Jon Saklofske
Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca
Refresh Annapolis valley talk notes
 English professor interested in games?
o Yes-...
Jon Saklofske
Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca
Digital Games:
 Thriving, developing industry---67 billion dollars in worldwide sa...
Jon Saklofske
Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca
o Call of duty MW1 nuclear strike and No Russian from MW2
o Increpare
o Molleindust...
Jon Saklofske
Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca
o NPC conversation bots
o Objects
o Reputation
o Multiple, connected locations
o Fl...
Jon Saklofske
Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca
 Demo refresh gamespace
 Demo create rooms
 Demo create bot
 Demo bot scripts
A...
Jon Saklofske
Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca
o Students would—using methodological lenses (2 per module) and
gathering pertinent...
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Players and Builders: Digital Games and University Learning Talk Notes

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Jon Saklofske (Acadia University, Department of English) will explore some of the ways that he has used digital game environments in the university classroom. Specifically, Jon will talk about a flexible and functional MOO (text-based online virtual reality) environment that allows his students to play and build game-based arguments (as a substitute for essay writing), and will also discuss a new course delivery method he is working on that has been inspired by conversations he’s had with some major game developers.

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Players and Builders: Digital Games and University Learning Talk Notes

  1. 1. Jon Saklofske Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca Refresh Annapolis valley talk notes  English professor interested in games? o Yes---via lifelong addiction + DH interests  Digital Humanities (DH): What is happening now that 500 years of print- based book technology is being radically challenged / augmented / complicated by digital mediations?  New knowledge environments via the computer’s ability to reproduce, reconfigure, synthesize and centralize all other media types?  In literary studies: o We study the history of printed literature o We use books and words to study books and words.  Why? Words and the history of their application prove that they work  Language is a form of abstraction that allows us to experiment with and explore our world further than our sense allow (like mathematics).  However, over the last 30 + years: o Computers have made us realize that our specializations and methods are somewhat limited and self-serving. o Anecdote re: comic books to Blake at McGill  Literary studies is one small corner of media studies and media studies is one small corner of the humanities.  DH is an attempt to generate a lucidity about the ways that digital tools can (and have) affect the ways that human culture understands, preserves and represents itself.  Yet DH is also showing signs of restrictiveness as it struggles to become a recognized discipline and profession.  Digital games are still at the margins of DH o They are viewed as an entertainment pastime o An immature medium o As corruption and as a waste of time o As something far from “serious” o As something antithetical to art and culture  Much like novels in the 18th century  Much like comic books in the 20th century  But games are more than information storage and delivery systems  More than just empty distractions…
  2. 2. Jon Saklofske Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca Digital Games:  Thriving, developing industry---67 billion dollars in worldwide sales in 2012  Still no satisfactory video game taxonomy  Diverse types / genres generate diverse attempts to classify. o All of these efforts are reductive…but studying and thinking about games is essential, given how widespread their influence has become.  Games are complex, interactive systems o Games necessitate pattern recognition o Necessitate that we participate and demand certain perspectives and activities from users. o Games are experiences, as real and as affecting and as memorable as anything else we’re involved in. o I tend towards interactive fictions, exploratory games, mysteries, puzzles and quests that lead to understanding (rather than competition, point acquisition or repetitive, reflexive conditioning).  This reflexive conditioning is what the gamification trend in industry and education is currently exploring) o Games can teach approaches to problem solving o Games can calibrate player behavior o Games are arguments, and embody argumentative processes o Games can be symbolic, figurative, non-literal o Games require participation o Games are simulation spaces, laboratories in which conditions can be manipulated. I’ve always recognized the value of games as learning environments…  But, like any learning tool, especially in post-secondary education…It isn’t enough just to learn THROUGH games. o Players, as consumers, are seduced into accepting and perpetuating particular subject positions o Players simply master existing systems o Players are users, reactive recipients  This quickly gets political!! o Players think they know what they’re getting into  Yet games can be designed to shake players out of their expectations
  3. 3. Jon Saklofske Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca o Call of duty MW1 nuclear strike and No Russian from MW2 o Increpare o Molleindustria o Half-life 2 marriage counseling mod.  Players can be manipulated into awareness that allows them to circumvent a blind obedience to the game’s rules. AND MORE IMPORTANTLY….  Players should also have the opportunity to become builders o To understand how the systems work o To generate experience and possibility spaces for others o To move beyond consumption towards production o To modify (mod) systems o To become content creators The challenge: How can I bring all of this into a university English literature classroom? How can I expose students to a broader media landscape and encourage responses to the world without sacrificing critical and creative traditions of university learning? ANSWER: mix games into my curriculum as a new perceptual lens. 1. In first-year intro classes: expose students to a broad range of game-based storytelling after teaching them the traditions of language-based narrativity, figuration and expression. a. Get them to apply a historical awareness of literary representation to gam-based environments and experiences. But in upper-level classes: how do I work game-based learning into the syllabus in a meaningful and memorable way?  Initially, I tried experiments with Second Life—but its 3rd party hosting of content and lack of overall control for groups of student avatars made this unwieldy.  Unity and Unreal game engines—partly free to use but time consuming to develop games.  Finally—I found the Encore Xpress open-source MOO platform. o Reminiscent of text adventures o Familiar interface to IM users o Multiplayer
  4. 4. Jon Saklofske Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca o NPC conversation bots o Objects o Reputation o Multiple, connected locations o Flexible options In the first term of a 2-term Romantics course, students are asked to play “The Natural Daughter Game” (Moo mods and game developed in 3 months with 2 undergrad student assistants).  After reading Mary Robinson’s novel, students role-play as a woman in late 18th century England.  All players are instructed to “become successful”  There are, however, no winning conditions….no way to achieve this.  Choice is simply the illusion of freedom in this case. ….The game is played with a partner (2 people at a computer) …and all have a chance to reflect on experiences in a class debriefing session (interrogates how students played—Carelessly? Responsibly?  Important to use games in the context of broader base of critical discussion and reflection. Then in the second term, student use another modded version of the MOO to collaboratively create a game-based argument (instead of 2 essay assignments) But how do I teach English students to become builders without teaching them programming?  We use a robust construction kit to allow them to create environments in which players are exposed to particular arguments via their willingness to participate in the game.  Students progress through an iterative design process and even though they aren’t “programming,” they are “making.” o They aren’t being completely programmed. Demo MOO construction features:
  5. 5. Jon Saklofske Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca  Demo refresh gamespace  Demo create rooms  Demo create bot  Demo bot scripts As a result: see slides with student outcomes and sample projects. And…students start to see books differently----As alternative technologies that shape perception  Also able to critically explore various ways of communicating  The first step to “looking under the hood” of digital games and engaging with processes. But my thinking about game paradigms doesn’t stop there… During my sabbatical, I met with and interviewed a number of significant game developers. Of note:  Chris Avellone (Obsidian Entertainment): Planescape Torment, Wasteland 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, Knights of the Old Republic 2.  Christian Cantamessa (Rockstar): Lead designer and co-writer for Red Dead Redemption, also GTA: San Andreas and Manhunt 1 &2. From these conversations---Why can’t classes be more like an open-world gamespace?  Drawing from constructivist and experiential teaching theories... o Wanting students to take ownership of the stories that they create in the classroom o Learning how to be builders or their own stories, not consumers of my information feed. o Turn the classroom from students digesting a pre-conceived narrative to students co-creating stories that mean something to them personally. o Like a game---an open-world game in which players collect, curate and edit stories by constellating experiences from a possibility field.
  6. 6. Jon Saklofske Jon.saklofske@acadiau.ca o Students would—using methodological lenses (2 per module) and gathering pertinent artifacts, build a set of experiences that they’ll need to make comprehensive sense of through narration at the end of the course. The future?  Mobile games (augmented reality)  ARIS  Disney’s pioneering efforts  ARGs Conclusion….

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