Hi again, Reddit!

I ran my first AMA in September 2012 just after co-authoring what has become one of the most cited pieces of literature about educational gaming (Our Princess Is In Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education), and I decided it was high time I revisited the community to share what my colleagues and I have been up to for the last three years! Most recently, I’ve written, published, and presented on the educational affordances of storytelling and three chief levels of narrative (i.e., Narrative-as-Designed, Narrative-as-Perceived, and Narrative-as-Social Organizer).

In the way of background: I’m a Game Design Scientist at the University of Connecticut (here’s some proof!) and a co-founder/manager of an educational game development company, The Pericles Group, LLC. I’ve worked on a variety of game and instructional design projects with organizations including Arizona State University's Center for Games & Impact, Intel Corporation, and Pfizer, and I’m in the process of co-editing a book about video games as learning ecologies. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, gaming, hiking, graphic design, playing with LEGOs, discussing the inner workings of human consciousness, and taming velociraptors.

As of last night, my colleagues and I have launched a Kickstarter for our latest language learning game, VERBA, which comes in three flavors: Latin, English, and Español. The game plays much like Cards Against Humanity or Mad Libs but is driven by the common verb and noun usage in the target language. While it’s primarily tailored for language classrooms, we’ve found it’s also great for family game nights! If you’re willing and able, we’d love to have you join the campaign by donating or sharing the link across social media!

And now, whether it’s about games, storytelling, or human cognition, feel free to AMA!

Comments: 102 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

HacksontheEpic8 karma

What do you think of claims that video games cause sexism/violence/misogyny ect.?

DoctorSteve0312 karma

I think media outlets have (unintentionally or intentionally, depending on the source) sent the wrong message as they've worked to make games/violence research findings digestible for the general public. There's a compelling argument for a correlation between violent gaming and arousal, but there's a similar correlation between arousal and any violent media (e.g., evening news, music, religious texts, movies), and arousal due to media violence typically dissipates within 10-20 minutes of exposure. More importantly, there's a transfer barrier between game worlds and the real world that makes a causal link between violent behavior and real world lashing out pretty unlikely. (Note that this isn't to say there isn't and can't be any causal relationship, especially re: games plus misogyny, sexism, and "bad language," but the evidence about violence in particular is unconvincing.)

I actually wrote an editorial about this topic just after the Newtown tragedy--it might be a better summary of my thoughts than I can squeeze into a comment here.

ebrock21 karma

the evidence about violence in particular is unconvincing.

Is the evidence about a casual relationships between video games* and misogyny/sexism more persuasive?

*Note: I noticed when this was alluded to later in the thread, it became a conversation about how viewing video games as a monolithic entity, without acknowledging variations in quality and content, can be short-sighted. Agreed! But to clarify: I'm interested in whether you believe there to be a link between game content that most would perceive to be misogynist/sexist and the players of those games internalizing misogynist/sexist mindsets or attitudes.

DoctorSteve034 karma

I think it's a different kind of question.

Social norms are relatively easy to teach and reinforce through mentorship and immersion. With respect to games, you have characters that demonstrate sexist or misogynistic perspectives in both positive and negative ways. I think GTA: V is especially interesting here because the game is intended (I'd argue) to draw attention to the ridiculousness of sexism, misogyny, and other cultural -isms by showing them at work. Other games, though, don't take that approach and reinforce real world sexist, misogynistic, racist, and other attitudes. If you have a particular attachment to a character and their worldview, it's possible they could model attitudes and perspectives that could lead you to certain unpleasant attitudes and perspectives in day-to-day life. It all comes down to how those attitudes are reinforced in the game. All in all, games do a pretty decent job of demonstrating parallels between real world social interaction and game world social interaction (which is a problem re: sexism/misogyny/racism).

What makes violence a different animal is that physically acting out isn't veridical to what players do during play. Firing a gun, stabbing someone, running them over with a car--none of these are directly simulated when you use a controller. The vast contextual differences between the game world and real world just make transfer unlikely to occur. It's not impossible, but it doesn't fit with what we know about the rarity of far transfer.

TL;DR: It's probably easier for us to learn social skills/attitudes from games and harder to learn and act out violent behaviors.

ebrock21 karma

All in all, games do a pretty decent job of demonstrating parallels between real world social interaction and game world social interaction (which is a problem re: sexism/misogyny/racism).

Fascinating stuff. If you have a second, quick follow-up: does this distinguish game-playing from other forms of media? (i.e., Does playing a character, rather than simply appreciating a character in a movie or TV show, lead to a greater likelihood of internalizing that character's behavioral traits or worldview?)

DoctorSteve032 karma

It may. One of my dissertation findings actually addressed this question in terms of individual responses to the behavior and attitudes of non-player characters in a text-based ARG/RPG:

Story producers often make specific linguistic choices they anticipate will resonate with as much of their target audience as possible. Whether or not those choices are well-planned might be how the audience distinguishes “bad” or “mediocre” story production from “great” story production within a specific genre, format, or field. This can be broadly referred to as narrative relatability, or the level at which a particular audience member will detect invariance between the given narrative and his or her experiences with the lived-in world. The effect is commonly observable in situations where the story recipient demonstrates parasocial interaction with a particular character (i.e., social surrogacy) but that character is unexpectedly and dramatically changed or killed as part of the plot—for example, Ned Stark’s execution in Martin’s (1996) A Game of Thrones or the death of Professor Dumbledore in Rowling’s (2005) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (see Cohen, 2004; Derrick, Gabriel, and Hugenberg, 2009).

Though none of the characters in Project TECHNOLOGIA’s story experience the surprising or emotionally taxing outcomes of Harry Potter’s Dumbledore or A Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark, these narrative-specific responses suggest that even relatively minor story elements are capable of triggering emotional connections between text and reader (e.g., characters, settings). This, in turn, can encourage reader investment and receptiveness to particular thoughts, messages, or ideas (e.g., Winnie and Biff, Becky and “griefers”). Instructors who use narrative in this way may be able to capitalize on emotional investment for the purpose of heightening engagement and inducing motivation to interact with particular ideas or themes embedded within the narrative—in the case of practomime, the course or program learning objectives.

dsigned0016 karma

Educator and gamer here. I'm really interested in this as game designers seem to be a lot better at anticipating the player's understandings and frustrations than curriculum designers seem to be. An example (which admittedly is a little bit of a survival bias in that it's a really successful game) would be Portal, where the narrative is serving to maintain the problem solving, giving progressively increasing challenges, maintaining a high level of engagement in the process. I was wondering if you've noticed any particularly successful cross-pollination between the two disciplines.

One avenue I've been thinking about recently is adapting a tabletop roleplaying game for math instruction. Have you done any research in to German-style tabletop games that integrate math instruction?

DoctorSteve033 karma

Very cool idea--I've actually been working on a tabletop ARG/RPG for algebra myself!

As I mentioned in response to another question, most of my work centers on a particular blend of ARG/RPG that my colleagues and I call "practomime." The two short video presentations I've linked below should give you the gist of how it works. If you're interested in chatting some more, feel free to shoot me a PM!

Zockman1753 karma

What are the most positives things that video games can do to us?

DoctorSteve036 karma

Great question!

  • Games give us the opportunity to explore personality traits, morals, ethics, and cause/effect in ways we can't in the real world. They can be a window into ourselves.
  • Designed appropriately, they can support positive social interaction and collaboration that can feed into the development of positive individual traits (i.e., "people skills"). This includes the development of communities of practice.
  • They can foster creativity (at least in the mini-c and Little-C sense), especially with respect to tabletop RPGs.
  • They can tell stories that we couldn't have told the same way a few decades ago (e.g., Telltale's Walking Dead).
  • They have mechanics that can be leveraged toward the adoption of particular goals.
  • They can spur interesting conversations about new ideas and approaches to education/instruction (after all--games are exceptionally good at teaching, and their one of few teaching devices that kids will pay for).

Zockman1752 karma

I honestly learned how to read, do math and my problem-solving skills from video games haha

DoctorSteve032 karma

I credit NES and SNES era RPGs for fueling my love of reading. You are not alone! :)

Twitter_Beef2 karma

What is your opinion on the state of Comercialism in the gaming industry vs. That of other industies like movies and music? Do you feel we will ever enter anothet gaming "Golden age" again?

DoctorSteve033 karma

I don't know how I'd define a "Golden Age" of games since the field has evolved so much in such a small span of time, but I think market-driven behavior among large companies is problematic because it hurts innovation. Fortunately, indie developers have done a nice job filling the void even as EA, Activision, etc. have fallen into a high production cost/low creativity & novelty slump. (For instance, Kerbals, Minecraft, etc. have done awesome things despite coming from non-corporate beginnings.)

Interestingly, education (higher education, especially) has hit a similar wall where commercialization is likely doing damage that (unattended) may be irreparable (or at least change the system to something we don't recognize).

Yog--2 karma

Hello. Thanks for the AMA, its fascinating stuff.

My master's project involves creating virtual landscapes from GIS data for use as a policy decision support and training tool. Our lab is working on projects dealing with salmon runs, toxic algae blooms, and my focus wildfire.

I'd be interested in any insights you could give on how to make an effective learning virtual environment.

Additionally, do you have any thoughts on the role of presence in learning from virtual worlds?

Finally, I'd be interested to see you catalogue of saved papers. Once finals are over its time to get reaquainted with google scholar.

DoctorSteve033 karma

How you design will (should?) depend on how you're defining your virtual learning environment--generally speaking, there are very different approaches grown out of varying perspectives on contemporary learning theory.

By and large, it will help to think of the design process as applying particular game elements/mechanics like badges, points, etc. to a learning environment as behavioral reinforcement and/or creating a comprehensive game environment (virtual, board game, or other) through which learners interact with and demonstrate particular real world skills. The former is primarily about operant conditioning, while the latter is more closely related to anchored instruction/situated cognition.

Games are very good at one thing: teaching people how to play them. That means if your game and learning objectives are properly aligned, you can more easily move students closer to the target skill/content using the game's mechanics as leverage. If you're considering building your own game-based learning tool, I'd recommend starting with a UBD design model (i.e., a top-down approach built out of your learning objectives). Many educational game designers mistakenly neglect the alignment of game and learning objectives, which means learners aren't being guided to perform the actions or demonstrating the skills we want them to transfer to the real world. The most effective way to encourage that transfer is to pair game and learning objectives at a 1:1 ratio, have students fulfill the objective(s), and then reflect on it/them with the help of a more knowledgeable other (e.g., instructor).

My team generally starts the creation of a new educational game using core instructional design principles and a needs analysis:

  • Who are you designing for?
  • What are the learning objectives you want to fulfill?
  • What's the timeline you're working on?
  • Is there an existing story/narrative that aligns nicely with your instructional goals?

Once we're confident in our answers, we begin structuring course objective(s) above unit objectives above individual lesson objectives. This gives us an idea of how everything should fit together and serves as a backbone for the game narrative (NOTE: we most frequently build text-based games, so the following recommendations are tailored around that approach over a digital/virtual environment, but I'd argue the two only really differ in terms of presentation/modality).

It often helps to view things from the student perspective: if you're a student in the class, what's the story you're going to tell about school when you go home at night? Taking something like Star Wars as an example, the linchpin moments might be structured as:

  • Primary Story Arc (i.e., Course-Level Objective): Three individuals come together to save the galaxy

  • Secondary Story Arcs (i.e., Unit-Level Objectives): Boy overcomes his lot in life to become a hero; Woman meets others and recruits them to her cause; Man overcomes personal flaws to assist the hero; Villain defeats hero's mentor but falls at the hands of the hero

  • Tertiary Story Arcs (i.e., Lesson-Level Objectives): Woman saves strategic information in a robot and helps him escape from her invaded spaceship (etc.)

At that point, we start building a story and characters to provide the students with the scaffolding necessary to meet the learning objectives. I've found in the course of my research that engagement is at least somewhat governed by the quality of story and character development, so it might be helpful to recruit a solid creative writer (if available). If not, it shouldn't be a major issue--you'll learn through iterative design what works and what doesn't with or without a professional writer. The key is to make sure you never lose sight of your learning objectives. All of your writing prompts should be identical to real world skills/learning objectives, so if you want students to learn persuasive communication skills, the associated prompt would be "Persuade [Insert Character Name Here] to join you." I can't overstate the importance of this 1:1 alignment enough--it's the single-biggest missing element I find when evaluating educational game mechanics (despite how obvious it might seem).

Next, we consider how it all looks in action. You won't be able (and shouldn't try) to predict how students will control their characters, but you should consider how you might respond to positive, negative, and neutral behaviors. If a student gets off track, how will you re-engage them? If they attack a non-player character, how will you respond? If they positively contribute to the story's development, will there be an in-game incentive to continue doing so? We call this a "sandbox-on-rails" system: students can act freely within an individual immersion session, but we continue pressing ahead to meet the linchpin moments/learning objectives/prompts described above (i.e., the equivalent of riding in a sandbox traveling on a train track--you can do what you like in the sandbox, but you'll always be moving ahead to the next station stop).

Finally, we try to outline reflective discussion that follows play. What questions will you ask to help students see the invariance between the game experience and the real world? How will they transfer their newly learned skills? What relationship do the ideas/concepts from the story have with their day-to-day lives? This is the make or break moment for a text-based adventure since it determines how and to what extent meaningful learning has unfolded. It's where you (as the teacher) do the bulk of the teaching--via leading group discussions about practical application and relevance in your students' lives.

felicitates2 karma

Oh wow, I will tell you I am a big fan of your book! I referenced it heavily in the my final paper for my linguistics classes. My question for you is how did you find yourself working on and developing games and what advice do you have for someone who'd really like to join the gaming industry? Thanks so much!

DoctorSteve032 karma

Thanks for your support!

I've had a strange, meandering path to where I am now... I actually have my Bachelors of Science in Molecular & Cell Biology, and I worked in a genetic engineering lab for the first six months of my career. I quickly learned that I hated living under a fume hood and wanted to work with people, so I returned for a MA in Science Curriculum & Instruction and became a high school life science teacher. During my second year of teaching, I learned about the Video Games & Human Values Initiative led by two of my former professors and decided that I wanted to get on board, so I left K12 and become a graduate student in Educational Psychology. I spent the next five years doing games research, networking, and looking for opportunities to do instructional design. I'd say a lot of it was simply being in the right place at the right time--I started my Ph.D. just as the game-based learning field began growing out of James Paul Gee's book(s), and I was working with two individuals (Roger Travis and Mike F. Young) who were building a niche community within GBL.

As to how you might get into the games industry... I wish I knew the answer. One thing I learned over a few years of job hunting is that your best bet for getting into commercial gaming is to start as a designer and work your way up through a company. Jumping in with a Ph.D. isn't easy, primarily because the academic community doesn't value the same things as the commercial games community and vice versa. If you're like me, though, you'll do/study what you love and convince a potential employer that you can fill a need based on your unique skill set. I've yet to meet another person with my job title, and I think that's the reason why. ;)

upreal2 karma

did you find differences between players of competitive multiplayer games requiring a lot of skill/preparation/ability (counterstrike, broodwar, etc.) compared to players of singleplayer, more story-driven games?

also, do you study older, non-video games? like chess?

DoctorSteve032 karma

There can be pretty substantial differences in player goals/intentionality between single and multiplayer/competitive games, though my colleagues and I tend to believe it all comes back to storytelling. The stories are different--as are the requisite skills to fulfill the target goal--but the overarching mechanism that drives play is narrative, whether it's telling the story of saving the Triforce or telling the story of winning a LoL tournament.

Most of the work I do is rooted in tabletop gaming (specifically a particular blend of ARG/RPG we call "practomime"), but we've looked at games like chess, cards, and various video games as well. The chief finding is that most of games' worth as educational tools comes from the social interaction that occurs in the space around the game itself (regardless of the game's format/presentation modality).

1Daverham2 karma

Quick and short question: Any interesting findings on gaming therapy? More specifically, I've been using video games to analyze our neighbor's son. I'm trying to determine if he has a potential learning disability that may have gone overlooked, but I don't want to be a jerk.

DoctorSteve033 karma

Unfortunately, the only form of therapeutic gaming I'm familiar with is related to PTSD and virtual reality. There's some work on hand-eye coordination (e.g., Call of Duty) and spatial reasoning (e.g., Tetris) that could be helpful depending on the nature of the disability.

fromelmstreet2 karma

I'm interested in pursuing a PhD at UConn (currently a Master's student) to work on the intersection between game design, learning, academic achievement, leadership development, etc. Do you have any advice or suggestions for me?

DoctorSteve032 karma

Sure! Send me an email at my UCONN email address (included in my "proof" photo), and we can chat. :)

brockxxsamson2 karma

I have been a fan of Futurama since the show started. The humor in it is what grabbed my attention, but the way they work scientifically accurate information in to the story has subliminally taught me at the very least a general understanding of the concepts. Schroedinger's cat is a good example.

Do you think that the same could be done with video games by using characters or story lines that incorporate science and math?

Essentially making the normal parts of learning the game (knowing the maps, knowing the NPC's names and habits, names of weaponry, etc.) come with the side bonus of planting a correlation between names and theories in the players mind.

DoctorSteve031 karma

Futurama is a perfect example!

Yes, I think what you're describing can be done, but it would take very careful and intentional design to make it work. From our RER publication:

Encourage collaborative partnerships among commercial game companies, educational researchers, teachers, administrators, policymakers, and parents. Commercial games such as Blizzard Entertainment’s WoW have far greater resources and player population pools than any individual research institution studying the academic application of self-constructed learning games. Yet the commercial success of games often means an intentional distancing from traditional school content for fear that the combination might reduce entertainment appeal. This is an issue that only educational research can pursue since it is unlikely commercial game companies will risk manipulating their game content for research purposes.

We believe that commercial gaming companies and educational researchers could mutually benefit by bringing academic content into the fictitious worlds originally created without educational content objectives in mind. Rather than attempting to reframe academic objectives in their own immersive universes, educative minigames could be added to larger game worlds to meet both the learning objectives of a subject area course and the narrative of the game. For example, our group discussed how WoW’s alchemy profession could be slightly modified such that the creation of potions would rely on a basic understanding of physical chemistry, thereby providing information that would be both useful within the context of the game’s parameters and transferable to conducting chemical experiments in the real world. This innovation would invariably provide additional learning opportunities as players begin to share their knowledge with one another and participate in cognitive apprenticeships between accomplished alchemists and novices, fostering a more science-educated community within the player community as well as possibly adding another element of fun.

That said, Kurt Squire's work with Civilization demonstrated that a great deal of learning can happen through play--however, it isn't necessarily transferred from the game context to the real world (e.g., on a test, during knowledge application).

David9202 karma

Hey man, great to have someone in your profession doing an AMA! What do you think of news media displaying sexism through video games?

DoctorSteve034 karma

It's a toss up depending on which media source you're talking about, but I think video games still carry a strange (and largely unpalatable) connotation among news outlets. Unfortunately, most dots tie sexism to "games" in general without distinguishing between specific games that reinforce sexism/misogyny and those (the vast majority) that don't. It's something that certainly needs work but may get better as gaming moves closer to being a social/cultural norm (the acceptance of Twitch and eSports, I think, are helping to fuel that).

TheFinalDeception2 karma

Thanks for taking time to do this, I have two questions if that's ok.

What is the most unexpected thing you have learned so far.

what is your favorite game?

DoctorSteve038 karma

Sure thing!

  1. Most unexpected thing--by far--has been how little existing educational psychology/learning sciences research there is about storytelling for learning. It's something that educators have taken as a given for hundreds of years without really understanding how/why stories are compelling (and, I'd argue, necessary) for sharing information across generations.

  2. Favorite game is tough because there's such diversity across genres, platforms, etc., but I'd say my "old school" go-tos are probably Chrono Trigger and LoZ: LTTP. I'm currently playing Hyrule Warriors, GTA: V, MH4U, and Hearthstone, and I played WoW for quite a long time (I haven't touched it since halfway through Mists of Pandaria, though).

TheChristianPothead1 karma

The Last of Us is one of my favorite games of all time. What would you conclude people learn from that game?

DoctorSteve032 karma

What I learned was that Naughty Dog's storytelling could use a little refinement. ;)

I think Last of Us does something interesting things with the zombie trope, but the final moments fail to deliver. It's not the shock value of what happens--it's that it undermines the journey. From the beginning, we understand that Joel is a broken person. He meets a surrogate daughter and is eventually faced with a tough decision. Instead of giving the player agency in the decision-making process, they're shoe-horned into taking a particular path that makes Joel seem one-dimensional and hollow (he fails to learn from his experiences and goes on his merry way). I enjoyed the game. I just wasn't blown away by it.

Of course, players take away different things depending on their experiences. I think the general learning outcome is likely that inhaling fungal particles is bad news, and that you always double-tap, hehe.

doeskidparties1 karma

What are your personal views on game streaming and streamers?

DoctorSteve031 karma

I think game streaming and streamers are, by and large, great for both educational and game communities. They can serve as a nice demonstration of social learning/constructivism, creativity, and communities of practice (this is the crux of our analysis on three levels of narrative--specifically, Narrative-as-Social Organizer, or how game narratives, both internal and external, organize social interaction within and around the gamespace). I've previously used streams as part of my educational technology and psychology lectures.

doeskidparties1 karma

Also, even though physical weapons are being mass produced for military purposes, do you think that video games in some way could/should be the future of warfare? Instead of sending people to fight physical wars have them fight a strategic virtual one?

DoctorSteve033 karma

Future or present? :P

I've actually had people tell me they've had nieces/nephews, cousins, etc. recruited into the military because of their experiences as gamers, and the military has used digital games/simulations to train soldiers since the 1950s. I think it's entirely likely that with the increased prevalence of drone and web tech, warfare will continue moving in the direction we're seeing it go right now.

If you mean a LoL game to decide national borders, though... That seems a little far-fetched, heh.

moombathon1 karma

What is the most shocking thing you have learned?

DoctorSteve033 karma

I'm going to assume "shocking" is different than "interesting!"

Honestly, there hasn't been much that's shocked me, but I'm often surprised by the seemingly unending search for an answer to the question "Are games good or bad for education?" The answer is much more nuanced than a binary good/bad, and coming from an ecopsychological worldview, it's something that I don't believe can be meaningfully quantified since individual players play with different intentions rooted in very different life experiences. Even the same game played by the same player won't be played the same way twice because their approach will always be shaped by their evolving, individualized life-world. That was more or less the conclusion in our Review of Educational Research metaanalysis if you're interested in some further reading. :)

aronnyc1 karma

Can you send me the citation? I would love to read this. Thanks!

DoctorSteve032 karma

It's linked in the original post, but here it is again for simplicity's sake. :)

mrpaperclip371 karma

Im sorry im sure you have answered this before but

What did you go to school for? And is this job as amazing as it sounds or does it kinda ruin video games for you?

DoctorSteve032 karma

Heh, my educational background is kind of a mixed bag:

  • BS in Molecular & Cell Biology
  • MA in Science Curriculum & Instruction
  • Ph.D. in Educational Psychology: Cognition, Instruction, & Learning Technologies

I went into some detail about the path here.

I love my job most of the time--it's halfway between being an academic and an industry designer, so I'm usually working to develop games, implement them, and then write about what I've found. I'm running an invited session about the future of my field at this summer's Games+Learning+Society conference in Madison, WI, as well as giving a talk on my work with storytelling.

I wouldn't say it's ruined video games for me, but there are some big changes I've noticed in how/why I play: 1) my schedule is usually so packed that I rarely have time to sit down and enjoy games the way I used to; and 2) my enjoyment is less about play itself but reflection on the narrative the game is telling vs. the one I'd tell about the play experience, how mechanics can be leveraged in new ways, and other more "academic-y" things. Still fun, just a different kind of fun. :)

lukinator4201 karma

I fell like letting my son play constructive games like Minecraft / Gmod / Roblocks (i think thats what its called lel) overall builds his brain-power, but i feel like games like COD or Halo just "mush his brain" would you agree? do you have any suggestions on what games i should let him play? P.S. my son is 9 years old.

DoctorSteve033 karma

I don't think I'd call any game "mush"-worthy as long as it leads to a constructive discussion about mechanics, strategy, narrative, or social interaction. My colleagues and I have argued that this is the big difference between educational gaming done "right" and "wrong"--namely, whether or not students have the guidance of a more knowledgeable other to tune their perception toward particular elements of the game environment (or gameplay in general) that overlap with real life. Minecraft is an awesome educational tool, but Halo can be awesome for education too if play is followed by reflection and discussion (e.g., "Do you think people should/would really do that kind of thing to aliens if they invaded earth?" "Why do you think Master Chief wants to stop the Flood?").

I know a few folks who let their kids to play GTA (with the sound muted to avoid pick-up of bad language) because they like it for playing "racecars" and "house." It all comes back to intentionality--why does the child want to play, what do they get out of it, and what stories are they telling as a result of play?

ebrock21 karma

I know a few folks who let their kids to play GTA (with the sound muted to avoid pick-up of bad language) because they like it for playing "racecars" and "house."

Interesting. But both of those childhood games are games of imaginative play, where kids are creating original narratives, right? Doesn't video game play guide the child's thinking and narrow his creativity more profoundly? (And, if so, should the parent be creating other avenues for imaginative play to aid in their child's cognitive development?)

DoctorSteve031 karma

I think it depends on what you consider guiding. Games usually have a first-level narrative, the Narrative-as-Designed, that fills the guidance role, but whether or not that narrative is adhered to, ignored, understood, or manipulated is dependent on the player (i.e., Narrative-as-Perceived). Vygotsky talked about a child playing with a stick to pretend they're riding a horse as a kind of wish fulfillment, and games largely fit that role too, even with the presence of guiding stories. If, for instance, I play WoW and develop a goal to jump from the highest mountain to the lowest point on the ground and set it to music for lolz, I could be considered imaginative beyond the game's guided narrative. In reality, we're only bounded by the game's software limitations, mechanics, our physical abilities, and our individual life experiences. If you factor in modding, invention, imagination, and creativity become even more expansive. What it all comes down to is whether or not we restrict ourselves based on artificial criteria set as a top-down story told by the game's develop--if you can see beyond the barriers they set, the game world (and affordances for imaginative/creative play) becomes a lot bigger.

JarveTheHordeBreaker1 karma

What server did you play on when you played WoW?

DoctorSteve031 karma

I played on Darkspear (US) for quite a while early on (I was in the guilds Inspire and--later--The Church), then moved to Norgannon (US) at the beginning of WotLK with my real life friends (our guild was Death Star Orphans).

DSO was actually ranked in the Top 20 10-man-only US guilds through WotLK--we were first 10-man-only to take down General Vezax in hard/heroic mode. :)

raytakingontheworld1 karma

I teach ESL at a university and your game VERBA sounds really cool! Do you have any more suggestions new language technology games? This summer I will be teaching a high school ESL class, so I am trying to expand on using as many games and technology as possible!

DoctorSteve031 karma

We're very excited about VERBA but have had a hard time reaching out to the ESL/ELL community. Great to hear you're interested!

Most of the games we've produced are for language educators. Our goal is to situate language as part of culture and teach it within the context it'd be used and understood in the real world. I don't have any immediate recommendations for digital language games, but my colleagues and I would be happy to work with you on developing something that fits your needs!

WhatsGud1 karma

Have there been any findings on the benefits of competition from playing multiplayer games? You mentioned in another answer that games such as Halo can be educational if they lead to intelligent conversations after playing, but can the same be said about just playing the games in general?

DoctorSteve032 karma

I'd say so, yes. There's quite a bit of work looking at social behavior among gamers, and I once did a qualitative study examining player interaction between WoW forum users. Generally speaking, you see communities of practice build up around a particular game or set of games, and discussion/conversation grows from those communities. You can find tons of examples here on Reddit in subs like /r/darksouls and /r/monsterhunter or, regarding storytelling/analysis, /r/asoiaf, /r/houseofcards, and /r/breakingbad. While those conversations aren't typically guided by an instructor/teacher, there's usually a more knowledgeable other/expert who can comment in answer to another user's question. Since different users have different life experiences and perspectives, the role of novice and expert changes even within the span of a single post on a single thread.

TemptThePuffin1 karma

What do you currently play for fun?

DoctorSteve032 karma

The irony of being a game designer/researcher is that I have almost no free time to play games! Lately, I've been trying to find little opportunities to explore Hyrule Warriors, GTA: V, and MH4U, and I usually play Hearthstone while I'm having lunch or in between meetings (I'm proud I managed to finish Blackrock Mountain and hit Rank 12 for the month of April, haha).

AlbertPoohole1 karma

I attended a conference on brain injuries in sports and how "games" are created to quantify a players cognitive levels both before and after injury. What struck me as interesting is how often players (athletes) would fake their results to create a low baseline that would be easier to match after am injury on the playing field. This seemed to be too easy for the players because the games are usually just individual talks that were easy to just mess up a few times on purpose. What kind of research is being done to make "games" that can actually measure cognitive levels without being so easy to falsify?

DoctorSteve031 karma

Automating a system that can detect what is essentially fraud is very tough, not least of all because "gaming the game" is part of what makes us human--we inherently look for strategies to overcome particular problems and typically take full advantage when we find open loopholes (for instance, it takes a lot of will power to not look at an answer key during a test if it's sitting right in front of you). I don't know how I'd fix this particular problem without incorporating a battery of different cognitive tests and psychological evaluations, but it's an interesting issue, and game designers frequently need to take into account fixes to those kinds of loopholes in order to prevent exploits/hacking from destroying online play.

OrionMessier1 karma

Dr. Slota,

Thank you for being here today! How do you feel about the research that suggests a similarity between the brains response to MMORPG gaming and recreational cocaine? Is it just pop neuroscience or is there something to it? Do you ever find yourself grudging the predatory nature of MMORPG design?

DoctorSteve033 karma

I'm not at all surprised by the relationship between neurochemical release and MMORPGs given the way MMORPGs are designed (i.e., driven by operant conditioning). It's mostly a pop science thing that seems bizarre and ridiculous on its surface, but (as you alluded to re: predatory design) it's deeply related to gambling addiction (which is why it's not all that surprising to anyone who studies behavioral psychology). You feel good about getting that one awesome drop and commit to playing more to get the next one up the ladder (and so on).

I dislike the fact that there are companies who market specifically to an audience that has trouble self-regulating their play, but in the end, it's really no different than being mad at a brewery or casino. One thing I'd like to see improve is transparency (i.e., yes, go ahead and charge people to play, but make it VERY clear what they're paying for). The best commentary I've seen on the whole thing is the freemium game episode of South Park from last fall--it's a perfect summary of my feelings.

AdilB1011 karma

What do you think of the online show: Extra Credits?

DoctorSteve033 karma

I actually haven't watched it, though I've seen it advertised. I'll have to check it out!

skillmage0 karma

What did you have for breakfast?

DoctorSteve031 karma

An English muffin, Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt, and a glass of OJ. :D