Professor of things graphical, maker of things edible, creator of things beautiful (and functional), mothering, loving, communicating, and having fun while doing it.

Mar 172011

As this develops, I continue to learn.

I had believed that to beat the game, one graduated from the college. It seemed the correct ending to our hero’s journey. And if that was the case, then putting in the time and credit hours allowed you to win thegame.

Total rethink.

Liz pointed out that in that scenario our students can beat the game without even playing it. (I love when we have discussion that make me change my view of the world). She articulated several points, that I am sure she may better explain in another post.

This is the picture in my head.

There is the real world (as real as one believes) and the game overlay with its attendant metaphor. It is the purpose of the game to highlight certain actions, events and behaviors.

Liz has pointed me to various publications, among them “Drive” by Daniel Pink. A key idea is that when one is motivated by reward/pay that is essentially work. Intrinsic motivation, that “drive” — because the action is fulfilling unto itself — is a different thing. Recognition for these behaviors are a perk, not the goal. It feeds play. It is not pay.

Students work toward graduation. It is, in a sense, their job…even though ostensibly they are paying for it. Graduation is the logical and correct reward for this work and should be celebrated. It is separate from the game.

A return to monsters…what is the developmental boss in this  student journey? Liz, my walking font of reference material has pointed me to “Leaving college: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition” by Vincent Tinto.

I know the first year monster, and I am well aware of senioritis. I spoke with Jennifer Hinton, who is our Assistant Director of Student Experience. This is a new position dedicated to not only academic advising, but looking at all aspects of student life to ensure their success. Jen said we throw a lot of resources at students when they begin, and have much for them as they transition out. As yet, the in-between portion is not as well supported.

Back in the sad 80′s, I dropped out of college and went to work full time. It was the right thing for me at the time. If the objective of the game-if it were a game- was to graduate from the program I began, I failed. If I look at the journey not as completion to graduation, but instead maturation and getting a sense of myself and where I belong in the world, gaining independence and confidence in my abilities – I was right on time.

So the answer to the title of this post, is that I have none as yet. We are still defining the scope of the game. Feel free to chime in.

 Posted by at 8:44 am
Mar 142011

To beat the game – one graduates. So the levels really are directly related to how many credits have been completed. Do we indicate quality of the journey? or is it sufficient to see that Indiana Jones dotted line from Istanbul (Not Constantinople)?

I’m playing WoW again.

Wonder if I can get the department to pay for the account?

It’s informative.

As Thomas had rightly pointed out, it’s the surprise that causes delight. So I am fishing, and I get “100 fish!” It’s a small thing, and I was fishing anyway, but there is that marker of progression. I wasn’t fishing for that one hundred, I just got it. This came at a good time as I was fishing and thinking (because that is what one does when one fishes) about work versus play, and why I was fishing instead of killing things?

It’s an ancillary skill that nominally feeds into the larger game, but is not crucial to it. But hey! I got an achievement! Delight.

Some achievements that we can skim from their journey:

  • “Getting Better All the Time” – if the current GPA is greater than the previous quarter/semester
  • “On the Board” – an “A” was earned
  • “Well Above Water” – GPA exceeds 3.25
  • “Come Back Kid” – some formulaic way to note a considerable positive difference, say someone who was on probation but has turned that around two quarters in a row.
  • “Well Rounded” – Students often do well in their area of study, not-so-much in their liberal arts. If the gpa and the I-forget-the-name-of-the-number-for-major are basically the same, then that would indicate similar effort
 Posted by at 7:24 am
Mar 092011

Charlie pinged me to see what he could be working on (because that’s how he rolls).

Can I just take this moment to say that everyone on this project kicks ass? /aside

Told him to work on levels as actual states, and a means of indicating progress in-level. Some interesting side discussion:

  • Both he and I are accustomed to RPGs (Role Playing Games), and my gut says a descriptor of the design style of those games is “EPIC”. The word “EPIC” is not on the short list of words to describe the site nor the game. My take, is that the word feels very masculine. It’s a subtle distinction, but I think an important one.
  • FYI the adjective list is: playful, light (as in both weight and value), engaging, young, colorful, dynamic. Vision documents contain an overarching description of content objectives. The short list is vision vibe. (Note the absence of the word “EPIC”)
  • There will be levels roughly equivalent to freshman, sophomore, junior and senior levels of college. Additionally, there will be a graduate and alumni level. Faculty and Staff will be playing as well – are they a level? or a class? Should they be collapsed into one grouping? We will not be leveling as the students do. Hrmmm…I think I just answered my question. Class it is.
  • The last bit was just my assignment to Charlie – this is ideation week. We’ve already seen the XP bar in a gilded frame. How many other ways do we indicate empty to full? Dials? Multiples of things? How do we measure volume of air, liquid or solid? How do we gauge changing states of matter?  of mood?
 Posted by at 2:21 pm
Mar 082011

So I’m at my favorite bar and ask Erin, the bartender, “What would you like an achievement for?” I’ve been springing this question on random people since the project began. She answers without skipping a beat, “Random acts of kindness.”

Brilliant! an achievement one would give to someone else to recognize that unasked for something that made the day better. Not something I would get, but something I would give!

Liz said, “Yes, but…” because it is her job to be the pragmatist and to tell me that unicorns do not exist. How will you prevent 25 kids from gaming the system? What is the validity of such a system if they do? F I N E. I will make this work.

Here goes…

The hero’s journey narrative lends itself to the idea of leveling and this can be gauged with meaningful experience points. (XP) In fact, one cannot beat the game unless they graduate. This does not eliminate a subsequent alumni level, but that is so next week.

Parallel to this are badges and achievements that do not necessarily contribute to XP. These would be badges created by the players and reflect things they value.

When a player submits an achievement for acceptance, or when they submit the accomplishment of an achievement or badge, they will have to submit a story/proof of completion. The community will be able to “like” it. This unit of “like” is distinct from XP; what it indicates is street cred (CRED).

The value of CRED is that at some threshold beyond the noise, there is an indication of investment in the game. Those “like”s translate into others’ appreciation of their wit or way of doing the tasks. I say translate that CRED into a superuser (but with a sexier name).

Ultimately, the community should be self-moderating. It’s the superusers who should be the moderators.

There could be button or some way for someone to “call shenanigans”, and the superusers could sort it out. But I digress a little…

Maybe another benefit of cred is this, for x units of cred, you earn the ability to bestow a random act of kindness to someone else. So the cred is a currency used to take recognition you’ve received and reflect it on someone else. After seeing how quickly these units accrue, we can make the cost of giving that award a real sense of preciousness and honor.

What other tangible value could CRED have?

 Posted by at 10:35 am
Mar 052011

The thing about that monster in “Alien” and pretty much all horror movies — at least the good ones — is that we only get fleeting glimpses of them. They hide in the dark. They are shrouded in mystery.

We fear the unknown.

But if we make explicit our foe, identify his weaknesses, give you the skills to get at that soft underbelly, and name him “Bob” or “Enid” or “Mary”, well, that is much less scary.

Each year our students hit crucibles. Most survive them; some do not. If we propose that students are on a hero’s journey (and they are), these crucibles are essentially metaphorical bosses. While the students might think we (professors) are the antagonists in their story — the gatekeepers to the next level, we really aren’t. The things that trip them up are much more mysterious and less whackable.

For example, the first crash and burn wave happens not because freshmen are suffering from the work load, but because they are navigating through things like waking up in time to get food, cooking and cleaning after themselves…maybe dealing with budding or ending romantic relationships, and alcohol. This is not a curricular problem, this is a maturation problem with a side of F’s. Crash and burn.

It seems a little thing, but the culmination of minutiae minutes, time management, putting stuff where you can find it, and knowing what is coming altogether are what they need to beat that first boss – henceforth to be known as “Hubert”. (Cut me some slack, I am typing this in the SF airport while waiting for my plane).

So they’ll gain XP (experience), and if we design this well, we make explicit and provide a means for them to recognize that they are gaining skills and that these skills are crucial to meet that coming boss. What’s more, we expose Hubert for what he is – a morass of bad habits kluged together to suck the unwary into a pit of I’m-behind-and-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit.

 Posted by at 1:32 pm
Feb 172011

The trick is to leave it open enough so that there is the possibility of surprise. This is not that difficult, because my students often do things I do not expect nor dream.

I teach three different studio courses: emphasis on creativity, story telling, character and metaphor. I find the trick is to not to let them do anything they want, but rather give them definite constraints – then they fling themselves against the limits because then the students know the limits’ location and also it is their nature to test them.

The constraints are objective: size, scope and necessary inclusions, for example: create a 30 second animation that incorporates a minimally bipedal walk cycle, an additional loop, and has a narrative arc – no death allowed. I include the last bit because it’s too easy to make a fight-the-bad-guy-end-in-epic-blood scenario. You know they test that. “What if he melts? or implodes? or is grievously injured?” “Does the character have to walk necessarily? Could they roll? What about a peg leg?”

That said. They consistently produce work that makes me happy. Not all: but many. Some will do the bare minimum and do a literal interpretation of the constraints put forth. Still, some have the capacity to make me go home at night pleased that I have this job.

Exhibit B: The shirt woot derby. Every week, the folks at woot have a “derby” where people submit Tee-shirt designs based on a specific them with specific constraints. The community votes on their preferred designs. Discussion in the comments ensues. The best (as judged by a combination of woot staff and community) rise, and the worst are rejected.

 Posted by at 11:53 am
Feb 152011

A post by Greg McClanahan on gamasutra.

I have a confession — I used to hate achievements. It started with Xbox Live, and I was pretty sure that I was the only one. It was hard for me to articulate why exactly I disliked them so much — so many of them were just, well, bad.

Let’s toss our nostalgia aside for a moment and recognize that game design has come a long way over the past couple of decades. I loved the original Zelda, but no one is going to convince me that the process of uncovering secrets by methodically burning every single bush across dozens of screens was good game design. We’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. We’ve refined and polished concepts and gameplay mechanics.

Why, then, did we throw everything we’d learned out the window when it came time to design achievements? I think that’s what bothered me about early Xbox Live achievements more than anything — as goals, they violated too many game design guidelines. Too many of them wouldn’t make any sense as in-game goals for progressing through content….MORE

 Posted by at 3:55 pm
Feb 152011

Please welcome to the blog The Players. These are the people on team Just Press Play; the IGM faculty, students, external advisors and Darkwind Media who are giving us a technical assist.

*P.S. Matt said I should not be allowed to give myself my own achievements. I admit to giving everyone else theirs. If you have better ideas for any of us, feel free to let us know.

 Posted by at 4:43 am
Feb 142011

Scenario: The regulars (Anton, Marshall, Amy and Kyle) head down to the Cantina for lunch and there is a sign in the stairwell, “So Long and Thanks for all the FIsh.” along with a graphic. These cryptic signs have been popping up around campus for weeks. Without breaking stride Marshall talks into his phone “JUST PRESS PLAY SO LONG AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH.”

“What is it this time?”
Amy and Kyle say simultaneously. Amy adds, “Dunno how you can surf and walk down stairs at the same time.”

Marshall reports, “It’s a scavenger hunt. Things seniors should do before they leave town. We got this.”

We need to signal it’s going on. At any time there will be a variety of puzzles to solve; achievements to attain. Not all of these will be interesting nor attainable. Regardless, the information at the site has to be fresh and relevant.

  • Achievement of the day/week/some other discreet unit – some achievements may be ephemeral, or will last only as long as there is interest in it. Perhaps it is seasonal. For whatever reason, one will have to hit while it’s hot.
  • Achievements that your friends have recently gotten – because we know you’re not competitive.
  • Achievements targeted toward you – because you are a freshman, taking a particular class
  • Achievements that many people have “liked”

Additionally, there will be site specific achievements which should be signaled at their location. We can utilize smart phones or rfid bracelets to broadcast our location, and the location can talk back to us. And then there are those cryptic signs. I still like paper.

 Posted by at 2:44 am