Playful Cleverness: hackers, games and creativity


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Presentation held at eRuralNet workshop in Pärnu, Estonia, February 3, 2010.

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Playful Cleverness: hackers, games and creativity

  1. 1. Playful Cleverness: hackers, games and creativity Kaido Kikkas Estonian IT College *** Tallinn University e-RuralNet Pärnu 03.03.10
  2. 2. What are we talking about <ul><li>Main idea: using computer games in teaching – not only computer science but overall creativity
  3. 3. A glance into the historical hacker culture
  4. 4. The Battle for Wesnoth: one possible tool to bring the hacker model to classroom
  5. 5. Note: get the slides at </li></ul>
  6. 6. A Quote <ul><li>„Hackers are people who enjoy playful cleverness.“ - Richard Matthew Stallman
  7. 7. ???
  8. 8. Hackers? Aren't they those bad guys who break into computers...?
  9. 9. Playful cleverness? </li></ul>
  10. 10. Long time ago, in another galaxy... <ul><li>... OK, this was another universe (but hackers do like sci-fi)
  11. 11. A techno-subculture grown out of MIT and Stanford in the 60s (see Hackers by S. Levy) and later forming the backbone of free software and open source movements
  12. 12. Playful cleverness: essentially means doing serious work as if it was fun, and taking fun seriously. Some people call it creativity
  13. 13. Also see </li><ul><li>Writings of Eric S. Raymond
  14. 14. Hacker Ethic by Pekka Himanen </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. The original MIT hacker code (Levy) <ul><li>Access to computers – and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works – should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
  16. 16. All information should be free
  17. 17. Mistrust authority – promote decentralization
  18. 18. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position
  19. 19. You can create art and beauty on a computer
  20. 20. Computers can change your life for the better </li></ul>
  21. 21. A hacker code of the 90s (ESR) <ul><li>The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved
  22. 22. No problem should ever have to be solved twice
  23. 23. Boredom and drudgery are evil
  24. 24. Freedom is good
  25. 25. Attitude is no substitute for competence
  26. 26. Recognition: </li><ul><li>Do you identify with the goals and values of the hacker community?
  27. 27. Do you speak code, fluently?
  28. 28. Has a well-established member of the hacker community ever called you a hacker? </li></ul></ul>
  29. 29. Hacker ethic (Himanen) <ul><li>Linus' Law on human motivation </li><ul><li>survival
  30. 30. social life
  31. 31. entertainment </li></ul><li>Ct Maslow! Also Wozniak's formula: H = F 3
  32. 32. Friday vs Sunday
  33. 33. Excessive speed kills
  34. 34. Caring
  35. 35. „ Do, or do not. There is no try.“ - Yoda </li></ul>
  36. 36. Bringing the hacker way to the classroom <ul><li>Is playful cleverness also applicable in the academic setting?
  37. 37. One way to do it is game-based teaching
  38. 38. The Battle for Wesnoth open-source strategy game has been successfully used at TLU </li></ul>
  39. 39. Basics <ul><li>Played on a hex map with several dozens of terrain types (influence movement and defense)
  40. 40. Hundreds of units in various (6 in default era) factions, each with distinct strengths and weaknesses, 2-5 levels (mostly 3), movement...
  41. 41. Day and night cycle vs the unit alignment
  42. 42. Economy based on gold, generated by villages
  43. 43. In campaign mode, surviving units from previous scenarios can be recalled
  44. 44. Missions may vary greatly (even if destroying enemies is the most common one) </li></ul>
  45. 45. OK, but why is it different? <ul><li>Homo ludens :-)
  46. 46. Similar to teaching web design – should give three kinds of skills: </li><ul><li>Technology: coding (programming)
  47. 47. Design: artwork, maps, overall aesthetics
  48. 48. Content: scenarios and campaigns </li></ul><li>Compared to web design: </li><ul><li>Technology is more prominent – includes event-driven programming in addition to markup
  49. 49. Content is more affected by the other two (or vv) </li></ul></ul>
  50. 50. Two cases up to now <ul><li>Autumn 2007 – TLU IMKE Master students, mostly with no or very basic programming skills; 6 persons (two teams of 3) participated
  51. 51. Spring 2008 – TLU third-year computer science students with adequate to expert propgramming skills; more than 20 people (5 teams of 3-5) completed the course
  52. 52. Two rather different sets of people - yet the course worked in both cases
  53. 53. The point of the courses was not Wesnoth, but the open-source way of development </li></ul>
  54. 54. The ideas behind Open Source <ul><li>Roots in the hacker culture of the 60s
  55. 55. Richard M. Stallman, the Father of Free Software
  56. 56. Linus Torvalds and Linux
  57. 57. Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (Note: he is also an active contributor to Wesnoth)
  58. 58. The avalanche grows: LAMP, GNOME/KDE,, Moodle ...
  59. 59. Not freeware: the zero price is not the point
  60. 60. The point is in collaboration, community, peer review and flexibility (and again: creativity) </li></ul>
  61. 61. What can be taught with Wesnoth? <ul><li>Storytelling and expression, overall creativity
  62. 62. Graphical design
  63. 63. Animation
  64. 64. Markup (a possible step before moving to XHTML, XML, AJAX etc)
  65. 65. Event-driven programming
  66. 66. NB! Easier to 'sell' to non-technical students!
  67. 67. The good thing is that these can be mixed and balanced according to the audience, allowing a good range of accommodation </li></ul>
  68. 68. Campaign building <ul><li>Write the storyline, design major events and divide them into scenarios
  69. 69. Choose/build units for main characters
  70. 70. For each scenario </li><ul><li>Design (objectives, events)
  71. 71. Draw the map (considering terrain and starting points)
  72. 72. Choose units and recruitment scheme
  73. 73. Code the scenario </li></ul><li>Code the campaign summary
  74. 74. Test and balance </li></ul>
  75. 75. Storyline <ul><li>Wesnoth has its own fictional history ( ) as well as geography:
  76. 76. On the other hand, several interesting attempts have been made to base totally different storylines on the Wesnoth engine
  77. 77. Eric S. Raymond has written the Wesnoth campaign design How-To: </li></ul>
  78. 78. Wesnoth map editor
  79. 79. Wercator map converter <ul><li>By Brennan Sellner
  80. 80. Converts Wesnoth maps to fancy graphical maps
  81. 81. A plugin for GIMP as well as an online service
  82. 82. Available online at http://www.sellner. org/wercator/ </li></ul>
  83. 83. Units <ul><li>Several hundreds are available, distributed under different eras (historic sets)
  84. 84. At first, choosing among ready-made ones is more than enough. The unit list for v1.8 is at
  85. 85. To create new units, tutorials are available at
  86. 86. In the newer versions of Wesnoth, multi-frame animations, shadows, different view angles etc are used, making unit design quite complex </li></ul>
  87. 87. Wesnoth Markup Language <ul><li>Rather similar to XML
  88. 88. Tags written in the form of [tag]
  89. 89. A typical scenario consists of </li><ul><li>Various metadata in the beginning
  90. 90. Storytelling part explaining the situation
  91. 91. Map data (can be included, but is typically linked)
  92. 92. Day/night cycle and difficulty specifications
  93. 93. Prestart part (definitions of sides, objectives etc)
  94. 94. Event-based buildup for the scenario </li></ul></ul>
  95. 95. WML... <ul><li>Can be very simple, but allows for really complex operations (changing units and terrain on the fly – e.g. a character can be magically turned into a monster or a cave wall may open under a spell or password; events may also depend on if a character from a previous scenario is alive etc etc)
  96. 96. Teaches good structure (opening and closing tags, correct use of parameters) as well as 'the big picture' (campaign level) </li></ul>
  97. 97. An example <ul><li>A demo campaign I started to develop some time ago
  98. 98. A crazy story involving a lot of famous characters from various tales and also some celebrity-based people (including three Danish robbers Caspar, Jesper & Jonathan, Tchapai & Petka, Matti the mage (and former ski-jumper), Chuck Norris, King Toomas Hendrik, Santa Claus, and a very undead Osama)
  99. 99. Will gradually feature more complicated techniques, the 2 existing scenarios are quite simple </li></ul>
  100. 100. Final words <ul><li>Hackers and playful cleverness fit well into academic settings
  101. 101. Wesnoth is a versatile tool for teaching a number of things
  102. 102. People can do marvellous things when not hindered by stupid artificial obstacles
  103. 103. Taking the fun seriously can result in a serious result without losing the fun factor :)
  104. 104. Additional recommended reading: </li></ul>
  105. 105. Thanks! The slides are available under the Creative Commons BY-SA license at