I’ve recently presented a research symposium and as always really valued the questions and input from the audience on the day. Unusally I was contacted a couple of weeks later with some questions from someone who had viewed my presentation online and it gave me the chance to write a more considered, less on the spot reply which really got me thinking about the prescriptive nature of designing games based activities for learning. Jotting it down here as I think I may be returning to these thoughts soon…

Do you think that the creation of games, for collaborative learning, is a prescriptive pursuit or do enjoyable, successful games emerge from a more creative position?

I think that whether it is the creation of a game for pleasure or a learning activity that incorporates game elements there is a blending together of both creative inspiration alongside a prescriptive approach. Particular with games for learning or games based activities, there needs to be a prescriptive approach for several reasons – each module or course will have specific learning outcomes and pedagogical requirements – students participating in a module will have particular learning styles and needs. These things would need to be considered in detail before any major decisions re: design could be made to ensure the activity is fit for purpose and will achieve its aim of supporting learning. That is not to say this has to be at the expense of creative input or even to allow the activity to be shaped to some extent by its participants however there needs to be a ‘prescriptive’ framework that guides the initial development. Currently in the field of games based learning there is also a desperate need for research backed up by empirical data – again this requires an element of consistency across the process of implementing games based activities or games based learning – here I mean consistency in terms of research design, methodological framework for running the activities and use of a conceptual framework in the design process to ensure all relevant points have been considered. (And, at the risk of repeating myself – sorry! I don’t think this then excludes creative input or ideas for the activity to emerge from creative processes).

With this in mind, how can games mechanics be designed to maintain the sense of play, of fun, that naturally attracts people to engage with games… again, and again?

I can give my opinion on this and how I intend to try and achieve success with the implementation of game mechanics however if I had a definitive answer I think I would be in great demand by all game designers! The challenge when designing any game or games based activity, for learning or not, is to get the balance of the mechanics right for the audience. The game mechanics need to create a sense of challenge for participants  – a way of receiving feedback on their progress, and a sense of effect on the activity they are partaking in (amongst other things). The trick is ensuring that the challenge is not too easy / hard, that the feedback in timely and appropriate and that the participant feels that they are guided enough through the game whilst having a sense of control. The only way to ensure that the mechanics employed meet these requirements is to use tools such as the conceptual framework I am implementing to consider all the different factors that may impact the game and participant characteristics. Hopefully, by doing this the correct mechanics, used at the right level of difficulty will mean you end up with a game or activity that people want to engage with (again, and again!)

I’ve recently had a break from all things work and research related to concentrate on a new addition to our family. Slowly my mind has been getting back on track and I’ve found myself writing, thinking and reading more about things not related to babies!

Watching our little girl start to learn how to grasp objects, develop hand-eye coordination and generally figure out how she relates to the world around her I was reminded of a quote that stuck in my head from some text written by Chris Crawford (1982). I went back to re-read it and to correctly post the quote here:

“Children are expected to play games because we recognize (perhaps unconsciously) the
fundamental utility of games as an educational tool. As children grow up, cultural pressures change and they are encouraged to devote less time to the playing of games so that they can devote themselves to more serious activities”.

I agree with a lot that Chris has written in this article (games as an art form, play for learning, motivations for playing games) the taxonomy of computer games section is a nice run through of many ‘classic’ games and his thoughts on the future of computer games are very accurate!

It makes me smile to read, “computer games satisfy a fundamental desire for active recreation, and as such are assured of bright future”.

But back to my original thought – at home we are frequently playing little games to encourage our daughter to learn new skills, from peek-a-boo to hide the rattle (!), and as she grows I’m certain that she will develop social skills, language skills, visualisation skills and many more through game play. Truth be told I’m quite excited as I’m hoping to get to play a lots of them with her! …. Which brings to mind one of my favourite quotes

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” ( which I believe is attributed to George Bernard Shaw)

I hope it’s true because if so I reckon I’ll be ever youthful 😀

Childs play

Childs play

Just a quick one to share what I’m thinking about at the moment …

There are many definition of game mechanics out there  – including ideas on game mechanics constraining the game play experience, motivating /engaging people to play, controlling the ‘flow’ of the game, that they are the foundations of a rule based system – and the list continues … For the purposes of my research I currently working from the following starting point:

Game mechanics are elements within games that engage and motivate people to play, this may be through intrinsic motivation, (sense of achievement) or extrinsic motivation (earning points).

Right now I’m interested in the effectiveness of intrinsic / extrinsic motivations and the impact these can have on learning patterns if implemented over a period of time.  A paper I’ve come across very recently that addresses this subject is Scott Nicholson’s ‘A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification‘ (which can be found along with other interesting articles & presentations at the blog of ‘Because Games Matter’ (A game lab in the iSchool at Syracuse University).

Next step is to go have a look on the different types of motivation we are using in traditional teaching methods as well as games based learning … more on this soon!

A study by researchers at University of Padua & E Medea Scientific Institute has reported “that only 12 hr of playing action video games—not involving any direct phonological or orthographic training—drastically improve the reading abilities of children with dyslexia” … and goes onto claim “We found that only playing action video games improved children’s reading speed, without any cost in accuracy, more so than 1 year of spontaneous reading development and more than or equal to highly demanding traditional reading treatments.”.

This study looked at 20 children with dyslexia, and split those into two groups of 10, (one playing Action video games, one group non-action video games). The groups did not initially differ on reading and attentional measurements before. After exposure to the video games, those playing the action video games demonstrated a ” increased reading speed without a cost in accuracy”. Two months later 6 of the children from the AVG group were assessed and the effect appeared to be long-lasting!

Obviously this is a very small study and it would be interesting to apply this method to a much larger group with a control group monitored undertaking standard phonological or orthographic training (however I’m not entirely sure how the ethical issues would be dealt with there ) .. still this is exciting news and demonstrated the potential that games have not only in engaging students but supporting learning for students with disability.

The full study can be found on the SciVerse database

Franceschini,S., Gori, S., Ruffino, M., Viola, S,. Molteni, M. & Facoetti, A. (2013). Action Video Games Make Dyslexic Children Read Better. Current Biology (Corrected Proof, citation details still to be confirmed)


Recently I spoke at a learning and teaching conference about digital citizenship and the importance of enabling students (and staff!) to make informed decisions regarding their online identities and increasing awareness of their digital footprint.

This got me thinking about how we construct an online identity as gamers and whether many people in the online gaming community consider their digital footprint. When participating in online games and communities usually people will choose a handle or name to play or post under, often using the same handle across different games and platforms. Through in-game interaction, and community contributions a person’s handle becomes part of their digital footprint, creating a lasting impression – for better or worse! In some cases the behaviour you express through your handle creates an impression not just of that individual but also of the ‘guild’ or other in-game group they are part of.

People who play MMO’s will often be aware of a few specific players who they may not have even met but whose reputation precedes them. This can create many preconceptions that in actuality may not be accurate  – a friend of mine recently expressed surprise at how reasonable a fellow World of Warcraft player was after speaking to them on Ventrilo, after years of seeing their comments in the general chat in-game.

Whether it’s contributing to fan art, expressing opinions on a forum, chatting in game or even leaving reviews, the language and etiquette used will contribute to an identity being formed online. Increasingly those people who have grown up in a digitally connected world (the common term is digital native .. but that phrase opens up a whole other debate for me!) are creating a digital footprint that grows up with them, crossing the boundaries of social and private – and the many sub-sections within social and private.

The concept of a digital identity and responsible digital citizenship is something I feel needs to be promoted more, especially within education where we can provide students with tools to not only benefit their online academic portfolios but also their online social interactions. Alec Couros has summed this up nicely saying “digital citizenship is a renewed view of web participation”.  Our identity as a gamer, as a scholar/academic or within a social media platform can all interlink to form a permanent digital identity.

Just as people need to be ‘streetwise’ in the physical world, so they need to be aware of the implications of being part of the ‘virtual global society’. You can argue that really we should not distinguish between the two when considering how we are presenting ourselves. Far from looking at this from a negative or scare mongering point of view, I believe we need to emphasise the many valuable interactions and collaborations that can be initiated by a positive digital identity.

various games

There’s something I need to confess …  I am interested in far too many things and am easily distracted, however, turn something into a game and you’ve got my full attention – computer games, board games, pervasive games it doesn’t matter; played on my own, in a team, with or against others, at home, in the car, at work(!) there’s something that makes me want to at least give it a go! I love games of logic and skill but equally enjoy the random nature of others, in fact there are very few ways I’d rather pass the time than by playing games of some sort!

In fact when it comes to friends, games have brought me closer to some, been an introduction to others and a fun way of keeping touch with people who have moved away. I’m a regular World of Warcraft player who enjoys both raiding and PVP, however the main reason I’m still playing now, after 5 years, is the social side to it. In that period of time close friends and family have moved hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away and WoW has meant that I still frequently ‘bump’ into them (ok – online) but we chat and hang out, catch up and have fun.

Currently I work in higher education in the UK as a Learning Technologist. I am always looking for ways to engage both staff and students with digital resources and technologies that are beneficial to teaching and learning. I have been watching the rise of ‘serious games’ for a while now and am slightly disappointed in how games based learning is being implemented. Although the concept is popular it still has a way to go to be accepted with games having pedagogically sound learning outcomes defined and linked to curriculum. Luckily it seems like I’m getting the opportunity to undertake funded research that looks at the use of games for learning (more on that soon!)- although not sure everyone would call it lucky to be taking on PhD study whilst working full-time, but hey! It should go hand-in-hand with work and avoids returning to the days of being a poor student in order to do it.

So hopefully this blog will become a space for me to voice my enthusiasm about games great and good (and not so good!), an outlet for sharing thoughts and updates regarding the research, provide interesting information for you and maybe even start a dialogue with as yet unknown people!

(oh, came across this festival of interesting games happening in Bristol this September. Looks great In their own words it’s a whole world of “street games, outdoor spectacles, mass social interaction, the reclamation of public urban spaces for play and adventure”!)