so far is more of observation and research. The depth of topics and technology involved in this space is incredibly vast. Therefore, I have chosen to focus on “Game Design,” “Teaching,” and “Works in Progress” forums.

Identity and influence

My initial participation was with the Game Design forum. I posted a comment in the “Clicker Games” thread. But there has not been too much activity there. However, by looking more closely at the thread, and the “Game Design” forum, I discovered Gigiwoo as the moderator. When I looked at his profile, I was able to find out more about him on his web page I was surprised to find a number of resources for game design including “Game Design Zen” podcasts and YouTube videos. There is also a comments section on his web page for each podcast where more discussion can be seen. This is a reminder of the multilayered depth many affinity spaces involve. There’s the forum itself in the affinity space, an avatar and user that interacts with the affinity space, then the person behind this persona and their own website or resources and discussion there. It’s important to understand how others are situated in the affinity space when interacting. Some members may be more inclined to game production, others to theory, others are just starting out looking for direction, and many other possible scenarios. It’s also crucial to pick out certain members as key participants to understand why they are situated this way in the space, and what they offer to the community. In the case of Gigiwoo, he acts as a mentor for design theory and discussion as a video game industry veteran with a lot of experience. And as moderator, he has the ability to spread his influence and direct discussions.

I wanted to see what Gigiwoo is all about. So I started listening to his podcasts because the topics genuinely peaked my interest. I initially had my guard up about this because some focus of the affinity space itself is removed by being a participant on another website or affinity space, although related to Unity Community. However I thought listening to these podcasts were critical to understand how the moderator of the “Design” forum is situated. Where is he coming from? What does he do? What topics concern him? How does this influence Unity Community? Some of the podcast topics are directly related to games development, some are related to life issues around games and quality of work, and other topics are more abstract theory about games. Of course, topics directly related to games are interesting, however I found topics more about life, focus, and quality of work to be most applicable to me as a person situated in the affinity space.

What I learned about myself and how I am situated

As a learner, a non-traditional adult student, with a full time job, a part time job, and a student in a graduate course. As a gamer, artist, designer and participant in an affinity space ̶ it’s a lot to juggle! The podcast “20: How Do You Do it? Three Tips For Getting Things Done,” really made me think about my habits and how I “do it.” I never really assessed myself in these ways. Moving through life assuming more and more responsibilities and interests, on top of profound levels of communication, phone calls, texts, instant messages, forums, social media,, emails, etc. there are many ways to get distracted. Thinking about “quality of work - all work is not the same,” and “focus” was a wonderful reminder about how I should spend my time. Perhaps these are good things for Unity enthusiasts and developers and people getting started in games to consider? It definitely speaks to me and participants in the thread dedicated to Game Design Zen podcasts in the Unity “Game Design” forums.

Understanding identity

The point is, in an affinity space like Unity Community, it’s easy to interact with someone in a forum, but there is so much more to discover by learning how key members are situated, and reflecting on yourself as a member of the space. What do I have to offer to this community? What will others expect from me based on the information I provide with how I am situated? Being aware of these things can help myself and others be conscious of the identity crafted by interaction in the space. By picking out topics and discussions concerning specific things where I can offer my expertise will help shape this identity. I hope to create some sense of this before the affinity space project is completed. I’m looking forward to learning more about how my own identity will take shape and how others have created an identity in Unity Community.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What’s it Like Being a Game Dev Tycoon?

Play Journal Entry #4

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.

How would you describe the social context of Game Dev Tycoon, and how did this inform what it meant to play?

Game: Game Dev Tycoon
Platform: PC (Steam download)
Genre/type: Sim, strategy, indie, casual
Players: Single player
Game familiarity: None! Until I browsed for games on Steam, a computer platform for game purchases, play, and social interaction. A few past co-worker and game developers “own” the game according to Steam social network so I decided to give it a try. Good reviews on Steam also helped me make a decision to purchase along with the $4.99 price. Although many of the reviews were sarcastic critiques on games and game development, it still seemed enjoyable. I would expect nothing less from the Steam community.

If you are a person interested in this product you are probably a game developer, aspiring game developer, or a person interested in gaming business development, or learning. The game is text based with limited interface and choices which determine various outcomes. I decided to start a company with a cheesy, but catchy name, called “Ultrasoft.” The cleverness of this seemed to work well with the writing in the game.

What - if anything - did you learn during this particular play of Game Dev Tycoon, and what lessons (more generally) does the game teach?

I was really interested in trying this game out of interest in adult learning and to experience a simulation about business development. The subject of the game, game development, is also of interest to myself and the affinity space which I am participating in for the affinity space project, “Unity Community.” I have worked on games before as an artist, so I have some familiarity with the game subject matter, however I only have a myopic view from those experiences. The game uses a historical context with references only a shave off of “reality.” Such as, literally showing pictures of consoles or platforms that look just like a Nintendo or Playstation, but instead, they would be named something like “Playsystem.” Of course, I have some familiarity with this history being a child of the 80’s and 90’s, as can be seen in an introductory blog post for this course about how I am situated as a video game player. As I marched through the development choices each time I created a new game to develop, I referred to what I knew about successful games in history. This is interesting, because had I not grown up during that time, how would I be so familiar with possible combinations that would be successful for the market? The game allows you to “generate game report,” after you complete a game and to give the player a better idea of what combos work or what attributes are not as advantageous for the particular genre. I played the game until I earned just over a million dollars and moved out of my garage and into an office. I hired two employees and trained them then released a few games. Invites to “G3” started coming in along with potential publisher deals. At this point the game started to get a little overwhelming, but it painted a pretty realistic picture of what it might be like to see what things come into play as a developer. The game does a really good job at simulating game development from a general perspective in a historical context.

Critique Game Dev Tycoon: What established constraints, or "game mechanics" (such as specific rules systems), inhibited alternative forms of learning or creative expression? Yet why do these constraints matter?

Although the game does very well at text based simulation, I wish the game had a little bit more personalization involved. It would be neat to personalize the office space. Perhaps game posters about the games that you made, or notes on a white board. Maybe the ability to walk around in third person to walk over to other employees? What if you could create a dialogue with an employee, fan, or other interested party with a more expressive character? These things all have the potential to add a layer of depth to the game that would allow users to be more invested in the story of their game company. However, because the game lacks some of the typical personalization and character development qualities, it allows for quick play. You can quickly generate games, engines, and research without having to deal with fluffy dialogue. I found this to be relatable to articles about Muzzy Lane reasearch and non-traditional learners. Or adult learners with limited amounts of time. Students like these are interested in accessibility and available time to spend in a game. It’s very easy to access, create a scenario or two, and reflect on the results of that experiment. I found this could be applied to other types of employment or business scenarios that could be helpful for adult learners. Educational games for professions that involve human resources, project management, or scientific research could benefit from running simulations in a similar fashion. It helps players reflect on cause and effect relationships and resource management. These things are of utmost importance for many professions but seldom do students have opportunities to experiment or take risks in the “real world.”

My Achievements for Game Dev Tycoon

From our second or third cycle of course readings: What one reading - and specific idea - do you find most relevant to playing, and perhaps learning with/from, Game Dev Tycoon? And why?

How does this game relate to the course readings thus far? I’m really struggling with this answer as most of the readings refer to “children” or “young people,” when clearly a simulation such as this captures a more adult perspective. It’s not networked play other than through Steam. Steam does share achievements with people in my friends list or people who look me up. But the achievements have not brought up any social interactions about the game. I have not referred to any affinity spaces about this game either. It really does not directly relate to any core readings thus far but perhaps cycle 5 and 6 readings will? I think the most relevant connection would be to adult learning scenarios and Muzzy Lane research that was a topic of discussion earlier this year. I’m really excited to have played this game and I hope to apply what I learned to the games and learning course and to games I may develop for adult learning scenarios.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Will Video Games Become "Gender Neutral"?

Wikipedia "Women and Video Games"

In cycle 4 of INTE 5320 at University of Colorado Denver Games & Learning course, we started to look at gender and sexism in gaming culture. Although the focus of my research in addition to the course materials, has been on adult learning up to this point, I have chosen to dig deeper into the issues surrounding females in gaming. As opposed to critiquing a single article or document, I found a Wikipedia entry for “Women and Video Games” to be very informative and rather comprehensive. The entry has cited several sources of interest, some of which I am already familiar with, such as the ESA statistical information and works by Ian Bogost. I think it’s important to assess the statistical information in addition to contemporary issues as to avoid generalizations that may not be fair or accurate. Through this research I’m interested to see if I can connect the dots between gender and videogames and how this relates to learning with video games and contemporary issues.

A cultural shift

As with most video games, a player typically assumes a virtual identity in order to enact scenarios to progress through the game. These roles are typically of male gender, and when they are not, perhaps the female character is over sexualized. Claims of this are evident in games like Tomb Raider. However more recent games (and other types of games) have offered more variety of characters to choose from such as online role playing games like World of Warcraft. The Wikipedia entry also uses a historical context for video games as a product or medium marketed to boys and how this has changed over time. Perhaps the result of this has created a lingering effect on the culture of video games as being “boy” oriented. When we look at the statistics from several different studies from the 1980’s to present day, we can see a cultural shift in video games from predominately male, to practically, evenly split interest between genders. However, some within gaming culture are resistant to this change. Regardless, the statistics show women are just as interested in being involved with video games and gaming culture as men. Therefore, video game developers are making games for both sexes and should consider the concerns, needs, and wants of both male and female players to make the most viable product. Assuming it’s the intent of the developers to make the highest possible monetary return on the product.

What does this mean for developers?

In order to create products that appeal equally to both men and women, developers should consider the cultural and psychological characteristics, among many other properties, present in games that may appeal or deter consumers. For starters, game developers may employ more females as part of their development team. Or provide equal play testing scenarios for both men and women in order to assess a game’s appeal to both sexes. There’s also a need to allow opportunities to discuss cultural and psychological implications of a game in the development cycle. Yet these opportunities are rarely afforded as development companies aren’t typically interested in such academic or civic pursuits. However, questions arise whether the game itself should be modified or assessed in such a way. As games are considered by many a form of art, like film, can portray extremely sexist depictions. Or historical depictions which may be inclined to feature cultural aspects that may be offensive, but none the less, were part of the story of the culture from that era in human history. Additionally, the assessment of a game is subject to the culture of males or females that may be a product of society as whole rather than the game itself. It’s easy to blame developers and gaming culture for sexist portrayals of women, however these portrayals may be the result of systemic sexism in society as a whole and gender roles and identities crafted and perpetuated by consumer culture, religions, governments, educational institutions, sports, etc. It’s important that we not blame the medium or developers necessarily, but look at the bigger picture in society in order to recognize why these things are present and revealed in games through criticism of the medium.

What does this mean for games and learning?

As educators and instructional designers, we should be looking for ways to create enriched educational experiences for our students. Often times, this means a game or game-like experience. It’s important to understand that there are many games out there, or game like features, that whether intentional or not, can be sexist (among many other negative things). Something as simple as the available emoticons in a text based interface, being limited to male figures, can be problematic for female identities. A recent Always commercial on YouTube drew my attention to this.

Yes, even an icon in an interface can create a negative feeling and perhaps inhibit learning if it is perceived as sexist. It’s important as educators that we take the time to screen the games that we would like our students to play for things like this. That’s why “gender neutral” games often times offer the best possible learning scenario without biases. However there is always the chance a stereotype or bias can creep into any consumer product, it’s important to identify this and open the topic up for discussion in an educational and inclusive setting. I’m sure we cannot expect the consumer product industry to uphold the same standards educators would uphold. Perhaps it’s more important to teach students how to critique cultural artifacts, such as a video game, rather than to passively engage with it? Will video games become gender neutral? Probably not. Would students who learn about sexism, biases, stereotypes, racism, as perpetuated by popular culture be less likely to create offensive artifacts? I have a feeling the answer is “yes.”

References: Wikipedia "Women and Video Games"