Call for Educator Interviewees

Teachers! Want to add your voice – and the educator’s view – to European research on games and gamification?

Gaming Horizons is looking for educators in Europe with solid Game Based Learning experience to share their thoughts and ideas on games in education and beyond. Over the coming months we’ll be holding a round of individual online interviews, via Skype, lasting about 45 mins. Teachers who are interviewed will receive an official project certificate acknowledging their participation in Gaming Horizons activities. All interview output will be anonymous.

Interested, or know someone who might be? Then send an email to Jeffrey Earp (jeff – at – itd.cnr.it), who is with project partner ITD-CNR.

Gaming Horizons is co-funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program. The project is led by the University of Leeds (UK) in collaboration with NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences (NL) and the Institute for Educational Technology, CNR (IT).

Looking forward to hearing from you!

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News Update: Now Play This, Characters and Franchises, Religion, DiGRA UK, Identity and Game On

In our fortnightly news update we seek to draw together some recent stories from a range of sources that reflect our project’s vision around video games and culture.

The Guardian recently presented a roundup of the Now Play This Festival. Billed as ‘a festival of experimental game design’ the examples explored here demonstrate the varied ways in which those exhibiting at the festival have approached the concept of gaming, generating gaming experiences that take place both on- and off-screen.

Two recent publications seek to explore the relationship between games, gaming and religion. Religion in Games by Oliver Steffen  provides ‘a methodological framework for the study of religious contents in games, combining religious studies and game studies methods’. Meanwhile, ‘Gamen Mit Gott’, also by Steffen, discusses ‘religion in games, religious games, religious gamers and religious answers to games’.  


Rowman and Littlefield have announced two new volumes that relate to gaming, both edited by Banks, Meija and Adams. The first volume,
‘100 Greatest Video Game Characters’, explores the cultural significance of video game characters across a range of games,  considering what each tells us about the ways in which we relate to games and the experiences they provide. Meanwhile, ‘100 Greatest Video Game Franchises’ considers the influence and impact of what could be considered the most significant game franchises.

The DiGRA (Digital International Games Research Association) UK 2017 Conference is to be held on 5th May, 2017, at the MediaCityUK in Salford, hosted by University of Salford. DiGRA is the international association for academics and professionals who research digital games and associated phenomena. It encourages high-quality research on games, and promotes collaboration and dissemination of work by its members. For this conference they welcome submissions on a range of topics, including: game cultures, gaming in non-leisure settings and gender and games.

A recent paper from the Television and New Media Journal, ‘What Does a Gamer Look Like? Video
Games, Advertising, and Diversity’
by Chess, Evans and Baines, explores media perceptions of gamer identity. Performing a content analysis on a number of video game commercials, they consider ‘how the gamer is represented in terms of physical and behavioural attributes’.

There is a call for papers for the 18th annual Simulation and AI in Games Conference,  GAME-ON 2017, to be held at the Institute of Technology, Carlow in Ireland from September 6-8, 2017. They are seeking papers on a range of game related topics, including Gamification and Social Game Mechanics; Learning and Adaptation; Games Applications in education, government, health and corporate contexts.

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News Update: Brexit, Hall of Fame, Tetris, Digital Storytelling, Ludified Cinema

Welcome to the latest update where we draw attention to some recent gaming news relevant to our project’s focus.


With the triggering of Article 50 signalling the beginning negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU, The Guardian reported on the impact on the gaming industry in the UK. They suggest that 40% of the gaming industry are considering moving their business from the UK as a result of Brexit, due to the uncertainties that Britain leaving the EU brings in relation to European workers. 🙁

The Register reported on a recent study that explored the use of Tetris in response to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They suggest that, as a form of ‘mild brain stimulus… playing a game of Tetris in the aftermath of a traumatic event can help alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.’

NME reported on the nominees for induction into the Video Game Hall of Fame at The Strong – National Museum of Play. The 2017 Finalists represent what could be considered a classic selection of video games, perhaps reflecting a desire to establish practices resembling curatorship around digital artifacts. In terms of more contemporary games, The Guardian also report on Rezzed 2017, outlining what they considered the ’12 most interesting games’ on show from the indie games festival.

The International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS​ ​2017) have issued a call for papers. The event will take place in Funchal, Madeira Islands, Portugal and be hosted by the​ ​Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute. They are seeking proposals that investigate interactive digital storytelling, including interactive narratives in digital games,  and its possible applications in different domains.

A new article by Lasse Juel Larsen in the Games and Culture Journal exemplifies the concept of ‘ludification’, in the context of cinema. Larsen explores five traits of computer game influences on contemporary cinema such as play worlds, ludified quests, controller and interfaces, play experience and game structure. A special edition of Games and Culture also examines applications of serious games in relation to training. This set of paper stem from The SIRIUS project, described as ‘a 4-year, multiteam experimental research program designed to study the effectiveness of games as a training tool for teaching about and mitigating cognitive bias’. Papers cover serious games and decision making, design and development of serious games for training purposes.

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Studying the value of games at GDC 2017

Over the next year, the Gaming Horizons project will be releasing the results of new research into the value of video games, and a big step forwards was taken at GDC 2017.

Academia and games have a rough relationship. At GDC 2017, Thomas Buijtenweg and I conducted interviews with a variety of figures from across a spectrum of the games industry to find out how developers feel about topics that commonly occupy researchers looking at video games.

Ten developers kindly spared their time to be involved in the interviews, ranging from indies to AAA, and from industry veterans to people with under a year of hands-on development time. In the half-hour conversations, each developer shared some of their personal experiences and the ethos that drives them to create games in the ways that they do.

 

What drives a creator?

The Gaming Horizons project has a broad remit, but one of the goals is to understand the interests that build games developer’s relationship between their work and society. Do developers think games have an impact on players? Do developers design with these kinds of impacts in mind? To what extent to developers think about audience reception when they release a game, and how much does this affect the way that they shape the experience?

A final, and crucially important question for the researchers, was also asked:

Has your professional working career been influenced by (academic or non-academic) research?

“No.”

No, games developers do not interact with academic theories. This was the resounding agreement between nearly all of the developers. Only those developers with past or present links to academia said there had been academic research that helped them develop as a creator.

It was expected that this would be the result (both Thomas and myself have experience with games development), but many of our purely-academic colleagues will be surprised to hear the certainty of the response from professionals.

Why don’t games developers commonly work with academics or read the results of studies? There will be many answers to this, and we will be sharing more of the results over the course of the year, but for many it stems from two directions: accessibility and relevance.

Research doesn’t end up in front of games developers

Many universities are judged based on the publication history of their researchers, fitting into systems such as the UK’s ‘REF’ (Research Excellence Framework). These systems evaluate a piece of academic output and score them based on several criteria, such as number of times it has been cited by other academics in their work. In this kind of system, an open information sharing website such as Gamasutra will not commonly score highly, but in our research Gamasutra was one of the few sources of research information cited by more than one person. Unfortunately, because it scores low in academic status, researchers are discouraged from sharing their work there and instead focus their efforts on academic peer-reviewed journals. These journals typically score highly, but games developers don’t buy them.

Some developers may have heard of the Bartle Test, or know about the MDA model. Others might know about The Big Five and its applications to understanding player choice… But how many can remember reading these, or took further time to read more, or even apply them in their work? Our sample of interviewees was small, but we suspect that we would have found similarly small results from a larger study.

Research isn’t seen as relevant to developers

Among academics this will be a controversial statement, but the view of games developers (both those we interviewed and from informal and off-the-record conversations) was that the quality and relevance of academic research to everyday games development was very low.

The market driven nature of most games development (with the possible exception of auteur indies) is that at some point a game or interactive experience needs to be released. All activities along the way are either beneficial for that process (by making development faster, higher quality, or more efficient) or are a distraction (slowing development in one way or another).

Do in-depth studies of player violence (or the lack thereof) help developers of entertainment-focused games create better experiences? Or do the studies into the educational benefits of playing games help developers work more effectively? ‘No,’ was the answer from the interviewees.

These are among the most popular topics for academic studies, but they rarely contain insights that will assist the average games development company in maintaining profitability in a huge and highly competitive industry.

The future: taking the results to research funders…

The Gaming Horizons project is funded by the Horizon 2020 EU program and brings together researchers from the UK, Italy, and ourselves from the Netherlands. The EU is funding the research to critique its own research grants systems, to make sure that it matches the needs of the industry.

The outcomes of the research will help shape future EU funding calls, to make them more relevant to the needs of the video game industry. The research interviews from GDC 2017 will be part of the larger Gaming Horizons study that places entertainment-focused games into the wider social context that the EU already supports with research funding, and that it wishes to grow.

The results will also be here, for you.

We will create short videos to make sure you get to see the best bits of the interviews, so that you can see some of the ways that entertainment is being framed by researchers, hopefully in a way that is both accessible and relevant.

We want the games industry to succeed for players, for the developers, and for the researchers that study it. If research is going to support the industry more in the future than it does now, this year’s work will be a part of laying the foundation for that.

Keep checking on here for more updates about the Gaming Horizons project, where we will share the short videos from the interviews and articles about our work. Thanks for reading!

About the author: Mata Haggis is the Professor of Creative and Entertainment Games at NHTV University in the Netherlands, and the game & narrative designer on Fragments of Him, which released last year on Steam and Xbox One, and will be coming to PlayStation 4 this year.

Alongside his professorship, he is the owner of Copper Stone Sea where he provides consultancy and training in narrative design and game design for development teams.

NHTV University’s game development course ‘IGAD’ is highly rated and taught entirely in English. If you are looking for an intense and practical Bachelor- or Master-level study then take a look: https://www.nhtv.nl/ENG/bachelors/creative-media-and-game-technologies/startpage.html

The Gaming Horizons research project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program. You can read more about it here, where will be regularly updating with new articles throughout 2017: https://www.gaminghorizons.eu/

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News Update: Diversity, Art, Moral Panic, Sexism and Simplification, Events, Awards and Call for Papers

In our fortnightly news updates we  draw together recent stories and events from the media and academia that reflect or explore concerns relevant to the Gaming Horizon’s project.

The Guardian dedicate a lengthy piece to the claim that  the videogames industry has ‘a diversity problem’, stating that ‘just 14% of people working in the UK games industry are women’. They suggest that, whilst moves may be underway to expand the scope of the lives represented in video games themselves, there is still some way to go before the gaming industry provides sufficient ‘opportunities for women and people of colour’. They advocate a number of possible actions to rectify this situation, including intervention in education, at school level.

A new exhibition held at IULM University in Milan, Italy, is exhibiting video game art, in the form of machinima. This form of digital art uses video games as ‘a raw material’. The exhibition, GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY, features works that ‘explore themes related to simulation and representation, replay and re-enactment, architecture and urbanism, sex and race, politics and ideology through the lenses of the videogame’.

New York Magazine report on a recently published book, ‘Moral Panic’ by Markey and Ferguson, that deals with the perceived connection between video games and violence. The article explores the extent to which these claims can be framed as a moral panic, suggesting that the dominant dialogue around these issues is often influenced by ‘preconceived biases’.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post focus on the reporting of a particular study, said to present findings linking gaming with sexist attitudes. Whilst noting the admitted limitations the study itself, they turn their attention to examine more directly the reporting of the study in the popular press, revealing a lack of complexity, nuance and the use generalisation and simplification to make a case that does not stand up to scrutiny.

The Digital Arts and Humanities Research Group at the University of Huddersfield have announced Historia Ludens, a Conference on History and Gaming, to be held on 19 May 2017. QGCon 2017: The Queerness and Games Conference is to be held at the University of Southern California on April 1st and 2nd 2017.

Engadget report on the recent SXSW Game Awards, providing an overview of the winning games that included the a Cultural Innovation Award for That Dragon, Cancer.

Finally, there is a call for papers on special edition of International Journal of Human – Computer Studies on gamification. With an emphasis on critical challenges and new opportunities, the journal is seeking papers with a focus on strengthening gamification studies.

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News Update: Representation, Violence, Addiction, Minecraft, Awards and Events

Welcome to our latest instalment of fortnightly gaming news, where we seek to roundup recent stories from the media and elsewhere that are relevant to the Gaming Horizons project vision.

Firstly, in an article on the concerning lack of diversity of representation in video games, Waypoint noted that, where race is concerned, ‘white is still seen as a kind of default’ for video game characters. Also with regards to representation, this time in relation to gender, Polygon provided a detailed insight into the design decisions that went into making the multi-platform indie game ‘Shovel Knight’.

There have been a number of articles over the past few weeks relating to the impact of video game play on players. For instance, Gizmodo reported on a recent study around video games and empathy. They noted that this long-term project found that video game play was not linked to changes in levels of aggression or empathy, therefore suggesting that any ‘desensitising effect’ arising from gameplay is likely to be short lived. The researchers advocated more long-term study in this area. The Guardian, meanwhile, explored motivations for ‘getting hooked on technology’ in a recent long-read article, whilst Andrew K Przybylski blogged for the ESRC on the (lack of) crisis around games, drawing on a recent Understanding Society survey.

With a focus on the impact of one game in particular, Polygon report that Minecraft is more popular than ever, having now sold a reported 122 million copies across different platforms, with an ever increasing number of active monthly players. Such popularity perhaps helps explain the existence of Microsoft’s recently released Education Edition of the game.

Leading up to awards season, The Guardian report on the forthcoming Bafta Game Awards, whilst the finalists have also been revealed for the International Games Festival Awards, to be held in San Francisco.

In Nottingham, UK, The National Video game Arcade have announced their Playful Writing Group, that aims to ‘build a better world with words’. Registration is also open for the Games for Change festival in New York, which seeks to explores the ‘positive power of digital games and virtual technology’.

Finally, Gizmodo report that the classic arcade machine is soon to become extinct, due to a lack of availability of CRT screens, serving as a reminder that the ways in which we play games is evolving, alongside the nature and complexity of the games themselves.

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News Update: Pokemon, Gamergate, Griefing, Violence, Consoles and Conferences.

Welcome to our second, fortnightly round-up of news that draws upon recent discussions around gaming, relevant to the Gaming Horizons project.

In the month that saw new Pokemon added to the game, Vice reflects on the relatively short-lived moment last year where Pokemon Go became a genuine cultural and social phenomenon. Whilst the game retains a significant user base, its initial mass appeal seems to have dwindled, raising questions around how to keep players motivated at a level that reflects their initial interest in a game.

Meanwhile, employing a fairly loose definition of the word console, The Guardian presents an interesting (albeit perhaps easily contestable) list of the ten most influential home gaming machines.

Gizmodo report that a ‘Women in Games’ exhibition is to open in New York in 2018, celebrating how ‘women have shaped every aspect of video games’. Also with regard to gaming and gender, The Verge report that the FBI have released their Gamergate files. They suggest that these papers disappointingly demonstrate the insufficient nature of the response provided by authorities to the aggression and harassment faced by many involved.

A task force of experts assembled by the American Psychological Association have produced a meta-analysis of recent papers around videogame violence. They conclude that ‘violent video game use is a risk factor for adverse outcomes’ but suggest that further work is necessary to establish whether there is ‘any potential link between violent video game use and delinquency or criminal behaviour’.

The Journal of Computer Culture have published an interesting article by Tom Brock on the ‘apophatic’ dimension of videogame play, exploring what might be perceived as ‘subversive’ aspects of player motivation, considering the role of behaviours involving griefing and failure. 

DIGRA report that there is a call for papers for a half-day workshop on eSports at The University of Melbourne, Australia in July. 

Finally, the Valuing the Visual Literacies conference, at Sheffield University in the UK have issued a call for papers for their conference in June. This call, focussing on visual literacies, includes a request for presentations on gaming. 

 

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News Update: Trump, Club Penguin, Calls for Papers and New Articles

This section of the website will be updated regularly to share recent media stories and research activity relevant to Gaming Horizon’s project vision. As such, we intend to link to a small selection of recent items that deal with the social or cultural issues around games, gaming and gamification.

In recent weeks, much of the media have been closely watching the early days of the new administration in America. Following Trump’s immigration ban, Gamasutra reported on the response of a group of game designers. The Guardian, meanwhile, featured this individual perspective, from game developer Rami Ismail, whilst Glixel spoke to Iranian game developer, Mahdi Bahrami.

Gamasutra reported that one of the earliest and most successful hybrid virtual world / social media sites for children, Club Penguin, is closing down to be relaunched on mobile devices. This move perhaps reflects changes in how children access and engage with videogames and technology that is targeted at them.

A number of forthcoming conferences have issued calls for papers:

Playful Learning Conference in Manchester (12-14 July 2017)  seeks papers in ‘all areas relating to playful learning in adult education’.

11th European Conference on Game Based Learning in Austria  (5-6 October 2017) are seeking papers to cover various issues and aspects of Game Based Learning in education and training.

devcom (22-24 August 2017) have announced ‘the first ever international developer conference’ to be held during gamescom in Cologne.

Finally, a new edition of the Games and Culture journal has been issued, featuring articles on Women’s Strategies for Coping With Harassment While Gaming Online by Amanda C. Cote and Experiences of War and Violence in First- and Third-Person Shooters by Holger Pötzsch.

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A research project to explore and expand the role of gaming in society

Who really understands video games?

Is it the overworked video game developers in the mainstream industry toiling over very specific sub-components of large AAA projects (so-called because they have expensive high standards of ‘Art Audio and Animation’), which involve hundreds of individuals and several interlocking systems and mechanics?

Is it the committees of marketing executives and production managers of those AAA projects, who are responsible for budgets often in excess of $60mil and, understandably, worry about profitability, monetisation and player retention?  

Is the bright ‘reserve army‘ of young aspiring developers who spend their waking hours, in some cases even dropping out of school, modifying (‘modding’) games to add new visuals or play activities? Or the ones learning to make their own games in an effort to work at their dream AAA studio?

Or is it the idealistic independent game developer, effectively portrayed in the documentary ‘Indie Game: The Movie‘? Someone fiercely committed to her, his, or their creative vision and integrity, pursuing ideals of authorship, originality, and art?

Is it the ‘gamification’ advocates who, a few years ago, told the world that ‘there is something about games deeply tied to motivation‘, and then tried to turn this and other ‘ground-breaking’ insights into practical advice for business and education, somewhat underestimating the costs and the ingenuity required to make good games, regardless of their purpose?

Is it the critics and commentators, writing and talking about games in growing numbers, concerned with cultural validation and critical analysis, some of them trying to ‘elevate games writing to something more erudite and worthy’, and others building on the tradition of progressive, liberal arts academia?

Is it the ‘gamers’ – an amorphous social category comprising several identities and values that could, figuratively and perhaps even literally, be mapped on a very broad and not necessarily coherent landscape? This landscape would include, in no particular order, subjectivity-defining things such as gender, consumerism, emotional investment in technological artefacts, and embraced or resisted notions of distinctiveness (being a ‘nerd’ or a ‘geek’).

Is it the researchers and scholars trying to figure out the ‘effects’ of games on behaviour, educational performance and cognition, publishing their studies in peer-reviewed journals and fuelling debates which, for the most part, won’t go beyond the confines of academia, but when they do get picked up by mainstream media, often getting trivialised in the process, inevitably lead to periodic ‘scares’?  

In fact, each of the above provides an important perspective from which we can begin to make sense of this hypermodern expressive medium. The Gaming Horizons project was borne out of a simple, if ambitious, idea: to open up the dialogue between those voices and perspectives, mapping out the rather confused epistemic landscape of contemporary gaming: the different things people know and prioritise, the implicit and explicit understandings and viewpoints, the discourses currently unfolding.

We have our own loose interpretation of gaming, not a particularly innovative one and by no means a fully-fledged definition – mainly a synthesis of existing themes and features. Our intention is to use this as a platform to engage with a range of experts and informants:

Gaming , as a broad phenomenon, recalls an assemblage of technical features, people, professional practices, consumption and culture – some of these aspects are deeply characteristic, such as the technologies and design conventions that have become associated with games: computation, consoles and gaming rigs, controllers, screens (including VR which, for now at least, is largely an evolution of screen technology), graphical fidelity and so on. In addition to these ‘constants’ there are a vast collection of features which, depending on how they are organised together and realised through design and artistic prowess, provide originality and, sometimes, commercial success. These aspects are much harder to categorise but they may include things such as: highly distinctive mechanics (e.g. combat, exploration, progression, competitive or cooperative social interactions), an authorial focus, an interest in representation and responsible characterisation, or a quest for cultural and educational relevance.

Our ultimate objective is to unpack, challenge and ‘expand’ this interpretation considerably, to try and inform how gaming is framed as a topic of economic, social, cultural, or educational interest.

The project is coordinated by the University of Leeds, with partners from Italy (ITD /CNR) and the Netherlands (NHTV Breda). We are supported by the European Commission through Horizon 2020: a progressive funding programme that aims to ignite ‘socially responsible’ research and innovation by establishing a productive dialogue between science and technology on one side, and the social sciences and the humanities on the other.

During the course of the project (which will last approximately a year) we will examine the contradictions and tensions that surround gaming, but also the growing interest in cultural relevance, social inclusion, and the rise of experimental design approaches at the fringes of mainstream video-game development – approaches that straddle traditional boundaries between entertainment, the arts and the humanities. The methodology will involve data collection activities and consultations with experts, developers, educators, and gamers. Ultimately, we aim to identify future directions at the intersection of ethics, social research, and both the digital entertainment and ‘serious’ games industries, potentially revealing the entertainment games address many themes of social consequence in ways that are more engaging than their deliberately educational and serious siblings.

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