Friday, January 31, 2014

The productive struggles in defining 'play'

Defining Play:

After a recent class I became wildly obsessed with trying to define play. I crowd sourced my co-workers and came away with some pretty interesting conversations.  In an exchange of ideas I had a co-worker ask, "well how do you define what animals do? For example, when we see two lion cubs playing is that play?" My other coworker said "no that is actually practicing, they are practicing fighting but, we've labeled it adorable play". This then sent me on a thought process of playing as practice, which as it turns out some researchers and intellectuals have already discussed.  I read “In the Laws, for example, Plato views play as a form of anticipatory socialization. If children were to become builders, he suggested, they should play at building houses”(Brehonyk, 2008). I found this was similar to how lions play in our discussion. I then stumbled on some research papers that detailed a brief history of play which was as a good starting point for my own definition.

First the classical theories. Dr. Verenikina,Dr. Harris and Dr. Lysaght writes “according to the earliest classical theory, ‘surplus energy’, humans play when they have excess energy, Schiller, a German philosopher, defined play as the aimless expenditure of exuberant energy” (Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)

The theory above was then questioned to mean quite the opposite sometime later. “Play as recreation or relaxation theory, like the surplus concept relates to energy levels. However, the recreation school of thought theorized play serves to restore energy. The last classical theory I wanted to highlight was the Recapitulation Theory. Recapitulation claimed children play to relive the evolutionary past, like swinging, climbing, and fighting which all come from what they view as our ‘animal stage’.(Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)

After reading these, I gained insight to the historical concepts of “play” but mostly from a rudimentary level focused on energy expulsion. This still did not help me with the creation of my own definition. It was hard for me to use the classical theories in forming my own meaning. This lead me to my brief review of modern theories.

After going through more research I found the psychoanalytical concept.

“Focusing on the emotional domain of development psychoanalytic theorists such as Anna and Sigmund Freud looked at play in terms of catharsis.( which if you needed a reminder definition like I did is: the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.) Psychoanalytic perspectives explain the value of play in allowing children to express negative emotions that relate to situation in which they have no control. Play is seen to provide a safe context for expressing these emotion and gaining a sense of control”(Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)

While sometimes I couldn't quite wrap my head around psychoanalytics this definition brought up some interesting thoughts. Does gaming create a controlled sense of power for the player? Is that part of the draw? Is that why we can harness the power of gaming or play in education for positive learning results? To be honest, personally I have no idea that is where deeper research on my part is needed. I am new to this entire field study and taking it one day at a time.

I found John Huizinga (1950) discussed a new understanding of play as an activity that exists only for its own sake.

“According to Huizinga, an activity is play if it is fully absorbing, includes elements of uncertainty, involves a sense of illusion or exaggeration, but most importantly, true play has to exist outside of ordinary life. I like this definition. Furthermore, I enjoyed the modern definition of play as being “characterized as a spontaneous, self-initiated, and self-regulated activity of young children, which is relatively risk free and not necessarily goal-oriented. Play is intrinsically motivated” (Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)

Alot of the information tied play to early childhood development.  Below you will find more thoughts on play in a specific childhood development theory from Theories of play. Retrieved from
Expansion of Social Contacts or Relationships with Others
Play is the work of childhood. Even if you disagree with the paradox, it is clear that infants and toddlers relate with others through play. Moms and Dads play with little  babies. Older infants explore their immediate surroundings by playing with toys. Toddlers like to run, jump, and climb - a form of sensorimotor play. Young children learn to relate to peers using simple games such as Simon Says. The  ext lists 6 criteria that define the nature of play in childhood.
  1. Child's play is intrinsically motivated because youngsters find it enjoyable.
  2. Child's play is pragmatic. Children are more  interested in the process of playing than in the product of play.
  3. Child's play is creative and nonliteral; it resembles  real-life activities but is not bound by reality.
  4. Rules govern most of children's play, but they are implicit. When children are playing "school" they all  seem to understand the rules, but seldom are they stated as in a game of chess.
  5. Spontaneity is an important element of child's play, it occurs freely and is under the control of the child.
  6. Play is a behavior that is free of emotional distress.

While this was a good start to understanding why children play, I have a hard time explaining what it is that makes me still like to (and want to) play as a thirty year old (with no signs of slowing down). I disagree with play as a behavior that is free of emotional distress. I have seen play between children grow into emotional distress on more than one occasion, which may just be an outcome of interaction instead of the play itself. There is a game called Dark Souls that is painfully difficult, on purpose. So difficult in fact, I have gotten emotionally stressed trying to beat it, part of the stress was I was being beaten, and it touched on a feeling of inadequacy for not being able to best a mere game. When I lose to another person I can say to myself train harder, or that person is better than you, when losing while playing a game I don’t find that same comfort.  I find that to contradict play is free of emotional distress. I think the more video games embrace the art of interactive storytelling, the more emotions they will be able to illicit in this new modern age of technology ‘play’.

Those 6 criteria are defining the nature of play in childhood. I began to think maybe we can define the nature of play in adults.  When I started to search if any type of research has been done into the nature of play in adults, I found a little bit of a dead end. Maybe someone can help me find research for this topic if any exists, and if not maybe someone can direct me how to be the first to start researching haha. It is possible that the extensive research done on "play" mostly what it is and what it isn't, is non-age specific. I did find papers detailing the importance of having an imagination as an adult, which would lead me to believe there is an importance that adults still engage in play on some level.

To answer the question what is play I find myself being sucked into the popular world of researchers and academics before me defining what play is not. I do not want to do that, I want to define what play is to me. Play to me is safe escapism where i'm free to correlate my own meanings and create my own reality.  This just happens to be possible with playing educational games, simulations, role playing, and other forms of "games". I can create my own civilization and play economics, but it’s still a safe escape where I can create my own understanding and not worry about bankrupting actual people or starting a geopolitical war. Similar to playing 'war', I would be safe. I would also have created an escape where I can pretend to be the hero. I said in the class discussion a definition I'd like to stick with, Play is the ability to engage in a set of actions and interactions where learning and other outcomes are achieved through a nontraditional approach that focuses more on imagination, engagement, and participation in alternate realities. All of this is to achieve a desired outcome. Outcomes that can be reward, learning, or relaxation based.  Whether it’s competitive, goal oriented, simulation, high score or open ended.  I guess I think of play as an open ended definition that can't be pigeon holed to mean unproductive or outcome-less b/c a structured play like we're engaging in right now (I stated this during a class session in Second Life, where we were virtually having this ‘play’ discussion, ironic right!) can be both.

For my definition of game, I'd like to follow the classical definitions. A game is something that has rules, definitions, outcomes or goals. Something that has an achievable effect that makes participants want to 'do' something, be it, win, gain points, or avoid a bad outcome that would result by failing to adhere to the rules.

While I only referenced direct quotes I want to include additional reading that has lead to this epic definition quest:


BREHONY, K. (2008). Theories of play. Retrieved from             

Gordon, G. (2010). What is play? In search of a universal definition. Play and Culture, 8, 1-21.

Verenikina, I., Harris, P., & Lysaght, P. (2003). Child's play: computer games, theories of play
and children's development. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series.

Original Document with footnote citations

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Embedding Games in your Blog: Bring on the students!

Using a blog, I encourage students to follow me and share thoughts on current events I post and other business related news I will share. I also share ted talks, and podcasts. Now I have something even more to share. Games! Thats right, embedding a game into your blog turns out to be rather easy and there are a lot of different educational games that you can include. For me I found games like Papa's Pizzeria that is a flash game where students are tasked with running a business. I choose to embed for this example a game that can be for a wider audience. Here a video that might help walk you through the process.

Now try your luck at this game of memory. Enjoy!

Action Game Genre: Is there room for education?

Action games: 
The unique aspect I feel that action games have over other genres is the speed in which the game evolves. Where simulation tends to be slower build up of development, action gets right to business with its purpose. Relying on a quick reflex, fast fingers, and thought processing time not normally found in our relaxation state. Action games engage us consciously to think fast and analyze events even quicker. The best way to provide an example would be when someone would throw a ball at you and go "think fast". Once that happens you had a split second to get your hands up and catch the ball, or be hit with the ball and mocked na-na not fast enough. Action games take that approach think fast or be prepared to hit restart after the game over screen (which like the real life na-na has GAME OVER usually capitalized, bold, underlined, blinking, and taking up your entire TV or console screen. Just in case you didn't realize you were just beaten. Talk about a play on our emotion to win!)

It was hard to play these games and not see the possibility to turn these reflex action games into a reflex 'learning' action game. That is why I chose to link Math Blaster as one of my action games. Combining the shooting twitch reflex aspect as well as an educational twist Math Blaster brings in learning as a key element to the action title genre. 

The second action game I decided to link is Alpha-Attack.

 Typing the letters showing within bombs will successfully explode the bombs. You also get alpha bombs that explode everything on the screen when they start falling increasingly fast and its hard to keep up with slower typing skills. What became addicting about both games was my consciousness to the high score, and the involvement I felt when my competitiveness kicked in to achieve that high score. Here is the thing though, in order for me to achieve that high score in both games I had to become a better typer for alpha attack and better at math for Math-Blaster. genius right!  It was a play on my need to "beat" the game. This correlated perfectly with 
(  Jesper Juul's The Game, The Player, The world's article that says we have three component goals when playing a game. 1. Valorization of outcomes 2. Player Effort 3. Attachment to an outcome. Jesper Juul was speaking about games in general, but lets take a look at all three of those components from the perspective of me playing educational action games.  first I'll talk about player effort, I was engaged in playing the game because it was fun to play first and foremost. The alpha-attack game had explosions and a save the world subplot both of which spoke to my affliction to be the hero in every action movie i've ever seen. An alternate reality where I saved the planet. In this case all I had to do was type in the letter fast enough and I would be victorious. People would applaud me and I would be a hero. Attachment to an outcome was to beat the high score as well as save the world. The set up was simple, to me that was the games outcome. What about the learning outcome? Well it turns out they're synonymous when done right. I just spoke about the games outcome for me to save the world, where the learning outcome could have been make me the player (student) become better at typing, or learn the keyboard faster. Eventually be so good at typing I could play without having to look at the keys. I should note it is impossible to beat Alpha-attack if you need to constantly look at the keys. So in order for me to achieve the games goals and my personal goals of being the hero, I had to in the process become a better typer, and keyboard commander. This was a similar to math blasters.

Reflection on the action game with those thoughts, was truly a eye opening experience to the potential to marry game outcomes with learning outcomes effortlessly. They seem to blend well together when planned appropriately. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Exploring C.A.V.E Community of Academic Virtual Educators.

For my latest quest in the world of virtual education, I visited C.A.V.E. Community of Academic Virtual Educators.

Visiting cave seemed like I was visiting a trade show floor with vendors and different subject matter areas that I can walk up to and gather information. It was interesting that here I was in this virtual world walking around with that feeling. The trade show floor feeling really hit me even harder when I made my virtual character sit down and take part in a couple virtual presentation on Metaverses, and virtual learning.  Below you will find some of my tourist pictures from my C.A.V.E.  adventure.

In the picture above you can see the CAVE layout and how partners are taking part in this virtual learning journey. Don't mind my uniform, I'm petty class recruit II security officer color red on the Boise State ED TECH ship Prometheus. I know what your thinking, and yes, it's that awesome haha.  This was where I started my adventure on CAVE. 

 I took a quick superman fly over to the iNACOL presentation.  Here I took a picture of one of my favorite slides in their presentation. If you cannot make it out it reads "Every Student's Right to Online Learning Opportunity". This was a power title. Recently in a class I took we discussed the "digital divide" and I remember that assignment getting to me. I was fortunate enough to grow up with "Technology STUFF" and I'm fortunate still to have it be a large part of my life. While learning about the digital divide however, I realized we have an incredible opportunity to engage students in a virtual space and in a gamified way, and yet some learners who could use that type of learning (maybe even more than others), simply don't have access to such amenities. That, for lack of a better word stinks. It stinks maybe that type of learning environment could have been the remedy for those students. In this case those students I'm referring to as the ones who struggle in school, drop out in frustration or are just lost in the cracks, and are perhaps part of the digital divide as well.  That emotion is really what struck me when reading through that slide.

I found this slide so fascinating it literally took me off my feet (hah corny I know :-) ). While the previous slide to the presentation was kind of a bummer that brought back digital divide memories, this slide was a great representation of how far we've come and how much further we can go.

After some more walking around and taking in the sights, I found another great presentation, made even better by its waterfront atmosphere. This presentation was on meta-verses.

Much like the last presentation I sat in on, this one had its share of power quotes, such as the one pictured here.

After that last presentation I set out for some adventure. I found it.  Now you're probably wondering, I'm not so sure I'd step into the sci fi door with swirly twirlies. Me and my virtual character debated half out of fear of getting into some sort of Second Life middle earth and the other out of fear of just getting lost and not being able to find our way out. I entered. What was on the other side was VERY cool. I entered in to a Save Science world. In this world I noticed that a science teacher set it up as a place to go for students to learn about sheep and other items found on the other side of the door. It seemed to be a scavenger hunt for students to find, and it was a very interesting idea.

That is where my adventure ended. I quested into a glimpse of some of the great things Second Life has been used for in the virtual world. My question is, are these resources still being used in Second Life? They seem to have to much potential and to great an impact to be forgotten about so soon if they indeed where.  Great Stuff!

Monday, January 27, 2014

SS Galaxy Tour

Identify the purposes, programs, and social aspects of this virtual space.  If possible, interview residents or leaders of the sim to learn as much as possible.

The website attached was not functional for me. I however did google the SS galaxy and found myself here: 
I learned that the SS Galaxy is an extensive social environment where second lifers can rent out space for meetings and gatherings. Below is a picture taken from a Christmas party
Which upon hearing that you could pay real life money for Linden Dollars (Second Life Currency) to use a virtual world space, kind of gave me a mind blown moment. However, the more I looked into the offerings and information the more mind completely blown moments I started have. Lets start with wedding packages!  Yea, if you were to tell me you can pay to have a virtual wedding I probably would have said your off your rocker. Turns out I'm off MY rocker for underestimating the power of virtual worlds and those who live within them. I guess the term second 'life' is as accurate as it comes. From vacation cabin rentals to weddings the SS Galaxy has a solid business model and offers something realistically unique in a virtual environment. After the mind blown moments wore off, I kind of thought of how interesting it would be to have some business students set up a business card exchange in a virtual world as practice for setting up and event planning an actual business card exchange. Then the whole thing made sense. The idea of creating a sandbox of virtual world possibilities.  Now that I learned about the SS Galaxy, I really wanted to explore it. I was about to learn more hands on but, the SS Galaxy is quite exclusive and not at all Noob friendly. I tried to teleport there directly from the 3D game lab link when I was stopped upon entry and kindly asked to leave given my low Second Life age. I then tried the secondary link and was given a warning to comply with leaving the area again given my second life age. I'm starting to really think I have no concept or idea how much of a secondary culture with laws, bylaws, and ethics second life has created. It is very interesting to me to get a glimpse of this world. 

I think for those unfamiliar with the premise of second life they may dismiss the SS galaxies purpose as just a money making scheme to get players to buy Lindens with real money. I disagree. I think they are offering something that people want. I think they are fully taking on the role of a secondary universe. I think the social aspect that emerges from this type of destination is where the players engage in a fully operational role play. Whether they take the honeymooner package or business meeting, players fully immerse themselves in their character. This immersion is what  the draw for players truly is.  I came away from this assignment with a new found respect of the niche the Second Life developers have found for themselves. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What is important to remember when 'Gamifying' education?

After watching this video, In your blog, answer the question, "What things are most important to remember about 'Gamifying' education?"

Movies enable learning, and facilitate education. Specifically what the narrator in the video called tangential learning. Tangential learning is learning by being exposed to things in a context with which you are already interested. While we have done this our whole life, it is the first time I really thought about it in terms of education (I know terrible teachers right! Ha) What I mean was for the first time I could see video games as a new medium for inducing this type of learning in a classroom.  In my business classes, we watch some specific movies that correlate well with certain chapters. For example, in Management class when we discuss grouping, resisting change, and the psychology of the workplace, the class watches Moneyball.  Afterwards students answer questions based on the movie, which is pretty standard affair for showing movies in classroom.  This is a great movie and the students really enjoy watching the concepts of the chapter unfold, but after watching this video for assignment, I realized all of those emotions and (a-ha) moments I was trying to create through watching the movie could perhaps be done to an even more engaging degree through the proper implementation of gamifying.

What things are most important about gamifiying education? For me it is to remember that the outcome(s) should always be the persistent reasoning for gamification. What I have seen so far from those passionate about this learning theory is a mutual feeling on this importance. Once the educators have established using gaming as a tool, the next most important step to me would be design. That is why implementation, design, and strategy are extremely important to the overall process in my opinion. I have said before taking an instructional designer approach to gamifiying a curriculum or lesson would be a great strategy.  I think every learning theory understands that student success is the driving force for all decisions.

More thoughts I had were on defining what type of gaming you would like to introduce.  Are you viewing gamification as a way to re-write a curriculum that is based more on the reward foundation such as XP, badges, feedback, and ranking systems? For example,  passing a test gets you XP towards a new title in class or you use XP as extra points on a test. A type of gradual progression offered in real world terms compared to the virtual world. That type of gamifiying could be a great starting point for some teachers, but could also lead to missed opportunities. Opportunities  such as engaging students in virtual worlds where they can produce their own tangential learning.  The second idea of gaming could be, engaging students in educational "games" as the video stated for example, Math Blaster.  A third approach could be using mainstream video games to connect a learning objective. For example, this Norwegian teacher is using the walking dead game as a pathway to teach about ethics. (change captions CC to English)

 Maybe you would like to engage in all three aspects and create the ultimate gamifying experience. I think beyond what you want to do with gaming in the classroom, we can all agree it has to have a purpose, outcome, and draw meaning.

My final thought on what to remember when gamifying education is to spread the theory like a contagion. Specifically, on the benefits and potential gamifying has. The stigma of video games as an entertainment medium only will continue to grow as long as the industry continues hit billion after billion in profit growth.  More and more games will be judged and persecuted as inappropriate (maybe even with some merit).  The opportunity to use the RIGHT gaming technique and psychological process should not counteract the learning theory developing from gaming in education. Coverage of the Indie game market that is producing some of the most educational friendly games should also be presented as “gaming”. Sadly, most non-gamers view the mainstream industry as murder simulators and springboards to violence.  I am sure they never thought to read about Portal, Journey, Braid, or other games that shine a spotlight on the artistic side. Gamifying education is still about the active engagement of its learner. Much the same way instructors show movies in class, why should this form of entertainment be any different? Was Wallstreet made to be entertaining? Absolutely, it just so happened to be a great way to teach ethics much like Tobias Staaby used The Walking Dead to explore the same concept. If you ask a student which one they'd rather to learn about Ethics what do you think they'd prefer? Which one do you think would leave a lasting impression and knowledge?  Maybe we don't know these answers until we try. . .  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gamification Infographic Reflection

Assignment: Leave a blog posting about where your personal life story intersects with this history and what, if any, ideas it triggers concerning the game concept that you are developing.

 My personal life intersects with this history around the Oregon Trail time frame. Being able to play that in my desktop publishing class was a great memory of early gaming while in school. The problem was, it came pre-installed on the computers, and the teachers did not know what to do with the students who would constantly want to play it.  Instead of using it has a decision making sim and engaging us in reflection as to why we choose to forge the river, killing everyone (which could of lead to a valuable lesson in thinking things out, and decision making) my teacher used it as a reward. So there I was, finish your math problems, get rewarded with Oregon trail. It worked. The reward of playtime however, led to less than stellar performance on the typing problems and temper tantrums being thrown when some of my fellow classmates could not play. Eventually the reward of Oregon Trail was no longer an option. 

This inforgraphic triggered this emotion and then triggered a wanting to create my own game well outside my means and know-how ha. I want to create a game that puts choice at the forefront of the students, but is a sandbox open for them to create their own quests and their own story-lines. I recently read an article about a game called Dayz. It essentially drops you into a zombie apocalypse with other human players, zombies and nothing but a flashlight. There is no mission, no direction, just one goal, survive. What transpires from this is an incredible experience where strangers team together, bandits create havoc, and your hard-earned supplies could be stolen or taken from you in an instant. What makes this so engaging is when you pass away you lose everything. There is a real sense of loss, which in return creates a real sense of gain when you do find something. There is also an incredible sense of teamwork and collaboration when you find other players that just want to survive and treat each other with respect. I was able to play this game and met a stranger from Europe in my first server. I was brand new and he stalked my character for three towns. He was probably testing to see If I was going to attack him and steal his stuff as I was testing him to see if he was going to follow me until he got bored and just took everything of mine. After a while I think he realized we were both brand new to this game. Through the in game chat system I reached out. We eventually decided to head to a water tower, keeping our distance still not fully trusting one another.  Eventually we took stock of who had what and we decided to help each other. We formed a pretty instant bond, over this game, we both spoke about how hard it was to find food and how many stories we heard about human players just going around taking advantage of new players.  There is a persistent day, night cycle in the game and before you knew it, we were working together for a full cycle. We took refuge in a small cabin and discussed our inventories. If you have noticed, I have not mentioned anything about the violent encounters with zombies we had because to me that was not the immersion I was coming away with from this game experience, to be honest it was not even the best part of the game. He saved my life and I saved his twice on our journey in two real life hours.  I was surviving a zombie apocalypse with someone I had never met before. It turns out he was a new dad as well and just picked up the game as I had on a steam early access sale. Even more, he was a fan of American Hockey and we spoke about the Philadelphia Flyers while sneaking around trying to find food. All in all it was pretty awesome. We both could not devote more time to our game play session, but agreed to meet back at a free time we had the next day. There was no reason we needed to work together outside of just common human decency. I even wrote about it for a class discussion I was planning to have in my management class about teamwork. The next day I logged on, and wouldn't you know my survival partner was there, and greeted me with an extra can opener he had found so I know too could open my canned goods. It was daytime now in our game server and we decided to try and find some weapons to arm ourselves with. Cities in this game are populated with not only the humans and bandits who could end your game and take your stuff, but also more aggressive zombies.  Developers put the better goods in these cities as a kind of a bigger risk bigger reward scenario. We walked about 10 real life minutes and came to the edge of a fairly large town. In a matter of seconds, I looked at my screen to see my new friend was on the ground, and over his head set I heard, "COME ON". A bandit took him out from long range. I ran. I shared that story with my wife explaining to her in no other game did I actually feel a sense of investment being lost than when that happened. The odds of us ending up in a server together again are pretty slim, and who knows now if he'll play the game as a nice guy next time he logs in.  For me I ran away so not to lose all my stuff, and even contemplated going back at night to take his things. It was an incredible experience that forced my hand into making these types of decisions. My online friend and I made up this adventure as we went along. It was an unscripted and engrossing. I want to somehow create that type of game design. I would like it to focus on economics. My thoughts are creating something where students can trade goods, hoard goods, take over fellow countries or leave them be.  I would like it to be almost like the game Civilization, but with no direction, let the students create their own story lines and manage their country as they see fit. The catch is to be prosperous the country should need” to trade, since trade creates wealth (it is also a fundamental introduction to economics concept the students should understand). They should also need to engage in diplomacy and ally themselves together for geopolitical reasons. I would like the curriculum design elements to have gamification elements of rank, XP and badges. I want to encourage the students to reflect for xp. The more they reflect and discuss with other students the more XP they'll gain to unlock badges and maybe even items for their virtual countries. This may be WAY outside the realm of what we will get into for this class, but rewarding students for their discussion and reflection is very important in my opinion for the game I will ultimately create.  Thank you.