• Session Proposal: Grading with XPs


    In the Fall 2011 semester I taught a course called Morality and Mind, an introduction to cognitive scientific perspectives on morality and moral philosophy/psychology. Rather than utilize a traditional grading schema, I experimented with a grading system based on experience points (XPs). I am not really much of a gamer, and was not entirely clear about such things as leveling up or how to assign points that somehow would — by the end of the course — correspond to a traditional grade. But, with the help of Lee Zickel (who is also attending THATCamp Games), I came up with a workable system that looked like this:


    Final course grades were based on earned points as follows:






    My attraction to grading with XPs is the result of, among other things, two major areas of dissatisfaction with traditional grading: (1) the implicit assumption — at least for students — that grading is about the instructor subtracting points from an originating grade of A or 100, and (2) the me-against-them relationship created by traditional grading. So, how does the application of XPs resolve — or begin to — these two issues?

    Grading with XPs is additive — the student starts with zero, and earns points by successfully fulfilling course requirements. My experience in this course was that students liked seeing their points and grade level increase as the semester progressed. Using XPs also had the additional benefit of shifting the focus of responsibility on the students for earning points rather than my conferring grades (or taking away points). Students began to see themselves in relationship with the “game” of the course, rather than pitted against me. And at least some of the students worked hard to be among the highest point earners. Since I updated point totals two or three times a week, students knew exactly where they stood in relation to their peers.

    This was the first iteration of my use of an XP grading system. Some things worked, some not as well as I had hoped, but I plan on using a modified version of this in subsequent courses, though I don’t think the use of XPs is appropriate for all of my classes.

    My session proposal is for a discussion of XP or other game-inspired grading systems. Anyone else doing this or want to? I would love a conversation about best practices, pros and cons, how to design such grading systems, and anything else people might be interested in related to games and grading.

  • Session Proposal: Involving Students in Game Creation


    I’m interested in discussing the possibilities for our students’ role(s) in games-based learning at the undergraduate level. I’ve used assignments in which students create their own games (not in a games-related course), and of course there are also assignments in which students consider games as texts/sources (which I haven’t used myself). But what about involving undergraduate students in the process of creating games for use in our classes: is there a role in that process for our students? Is there a place for not just advanced undergrads but even first/second year students, not just students in games-related majors but those in any degree program?

    My interest in these questions arises from my own instructional situation. I’m a faculty member in the library at my college and I don’t usually have the chance to work with students in semester-length courses — most frequently it’s of the single-session variety. I’m interested in using games more often in my instruction, especially because research behaviors are so gamelike. But I can run into challenges playtesting and implementing because I don’t have many students or sessions to work with. I’ve wondered whether working with students on an internship or independent study basis might be a help. I’d be interested to hear about others’ experiences in working with students on games to implement in the classroom.

  • Session Proposal: Who Are We Pretending to Be? (Am I doing this right?)


    Hey all,

    Not much to say. Just curious — and, well, excited to offer up something. I’ll try to frame this something in the form of a curiosity of some sort, because I guess I find myself curious about this, too.

    My (Clumsy) Complaint: Identity politics — or the overt exploration of identity in general (for example, like, in the study of video games?) — is often rigid and self-congratulatory and melodramatic and generally fraught with differently-flavored varieties of basically the same blank insistence (“see me, see me”), even whilst the mainstream consciousness that granted such politics widespread practical agency has continued to appeal rather to identification — a very compelling pretension to being something specific, rather than dealing with the pretension of numerous oppressive others — and has thus more successfully been able to get under our skin.

    Hopefully, if you’re not taking the above complaint to be mainly sexist, racist, colonialist, and what not, then maybe we can all join to have a talk about what exactly games are offering us by way of people, places, animals, objects … that we can be. It’s too simplistic to call it “pretending to be.” I’ll accept “identifying” — but “identifying as,” rather than “identifying with.”

    I hope I’m making sense.

    Mostly, I’d like to consider the medium of role-playing games, but I certainly welcome any insertions (ooh, “insertions” — I like this accident) from other “identifying as”-style works into the discussion. Here, I mean any role-playing games — from whatever varieties of the childhood game of pretend to the disaffected (and mostly male) young person’s table-top dice-rolling pencil-and-paper variety to the (at once neurotic and strangely open) adult varieties of role-playing done, ideally (we like to think), “in” the proverbial “bed.” Eh, the last is where I thought I wanted to insert “insertions.” The only thing is: I’m not sure to what extent “insertions” are real. Likewise with orcs and summon skeleton spells, and with playing doctor and pretending to be a pokemon.

    The academic discussion should probably unfold in more or less this way: Why this? Why that? Why this way? Why that way? Bla, bla, bla…

    Catch my drift? Interested? Bored? Grossed out?

    Let me know.

    — Ishai

  • Session Proposal: Game Data Vis!


    Good visualizations are things of beauty.


    I’d like to talk about creating visual demonstrations of game data (whether for games you’ve made yourself, or when studying others’ games). How can we concisely and accurately demonstrate key measures of our games, whether for research purposes, soliciting more funding, or to encapsulate the game experience for non-players? What work are people doing with visualizations of game data?

    This question stems from my experience running an on-going small-scale ARG/RPG, Her Majesty’s Royal Mail, with attendee Michael Von Korff. A key mechanic of the game is its player-to-player epistolary delivery, which necessarily creates a fog of war correspondence that we’ve dealt with through letter editing, an all-player broadsheet, and the ever-popular intercepted letter. I’d be interested in figuring out tools to generate visualizations of the correspondence relationships occurring in this game, something I imagine can be modeled by existing social network analysis tools? Thus far, I’ve just been modeling these relationships in a drawing program, but I’m certain there’s a better way:

    Click for larger (but still redacted) image.


    Some questions this session might explore:

    1. What tools are people using to work with data from existing and self-created games? (I hear attendee Marc Ruppel might have something to say about social networks in ARGs…)
    2. More specifically–what are the best tools to use for data from different genres and sizes of games? What about in-game (e.g. character behavior) data and meta-game (e.g. player post-game survey) data? Are there tools beyond social network analysis mechanisms we can apply to our game data?
    3. What are some good examples of work with game data visualizations? What kind of visualizations haven’t been done yet?
    4. How can we apply existing DH tools to answering questions about our game data?
    5. What kind fo questions do we want to ask (and answer) with game data vis, anyway?
    6. And in terms of getting the data in the first place–is there a way to get more game datasets out there for use in the game studies community while still protecting our players?
  • Distraction Proposal: Minecraft Server


    community center

    I haven’t really got an agenda or a track record with minecraft but  I think it would prove to be fun and an interesting diversion.

    I would like to start a fresh Minecraft server Wed or Thurs and open it up to THATCamp Games attendees.  I only recently started administrating Minecraft Servers so I am not terribly savvy and this will likely turn into anarchy. If there is only minor interest I have a Bukkit server running that has 10 slots as well.

    I see the possibility of this being an additional place for discourse, and if there is enough interest perhaps a session would make sense and would be happy to discuss a little about my work with democratic governance, and art spaces, and resistance in games.


  • Session Proposal: Reacting to the Past & Liminality


    Vote counting (and sacrificial pig) on final day of Socrates' trial, Fall 2007

    Reacting to the Past is series of elaborate academic role-playing games developed and maintained at Barnard College by Mark Carnes. Reacting games were developed initially to meet the requirements of Columbia’s core program, so each centers on a significant conceptual conflict surrounding a major ‘core text.’

    Reacting games are distinctly low-tech.  Students are assigned roles, each of which has a significant preparation packet, biography and set of objectives that relate to the conceptual conflict–a role may require that the student pass a piece of legislation in the Athenian Assembly or block Darwin’s Copley medal in 1864. The actual game play, which takes place during the schedule class time, generally takes the form of persuasive speech regarding the ideas contained within the central text. These speeches usually correspond to formal written work.

    In contemporary terminology, Reacting games might be considered ARGs, and like ARGs, students playing Reacting games sometimes have trouble remembering that the actions and positions taken by their peers are specified by the role assigned by the professor.  The tradition in Reacting is to distinguish between game and regular class periods by conducting some grand public initiation ritual at the opening of each game play session to establish a liminal barrier between the game and reality.

    Here are the games currently published:

    And in development:

    I’d like to propose a session–perhaps combined Sukey’s on the proposed college-wide Gen Ed ARG–to discuss the importance of liminality in game play, and to share some of the techniques used in the Reacting community to instill a sense of other-worldliness when gaming in the classroom.

    In a related topic, Brett Boessen and I had a brief twitter discussion of Ian Bogost’s blog post at Gamasutra Persuasive Games: Exploitationware a few weeks ago.  The liminal experiences emphasized by the Reacting community instantiate those “hard, strange, magical features of games” that Bogost worries are undermined by making games persuasive. I find myself wondering that if by creating liminal spaces for students to ‘try on’ various conceptual frameworks, we’re training students to understand and defend against persuasive exploitationware, or have just reinvented a new form of it.


  • Session Proposal: Games for Teaching Argument


    I teach freshman composition, and I’d like to propose a session in which we might begin working out how to teach argument using games and/or how to develop a game that would give students practice using rhetorical strategies.

    I initially considered this idea in terms of video games. However, Roger Travis reminded me that there are many kinds of games to consider (see his session proposal), especially given the less-than-stellar computer resources at some colleges and student populations that may not be as wired as others. His session proposal leads me to a number of questions I think would be worth exploring:

    • Would this be a game that would need to be built from scratch or are there existing games within which argument could be taught or practiced? (For example, a professor at SMU teaches corporate communications in/through Madden.)
    • Would it be feasible for students to build the game? (especially if we didn’t have to deal with too big a learning curve)
    • Would it be a quest?
    • Or a board game in which players might land on different issues?

    I’m sure the BootCamp sessions will help stimulate this discussion, and assuming that this doesn’t overlap too much with Shawn Doyle’s “Games and Writing,” I hope to have the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in those sessions to this topic, as well as brainstorm with those of you who have far more expertise and experience than I do!

  • Session Proposal: Maryland Is For Gamers


    I’m going to plead my focus on Other Conference Things (i.e. making sure we have coffee the morning of the conference, designing Sweet Conference Swag like the sticker above) as an excuse for not writing a full session proposal on a single topic, but I wanted to at least throw a few short ideas out there and see if anyone is interested in talking about them, in-session or out. For those of you who haven’t written a proposal yet–please do post something! Even if it’s just a few sentences or some bullet points. At the very least, this will let others with similar interests know to seek you out at the conference. Don’t forget that sessions can take many formats: discussions, collaborative writing, reading groups, game design or testing, play-alouds, game critiques, syllabus design… and you can propose as many session ideas as strike your fancy.

    Wrangling Unwieldy Mythologies: Anyone who’s spent time designing a game knows that the brainstorming process–especially with extensively narrative games–is exhilarating but messy. How do we preserve and display the process of our game designing for future researchers, designers, and players? Are there practices we can use during the design phase that would save time later on without impeding creativity as we work? What types of software do people use to organize and track changes in their design notes?

    Big Humanities Game Pedagogy Resource: A roundtable discussion of our experiences teaching games to undergraduates, culminating in a GoogleDoc of resources (e.g. links to games studies syllabi, games assignments, games that worked well in the classroom) for humanities teachers (unless there’s a good instance of this someone can link me to already?). This could even be a GoogleDoc I set up next Saturday morning that we could all add to during the day, though I’d love to hear from you all in-person about what’s worked when teaching games.

    A gamification manifesto/reading list: I’d probably be okay with never hearing the word “gamification” again, but sometimes one needs to re-argue the difference between meaningful game features and trendy but empty game elements (e.g. when designing a course or seeking funding for a study). This session would draw up a GoogleDoc with links to this year’s most interesting writing on the gamification debate as well as draft a sort of manifesto for the place of games in the humanities curriculum–something we could share with interested non-game-studiers (maybe this could even buddy up with Kevin’s great “Badges Done Right” proposal?).

    The Literary ARG: I’m fascinated by the similarities between ARGs and classes that focus on wrestling big, complex works of literature (Ulysses, I’m looking at you: you’ve got the puzzles, answerable and not; the collaborative classroom reading; the frustration and the triumph; and the opportunity for a reader/player-created wiki/online community.) Perhaps teaming up with the quest-class proposal, I’d be interested in discussing how such a game-class structure might work for a literary course (maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had an easier time wrapping my head around quest-courses about history or STEM or game design than I do about literary quest courses.)

  • Session Proposal: Textual Analysis Tools Brainstorm


    One problem we have in trying to study games in an academic setting is that in many cases, the elements of a game we’d like to study are inaccessible because they require great skill on the part of the player (i.e., not every great scholar of games will be a great player of games).  If there were some way to tease out areas or levels in games expressly for scholarly study — a “god mode” designed for research and criticism — this would help us immensely in plumbing the depths of a game more effectively.

    In this session, we would brainstorm the possibilities for developing such tools: conversations with developers, somehow programming such tools ourselves (and by “our” I certainly don’t mean to include myself), or somehow to collectively achieve a similar end through shared logins, save files, etc.

    I’m guessing that this sessions would be highly speculative and very well might come to nothing in the end.  But for someone who wants to be able to have the same fine-grained access to games for study that I have to movies and other media, it seems like this group is one of the most likely gatherings at which to actually generate a workable solution.

  • Session Proposal: It’s good for your Character!


    Like many others, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last year thinking about identity and gaming. Beyond just thinking about the different roles we take on as gamers, I’ve also been thinking about how we react to different non-player characters (NPCs) encountered within games, whether popular games, games for learning, ARGs, or any other games we play.  What about these characters makes them engaging and causes us to react to them?  Why do we dislike one character but like another, when both are written to be allies?  How do NPCs affect player engagement with the game as a whole?

    A recent ARG project I worked on included an NPC which players had intense responses to – he was controlled by the puppet-master (me), but was introduced to players as a manager within their company.  Players deeply bought into the character, sometimes even showing an emotional response to his ability or inability to help with any problems they encountered.  I did not expect such a high-level of engagement when the character was created, and was surprised when some of the development team told me that the players were asking who “that Josh guy” was and why he had more administrative privileges than they did.  They even expressed surprise when told that he was a fictional character.

    For my session, I’d like to get people together to pick apart this character, as well as other engaging characters from popular games or projects that attendees have worked on.  I would like for us to end up with some sort of set of guidelines or brainstorming ideas for creating engaging NPCs, and maybe a few engaging character profiles.  I will bring examples to work with, but everyone can bring their own characters to pick apart, or bring character design problems to crowd-source.

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