• Reminders: THATCamp Games is this week!

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    Hi ThatCamp-ers!

    THATCamp Games is this week! As you’re making your final plans to join us in College Park, here are a few things you can expect:

    All Weekend: Gaming Galore

    Find a group of friends and play some games! We’ll have board and card games available at the registration desk for sign out, and we invite you to bring your games—physical, digital, and other—to play throughout the weekend.

    Thursday: Going Cardboard Screening

    At 5pm in Tawes  1100, we’ll be having a screening of the “Going Cardboard” board games documentary. The director, Lorien Green, will be joining us by Skype for a Q&A immediately following. You can learn more about the film here: http://www.boardgamemovie.com/. This event is hosted by MITH and open to all.

    Friday: Bootcamp Workshops

    We have a full day of fantastic workshops scheduled. Join us for coffee and pastries at 8am, and the workshops start at 9am. We have three tracks for all skill levels covering both physical and digital games. Check out the full listing here: http://thatcampgames.org/fullchedule/ — and if you’re scheduled to run a workshop, make sure you arrive 15 minutes before your session and let us know if you need help setting up (and thanks again for sharing your skills!). If you’re attending a software workshop, make sure to download the software before the workshop if possible!

    Saturday: Unconference Sessions

    We’ve got tons of great proposals already, and there’s still plenty of time to get in on the conversation! We’ll start with coffee and pastries at 8, and the voting will continue until 9am. If this is your first unconference, voting is the time when you build the schedule by indicating what ideas you want to discuss. Sessions will be scheduled throughout the day, including “dork shorts”—opportunities to quickly share your ideas, games and brainstorms with the community.

    Sunday: Game Jam

    On Sunday, bring your own created games and your game-design skills out to share your own games. We’ll have an informal game jam, complete with opportunities for rapid prototyping “Glorious Trainwreck” style for those who want to build new games.

    If you have any questions, feel free to shout out through the #thatcamp hashtag on Twitter or tweet us directly at @thatcampgames. We’ll be in the green THATCamp Games shirts if you want to find us on site with any questions or concerns.

    We can’t wait to see you here at THATCamp Games!

  • Session Proposal: Preserving Videogames (and their genesis)

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    Here we have an entire (un)conference devoted to games,  yet unlike most other materials commonly targeted by humanistic inquiry, games (specifically videogames) have very few cultural heritage resources (archives, museums, libraries) dedicated to their preservation and access.

    As part of the Preserving Virtual Worlds team, I’m interested in the so-called significant properties or essential characteristics of a videogame–those features that can’t be altered without affecting the authenticity of the work. The Society of American archivists defines authenticity as:

    n. ~ 1. The quality of being genuine, not a counterfeit, and free from tampering, and is typically inferred from internal and external evidence, including its physical characteristics, structure, content, and context.

    With additional notes that:

    Authenticity is closely associated with the creator (or creators) of a record. First and foremost, an authentic record must have been created by the individual represented as the creator. The presence of a signature serves as a fundamental test for authenticity; the signature identifies the creator and establishes the relationship between the creator and the record.

    Authenticity can be verified by testing physical and formal characteristics of a record. The ink used to write a document must be contemporaneous with the document’s purported date. The style and language of the document must be consistent with other, related documents that are accepted as authentic.

    Authenticity alone does not automatically imply that the content of a record is reliable.

    The authenticity of records and documents is usually presumed, rather than requiring affirmation. Federal rules of evidence stipulate that to be presumed authentic, records and documents must be created in the ‘regular practice’ of business and that there be no overt reason to suspect the trustworthiness of the record (Uniform Rules of Evidence, as approved July 1999).

    As an example, the US National Archives lists “Appearance – Layout” as a core significant property of a webpage.  By identifying certain features as significant, certain other features are necessarily considered optional. This becomes extra important with videogames, because feature loss or degradation is far more inevitable and noticeable with game emulation than , say, JPEG conversion.  I’d like to get a conversation going about how you, as gamers and game developers, would identify these properties.  For example:

    • How important is the hardware? Is a game fundamentally changed if it was originally played with a paddle, but is emulated using a joystick?
    • If the game was originally intended for a CRT display, is playing on an LCD or Plasma screen authentic?
    • How important is sound fidelity? Early games used sound very minimally, because they were limited to the harsh sounds of an internal PC-speaker. (Try playing the “PC beep” sound in your computer’s sound options. Now imagine an entire soundtrack of PC beeps).
    • How important is color fidelity? If the blood spatter in a first person shooter was originally PMS  186, do we lose something fundamental if it’s emulated as PMS 185 (Pantone Matching System)?

    Alternately

    If that doesn’t get you going, I’m also interested in the manuscript materials (concept art, version control repositories, in-house tools, design documents, etc) generated by game development. What are they? How do they differ (or not) from “traditional” personal papers or business records? To what use could we put them?

     

  • Session Proposal: Why So Serious?

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    While a conversation about the discomfort of many academics (and many outside the academy) with scholarly, intellectual or researcher approaches to games and play might turn too meta for Ian Bogost’s liking, I think there’s a profitable session to be had about the status of games as subjects and practices in the academy (and in ‘high culture’ as well, perhaps).  I don’t mean this to be a self-pity party: in fact, I think one of the biggest issues is not with how other scholars or intellectuals treat colleagues interested in games, but with the ways that many games researchers attempt to legitimate their work by taking fun or pleasure out of the picture (a problem that many people working on serious or learning games run afoul of).

    This might make an interesting combination with a session on some of the scholarly ‘canon’ in the study of games and play, such as Homo Ludens.

  • LARP / Theater-style RPGs

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    (Disclaimer: I’m actually a mathematician by profession, only involved with the unconference because I’m helping out with a bootcamp. But I’ve got lots of amateur expertise and enthusiasm, so hopefully I can contribute!)

    So, I’m not precisely proposing a session so much as scanning for interest. I’m interested in “theater-style” role-playing games. Really any game focusing on drama, character development, and immersive experience, but in particular theaterstyle LARP.

    I’d be delighted to talk about these sorts of games with anyone who’s interested. It’s not clear to me, as an amateur, what would make for exciting discussion. As a writer and player of these games, I tend to contemplate the art and science of creating LARPs and the art of playing in them (see, e.g., this blog) and would love to talk about this–though I expect that there may be better topics for unconference discussion. Personally, I really enjoy the collaborative storytelling which is present in LARP as well as other media. I’m sure there should be something to talk about there. (The subject of collaborative storytelling would also seem to tie into discussion of many tabletop RPGs, a few computer games, and to games like the epistolary storytelling game mentioned in Amanda Visconti’s earlier post…)

    I’m also curious to hear about LARPs of all sorts, and of course would love to talk to anyone who’s already researched LARP, or interested folks who are new to the area.

  • Fantasy, Gaming, & Children’s Culture

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    This is a little different from the proposals so far, but if there’s enough interest I’d love to have a session where we discuss the relationship between gaming, medieval-style fantasy, and childhood/children’s culture. I’m a newcomer to studying games, but my work on medievalism and children’s literature has often brought me back to this curious threesome. Some possible topics include:

    • Playing, role-playing, and gaming
    • Games as potentially and explicitly didactic
    • War, magic, and history as spaces of play
    • Infantilization of fantasy and gaming culture
    • Transmedia fantasy universes

    I have little gaming experience myself, so I’d have to rely on everyone’s expertise for discussions of specific games, especially the digital kind! Depending on the interests of the group we could work towards certain outcomes to help keep the conversation focused. A few ideas:

    • Examples of “children’s,” “adult,” and “crossover” fantasy games, with identifying characteristics (how are they categorized, and who categorizes them?) and related texts/products in other media
    • A working bibliography of relevant criticism and theory
    • The outline for an easy-to-use (and easy-to-modify) game that we could play in the classroom to help students experience and discuss key questions around gaming, medievalisms, genre, and/or children’s culture. (An RPG? Would some existing games would work well?)
    • A set of possible discussion questions to go with said game(s)

     

  • Session Proposal: Authoring Tools, Past and Future

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    At a moment when most other media forms are becoming more open to a wider variety of creators at a wider range of scales, games are largely going in the other direction: becoming more expensive to create, far more demanding in terms of technical skills necessary. I’d like to have a session to talk about past authoring tools, middleware and so on designed to help a wider range of producers make game content or designs, to talk about the insights that games like Minecraft offer about the shortcomings of some of those past tools (such as Neverwinter Nights) and to see if we can’t draw up both a list of specs for what the ideal authoring tools might look like and what the incentives might be to produce them.

  • Three More Half-Baked Ideas

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    Hi campers! I just proposed a session about ARG design but I have a few more ideas for sessions, or at least stuff I’d like to talk about, so I’ll copy our excellent organizer Amanda Visconti and toss out a few more ideas, even less baked than the usual THATCamp session proposal:

    Learning from the Tabletop
    My own play has been mostly non-digital lately: board games, tabletop RPGs, make-believe with my kids. When I applied for THATCamp Games, I was a bit worried I’d be the only one in the room not au fait with Skyrim or Deus Ex 3. Looking at the session proposals so far, I think I needn’t have worried – there seems to be a healthy interest in “analog” games, tabletop games, what have you. So I don’t know if this needs to be a discrete session, but I’m always happy to talk about tabletop games (board games, war games, RPGs), their history, their place in the classroom, their relationship to digital games (I’ve always loved Matthew Kirschenbaum’s description of war games as “paper computers”). Over the last few years, some indie tabletop RPGs–it seems funny to take a niche as tiny and marginalized as tabletop RPGs and calve off an even tinier, more marginalized section of it as “indie,” but there you are–have done some interesting things with collaborative narrative construction. But that’s just one example. There are many things, I think, that digital games, gamers, and educators can learn from cardboard and paper, spinners and dice.

    Toys, Not Games
    Really, I should say, “Toys, Not Just Games.” Because I love games. But do we limit ourselves if we assume that play = games, in other words structured, rule-driven, goal-oriented activities? What can we learn from, how can we adapt and make use of, other forms of play? What can we learn from the action figure playset, or arguments about “who would win?“, or the “barely games” we play in our heads on car trips, at bus stops, standing in lines? Along with humanities games, can we imagine humanities toys?

    Shall We Play A Game?
    It would be a shame to hold a THATCamp Games and not actually play any games! My daydreams of cooking up some elaborate and mysterious ARG that would run around and through and under the whole THATCamp like a secret underconference have, amazingly, not come to fruition (of course, that’s just what I would say if I really was running a mysterious secret ARG), but I still think a session or two of actual game play would be fun and worthwhile. I think I will bring some Parsely Games – Parsely Games are a loving recreation of the text adventure games of the 1970s and 80s, but with a human being playing the role of the computer. Mafia / Werewolf is also a good game for conferences and gatherings like this. I hope other people will bring or suggest a few games that would work well in a conference setting.

  • Session Proposal: Place-based Gaming and Learning / ARG Challenges?

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    I almost called this “taking the aaargh out of ARGs,” but thankfully thought better of it.

    There have been a couple of great ARG-related session proposals already, which I will certainly attend, and and this one could be folded in with any of those, but Ido  think ARGs are interesting enough to sustain more than one discussion.

    There is real (and justifiable) interest about the idea of ARGs or pervasive games for education. But there are real challenges with the genre too. Last fall, I led the beta test of an ARG for history education called Tecumseh Lies Here. (That site is currently just a placeholder as we redesign for our bigger public launch, but I’ll link to some blog posts about the game below.) We were, and remain, very excited about running a game that brought students or players into a collaborative, creative encounter with the past; a game that spilled out of the classroom and the online world into libraries, museums, and heritage sites; a game where the act of playing was actual historical research.

    One of the most exciting discoveries that came out of the beta test was the power and appeal of place-based gaming and learning. We called this the Washington Slept Here phenomenon: a historical event or fact is somehow much more compelling when you are standing in the exact place it happened than when you read about it in a book. GPS, mobile devices, and augmented-reality technology make possible all sorts of exciting forms of place-based learning.

    But our beta test confronted us with real challenges, both professional questions about the boundaries between fact and fiction and also very practical questions about the scalability of the genre. Our test was a success in that we gave about a dozen active players an extremely intense, enjoyable, and educational experience. But it was also a ton of work, both in the long development stage and especially in the active runtime. So the questions we’re struggling with right now are: Can this model be scaled up? How can we reproduce that experiment for an audience 10 or 100 times the size? If not, does it make any sense for money- and time-strapped educators?

    I’d love to talk about these and related issues with anyone else involved (or just interested) in ARG design. Obviously my own ulterior motive is to get some ideas about how to scale up Tecumseh Lies Here for its public launch. But I think the conversation could be useful and interesting for many others.

    (Non-required reading: Here are some blog posts where I discuss the genesis of our own ARG project, and a paper (PDF, with spoilers redacted) about the challenges we’ve come across to date. Email / DM / ask me in person if you’d like a non-redacted copy of the paper.) (I know, “no papers, no presentations”–you don’t have to read it!)

  • Virtual Worlds – Second Life, OpenSim, Jibe

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    Hello Everybody!

    I am a nOOb with integrating games into the classroom.  I am both excited and nervous about this week.  Excited because, well, who wouldn’t be?  Nervous because I’m afraid I won’t have much to share.  Despite that, I am going to throw out a possible session, which is admittedly ill-defined, nevertheless here it goes…

    I have been working with a group of educators from many backgrounds (K-12, higher ed, non-profit, and corporate) in Second Life for several years.  We met in an in-world course and all stuck together with the original instructor.  We’ve focused primarily on educational simulations in the past, but have begun moving toward building educational games.

    Some questions/ideas to explore:

    • Has anybody created a game in SL/OpenSim for their students?
    • If yes, what went well and not so well?
    • How does it differ from other platforms?
    • Has anybody integrated user created objects into the game experience?
    • Do you program non-player characters to persist or have people come in on schedule?
    • Bringing students into Second Life for the first time can be challenging.  Has anybody found an “easy” way.
    • We’ve begun to explore Jibe, which is built in Unity and uploaded.  It is easy to get in, as it is displayed in a regular browser, requires a link, username/password, and two clicks to enter.  However, as far as I know, users cannot create objects and all interaction needs to be programmed.

    Some of these I have experience and opinions on, but others I do not.  I would love to learn and share with others.

    • 3D GameLab Group

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      Hey, everyone, I’ve set up a group for us in 3D GameLab, for those of you who would like to try out the system for yourselves.  For those who didn’t see my comment on an earlier post, 3D GameLab is a new learning management system using game mechanics and quest-based learning principles, designed at the Educational Technology department at Boise State University.

      I’ve added 15 or so simple quests, all revolving around what we’re doing and discussing at THATCamp Games, and anyone who would like to participate is welcome.  Some of the quests can be completed before the meetings begin while others can only be done after participating in THATCamp Games sessions.  You can do as many or as few quests as you like, and as you do you’ll see how the badges, rewards and point bar work in this system.

      3D GameLab is in closed beta testing right now, so I do have to invite you in.  If you are interested in seeing how it works from the inside, just email me at suzanne.waldenberger @ yc.edu (take out the spaces) and I’ll add you to the group.

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