Every so often, while in a fit of agita, I run across a nugget that I appreciate just as much as when I first found it. Richard Van Eck is a frequent author of these treasures, and so it was today.
About a year ago, a question popped up on the serious game listserv run by Ben Sawyer. The discussion actually had to do with guided learning/discovery learning, but detoured at one point to scaffolding as a component of serious game design. Richard offered the following thoughts:
Regarding the idea of scaffolding a game, I would encourage us all to also consider how games provide scaffolding already, and to incorporate those strategies. First, games almost always begin with a tutorial which walks you through the main interface components and skill demonstration. Second, games often provide learner control over challenge (a la Malone and Lepper) in the form of selecting amongst levels of difficulty (usually akin to easy, medium, and hard). Third, games invariably proceed from the simple to the complex, require small, graduated steps in skill level until we "level up", at which point we usually face all the challenges of the first level plus increased challenges that require new learning (e.g., combination of a run and jump comm[a]nd in an action game, or combining two items in inventory to make a third thing). And this does not include the myriad of other features in the game that provide feedback and guidance (direct and indirect) such as journals that are automatically updated with important information, the availability of goal reminders (e.g., Bioshock or Neverwinter Nights), text options for possible actions, etc. So if we are going to scaffold learning in games, we need to [be] cognizant of the ways of scaffolding that are appropriate for games, and to make use of established tools and game strategies to do so.
And all of these ideas are just limited to what is part of the game itself--the game manual, cheats and walkthroughs, and game player social communities are also all arguably part of the game, and certainly allow players to self-regulate access to assistance (a kind of self-imposed scaffolding, I think).
I appreciate not only Richard's discussion of scaffolding, but his wholistic view of the game. If each of the components he refers to are also part of the game, then aren't they also part of the learning? Both learning about and learning from the game? Since these components often provide the player's "intro" to and "outro" from the game, don't these component's also have a good chance of influencing learning transference?
Good reminders, Richard. Thank you.
Purdue University has announced the opening of its Center for Serious Games and Learning in Virtual Environments. A reception is being held February 12 to mark the official opening.
As readers know, I have many times decried the lack of formal programs for those wishing to study the design and implementation of games and other immersive environments for learning. Kudos to Purdue and Dr. William Watson for bringing this center to life.
Things are looking scary out there. First Electronic Arts, then Sony, now Microsoft - not to mention tens of smaller studios - have all moved forward (?) with plans to cut back, even eliminate, game studio personnel. Projects are being mothballed, titles have been removed from catalogs.
This is not the time for those of us on the learning and productivity side of the map to waver. The solutions our industry offers are precisely what is called for in this era of diminished resources and changing priorities. We bring people together; we foster communication, collaboration, creativity and efficiency. We advance "green" initiatives by reducing, if not eliminating, the need for travel. We advance knowledge, and the application of knowledge and know-how to everyday problems, large and small.
Rather, now is the time to heed the words of the great abolitionist, Harriet Tubman:
If you are tired, keep going; if you are scared, keep going; if you are
hungry, keep going;
if you want to taste freedom, keep going.
Bill Brandon, editor at the eLearning Guild just reminded me about Albert Mehrabian's conclusions regarding how humans determine whether we like one another. Mehrabian and his colleagues wanted to determine the relative influence of facial expressions and spoken words in human relations. After various experiments where subjects read words, listened to words spoken, and watched someone speak specific words, Mehrabian et al. concluded that the totality of interpersonal communication is conveyed:
To be sure, these exact numbers can and have been challenged. But the relative influence of these communication modalities is generally accepted.
These findings have important implications for those designing immersive environments. Take, for example, a frequent in-world situation where a user must gather information and apply it in a new, potentially ambiguous context. The designer must decide the best way to present the new information and the best way to present the context for the user to apply it. Is a block of text the right way to set this up? Perhaps voice-over will assist in smoothing out ambiguities. Maybe an NPC with a facial expression or a gesture will be necessary to convey the full meaning, particularly when feedback is involved.
The process of design can be greatly informed by this awareness, as well. How do you develop and review storyboards? Is this an entirely paper-based process? Or, do you do storyboard walkthroughs with reviewers taking different "roles" so that the review is active, participatory, and more "life-like"?
While these details may seem to be more trouble than they're worth, it's this attention to detail that can make the difference between a transformational experience for your users and just another (maybe) learning event.
Health Games Research: Advancing Effectiveness of Interactive Games for Health is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) that funds research to enhance the quality and impact of interactive games that are used to improve health. The goal of the program is to advance the innovation, design and effectiveness of health games and game technologies so that they help people improve their health-related behaviors and, as a result, achieve significantly better health outcomes. In this round of funding, approximately $2 million will be available to support outstanding research projects that study one or more games designed to increase physical activity and/or improve self-care.
Go here to see the Call for Proposals (PDF). Proposals are due April 8, 2009.
Do you have a great serious game concept? Looking for a reason to build it? How about world-wide renown and a pile of money - is that reason enough? OK - I'm stretching it a bit, but this is a great chance for students and professionals to try their hands at designing and developing a serious game. Prizes will be awarded!
Whosegame, an alpha version from Orange (a French? developer), intends to be a portal for serious games built in Flash. In this early stage of the portal's life, a serious game design contest is being conducted at the site.
According to the site, "[y]ou can submit as many serious games as you want on the following topics:
They even give you some examples to get your imagination going.
C'mon now - you have 3 months. Any professors out there looking for a class project?...
We have some new contract announcements in the Opportunity section. Be sure to check them out. But be warned - deadlines are looming.