Saturday, February 25, 2006

PBI and video games

This is a "working paper" briefly discussing PBI's connections to video games.

My most immediate Place-based Inquiry project is a place-based augmented reality game for a deep-woods camp. In this project there are many influences from and connections to topics like video games, environmental education, embodiment, design-based pedagogy, sociocultural learning (communities of practice, activity theory, situated action, etc.), human-computer interface, place-based education, informal learning, etc.

What is compelling to me about video games (broadly defined to include handheld, console and computer games of all sorts) is that they can inspire hours of obsessive play and a great deal of learning about their rules and strategies. This learning takes place both in and outside of the actual game play in face-to-face and electronic interactions with friends and strangers through participation in web forums, in-game and out-of-game chat, phone calls, emails, and so on.

In studying video games, I ask "What is happening that is so compelling to motivate this?" and "What can we learn from this motivation that we can apply to other forms of learning?"

For much of my understanding of this, I draw from James Paul Gee's Learning Principles in Video Games, and the work of Rebecca Black, Katherine Clinton, Kurt Squire, Constance Steinkuehler, and others at UW-Madison. As well as John Seely Brown, Kevin Leander, Jay Lemke, and others throughout the world.

I've also begun to immerse myself in video games -- a thing I had resisted for debatable reasons -- and after a month of regular daily play in World of Warcraft, I am beginning to understand at least some of the draws of video games myself, like
  • Quests: I think people like to be directed, guided and supported in their assignments, and praised for achieving mastery.
  • Progression: building on their mastery of componenets of the quests, I think people like to have a sense of gaining new skills. People are generally curious and want to learn, but fear failure. Progression in video games is generally set up via mamy manageable levels.
  • Consequences: While I believe people are generally curious, and want to learn, I think they will often not engage in learning because the consequences for failure are, or are perceived to be, too great. Video games let players throw caution to the wind and take risks because the consequences for failure are minimized -- everyone dies in video games, and that's okay. It seems that school-based learning is in danger of taking an opposite tack on this. Failure should be a part of the daily routine, taught directly alongside of resilience, or "getting up and trying again."
There are others of course, but I'll address those in a later version of this.
The question for my current PBI project is how to create a PBI experience that has these components? One way to try to mimic an actual video game in an Augmented Reality Game (ARG), where the gamespace is not a virtual space but a real geographical space that has game elements augmented into it. Quests can be carried out easily enough, as ARGs can turn any tree into a magical tree that gives quests or quest information. It can bring the player to the edge of a real lake and augment -- with text, audio, or video -- an action, event, or interaction with a Non Player Character (NPC) that adds to the game play. Progression in geographical space is achieved and rewarded both by the tangible richness of exploring (and thus connecting with) the environment, but also is measured in real footsteps and movement. Consequences are trickier because death of the avatar is obviously not a practical option, since the player is the avatar. But failure can be achieved in other ways (wild goose chases, less than optimal efficiency, etc.), the trick is to make it compelling to the player.

I hope to map out other areas that have connections to PBI experiences. With all of these, and really, all the work I post, I'd love to hear ideas and suggestions.

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