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What is interesting about games?

I ask myself this question because after doing a lot of work (soon to be published!) on Portal I found myself in a bit of a lull when it comes to being reflective about my gaming experiences or doing games analysis. It might just be an understandable reaction to being done with an intensive project. It might also be a reflection of my gaming practices. I haven't been playing much and when I have I've been doing LOTRO quests with my partner. This is a lot of fun, but I've always felt that I don't really play MMO games "correctly". I'm not really interested in making friends or playing with others, I've used LOTRO basically as a chance to role play with a few select friends. The MMO phenomenon is such that there is interest in research about these games, but I can't really tie what researchers or librarians are interested in with the way I like to amuse myself in the game world. As a consequence, I haven't really come across any new parallels between what instruction librarians and game developers do or found any new perspectives on how teachers can use gaming culture to connect with students.

I did have my students read Gerald Graff's essay Hidden Intellectualism (versions of this essay that can be found in his books Clueless in Academe and They Say, I Say) and it reaffirmed my conviction that teachers who can get their gaming students to recognize the critical thinking that goes into their gameplay for what it is will have an great opportunity to transfer those skills to academic work. I think this is important, but there isn't anything new about games in this particular line of thinking.

So maybe I need to look at another approach. I've been analyzing the structure of games and how successful tutorials are designed. I've avoided, up to now, looking at narrative or storytelling in games. However, with the games I have lined up to play next: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, Fallout 3, and The Witcher: Enhanced Edition narrative, interaction, and storytelling/creating are some of the things these games do best. I'm just not certain how that ties in with library instruction.

Another thought is ethics in games. This is another subject I've shied away from partially because the public discourse on the subject is banal and partially because I'm having trouble articulating my ethical framework these days. Still, I was invited to a departmental party the other day and had a brief, but interesting conversation with a digital ethics instructor who wanted to use Manhunt 2 as his example of ethics in games. I really struggled to find a way to communicate why I could think of almost nothing interesting to say about that particular game and ethics. (The game simulates a snuff-film reality show.) I settled on explaining that it just isn't a good game by any measure and he might want to look at a higher quality example of a game, such as Bioshock, when talking about ethics in games.

Thinking about this conversation, I realized that I'm not so much annoyed by the way we talk about gaming ethics as I'm annoyed by the way we talk about ethics in general. Listening to what a person or group has decided is good/bad is not interesting. Listing to how a person or group sets ethical priorities is interesting. Why is it that as a culture we don't seem to be able to do more than express our indignation and outrage at either the deplorable actions portrayed in Grand Theft Auto IV and/or the censors who want to legislate a lowest-common-denominator groupthink by restricting games that don't reinforce the values of the existing cultural hegemony? Surely we can do better.

What do you all, my valued readers, think? What is interesting about games? I'm not so much asking what makes you want to play a particular game, I'm asking what makes you want to talk or think about games.

Fall is here, the new games will be soon

Which means that a new semester has started here on campus. It also means the release of AAA titles from the major game developers. I have zero time to game these days and the time I steal from more important obligations to play games has all been sucked up by LOTRO. That is fine by me, since N. has picked up the game as well, so gaming-time has become time spent hanging out w/ my partner. On the other hand, I have NO IDEA what I'm going to do when long awaited titles like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, Fallout 3, and Left4Dead, come out.

I have a post about the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. that has been sitting around in draft form for months, I'll try to get it ready for y'all, but I loved that game for so many reasons, I can't believe I'm not foaming at the mouth for an update to the world of the zone. As for the other games, I suppose I should explain why I  have been anticipating them so highly. Fallout 3 looks great, I loved the originals when they were new, but unlike most of the fanboys, I'm not so worried that they will stray from the original formula as I am afraid that the original formula is a lot more appealing to the late 1990's version of myself than the 2008 version. Left4Dead: valve and zombies, what is not to love? My only concern is that it is so skill-based that I won't have the time to become good enough to help my team-mates. Team Fortress 2 was great, but it was more fun the more I learned how to integrate my tactics w/ my team. There is zero chance that I'll be able to play L4D as much as I played TF2 when it came out, and I think the learning curve in L4D will be steeper.

Sorry content has been so non-existent lately, hopefully more will be coming soon. Until then, Certis has started a great conversation on the upcoming release schedule on Gamers with Jobs, and Chad at Library Voice has an interesting new conversation today on libraries collecting games.

LOEX of the West Presentation Feedback

Since giving my presentation on Portal and student learning Friday, I've been reflecting on how the presentation went. I am guardedly pleased. I think my concept was good and my content were good and these are probably the most important outcomes for me. However, I did realize that if I'm going to give a presentation that highlights the importance of assessment of instruction design, it should follow that I model that behavior and write a little bit about the assessment data I received from my wonderful audience at LOEX of the West.

Most of the feedback I received was highly positive. This, of course, feels very nice. However, I think most of us know that positive feedback isn't terribly valuable when it comes to modifying our practice. I want to thank my generous audience for the nice things they wrote to me, they are appreciate very much, but I also want to focus on the suggestions and negative feedback. I also want to thank the folks who took the time to suggest how I can improve my presentation skills. This feedback is valuable and you did not need to take the time to let me know, so thanks for that!

The comment I've spent the most time thinking about had some gratifying things to say about my content, but complained that I talked for the entire 75 minute session. This was disappointing for an instruction conference.

This point is well taken. I spent much less effort and preparation on how I presented that I did on what I presented and the commenter was absolutely correct that this is poor instruction design for most of our classrooms. I'm a little torn on this one and there are things I could write to justify my choices, but I don't think being defensive is going to help me here. I focused waaay more on my content than on my presentation and my priorities showed. At very least I should have been more creative w/ my presentation. I'll work on it.

Several commenters gave feedback on my slide design. Yes, they were text heavy and did not outline enough. Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa. Choosing to use quotes instead of recorded interviews helped this, but basically I suck at reducing complex thoughts to bullets that don't clutter a 1024x768 screen. I'm a very texual boy and in my defence I'll just say that making complex points display simply without distorting them is a fairly high level activity. But I'll keep trying.

Another note on the slideware, I don't use PowerPoint. For this presentation I switched from S5, a public domain set of css definitions that allow web pages to display like slide to Zoho Show. I LOVE Zoho as an online office software suite. It is way better than Google Docs. I recently read that Zoho used the S5 standards for making their show product so I thought I would try it out. I didn't count on losing access to the code, and thus not being able to make changes when the wysiwyg interface wouldn't do what I wanted. In a perfect world I would have given myself enough time to switch to a tool I could manipulate better. On the other hand, I am very fond of a few Zoho Show features, including the ability to embed in web pages. Keep working Zoho team, it is a good product, but you aren't quite there yet. (

I'll keep working on my slide design as well. Time to revisit Tufte on PowerPoint, I think. I don't use slides in the classroom, usually I'll use a web page. Perhaps I should stop using slides at conferences and just go with what I'm confortable with.

Other comments were positive and made me feel gratified. I was especially pleased to be thanked for not taking the fun out of Portal. It IS fun and I decided just not to talk about any of those aspects since the best way to ruin a joke is to explain it. I'm really glad that choice payed off.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who came and to everyone who gave me feedback. I'm taking it seriously.

LOEX of the West

Here I am in glorious Las Vegas. Of course I'm living in a dorm and staying up late editing a paper with an eye to the deadline, so while I am experiencing deja vu, it sadly isn't of Dionysian revelry.

I'm giving my presentation on Portal and the analysis of video games with an eye to pedagogy and instructional design in a couple of hours. I'm excited and I think it has come together well.

My presentation materials are available here: