Posts tagged 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

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:

links and thoughts on roleplaying and identinty, but mostly links

What are the connections between the roles we assume in games and our own?

Four writers from 1up talk about the roles they choose to play and what these choices may signify.

Stephen Tolito started the conversation by asking a question.

I don't have a full answer to this yet, but the question is worth thinking about. Certainly this is an excellent way to start mining gaming experiences for self-reflection and understanding. For example, when given a choice I tend to favor slighter, more physically frail characters rather than ones that resemble the governor of California or the former governor of Minnesota. Why is that? It might have something to do with the fact that I am a rather large man who colleagues on the job are roughly half my size. I stand out. So when I role play, I'll choose to be Locrian Ajax, rather than Telamonian Ajax.

In any case, this sort of character analysis is interesting and I'd like to return to it soon. Stay tuned.

Lord of the Rings Online

At least once a year from when I was around ten years old until some time after I went away to college, I read through J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I read as much of Tolkien's work as I could find in the local library. I loved the Silmarillian and delved happily into the history of Middle Earth, Valinor, and Westernesse. When Peter Jackson made his wonderful films, I was very happy, but the films didn't kindle the same love for Middle Earth I remember from childhood. I enjoyed the films tremendously, but my enjoyment stemmed more from nostalgia than from fresh affection.

Recently, I have been playing the Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), a computer game where thousands of players log into a computer-generated simulated Middle Earth and role play at being hobbits (or elves, dwarves or humans. I prefer hobbits.) I'm surprised by how much I enjoy immersing myself in Middle Earth. My enjoyment, both of the game play and returning to Tolkien's Middle Earth, is real, fresh, and first hand. I'd like to figure out why my experience playing a game feels so different from watching a film based on the same source material. Perhaps trying to answer this question will tell us something about the nature of games as media.

It can be easy to dismiss games as literature or texts since it is rather difficult structurally to tell a story with a game. Books are a linear media, we start in the upper right-hand corner of page one and read left to right through the pages sequentially until we reach the end of the last page. Films start on the first frame of reel one and continue frame by frame in sequence until the last reel has played. Writers and filmmakers have to work very hard to escape the linear constraints of their media. Not so with games (or digital video). There is nothing in the structure of the media that forces a game to start at the beginning and move through a series of events in sequence until the end is reached. At least, not necessarily so. Certainly many games are linear or they use linear devices and techniques to tell a story. Perhaps this is because writers and creative talent have polished their art creating for linear media. Perhaps this is what audiences have come to expect. Traditional rules for creating a plot involve linear motion: introduction, conflict, climax, denouement. Stories happen in a certain order. Games don't have to happen in a certain order. In fact, the interactive nature of games may make them a less-suitable vehicle for conveying a plot than traditional story-telling methods.

In many ways, this has been seen as a disadvantage for games. Creative minds have tried to tell stories with games and often when familiar stories have been re-told in games they have been less compelling than the books or movies that spawned them. If Peter Jackson had tried to make a game out of Frodo's quest to destroy the ring, I have no doubt it would have been beautiful and technically impressive, but I am not certain it would have been fun to play. Being locked into the choices made by Frodo or the other characters doesn't really take advantage of the freedom that interactive games offer. Game players have come to expect the ability to affect the outcome of their games. The story quite likely would have felt wooden and forced when it forces them to follow the pre-scripted plot.

This is where LOTRO shines and this is why I find the game version of Middle Earth so much more compelling than the film version. Instead of connecting me to Middle Earth by placing me inside of the story, the game allows me to create my own stories inside the world that Tolkien created. I can make choices and interact with an environment that feels true to the world I read about as a kid. Larger themes such as tragedy and loss from decline of civilization, the pleasures of rustic living, and moving forward by looking back come through much more clearly.

This is also where many points of contemporary art and thought converge. Textual critics have long asserted that literature and art are greater than the author's intent. MMORPGs are a new kind of literature that move away from being determined by a single author and empower the reader to actively participate in creating the text. Web 2.0 is changing the mass media from one-way transmissions to global conversations. Games scenarios played online with other people do not play out the same each time. The audience helps write the script. Perhaps games, especially massive online role-playing games, are part of the logical progression of literature. I'm not ready to make that claim just yet, especially since the things that I love most in LOTRO are echoes of what I read in Tolkien's books. I can say that interacting inside of a re-creation of Tolkien's world is a much more satisfying experience than watching someone's film recreation of the same world.

Why I’m interested in Games and Pedagogy

(Originally Posted at
For quite a while, I was very happy to keep my pastimes and my work separate. Bicycling, motorcycle travel, GPS geekery, and zombie survival strategy don't really intersect with my professional life, so why should computer games? So during the day (and often into the nights) I would be an instruction librarian and in my free time I'd play games and contribute to an on-line gaming community. In fact, being on the tenure track meant that my gaming had to be strictly rationed. There wasn't (and isn't) much time for play.

Still, there were intersections. Our campus recently began a lower-division program. Previously, our students were juniors, seniors, and graduate students only. Preparing for our new students included reading the research on educating the students formerly called millennials. I began to wonder if these students' reluctance to trust published materials over Web 2.0 collaborative materials had something to do with the way gamefaqs, visual walkthroughs, and gaming communities provide more accurate and more up to date information on games than published game guides do, and are free to boot. Growing up with this experience likely has some lasting effect on how students evaluate information sources. (I still think this would make a great study, if anyone wants to put together a survey and try to get something published, let me know.) Occasionally, other connections would be made. Online conversations about Bioshock with college students helped me frame my own about teaching strategies for presenting critical thinking and textual analysis to my students. Playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and then re-reading the Strugatsky brothers' Roadside Picnic and then tracking down Tarkovsky's Stalker created an interesting web of themes and settings across media and made a great case for the maturation of games as a media format and / or art.

Still, I rarely mentioned games or gaming at the reference desk or in the classroom. Then I played Portal. Then I thought about how Portal teaches players how to use the Aperture Science Hand-Held Portal Device. Then I listened to the developer's commentaries and heard game designers talking about assessment, scaffolding complex learning goals across multiple lessons, designing assignments to reinforce particular skills, and engaging students in their learning . Here was a game doing many of the things the smartest instruction librarians I know have been encouraging us to use in our information literacy instruction. A realization came: Valve is doing it better than I am. Librarians have something to learn from game designers. My guilty pleasure just may have a place in the academy.

So I've integrated my hobby into my profession. I've had a conference proposal accepted to analyze Portal for teaching techniques, and another, with a colleague, to discuss integrating techniques games use to teach players into how librarians teach patrons. Currently I'm doing a lit review and reading how my colleagues are doing great work in this area. (I'm behind the curve, but I'm catching up!) I'm using examples from my own research w/ students, mainly because saying "video games" gets the attention of 19 year olds much more effectively than saying "information literacy". I'm using the excellent example of visual walkthroughs to influence how I design handouts and class web pages.

Summing up, I've been thinking about games and libraries because I'm interested in student learning. I've realized that the core ideas behind some of the library instruction buzzwords (assessment, scaffolding, project-based learning, community learning) are being put to excellent use by game designers. I need to develop a better understand of learning theory and information literacy. Studying how games teach players seems to be an excellent way to understand how librarians can best teach our patrons.