G4C2008: unveiling the “corporation for public gaming”

This is a Really Big Deal: Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is launching a new initiative around gaming; Dr. Michael Levine presented the new project.

Target audience: elementary kids, not as young as Sesame audience. How to blend affordances of digital media.

Signature programs: Research Innovation Fund (how new media applications can accelerate children’s learning), Cooney Prizes for Excellence in Digital Media (recognizing “half baked” ideas), Cooney Fellows Program, Advocacy & Dissemination Program.
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G4C2008: philanthropic funding perspectives

Ben Stokes (MacArthur): It’s about “learning” (not “education”). Games are partly about learning, but they’re about a system of learning that we’re trying to understand.

Jessica Goldfin (Knight): Lead journalism into the 21th century. Good journalism is about democracy. See Knight challenge.

Arlene de Strulle (NSF): Cyber-learning initiative based on large investment in nation’s cyber-infrastructure. We need new ways of understanding the new learner — decentralized learning, anytime anywhere. We don’t know the cognitive implications of cyber-learning. Understanding science crucial to participating in cultural change.

Brad (Corporation for National & Community Service): Change — engaging citizens as problem-solvers.

Picking up Eric’s question from the last panel challenging assessment/evidence — What questions do we still need to answer?
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G4C2008: assessing games for change

One the most important exchanges in this session was a challenge from Eric Zimmerman during Q&A as to whether foregrounding assessment hampers the cultural expression of the project. “How would you assess Maus?” Several in the audience applaused.

Shelly Pasnik (EDC): If assessment is about what we know, we need to be more sophisticated about describing what we know.

Karin Hillhouse (Ashoka) gave the example of Wired and the potential for changing hearts and minds. If Wired had been tested and focus-grouped it would never had been on the air.
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G4C2008: Jim Gee vs. Eric Zimmerman

Gee: “World of complex systems that is biting us, and biting us bad.” e.g. peak oil => biofuel => no water / no food => failed states => end of global economy

Zimmerman: industry (19th century), information (20th), the Ludic Century (21st century systems)

Gee: Games not terribly good at delivering information, but at novel experiences: seeing the world in new ways. Continue reading

G4C2008: mini-TED

4 talks in 40 minutes.

Suzanna Samstag Oh (Global Contents Forum) — games for change (“practical games”) in Korea… need for psychological research.

Cindy Poremba (digital media theorist, Concordia University) — is there a game analog of film documentaries? e.g. embedding documents in Brother-in-Arms game. bringing evidentiary materials into a game to convey complexity, multiplicity. DocGames.com

Ken Perlin (Dp’t of Computer Science and Media Research Lab, NYU) — design factors (cognitive, emotional, socio-cultural), deployment context (integration, support), expanded definitions of educational outcomes including affective. Storytelling and entertainment’s power to transform. See ICED game corresponding to The Visitor.

Wendy Cohen (Manager of Community and Alliances, Participant Media) — see Participant’s “pro-social” mission. Now launching takepart. Looking for distribution avenue for games.  wendy at takepart.com

G4C2008: alternate reality games for change

Puzzle solving != problem solving
Simulation for “what if” scenarios: direct the “what if” at social issues, values, concerns
Goal driven vs. purely narrative experience
TINAG vs. explicit game experience

World Without Oil: Rather than teaching that oil dependency is bad, instead ask how an oil shortage would affect your (real person’s) life.

ARGs are more self-aware as an active agent in culture — not a box off the shelf to be consumed. Also as inherently collaborative, interactive.

Content as most expensive, least interesting part of ARGs — get the players to create the content.

G4C2008: values at play lunch workshop

At lunch, Mary Flanagan walked us through a very simplified version of the Values at Play process. Each table of participants picked one “Value” card and then identified existing games that highlight that particular value. (Ours was “Privacy” — we came up with such games as poker and just about every other card game). This warmup was to help flex our minds around the ubiquitous presence of values in games. Then we drew a second card naming an existing game which we were to mod to include the value from Card 1 (we drew “Monopoly”).

Some of the designs I found most interesting coming out of this very brief process (maybe 10 minutes) explored the tensions around each value (e.g. setting up incentives to defect from cooperation to build conflict over the value). We didn’t come to a proposal for modding Monopoly to address privacy, but we played with mechanisms where both protecting and revealing information would give the player strategic advantages. Perhaps each player has a secret goal that, if accomplished, would grant that player bonus points at the end.

I found the Values @ Play process fascinating and rich, and hope to be able to play with it at one of our upcoming meetings.

G4C2008: values at play, applied

Celia Pearce (Georgia Tech) aims to cultivate “critical play” — especially difficult to break “gamers” out of their mold. Following are student games emerging from V@P process.

  • Robin Hood Portal Mod: Portal mechanic, avoidance verb, generosity value, class division problem. (Apparently, using portal mechanic to steal stuff and decide what to do with l00t).
  • Rockasaurus Rangers: Developed without the cards but values made aware from earlier learning. Main value: cooperation. Appropriated Rock Star-like mechanic.
  • Heroin Shooter: Appropriate WarioWare mechanic — minigames to prepare to shoot up. Two outcomes: (1) withdrawal; (2) overdose. No “win state.” In this game, danger of “Landlord Game” (inspiration for Monopoly) — game that made exploiting the renters fun.

Tracy Fullerton (USC) applied V@P curriculum in intermediate course to “small games with big ideas.” Main focus on verbs and values (tried to avoid existing mechanisms). Initial ideation followed by formal playtesting at design (not interface) with outsiders. Some ideas that did or didn’t make it through the process:

  • Pilgrimage: miracles and suffering to create belief
  • Cante, Florezca: nurture a plant in Picasso’s apartment
  • Leaving: about a breakup — praising and trust — different actions have different effects at different points in time.
  • Welcome to 35th St — subverting and autonomy — choices on how to deal with gang members, striking the balance between becoming threat and victim
  • Frankenfarmer — nurturing, politics — parody of Monsanto’s business
  • Hush — singing, human rights — mother calming babies to hide from 1994 Rwanda genocide. Won the first Make a Better Game contest.

Jamie Antonisse and Devon Johnson described the process of creating the Hush game. Singing as a very personal mechanic. Inspired by Darfur is Dying. Going for a powerful and personal experience. Make use of the universal experience of mother and child for emotional impact, possibly emotion as a gameplay element.

(I strongly recommend experiencing Hush — I would love to discuss this one at our next meeting. Pay particular attention to the sound design).

G4C2008: values at play

Mary Flanagan (Tiltfactor, Values @ Play) — “a humanistic approach to game design.” How to think about / change existing gameplay to incorporate human values? How to embed human values/principles into design processes such as game design? Some of the values include privacy, creative expression, diversity, cooperation/, commons, community/collective decision making, altruism/sharing, inclusivity?

V@P recreating iterative design process to examine human values.

Studies to test impact of V@P curriculum on designers. “Grow a game” brainstorming cards. (Verbs, Challenges, Games, Values). Stages of Concern Instrument to measure changes in attitudes about values-conscious design.


  1. The big issue with making activist games is a perceived conflict between fun and the seriousness of the social issue (don’t want to make light of that issue). Going too serious leads to strange unintended consequences, e.g. Jena 6 game ends up seeming racist — therefore need to maintain the values.
  2. Students’ three strategies: (1) the unwinnable game; (2) appropriate mainstream games for activist purposes; (3) most difficult to accomplish — invent new mechanics

See V@P public contest — deadline July 1.

G4C2008: some genre terminology

On a panel on “Journalism, Games, and Civic Engagement,” Asi Burak of Impact Games (Peacemaker) suggests the following tags for interactive media, which he distinguishes from “games”:

  1. Editorial short-form — Ian Bogost’s “Persuasive Games” (I’m curious what Ian thinks of this tag)
  2. Advocacy short-form — Darfur is Dying, Starbucks’ environment game
  3. Long-form advocacy — Peacemaker, A Force More Powerful — goal is to come out with the realization, “It’s more complex than I thought”
  4. Community interaction — World without Oil

Other possible terms: “Experiential storytelling,” “Interactive infographic”? One audience member points out that games usually have meaningful choice, a magic circle, a win state that some of these examples do not.

I’m not sure I would put A Force More Powerful in the “Advocacy” camp since its main focus is to teach strategy (not just demonstrate complexity), but as Asi points out, both that title and Peacemaker have a “bias for peace” built into the design. (In AFMP, demonstrations that go violent is a Bad Thing).

Another journalism game: Joellen Easton of American Public Media demonstrated Budget Hero, which allows players to set their own goals through selecting a “badge” (e.g. national security, universal health care). It’s particularly interesting to me that these goals (and thus, the underlying values) cannot all be met, which for me is a criterion for a “meaningful choice.”

APM is also finding that players of Budget Hero are significantly younger than consumers of other public media: 53% are 18-35.

Why a game: Player experiences tension between own assumptions and the facts built into the game (assuming vetted facts are correct) — Joellen. Limitations of traditional media that lack context, cause-effect — Asi.