Hello everyone and thanks for joining me for todays session: Just Add Content, Adventures on the path to Immersive Game Facilitation.
When you start out on a new project, research, creative – you name it. If it’s genuinely new work, in a new domain, you don’t really know what the hell you are doing. Well at least I didn’t. Honestly, I had an idea 20 years ago that the Internet, that hyper-everything was a pipeline to the future – and I searched for open doors along that path.Today I’ll try to reflect some on that path – on my early exposure to games and simulations, on my personal journey through Immersive learning and virtual worlds, and on the things I’ve done which people seem to have noticed along that journey. Because I know that without a meta-structure there are those listening who will be overwhelmed with the rampant disrespect for order, I’ll simply suggest that my pattern will be … Stuff I did & learned in roughly chronological order, Stuff I worked out (discovered seems disingenuous) with the help of many clever students, stuff people made with the stuff I created & finally, what I’m doing now & why I’m still making stuff when everyone knows that virtual worlds are dead technology.
Hello everyone and thanks for taking an hour out of your busy Saturday for this brief overview of my own experiences in game development for Second Life. I’m Dr. Allen Partridge. My best self-identification is that I’m a 21st century Radical Wyoming Cowboy and I suffer from a serious addiction to learning. I taught many different forms of storytelling (including games and simulations) in various universities for nearly a quarter century, loved teaching and hated the institutions. Today I work with a team that creates the world’s leading online course development authoring tools and whenever I can, I create things – including games and simulations in 3d. You can contact me as virtuallyHuman@gmail.com – it’s a moniker that I find amusing and accurate – as the virtual world has provided me with my best opportunities to become more authentic, more human.
If you look closely into the background of this digital image you’ll see the phrase ‘Ce Nest pas un homme’ – a play on Magrittes’ well known artistic reference to the inherent nature of images as simulations of reality – This is not a manBishop defines a virtual world as “an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects.” (Bishop, J. (2009). Enhancing the understanding of genres of web-based communities: The role of the ecological cognition framework. International Journal of Web-Based Communities, 5(1), 4-17.)
I mention this only to set the context for my investigations in game development for virtual worlds. In 2007 I was fresh faced and excited to be running an academic center for Game Development on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I had left the digital media laboratories at the University of Georgia, where I’d taught for four years, in order to have a game research center I could call my own, and was exploring a variety of projects. I had just finished my second book – which was on casual games, and which taught me the value and importance of ‘the other’ – those who don’t self-identify as gamers. By 2007, I was working on a guide for a new software tool called Massive. The software had originally been written for Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy. At that time most animation methods for 3D didn’t include significant tools for simulation or automagically generated animation – they focused instead on hand created animation. Massive was created by Stephen Regelous – who at the time worked for Weta Digital – the film effects company consulting with Jackson. Stephen originally called the technology ‘Little Bastards’ – a reference to the crowds he was creating using a unique blend of particle physics, motion capture and fuzzy logic to invoke virtually real-time simulations of entire armies of animated orcs and elves. Explaining the complex interactions of virtual avatars driven by artificial brains wired with fuzzy logic calculations to animators who had never dealt with anything like it in 3D character animation was a daunting task but a wonderful chance to master the art of simplicity in instruction. The important lesson was that even complex concepts don’t need to be stuffy and inaccessible – and that narratives can guide learning of even concepts that at first pass seem dense and near-impossible to master.
So when a colleague approached me in 2007 to look into a new ‘Game’ he called Second Life I was … skeptical. After all I’d been doing motion capture, teaching sophisticated 3D animation and modeling applications and was teaching several courses on game development to undergraduate and graduate students every year.He continued to prod for some time and eventually convinced me to attend a workshop to learn basic building techniques using SL. Now you have to understand that one of the biggest obstacles to teaching game design concepts is that the students who want / need to learn them, usually lack most of the computer programming skills to create games effectively. It took only a couple of hours for me to realize that the metaverse could provide a canvas for teaching game development without all of the pain and suffering involved in ramping students up on the myriad of game development and animation tools previously required. That meant more time to deal with learning what makes games engaging and fun, and less time spent drilling code and teaching programming concepts.
At the same time I was teaching pre-professional educators both undergraduate and graduate. There is probably no single group on the planet with a more universal case of technophobia that elementary and secondary school teachers. I decided to explore the possibility of teaching all of these groups to use virtual worlds technologies – the gamers because they could build and script with very little special training, and the teachers because I saw potential for them to use interactivity as a tool for online education – which trends suggest will become increasingly more important in coming years.But in both cases, while obtaining objects for their imagined games or educational activities was relatively easy – figuring out how to program the objects to provide students / players with interaction, and how to track the outcomes of students / players was just out of reach. It was too much programming for the uninitiated.
Working with the students - I tried to diagnose the problem – and optimize the programming that was really required. Because there were so many students each semester – usually around 100, and because there soon came to be a clear pattern in the games they were trying to build, it became obvious that I could provide the same scripts for most of the interactions that they desired. It wasn’t long before other teachers and SL enthusiasts began to ask if they could get the same scripts, and so it became my mission to provide some kind of a bridge – a intermediate technology solution that would make ‘adding interactivity’ to stories / games / lessons – as simple as dragging and dropping that interactivity onto any 3D object inside the simulation.https://workspaces.acrobat.com/?d=-UYfbOw02UqnKRJTfuJJnQ
Now, several years later I’ve found that the fundamental paradigm identified in conjunction with students then, can actually be further simplified. A scoring mechanism / system is required. This forms the kind of database core of the game system. From there however only Tokens, Traps and puzzles are really needed. While there are variations of each of these components, everything basically falls into these three component buckets.
Scores can be expressed simply as a way to keep track of success and failure. They are what make the game fun and competitive. Scores can be used in a variety of ways and you should consider your ultimate educational objective when deciding how to describe / discuss scores.Games introduce / come ready equipped with a concept of ‘safe failure’ that is painfully absent from most classrooms. If you simply score students summatively based on game performance, you’ve removed one of the most powerful tools the game has to engage learners.
Tokens are absolutely anything that you want to encourage your learners to gather. In learning games it is easiest to pair this with facts & information. It is much more effective to have your students actively hunting for information / facts / knowledge, than to try to convince them to ingest it while you deliver it via firehose.
Traps are a great way to introduce negating concepts, facts and information. When we deliver information we often seek to help students generate a definition – help them ‘understand’ our kehy ideas. You can define something with examples (deliver those ideas with tokens) and you can define it by what it isn’t (this is a great place to introduce traps.) If you consider carefully you can often come up with very appropriate negating messages about the key concept, and make it simply appear like game-play. Of course the cancer cells are traps – and they can be used to help explain and contrast the difference between healthy cells and unhealthy cells.
Puzzles – puzzles in their current manifestations are fundamentally quizzes. These too can be entertaining as long as the learner feels that they are accomplishing a greater goal, and not simply taking a variation of a test. The emotional life of the game becomes very important at these moments, and it’s important for the educator to remember the value of play in providing a safe space for learning.
The game kit that I created and delivered to Second Life has been adopted by many, many individuals and groups. It has been used to create games for learners of virtually all ages.
It has been used to bring to life history and tackle difficult subjects. To train communities in issues of environmental management, and to create amusing interactive games for groups of people who simply love to role play.
It has been used to simulate crime scenes and teach students forensics practice, and to create a safe space to understand the implications of changes to a powergrid for electricians and line workers. There really are no limits to the potential uses, beyond your imagination.
Today I’m working on the third version of the game kit, and even as I speak the kit is staged for delivery on the soon to open Kitely Marketplace, where it will be offered as an Exportable full perm solution – so that people can build it into their games & worlds and never have to worry about being able to archive, transfer and manage their games across any Second Life or Open Sim Grid.
I’m also actively working on version 3.0 of the Game Kit. The focus today is on adding life (or at least the illusion of life) with NPC’s. http://youtu.be/5mpzqCrXI2k OR Live at http://www.kitely.com/virtual-world/Allen-Partridge/Virtually-Human
Version 3 of the kit will include Zoned Tokens, Lock & Keys, Rudimentary inventory & at least for Open Sim, NPC’s (non-player Characters that are able to roam your game and perform various interactions with the player(s). In this image you see NPC’s in the costume of ancient citizens, greeting a visitor to their city.
So an obvious question, is why do I continue to develop this facilitation technology when we have seen such a significant decline in support for virtual worlds? The answer for me is in a well established graph which depicts the cycle of life for emerging technologies. This is often referred to as the hype cycle.
When a new technology is made available / known, it is barely visible. People notice new things and get very excited about their potential. When the new ideas are very jarring the peak of inflated expectation can seem very, very high. Immediately afterward, the public perception of the technology falls away – people think of it as ‘over’, ‘done’ or ‘dead’. This is the zone commonly called the trough of disillusionment. Virtual worlds have already gone through each of these stages.However, as people stop trying to make new technology into something that it isn’t, and start to really accept and understand it for it’s real potential, it rises again and becomes a profitable, stable technology.
In 2007 Gartner placed Virtual Worlds at the top of the Hype cycle.
By 2012 Gartner identified Virtual Worlds as just starting to emerge from the trough of disillusionment with a 5-10 year projection for reaching the plateau of stability. Now is the time to invest in virtual worlds, and the time for educators to invest in virtual world education.
It is the misperception regarding disillusionment that creates a significant opportunity for all of us to make great things happen in virtual worlds in the coming years.
So while the path ahead is not set in stone, it is certainly starting to become more clear. There are opportunities on the horizon, and it is a very good time to roll up our sleeves and work together to help facilitate the needs of educators in whatever way we are able.Thanks again for your time. Please feel free to contact me at virtuallyHuman@gmail.comQuestions?
Just Add Content - Presentation for Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education July, 2013
Just add content
Adventures on the path to
Immersive Game Facilitation
What’s a virtual world?
• With other people
• With the simulated environment
Bishop, J. (2009). Enhancing the understanding of
genres of web-based communities: The role of the
ecological cognition framework. International Journal
of Web-Based Communities, 5(1), 4-17.