So this is a pretty short post today, but one that a friend suggested I put this up as a resource online for others. I use this as a way to gather my thoughts all together when I’m planning on developing an application (it works for both games and gamification by just changing some of the wording). I also give this to my students to help them think about the details they may need to consider in the pre-production phase of making a thing! Feel free to use and modify as you like to fit.
Ive previously blathered on about my love of all things curiosity box related. And Im finding that the more I experiment with the ideas of exploration and the use of perceptual curiosity in Higher Education, the more I fall in love with the idea of returning to this childlike state where multi-sensory play is thought to be just as much an important part of a students learning experience as the ‘traditional’ lecture. Last year, I was lucky enough to present at the fantastic conference; Gamification Europe. It was an amazing experience and I met some brilliant people in the industry! I would urge anyone interested to think about going to the next one, and to maybe watch the videos of the 2018 conference which you can find their YouTube channel here.
Whilst I was putting together ideas for something to talk about at this conference, it became quite clear that what I really wanted to talk about was this idea of perceptual curiosity that I found kept creeping into the kind of games that Im interested in. *** I think there will be a video of this talk flying around at some point which I shall update here with at some point ***
So what is perceptual curiosity? Well, here’s an except from a paper that is in progress:
‘Early work into the study of curiosity (Hume, 1777; Berlyne. 1954), recognised that there were in fact differing types of curiosity. Berlyne proposed that curiosity was either that of epistemic curiosity; the seeking out of intellectual information or the “drive to know”, or, perceptual curiosity; sparked through visual, auditory and tactile experience or the “drive to experience and feel”. In light of these differing examples of what triggers curiosity, we as educators, can begin to imagine rich-learning experiences that are through exposure to a range of sensory stimulants.’
The idea of all of the senses being integral in the process of engaging students to achieve their highest potential, is just something that appeals to me on a very fundamental level. But anyway, as my research progresses into this, I am experimenting with these different types of narrative/puzzle-led mystery box experience. Long story short, I decided to make a little mystery box concept to present at the conference. I wanted to begin to move away from the usual talk about specific mechanics and design processes of games and gamification and look at more the experience and emotions side which of course includes curiosity.
Previously I had been working on a concept surrounding WW2 with two students at Coventry University. We wanted to build something that would be a conversation about some of the more unknown factors of what happened in WW2. So the next bit is full of spoilers about what the box is about, but also describes the development process for anyone who is interested in how it was made.
OK. So. I have been quite focused recently on trying to highlight women’s achievements and work that has previously gone unsung (see what I did there) or buried or downright ignored. What this box is really all about is raising awareness that women played a crucial role in helping to win WW2. Particularly in their role at helping crack ENIGMA at Bletchley Park, the home of the Codebreakers. This box, is a little exploration of some fictional correspondence between Margaret Rock, a prominent female decoder and her brother John Frank Rock, a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. This box is really just a little concept and to be honest, a learning experience for me, to try and find that sweet spot of non-linear story-telling mixed with some different puzzles. I wanted the story to feel organic, in which I mean, I wanted people to not have to ‘get’ the puzzle elements, in order to feel like they ve experience the game. Im not sure if this has managed that though. But anyway, let me describe the design process.
My loose objectives for creating this experience, was that I wanted it to be an awareness building exercise. I wanted people to be aware that their were such women working at Bletchley park tirelessly to decode the German messages coming through, alongside more known names such as Dilly Knox. I also wanted this to potentially be an experience that may inspire girls into the conversation that women were and have been working in STEM for a very long time. So with those loose objectives, I began some research into the women that were based at Bletchley. There were many fantastic candidates to try and tell their story, but in the end I opted for Margaret Rock, as I felt I could build a nice narrative around her and her brother sending letters to each other. As this was going to be more of a ‘ lets talk about some names, things that happened’ type of approach, I started to plot some very basic ideas that I could work some basic puzzles around..
*Who is Margaret Rock? *Blechley Park what/where? *John F Rock *ENIGMA *Dilly Knox *Abwehr *Mavis Lever
In this process, it became clear that I wanted part of the experience to be players having to look up what these words or people were. Touching on developing some interesting research skills and piecing the story together as a nice side bonus.
I went on a bit of a spending spree to get various items that I thought would be cool. Artefacts that were real and were part of that WW2 narrative. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted, but in the end after a good search of EBAY and Gumtree, I found some very cool items. Including the authentic WW2 Gas Mask.
As it came in this gorgeous strapped bag with lots of pockets (inside and out), I decided that this was going to be the ‘box’ for the experience. I thought about how could I start the story with just this as the artefact, and in the end it made sense-ish, to tie a tag onto one of the outside straps with the following words:
Could someone please catalogue this item? No information immediately obvious, other than it is from World War 2. I need this off my desk ASAP!
Hopefully this statement would be vague enough to not give too much away, but contain enough information that it was obvious what the player was supposed to do with it.
The items that i then hid inside the bag along with the puzzles were made up of the following:
- An authentic gas mask (Which is so much fun to put on!)
- A locket
- A torn picture of Bletchley Park
- A newspaper from the time
- 2 handwritten letters inside envelopes
- Note on field/waterproof paper
And the puzzles/ story that ties all of these bits together are:
- The gas mask bag itself is quite integral to the process of feeling and finding all of the interesting stimuli. As it has loads of pockets, I used this to my advantage and hid all of the items in random parts of the bag. Including under a bit of foam, and then under the newspaper there is another small popper compartment in which the locket is hidden.
2. The newspaper, the locket and the two letters are a puzzle. A line, word, letter cipher otherwise known as a ‘Book Cipher’ is used for ‘Margaret’ to send secret messages to her brother. The newspaper acts as the text that both Margaret and John would have had access to. Inside the locket, hidden behind the pictures is the key to the Cipher as seen below. Each message is timestamped to each one of the letters it came from to give an idea of time passing and events.
3. The torn picture of Bletchley Park has written on the back of it the Latitude and Longitude co-ordinates of its location. This is a very simple puzzle but effective, as once someone works it out they can type it in to search and they will be presented with Bletchley in all its glory.
4. The pictures in the locket are also part of the clues. The male is an actual picture of Margaret and Johns father – If you look closely enough you can see his hat, a clue! Surgeon Frank Ernest Rock, R.N., lost his life on the Laurentic…
5. Note on field/waterproof paper is written from LDR J E Benham, a officer above John. If people go searching for this information they should bring up information regarding John.
6. Gas Mask – so the gas mask itself has a few puzzles. Firstly and probably my favourite, even if it isn’t completely in keeping with authenticity is the visual puzzle. I put red cellophane into the eye sockets of the gas mask and created a piece of paper with words hidden under layers of red and yellow type. When you look through the gas mask you will be able to see the hidden message on this paper. I do want to make this more in keeping eventually, but i got a bit excited about players looking through the red filter. If you want to know how to do this, go here.
7. On the gas mask canister itself I have also scratched in morse code: ENIGMA as seen below:
8. A code on the canister – By fortune there was a number sequence that was written on the outside of the canister of the gas mask in numbers, which serendipitously matched the exact number of letters that made up John’s full name. So i did a bit of a home brew cipher based on the Pig Pen Cipher in which when you work it out gives John’s full name. The paper was hidden in the inside of the canister.
9. Finally, and very simply, a little hand drawn visual puzzle on one of the letter envelopes. That when you tip it a certain way you can hopefully see the letters: ROCK.
And thats it. The idea is that the puzzles and narrative can all be pulled together in any order the players want. And that its not vital that they find all of the information, but that they enjoy the journey of exploration around the artefacts. Its also supposed to be a team activity, so that the players can discuss when they’ve found, go searching the internet, and hopefully feel curious enough that they fall in love with finding out the secrets of the bag! But mostly, I hope that people will come away from the experience having felt they had a glimpse into this pairs of siblings navigation through the war, living apart and in fear. And that maybe it will start some conversations further and spark curiosity about the women that also worked tirelessly in these conditions for the war efforts for often less recognition, thanks and praise.
So I’ve decided for a couple of reasons to make a video dev diary of my next personal project. This is partly to keep me motivated and partly to act as some sort of guidance to people who are interested to see the process (at least my crazy process) in creating a game. Expect ramblings and swearing and me being generally stupid. But maybe this can help others like me who just need to get out of their own heads, stop procrastinating and start making. Short one today…. still figuring out what it will be based on.
***** Open Source files of game can be downloaded here: http://gamify.org.uk/downloads/Book-Runner-Source-Files.zip under CC license: Edit and modify for own use, cite Disruptive Media Learning Lab as Original Creator. *****
*** Game Playable here: http://libinfo.coventry.ac.uk/Induction/Lib/WWW/ ****
I have been a busy little bee the past few months. Aside from the usual tirade of ALL OF THE THINGS to do (being mum to two very small and boisterous children, general life and sadly unexpected death, insane work commitments, writing all of the academic things), part of what I wanted to try and push for more this year, was creating things. Actual, playable things. Not just my usual, ‘oh I though up a cool project idea’, which I tend to do a lot, get distracted and then jump to something else.
Myself, Becky and Darren (Two of Coventry Uni’s Subject Librarians) had been talking about making a game for induction. To be honest, I’d wanted to work with the librarians for years since I’ve been at the DMLL, but as always there was never any time. But it seemed, that with this program we could develop something fairly quickly. There was much discussion at first on how and what we wanted the game to achieve, whether it should be a blend of digital and real world activities or did we want the students to play it at home. What we all agree though, was that the game should be story driven (I’ll get to that later).
So Darren and Becky went away to discuss what they wanted out of the game and came back with a series of learning objectives that we then prioritised with 1 being vital and 4 being nice to have.
|Orientation||IT Services||Mini task – finding it|
|Orientation||Sigma||Mini task – finding it|
|Orientation||CAW||Mini task – finding it|
|Orientation||Group Study Rooms (that they exist)||Mini task – finding it|
|Orientation||Rovers Podium||Mini task – finding it & source of help|
|Orientation||2nd Floor Enquiry Desk||Mini task – finding it & source of help|
|Orientation||Subject Librarian Office||Locating it, then more additional tasks|
|Orientation||Mobile Shelving||Include it if we can make it some sort of puzzle (mvoe the shelving to get to another location/NPC)|
|Online Orientation||Library Basics Libguide||Code on Libguide – should be an early task?|
|Online Orientation||Libguides||Code somewhere on a guide|
|Online Orientation||Twitter page||Codes hidden on pages|
|Online Orientation||Facebook page||Codes hidden on pages|
|Online Orientation||Youtube Channel||Codes hidden on pages|
|Online Orientation||Document Supply|
|Online Orientation||YouChose||Place request for specific dummy book, reply with code?|
|Online Orientation||Referencing Guide||Code on Libguide|
|Library Skills||Construct a reference in CU Harvard||Making the reference provides a code (e.g. first letter of each part?)|
|Library Skills||Find a book in the library||Finding a book in the game’s bookcases|
|Library Skills||Find an eBook||Dummy eBook on Locate – code within book – also covers navigating an eBook|
|Library Skills||Find an article on Locate||Dummy article record on Locate|
|Library Skills||Reserve a book||Reserve a dummy book within the game, collect it later.|
|Knowledge||Loan limit is 20 items||Character giving quiz?|
|Knowledge||Books can be borrowed for one or three weeks||Character giving quiz?|
|Knowledge||Fines||“Character giving quiz? / X owes 60p, how late was he?”|
|Orientation||Self issue machines||Some sort of game/puzzle using the machines?|
|Online Orientation||Accessing databases||Dummy dragon -slaying libguide|
|Knowledge||Support offered by subject librarians||Interaction with in-game characters?|
|Knowledge||Support offered at service desk and enquiry desk||Interaction with in-game characters? (If you get stuck in the game you can always go to the enquiry desk?)|
|Knowledge||Support offered by Rovers||Interaction with in-game characters? (If you get stuck in the game you can always find a Rover?)|
|Knowledge||Postal Loans||end game – i live far away|
They had also given some suggestions on how this may be realised in the game which was really useful to me. as previously mentioned, we also spoke quite a lot about narrative, and they had both put down a lot of different ideas for style and genre, which we discussed and came to a decision – we were going to do a take on 2001: A Space Odyssey, but instead of a creepy Hal, the Coventry University library system ‘Locate’, would take it’s place. This gave us lots of room for including many geeky references and above all, we really wanted to try and instil the game with a bit of humour (whether people get the humour is besides the point).
So, we three, started working on a Google doc to flesh out the narrative, adding information where needed and having meetings to discuss interesting ideas that the player could do for each of the LO’s. It was great to work on a live document that everyone could share and edit, very useful in the design stage.
I wont go too much into the dev side as it was mostly me swearing at RPG Maker when I wanted it to do something and obviously it wouldn’t (I had complex ideas). But 3 months later – yesterday in fact, the main functionality of the game is now complete, and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with it. Is it going to win game of the year? Probably not. Is it going to help students? Maybe… I’d like to think so. Here, take a look at some screenies.
One feature on the dev side I will mention though, is that RPG Maker let’s you build in the function (quite easily) to open up separate resources like websites, videos or pictures. This feature has been really useful for allowing this game to support players navigating some of the library systems in order to solve puzzles to put into the game. See below for an example, where the player has been asked to go onto the computer in the game. Once the player interacts with it, it brings up Locate.
Very useful! Anyway I love it, and and and … we made a thing that is a real thing and will hopefully be live for September students. I’m so happy that I pushed myself to get it done in time, and it is not one (of the many) other projects waiting for my attention (there is not enough hours in the day). Currently it is now in play-test mode, getting people to break it and see where it’s maybe not intuitive. Hopefully, we will then put it out to Beta test as it’s especially important we have testers who are not familiar with the library and it’s systems.
Anyway, what I really wanted to say, is that RPG Maker MV is a great tool for creating quick and easy game-based learning applications, and even better it has a MASSIVE support community if you do get stuck in development.
I’m hoping to do many more games with it and use this as a test bed to show our lecturers the potential that this program has.
The link to the Compendium is here: http://creditcontinue.coventry.domains/beasties/
Following the pilot of Remixing D&D (find the original post here: Remixing D&D – Student Self-Reflection & Formative Assessment in a Playful Way.) there have emerged some interesting findings so far. Unfortunately, due to a number of issues with the way our AddVantage+ Module scheduling runs and time tabling (optional modules that run alongside core discipline studies), I was only able to test out the journal and monster reflection techniques. I plan on writing another post that talks about the trials, tribulations and unexpected joys of the pilot, but for now I want to show one thing that came out of the research so far.
Following the feedback from the pilot, the students indicated that the paper version that was being trialled, was a useful tool to reflect each week on the issues they were facing. They further went on to say that they would use their journal to help them write their final assessment piece at the end of the module. All good stuff and essentially what I was hoping for.
However, another thing that the students fed back on in our early focus groups, was that they wanted a more structured system. Something easier to manage. Something less faffy. Essentially, something online. This was great to hear actually, as I had always envisioned the reflection tool as an online entity, where students could access it at any point and I would have very little admin to carry out each week (yey to less admin!). Whilst I am sorry about the potential of no more physical journals (although these were also received very well by the students as they were beautiful things), it did affirm our suspicions that online was the way to go with this sort of edu exercise.
And so, our journey of the SPLOT began. SPLOT (Smallest Possible Learning Online Tool) was suggested to me by Lauren at the Lab (/wave hi Lauren) as a tool that could hold my rambling thoughts of somehow smooshing D&D and student self-reflection into a thing. After rambling in her general direction, and then at Cogdog (who is the dude behind SPLOTS), and then at Lauren again, we settled on a layout of what would become ‘The Compendium of Bothersome Beasties (and how to deal with them). Inspired by D&D, JKR and the wonderful Brian Froud, the Compendium is essentially a Bestiary of student problems.
Although the Compendium makes up only a small part of what I had originally envisioned, I think it has an elegance about it (if I do say so myself) that allows students to semi-anonymously post their problems as ‘Beasties’ online. Students can be creative in how they frame their problems and the platform allows lecturers/ facilitators/ other students to comment directly on the post to offer formative feedback. We’ve added a system in which Beasties can be categorised into different types such as Motivation, Wellbeing or Confidence. This allows us to quick search Beasties under different categories, useful for a student who wants to see feedback in a particular area.
I really like this idea of having a tool that is a ‘quicktime’ event! And when students start posting their Beasties, a lovely arrangement of different problems can be available for others to browse and feel like they are not alone and learn from. Im really happy its live and *whispers* if you think its a tool you want to use, then good news – go ahead! Its free, you don’t need to sign up and I’d be over the moon if you would like to contribute to the Compendium. Im also very open to feedback and if you do use the tool I would love to hear your thoughts. I suggest reading through the ‘About’ and ‘Guide’ sections of the tool, but it really is very simple.
Next stage with this is to run a few trials with different course modules to find out how it is received in its online form. My plan is to slowly introduce some more of the core concepts I developed for the full Remixed D&D method. But for now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: The Compendium of Bothersome Beasties (and how to deal with them).
Most of us working in the space of education know the importance of students being able to develop their self-reflection and critical analysis skills. I don’t really want to use this space to talk about that too much in depth as there is already a lot out there, but for those who are interested in the why’s, here’s some links for further reading about reflection:
And this is also the same with the likes of formative assessment. We know that students like and respond well to feedback that updates them over the course of their workings, rather than feedback purely at the end of their project/ module/ coursework, (where in my opinion it is almost useless at this point – *ask me sometime about the lecturer that asked me to design something and then at the very end of the module told me i had done it all wrong and should have done it in a specific manner – annoying AF*). Thankfully we are not evil here at CU and constantly use formative assessment to guide students and ask them to think critically about the whys and hows of their work whenever we can.
Well in the true spirit of our new mantra in the playful and gameful strand of DMLL,*Remix Play* (you can find the workshop here: Remix Play Workshop), I decided to have a look at how we could make the formative assessment and student self-reflection process a little more playful. Being a huge D&D fan the following happened…
So how do you combine D&D with student self-reflection you ask? Well here’s my initial concept:
If you’re looking at that picture thinking huh? Then here is an outline of my concept in a more readable version in a step by step process that was envisioned.
Step 1 – Journals
Physical Journals will be given to each student in Week 1 of module (this can be upgraded to an online version after trial). Specially customised D&D character sheets sit in the front page of the journal.
Journals will provide a chance for ongoing reflection and can be used as evidence (by the student) to support their final assessment. Lecturers can also use these as an opportunity to provide written feedback and assess progress on a weekly basis if needed.
Step 2 – Roll Character Attributes
Students are asked to roll dice (just like D&D) and come up with a series of stats for their character ‘themselves’ attributes. Students are asked to reflect on their current strengths and weaknesses and assign their dice stats to each attribute.
Attributes in the D&D world are equal to Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Charisma, Intelligence and Constitution. In this version, these attributes are assigned a real world context into the following: Motivation, Multi-Disciplinary Working, Creativity, Collaboration, Subject Knowledge and Mental/Physical Wellbeing.
Example: A student rolls the following stats: 12, 8, 14, 18, 10 & 11. After reflection they put their 18 into creativity believing that, that is where their strength lies and the 8 into collaboration believing that they are not very good or have had little practice at working in a team.
This process should highlight where they may need to improve and give some thoughts for the next step.
Step 3 – Define Epic Quest and Outline Attributes to Work Towards
Students will be asked to think about why they chose the module and what is the main thing they wish to achieve at the end of it ie. ‘Epic Quest’. They will also be asked to identify two attributes that they wish to work on improving during their time on the module.
The completion of the ‘Epic Quest’ can form part of the final reflection task at the end of the module and should be done with the Dungeon Masters (Lecturers). Students should be encouraged to convince the DMs that they have succeeded in their quests, using their journals as evidence.
Step 4 – The Adventuring Party
No D&D adventure is complete without the adventuring party. In order to make sure we have balanced teams. Students are asked to stand in groups based on their highest attribute score. This should (hopefully) give a mixture of groups. DMs will then assign students into teams of four, combining students from differing groups to achieve a balance where possible. This will hopefully allow students to work in a more inter/multi-disciplinary nature.
Step 5 – Team Composition
Now each team has hopefully four members in each, its time to let the students decide their individual roles. Students are asked to decide between themselves which role that they would like to take on.
Tank – This student is responsible for overseeing the projects final concept/product. They bring together the ideas and are a spokesperson for the idea. Think Product Lead.
Healer – This student is responsible for overseeing the team (think HR). They must manage the people and personal element of the team. This could be anything from moderating arguments to supporting a team mates physical/mental wellbeing. Think Team Lead.
Close Combat Support – This student is responsible for overseeing the execution and technical delivery of the concept/product. They ensure the team has a tangible concept/product to show at the end of the module.
Ranged Support – This student is responsible for overseeing the research and creative thinking element of the concept/product.
Whilst the team is split into four areas, teams will be encouraged to engage with all aspects of the modules project (research/execution etc.) but those members assigned a particular role should have a greater level of input when it comes to that particular area.
Step 6 – The Team Health Bar
Each team has a collective health bar. It is a visual representation of the teams performance in class and how they are working as a team. Parameters can be set for decreasing and increasing health.
Example: A student doesn’t come to class and has given no prior notification of intended absence – the teams health suffers -10. A student presents some research to the class that is a direct benefit to the their team +10 to their overall health.
Team health can be topped up by coming a tutorial with a DM. When team health is low or failing, a team must attend a mandatory tutorial to heal. Teams that fall in the top tier of the health bar can be considered for extra credits/ whatever reward that can be applied to show that they have worked well as a team.
Step 7 – Weekly Self-Reflection
Each week, students will be asked after each core session to choose and reflect on each of the following:
Students will be asked to identify at least one problem concerned with the ongoing module work (this could be a personal development, team or project related problem) and they must pose a solution in order to defeat said monster.
Example: A students team has a problem with deciding on a particular issue to address with their project. Their monster is the ‘sludge of indecision’. The student then suggests that in order to overcome this monster, the team must meet on another day and make a firm decision on which issue they are going to concentrate on.
Students will be asked to identify at least one person/ type of person/ company/ Contact that may be useful to help their research and development of their final concept/product.
Example: A team proposes targeting a solution for raising awareness in student mental health. Each member of the team proposes a contact to talk to for research purposes, this could be for example a staff member from the Wellness Centre.
Students will be asked to identify at least one resource that they may need to help the research, design and/or development of their concept/ product. Students will also be asked to identify how they will go about obtaining the resource.
Example: A student identifies that for their board game concept, the team would like some physical pieces for their prototype. The student then suggests they look at the 3D printing resources available at the University.
Journal & Epic Quest Reflection
Students will update their journal each week with the above sections, but also a section after that, that comments on their reflections of their personal progress in class and with an emphasis on how they are moving forward in pursuit of their Epic Quest and how they are working on approving their chosen and/or other attributes.
DMs can feedback in these journals and offer guidance and maybe a bit of story (if creative enough) on each students journey. They can also award skill points that can be spent in the Feat Tree (see below) and/ or offer suggestions in other ways providing formative feedback each week.
Step 8 – The Feat Tree
Each different attribute will have a series of ‘Feats’ attached to it.
Example: The Attribute ‘Motivation’ may have the following Feats – self-motivation, team motivation, self-identity, meaningfulness, needs etc.
Students can expand into each of these attributes by acquiring Feats in the specific attribute section. Every two attribute specific Feats gained = 1 attribute point (in the Feat gained attribute).
Example: If a student wanted to improve their Motivation attribute score of 8, they would try to attain some of the Feats in the Motivation Tree section. Gaining two Feats attached to the Motivation Tree would give them an Attribute point in Motivation, thus raising their overall score to 9.
DMs can award skill points when they see fit. Alternatively a student can ask for a skill point but must justify why they should be awarded one, reflecting on their progress and recent contributions to their team and general progress in class.
Step 9 – Compare and Reflect with a Spider Graph
At the end of the module, students should hopefully have different attribute scores to when they started (again hopefully improved scores). Using a Spider graph (thanks Alex for this insight), students can see where they were when they started the module compared to where they are at the end of the module. The use of a Spider graph gives great instant visual feedback to a student and can be used as an aid for self-reflection and how they developed skills over the course of the module.
And there we have it. A system loosely based on some of the D&D systems but for aiding student self-reflection and a formative assessment process. At the moment this is just an idea but we plan on trialling this with our new Add-vantage module January cohort with some ‘proper’ research attached. If people would like to discuss this, Id love feedback and always happy to work with others to make this process better.
Finally just want to mention my colleague… the lovely Lauren Heywood, who helped to direct and design my ramblings of D&D into something productive.
Mental health is a conversation that seems to be ever growing with more and more people speaking out about their experiences. Celebrities and royals have taken to talking about their struggles in order to raise awareness of issues such as anxiety and depression and even this morning, BBC news have reported on the fact that about 300,000 people leave their jobs each year citing mental health issues as the cause: BBC News. That’s a hell of a lot of people and a massive strain on the work force.
It’s no secret that academia is absolutely rife with depression and anxiety either: Academic Mental Health. How could it not be.. egos, work pressures, performance anxieties and just generally navigating the high level of criticism that comes with being in a higher education environment. Both staff and students are getting to the point where it is just too much… in some extreme cases there have been suicide attempts because of the inescapable feeling of pressure and despair. A very sad state of affairs and indication that we are failing somewhere in this space that is meant to be about nurturing and helping people to grow.
I myself am no stranger to the black dog and I know several others particularly in academia that are still fighting it. We joke and shrug and a lot of the time there is very much a ‘we ll get through this approach’ and yes, an acceptance that this is how it should be. But I’ve seen colleagues and students alike, question themselves, their abilities and their worth until unfortunately they then shrink away until you barely know they are there. It short… it sucks ass big time. I honestly don’t know how else to describe this seemingly growing problem. At least we are now beginning to see this talked about in the wider sense, because something somewhere has to change.
It did get me thinking though about how we view and approach developing games for education. I know personally I’ve always been more interested in how can we use games and play to attain better learning experiences for our students. I am definitely of a mindset that deeper learning can be achieved with gbl. But I think maybe I’ve been missing a crucial aspect, another benefit of the use of games /play in higher education.. we and our students should play for our mental health. Both for an immediate outlet and for learning how to cope with these pressures for later life.
There are loads of people out there using games and play for therapeutic reasons. DnD for example is used to help children (and adults) to open up and explore their feelings DND therapy. Various studies have been conducted on how playful behaviour and playing games helps relieve stress and helps us to build relationships Play benefits. It’s definitely not a new idea, just one that I never hear talked about when we consider games in colleges or universities. Feeling alone or unsupported with mounting pressures could possibly be helped just by feeling connected to other people for a short while…possibly. What better way than games to achieve this.
So maybe we, as playful and gameful developers in education should be actively looking to discuss and research the psychological benefits of using games and play in higher education both for students and staff alongside the traditional does this aid learning approach we usually adopt. I’m certainly going to be exploring this further and am quite interested to see what others are doing out there on this idea of using play /games as coping mechanisms in higher ed. It would be an interesting example to add to the list of usual things to say in response to; but why games for education? Maybe, just maybe… if we can use playful platforms as an outlet for stress, anxiety and depression, we may find some interesting avenues to help cope with the stresses of working and studying in higher education and thus arming ourselves and our students with some coping mechanisms for future work endeavours.
I have used all my spoons for today now.
For a long time I have been obsessed with ‘The Mysterious Package Company’ which can be found here: Mysterious Package Company.You can read more about the Mysterious package Company at their website or here. Their tag line ‘Stories you can Touch’, really caught me, and I was instantly interested to find out more about this idea of physical stories. Although a bit pricey, I ordered one of their bespoke story experiences for my partner (The Weeping Book) and waited. We were not disappointed. A month later, a nailed shut wooden crate arrived, addressed to my partner who had no idea what this was or that it had been ordered for him (something that the company suggests for an authentic feel). And then began our journey. I wont spoil the story or go into detail about what was inside the package, but what I will say is that the package managed to balance the art of theatre with beautifully made props alongside the powerful engagement factors of mystery and storytelling, in order to deliver an experience that was quite unlike anything Ive ever experienced before. We are still trying to work out the puzzles that are so wonderfully hidden within the story and props, and the experience has given us lots to talk about.
My mind instantly thought of the work that we had been doing on escapED and how these experiences played with very similar themes (puzzle solving, story, props and the feeling of being involved in something much larger). I also thought on the theories surrounding the use of object play and storytelling play for children, and realised that experimenting with this type of method might have some interesting findings and outcomes for adult play at the level of University education (an area where the ideas of play are desperately needed more!). The three main things that really stood out for me though with ‘The Weeping Book’ and made me sit up and think.. this is where we should be developing our ideas, were the following thoughts:
1. this idea that the experience arrived out of nowhere, my partner didn’t know if this was real or not and I found this really powerful. The not knowing felt like an ARG but with a greater pull. I began to think how could we harness this for education? It felt so powerful, and I was immediately hooked when the crate arrived without warning!
2. the experience seems to keep giving. The more you look into it, the deeper the rabbit hole goes. Puzzles that weren’t there before, suddenly emerge, or you think about something in a slightly different light and boom! Mind blown! It offered a longer experience that we could come back to at any point.
3. I never knew this idea of non-digital transmedia storytelling existed (id seen digital transmedia but never this idea of using real props), but I instantly fell in love with the idea. I felt that it brought together all of the elements of game design, narrative design and theatre that I have always loved. I felt like a child again, uncovering some big Enid Blyton mystery!
So bewilderED was born. A spin off of the escapED series, this was to be the educational version of ‘The Mysterious Package Company’, at least in my head!
So with much enthusiasm, I explained the premise of the project to a colleague of mine, Michael Duncan, Professor of Exercise Science at Coventry University. Luckily, he was also super excited about using this method with some of his Master’s students. He had already developed and was teaching a module that asked the students to look over a fake sports personalities information and data in order to come up with a sports conditioning recommendation for them. The students at the end of the module are asked to present their recommendations via a 15 minute presentation to a fake company who ‘commissioned’ the students to deliver this information. Since the structure was already there, we decided to adapt this module to fit with the bewilderED method so we could compare the data of the new version with the previous version.
Following the main concept used by ‘The Mysterious Package Company’, the idea that things are delivered through the mail and randomly turn up somewhere from unknown sources, was something that I wanted to try and emulate as much as possible. We decided that the materials were going to be delivered to the students classroom, seemingly from different outside sources, over a 4 week period in the following setup.
Week 1: Introduction to the students of the module by Professor Duncan. To start the illusion that the students were going to be experiencing working with real companies and the element of mystery around the materials and companies involved, we had the students sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) that they would not discuss any personal information regarding what they would see and experience within the next few weeks.
Week 2: The first pack would arrive. Addressed to Mike, the contents held a letter from the British Martial Arts Institute (false company), with instructions detailing what they wanted the students to do (provide a recommendation via presentation) and a physiological assessment report with ‘data’ for the BMAI’s ‘client’.
The pack also indicated that they would be shortly contacted by the BMAI’s sister company: Power Prime Labs.
Week 3: The second pack to arrive was from the sister company ‘Power Prime Labs’. This company was responsible for providing the ‘client’ with supplements. A letter contained in the pack, detailed how they would like the ‘client’ to use the supplement ‘NITRO-Train’, and promised enhanced performance. Alongside this letter was a flyer for NITRO-Train and a sample pack of the NITRO-Train supplements (completely safe for the students to consume, made up by Professor Duncan).
Week 4: The third and final pack to be delivered, would be slightly different from the previous two packs. Contained in a plain envelope, a usb stick containing videos of a Muay Thai fight and an interview between a Trainer and a Muay Thai fighter. The videos and interview, would all contain information that alluded to the idea that the fighter was struggling with certain things; psychological issues, training issues, problems with supplements etc). Unlike the previous two packs that obviously came from corporations, this pack had underlying hints that it may have come from the fighter themselves. A cry for help almost.
Week 5: Students are asked to present their findings and overall recommendations to the BMAI company regarding their Muay Thai client. The students believe that a good presentation might land them a real job at this company.
Following the rundown of the packages each week from the different ‘sources’, it was hypothesised that the students should face some challenging ethical issues. They should believe that they are in with a chance of achieving a real job from the BMAI if they present a good client recommendation. However, based on the information they are given, they will need to make a choice about whether they report that the client shouldn’t necessarily take Power Prime Labs supplements (BMAI’s sister company) based on the final packs information.
How the students present their information, and how they’ve thought about the overall welfare of the ‘client’ will all lead to their final grade from the module. The narrative of the ‘client’ and their relationship to the companies, BMAI and Power Prime Labs, provided through the packs is vague and shrouded in mystery enough to allow the students to make their own conclusions as to what they believe the real motivations of each fictional player in this module is. Used alongside the element of props that they can use, feel and believe are real artefacts, a level of believability was hopefully added to the whole performance.
Currently we are in Week 3 of the experiment. Reports so far have indicated that students have shown assertiveness in leadership in their groups and are inquisitive to the packages that are being ‘delivered’. The students have also tried the ‘NITRO-Train supplements, with some reporting that they feel an increase in their performance (these supplements are placebo pills with no effects).
Following the end of the module, our plan is to run a focus group at the end of the project to report on overall student opinions and feedback. We are planning to focus on various areas such as motivation, engagement, power of mystery, the use of story, use of props and the illusion of reality. I am really looking forward to seeing whether this method of delivering a module, actually encouraged active participation within the students and if so, what were the elements that they found to be the most powerful in their learning experience. Once we have the data we are planning to publish this further, and if we find successful results, we are planning to adapt this method further for other subject areas as well as other ares of Exercise Science.
*** Link to Google Drive Folder: Free resources for structure of your own IF – https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B5n4fpxFh7ENZ3RnTF9kQWpoaVE
Under CC license – use and modify for own purposes but credit ‘Samantha Clarke, Disruptive media Learning Lab, Coventry University’ for origins.***
Most people are familiar with the paradigm of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, but for those who are not familiar, wiki defines these books as:
“Choose Your Own Adventure is a series of children’s game books where each story is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome.
The player is asked to choose a path that they wish to take at key moments in the story or asked to roll a die/other random generator to select a path, allowing for the player to experience an individual route through a non-linear branching storyline. The player often feels more of an emotional connection to this process because they have had some influence on the outcome of narrative and therefore feel a sense of ownership over the choices they have made within the process. Tom Kuhlmann’s “3C model” to construct scenarios or interactive e-learning in his Rapid E-Learning Blog describes a 3C process in order to create digital-based, interactive choose your own adventures. The 3C’s are as follows:
Challenge: Pose the challenge to the player/reader. What are the problems they face and how is the emotion conveyed/fostered?
Choices: What are the choices available to the player/reader to deal with the challenge that has been posed?
Consequences: Your player/reader has selected a choice, what is the outcome from the choice they made? Are they better or worse off? Has it opened up the story further?
This is a great model in order to remember the basic principles of creating choose your own adventures and adequately describes the mechanics process at the fundamental level. Of course when you talk about interaction fiction and branched scenarios, inspiring connection and emotion from your players is a little more complex and requires a flair for creative writing.
There are some really great examples out there of digital choose your owns and interactive fictions for both entertainment (Trapped in Time (Simon Christiansen, PDF), Hadean Lands (Andrew Plotkin, Glulx), and education (look at work from Dr. Zorn who is based in York University). And whilst I am all for digital versions of choose your owns and IFs, I personally am more interested in developing physical books (such as the FF book series by Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone) and props for this type of experience. Why? Well I believe allowing your players to play through a physical experience of something, allows for another level of emotional connection. Through the use of props, I believe you can create a really great haptic experience that stimulates the senses and enhances the storyline of the adventure. The element of mystery and intrigue can be embedded into these props to add puzzle-solving elements, and due to a physical space being adopted, these experiences could be made for multiplayer purposes, allowing for collaborative learning. In this area, I have recently been inspired by the work of Gisken Day and her experiences that use props to spur conversation and reflection. You can connect with her and her work here: Gisken Day.
So, in a bid to start experimenting in this area of using physical choose your owns for higher education/learning, I set about making a prototype in which we could plan a layout, structure and mechanics of a choose your own in which we could then adapt for various learning objectives at a later date.
I set about creating a story or fan fiction as it were, that was based loosely on a Stephen King novel. The story itself I felt was fairly easy to write, however it took me a long time (longer than anticipated) to figure out the structure.
As seen in the photo, it was very much trial and error to create the structure without any software (there are many out there such as Chatmapper), which to be honest would have helped if I had had the foresight to use (yes thats a paintbrush linking two paths!). But essentially the structure ended up becoming the following formula:
In this formula, players are presented with a starting piece of the story and given a challenge. They are offered a choice of either path A or B. Once they select a path of either A or B, they are presented with the consequences of their actions and another series of choices depending on the path taken, path A provides the choices A1, A2 or A3 and path B provides the choices B1, B2 or B3. Moving forward from here, the players, depending on the choice they pick, for an example lets say they chose to follow path A and then chose the path A1, are presented once again with the consequences of their actions and then a final ending choice of either eA1.1, eA1.2 or eA1.3. This was the basic structure that I settled on, as this could be expanded or condensed depending on the needs of the story/learning objectives. Within this structure each path way could contain a valuable learning objective for a player to explore or the whole experience could be used as part of a reflective exercise to show different outcomes of real-life scenarios (nursing/medicine/crisis management/business management etc.)
Once this structure was in place, I wanted to explore interesting ways in which players would be able to get from path to path. I settled on two options to play through the experience, offering the player/facilitator options to suit their needs.
The first option is the traditional, allow the player to choose which option they feel they would do in that situation. This allows for a fully player-led experience with the motivations and engagement properties that player choice and ownership offer.
The second option was to use Tangram geometric puzzles and a timing system to choose the paths for the player to follow. Based on the time it took for the player to complete the puzzle, this would lead to a designated path. This idea meant that time could be the factor that affected the outcomes, based on how quickly or slowly the player took equalled how long the player took in the game to respond to something that was happening. In this option, it was determined that different types of puzzles could be used in place of Tangrams depending on the depth of connection with the story and whether the puzzles themselves could be a deeper level of understanding for the story (uncovering extra materials).
Once this main structure was put together, I harnessed the power of help from my colleagues at the DMLL (Rebecca Morris and Olly Wood) to start constructing the real prototype that could be used to show how the experience worked.
Above shows Becky creating the system for the prototype and the layering of each of the paths for the physical experience, and below is the final experience compiled together into a folder.
As previously stated, I am really interested in how props and theatrics enhance the experience of the story and whether they foster a greater emotional engagement in the overall narrative. In each path that held the main branching storylines, physical props (made by Olly Wood) such as maps, shopping lists, photos etc were added with the exert of story. My plans are to include in a future evaluation of the experience whether or not props increase emotion/attachment to the narrative/experience to determine whether they have any meaningful affect on the players for future development.
Now we have a fully completed prototype, our first exercise into adapting this for educational purposes, is to target the dry area of Research Methods. Currently we are assessing and developing learning objectives in which we can build into a structure that follows the prototype experience. Once this is completed, we hope to trial this with both undergrads and masters students within both Coventry and Salford Universities.
Further work to be considered that I would like to follow up on with this type of experience, is to develop a few different types of puzzles that could be integrated in place of the Tangrams which could have a deeper meaning/ uncovering of additional paths.
Would you like the format that we used to develop your own?
If you would like a template of the format that we used to construct the prototype then I am happy to provide you this for free, just send me a pm/email. All I ask is that you credit myself and the Disruptive Media Learning Lab, Coventry University, if you use the template in any experiences you create yourself.
For those of you who have already read the motivation and breakdown of the escapED philosophy and its framework found in this post: escapED Framework , you may know that I was planning on running an exploratory prototype with some EEC, Coventry University staff members at their Innovation Day. We wanted to test the approach of escapED really quickly, a rapid prototype if you will, to see if it had any legs at all and whether this was an idea that we could take and develop further. Well, we did it and we now have the results. We also have an awesome video that shows off some of the video footage of the prototype that can be found here: escapED Promo
What we did:
We developed a prototype experience of escapED that was created for Coventry University staff members with backgrounds in engineering and computing in mind. The educational objective of the prototype was for players to develop soft skills such as communication, leadership and teamwork throughout their experience. The central theme of the prototype was created to produce feelings of action and threat within the players, and the overall main player objectives were to free a hostage and disarm a bomb. Riddles, puzzles and communication tasks were then developed within this theme to fit the needs of the proposed educational content, the overall player learning objectives and their soft skills development.
On the day of the event, members of staff signed up to time slots and were put into teams no larger than 6 players. 3 teams participated in the game, with an overall total of 13 players taking part in the event. Each event lasted around 30 minutes, 10 minutes for introduction and rules, and 20 minutes for the game. A key feature of the design of the prototype was that the teams were split into two groups and placed into two adjoining rooms. One room held the bomb, and the other held the hostage. Riddles and clues were then split between the two rooms and relied on the communication of the players to describe and put the pieces together from both rooms. Players were not allowed to go between rooms and could only communicate via two laptops that were connected to Skype, of which one was assigned to each room. Players could not move or touch the laptops, but could bring clues and puzzles to the laptop to show their teammates based in the other room. A first year drama student was employed to play the part of the hostage and to provide time awareness and clues to the players throughout the game. Most of the players were not aware/had not heard of Escape Room games before the event.
All players were observed by myself via a connection to Skype, and were monitored to observe player engagement and progress within the game. Each team was observed to display a similar method of entering and familiarising themselves with the room, displaying conservative behaviour but quickly figuring out where the laptops were placed and whether the other room could hear them. All players of each of the three teams displayed a high level of engagement throughout the experience, although this diminished somewhat when the players knew they had less than a minute left to complete the room. One team, was observed to develop a strategy in which they had a designated main communicator who would be responsible for relaying the information to the other room. None of the teams successfully completed the room, however a prize was offered to the team that came closest to completing the challenge.
We collected some results that were more focused around how the staff members perceived the game. Did they find it enjoyable? Would they consider using it as a method for teaching in their lessons? Essentially I wanted to know whether or not the people who would be responsible for implementing escapED into a teaching practice, the facilitators, had any interest whatsoever in these methods of game-based learning. What we found was very exciting, even as a small-scale study with limited participants.
After the experience, each player was asked to fill in a short feedback sheet that asked four exploratory questions about their experience and perceptions of escapED that are detailed below:
- Do you think escapED has any educational value?
- Would you consider using the escapED program in your lesson plan?
- What was good about the escapED prototype session?
- What could we improve?
From the 13 participant players, a total of 8 feedback sheets were returned with all questions answered. Members who did not complete participant sheets were asked some basic questions concerning their experience. All written feedback exhibited a positive theme throughout in regards to the experience itself. The words; ‘Fun’, ‘Innovative’ and ‘Engaging’ were repeated throughout the feedback and some player’s indicated that they did not realise that 20 minutes had passed. This was also reflected in the verbal feedback. All 8 feedback sheets stated that they could see the educational value of escapED, especially if the puzzles and theme of the experience, were worked into their taught subject matter. All feedback sheets indicated that the players would consider using escapED in their lesson plans but were unsure how to facilitate it. A few responses indicated that they thought the experience would be good as an induction into their lessons to encourage getting to know other students. One concern brought up through a number of the feedback responses was that the participants were curious to see how the experience would work with larger groups of players. None of the feedback received suggested that there were improvements that could or should be made to the experience.
Since reviewing this prototype, we have concluded that there was enough positive evidence with this small group to suggest that we could take it further to try out a few different games with different user groups such as students/ different faculties.
At present we are developing the following games to trial with students in Coventry University:
- Ethical Hacking Game – A blend on real-world and digital puzzles. To run alongside the first year of the course, the game will be centred around a solve the mystery experience to develop additional skills such as programming and maths.
- University Rules and Regulations – a short 20 minute game to get masters students thinking about University rules and regs.
- 2 x Induction Games (Photography and Aerospace Engineering) – Meet and Greet games to get students talking and working with each other.
Some of these should be implemented and running at the start of this academic year in September. I hope to post some updates on their development leading up to their release.
On more of a random note I have a few talks/workshops coming up at the end of this month where I shall be discussing the benefits of interactive GBL in more depth.
Digibytes Session, DMLL, Coventry University: DigiBytes – Game-Based Learning
Jisc Connect More Event (More Training Focused): ConnectMore