GLS Conference

Elfplus_1Several Terra Novans (Ted, TL, Cory, Dmitri, and I) have descended on Madison, Wisconsin for the Games, Learning, and Society conference organized by Constance and guided by the James Gee mafia of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  As the title suggests, the focus is mostly on games in education. Below are notes from the first panel I went to, featuring Henry Jenkins and James Gee. (Updated 6/24 -- added notes from PARC PlayOn guys. Added Social Effects / Addiction.)

Caveat that these are incomplete and perhaps inaccurate.  If I take more notes during the conference, I'll append them. The conference is tri-tracked, but it appears that one track (including this panel) will be webcast, so you may be able to check the accuracy of these.  My editorial comments are in brackets.

Henry Jenkins -

Has a book coming out on media convergence by NYU Press. Book deals with how games and play form structures that later emerge in broader society. 

Part One: Yoyogi Park, Toyko. Asian popular culture is becoming American popular culture. Cosplay costumes-video clips. Video of Chloe Metcalf talking about Cosplay. Jenkin notes how she learns Japanese at a college level to better appreciate anime and Japanese culture. Media literacy as not consuming, but generating popular culture. Dynamic relationship between consumption and production. "Performance, for this generation, seems very important." Video clip: Rockabilly Yankees "deeply embedded in Japanese culture."  Video clips: Boy Band moves. Says this is not about colonialism or cultural imperialism, it is about hybridity.  [Ed: seems to presume there *is* such a thing as Japanese/American cultural identity.]

Part Two: Rethinking Media Literacy. Counter mass media culture - tune out is the only choice.  Says that this is wrong. Cites "Everything Bad is Good for You." [Ed: good critique of this in The Nation.] Genre complexity (various facets of Superman). Visual complexity. Narrative complexity ("Lost")--heightened processing.  Pokemon. Civilization. Cultural complexity--Thai versions of the Western.  Popular films that you "don't get" is a new phenomenon.  Moving past Johnson (not just getting smarter) to distributed cognition. Collective intelligence (via Pierre Levy). Wikipedia. *spoiling* Survivor by collaborative detective work. I love bees [Ed: see McGonigal paper at DiGRA].  Coke Music as an example of fan culture interplay with users. Andrew Blau, Future of Independent Media. Joshua Meeter, 14yr old, animator.  Peter "TheSidDog" Medina on Sims Movies.  Ed "Grizzly Bear" Droste. [Ed: yep--all amateur production examples.]  Napster generation? Appropriative nature of creativity.  Lowfi/Digital aesthetics.

Most of the kids who are smart, articulate creative, etc. are home schooled.  "Schools are failing them." New technologies make home schooling more powerful. <Kids aren't using screen media too much?>

Media Literacy Skills illustrative list (that kids should have):
* ability to critically assess information gathered from multiple sources
* ability to appreciate works from many different aesthetic traditions
* an understanding of context within which media are produced, distributed, and consumed
-- more powerful gatekeepers also becoming less significant
* ability to express self through range of media
* ability to assess which media is most appropriate for a given purpose
* ability to meaningfully participate in collective intelligence community
* ability to think in multimodal terms
* an ethical framework for thinking about our freedoms and responsibilities as educators
-- copyright industries are feeding schools information about copyright ethics

Suggests that digital divide is closing... sort of.  Or maybe not. School deskills learners by not providing technologies that students use outside of schools?

Paradigm Shift -- media literacy should be taught across the curriculum. Multiculturalism was an example--new media should be another example (not an added-on subject).

James Gee -

Wants to talk about two crises in schools/society.

First is crisis known for 30 years -- fourth grade slump.  Reading skills at fourth grade drop--scores for reading are good until 4th grade, but when reading is used to learn other subjects, this falls off.  New crisis is exemplified by Friedman's "Flat World" -- the college slump.  We are outsourcing all sorts of commoditized jobs, high and low-- all standardized jobs are being sent to other countries. Innovation and creativity is the source of new industry. Belief that we'll be the innovators and keep the non-commoditized jobs--we won't. Says grad students are not coming to the U.S.  Problem is that the school system is about the basics of skill & drill.

The solution to these problems is in our face -- popular culture and the games industry.  "We have a lot to learn from these despised industries form how to solve these crises."  Think about your high school biology textbook -- did you take it to the beach to read it. Unless kids, starting at home, get ready for the complex demands that schools will make on language, you will not be prepared. Yugioh cards -- these are much more complex than what you'll see in textbooks. [Ed: this is so true--understanding the rules of MTG is like grasping a complex statutory scheme.]

The game industry has already set a standard of how to educate people so that they can become innovators.

Let's hope the games industry isn't monopolized into the 18th sequel of James Bond.

At the end of a game, you get an assessment -- example from Rise of Nations. Achievements along all sorts of variables. Variety of graphs and metrics -- 14 pages of statistical assessments that kids consume for pleasure.  The graphs help you understand how to perform better (formative assessment).  What you see is an ideal assessment.

Affinity groups. Games form communities. Kids use games as a basis for derivative creativity.  Common endeavor forms the basis for community. Newbies and masters share same space.  2000 pages produced each day on Age of Mythology.  Encourages intensive and extensive knowledge. [etc - long bullet list re groups...]

Another bullet list of principles.  Games incorporate learning -- the fun of the game is in the learning.  [Hmm-- sounds like Raph re pattern recognition] Games are presently frustrating. Cycle of expertise.  Emergent properties out of knowledge.

Q & A
Q: School is a game too.  School is a bad game, though -- it recruits kids to do useless things.
A (Gee): Schools are at risk--there will be alternatives to existing school.  The paradigm of school will face competition from Microsoft, etc.
A (Jenkins): If current schooling is a game, maybe it is Candyland. Or Chutes and Ladders.  Tic-Tac-Toe.  Point: boring games.  I don't know that we can re-program schools. Churches may be more open-ended. Wants to keep focus on schools because we don't want to give up on kids/teachers in the system.

Q: What changes have you made in your own programs/teaching?
A (Gee): Since the key solution is the baby boom dying or retiring, that's my biggest contribution. [laughter.] Younger generation gets this. I try to teach as little as possible. [laughter.]
A (Jenkins): At MIT, reconceptualized what media looks like. Tying production to theory. Creative opportunities within courses. [Hmm, nobody has talked about Ted Sizer and the move toward portfolios...]

Q: What would a curriculum of the future look like?  How do you incorporate *relevance*?
A (Gee): Liberals try to make us about who we are.  Conservatives are off the interest. Make it applied to real problems and step into real identities -- take on the identity that you want to have.
A (Jenkins): Project on Williamsburg.

Thursday morning

Robert Moore, Nicholas Ducheneaut, & Eric Nickell
Leveraging Virtual Omniscience: Mixed Methodologies for Studying Social Life in Persistent Online Worlds


General overview of what "ubicomp" is.  MIT Place Lab -- trying to capture near-total behavioral data through hundreds of sensors in a home ($700k).  Challenge is how to make sense of masses of data.

But it isn't so hard in virtual worlds -- MMORPGs are booming.  This is a social scientist's dream to study.  It is much easier to know what goes on in that world, because everything is mediated.  Here, you have monitoring down to a very fine level of detail (like the monitor on the sugar bowl in the MIT Place Lab). 

Virtual ethnography / Conversation Analysis / Analytic software

A word about virtual ethnography -- a little controversial because the focus is on the virtual world and not on the user at the keyboard.  Quote from Hine (2000).

Regular Ethnography -- field notes, observations, pictures
Virtual Ethnography -- reduces travel costs (easy to be in "field"), focus on critical episode, using virtual cameras
Rutter & Smith (2002) -- quotes suggest that this data collection is *too* easy

SWG: standard EQ-model game, levels, professions -- slew of non-combat professions
Hot spots were starports and cantinas.  Starports are transportation hubs.  Cantinas are cogregation spots -- will focus on them for the rest of the talk.

What goes on in Cantina?  Seedy establishments where weary warriors seek mind-healing from scantily-clad dancers.  Substantive cross between cantina and Jabba the Hut's lair. [This is a fun thought...] Entertainers heal battle fatigue -- need to watch a dancer or listen to a musician.  Mind-buff > temporary service you pay for.  XP grinding that is automated.  [Cf. Squire/Steinkuehler wrote on this in generating cyberculture/s.]  Socializing and role-play.  Jokes / knowledge sharing / role play.

Coronet -- comments from players in role-play "spiced out zombies" -- ooc "afk hell" -- real division between role-players and power gamers.

Going Deeper - Conversational analysis.
Record --> compress --> transcribe (data crunching in "real" ethnography)
In VE: screen capture -- problem is that data balloons too fast.  Hack = put in a Videotape and don't record to HD -- need to increase text size for readability on video.  Compress.  Transcribe.  Nice benefit = system logs, which are time stamped.  System logs do much of your work for you.

Service delivery for dance is "self service" dancers don't know you are watching.  Clapping doesn't target a particular entertained. 

Compare "Do you mind-buff" transaction.  Eight and a half minutes of process -- like getting your hair cut.  It would probably be pretty unusual not to talk.  People don't always interact (might go AFK).  Low-level game commands have a broader impact on social atmosphere of games.


Taking things to a broader level of analysis.
Notion of self-serve vs. full-serve as a way to explore the claims of "third place".
Placed bots (which are paid accounts) within SWG.  The bots are just regular players posted to absorb data.  (They had to stand up and sit down to avoid being booted for AFK -- issues with server resets, etc.)  Used one PC per bot.  Used text logs (built into SWG) in columnar format.  3 month study.  700 megs of text files.

Raw data.  Use of gestures (directional) indicated in text logs [since MUDs]. Beggar bot. Since they never played their bots, the bots looked miserable.  Beggar bot would stand up and sit down.  Reminded them of a panhandler.  Insight: perhaps they saw him as a pan handler.  *He had acquired 300,000 credits* -- enough for 3 starships."  [:-0]  In game emails "I have seen you alone in the corner for months,  Don't be afraid." [Laughter.]

Graphs of sociability data in Coronet City Cantina.  [Reported on this study in an earlier TN post.] Interpreting the data: there are some people who want drive-thru service seeking in cantinas.  [Probably power gamers!]  AFK grinders --> those who gesture directionally and do not receive must be automated macros -- people recognize that these not legit, so they don't reciprocate.  [corrolates to spam problems IRL].  Socializers have reciprocal send/receive.

Compare to Theed Cantina -- you see same numbers of power gamers and AFK grind spammers, but socializers have much greater volume.  [So, in other words, validates the IC and OOC comments of role-player above.]

Virtual geography seems to interact with this.

Putting it all together:
[doesn't talk about it, but the gist seems to be that emprical work and ethnography is required to understand the nature of the spaces.] 

Now they hand out the data (video, spreadsheets, logs,etc.) to members of the conference audience and let them try to draw their own conclusions from the data.  [Fun presentation technique -- harness the conference hive. :-)]

Dmitri Williams
The Social Impact of MMOG Play

Goal: why do we freak out about games like we do? Gather data. Analyze.

* agression
* social capital
* relationships
* media use
* cultivation

Stereotype -- gamers are nerds in basements that come out wearing trenchcoats -- not true.  Games are part of the same media trend / reaction that has been occurring for many years.  His intuitions: about women / dissolution of nuclear families.  That's where the stereotypes probably come from.

1) Negative displacement or aggression. (children are the ordinary subject).
2) Gaps in the research.
* sampling issue with age (MMOGs are not a particularly child-focused game).
* social play (no-brainer -- but often hard to get people to see).
* methodological problems (issues with correllation / causation -- game use itself is a problematic variable) level of nuance between different sorts of games.  36,000 games in one database -- 96 platforms.  Very hard to generalize.
* Lack of longitudinal research. Lab-based work is the rule.

Internet research:
Cites Robert Putnam -- "Bowling Alone" 300 page tome of declines in civic participation (we are bowling less, playing cards less, going to church less).  He disagree with causes, but we *do* have these social declines.  Demand / Supply.  Idea: the demand for sociability has remained, but supply of places for socialization is greater -- Internet provides substitute.  Bad?
* Atomization (Sunstein)
Putnam and Social Capital
* social networks and associated norms of reciprocity
* bridging and bonding (only a few pages in Putnam)
* bridging lets you associate with new people and new things -- social WD40.
* bonding social capital = value transfer (shoulder to cry on, monetary loan).  Bridging = access, bonding = support.
* "strength of weak ties" you need a loose network

Measurement scale:
                        Online        Offline
Bonding            1                2
Bridging            3                4

Does increase in online gaming:
* not doing homework?
* not doing jobwork
* socially desirable media? (news is good, books, magazine)
* socially undesirable media? (entertainment television)
* agression

Social capital:
Increase in gaming?
* harm family?
* decrease civic attitudes?

Setting up method:
Really important to "get in and play the damn thing."  Need to go in and play the heck out of the game, take notes, interview players, interview designers.  This leads to asking the right kind of questions.

Asheron's Call 2:
Game is underpopulated -- it did not sell well.
World is too big for the number of people on the server.
The game's major place was not crawling with people.
MMORPGs vary in their sociability -- this is the lowest that you can get.

Panel study with limited control group.
Split by prior play.
Mailed 400 copies to people in all 50 states.
Subjects agreed to play twice a week for one month, 16 hrs/ week: 64 hours.
Retention rates: 92% retention

Results: Controlled Newbie.
* reduction in extended friendship networks
* increase in civic activism
* decrease in religious services
Null findings: schoolwork, job, depression, loneliness, agression, social capital (*lots* of stuff-no change)

Veterans (not controlled, tho!):
* did decrease in schoolwork, hours per week
* tv use down 12%
* tv sports down 27%
* movies down
Agression (do you think it is okay to do "x")
physical agression goes up 1.6%
verbal agression goes down 1.5%
(makes sense -- killing mobs left & right / chatting in a friendly way)

Social capital -- no newbie effect -- experienced decrease bridging/bonding
Offline: *bonding* goes down -- 3 questions implying less social support
respect for offline community (bridging) seems to go up.

Results: Social network
* friends 1-3 no change
* friend 4-6, decline
* travel declines
* no impact with family

Putnam: strange increases from the newbies.  Explaination: sense of efficacy -- they can affect change in a group.  leading, organizing, mobilizing?


Now for something completely different:
[Dmitri says he'll be putting this finding up on Terra Nova in a few months when the paper gets worked out, so I won't post a spoiler. :-)]

Jack Kuo, Will Huang, & Jeffrey Wilkins
Exploring the Diagnosis and Treatment of Online Gaming Addiction

First slide reads "Are you addicted?"  He recognizes that this is potentially inflammatory. 

A story: WoW -- young man gets into it and finds that the more you do it, the more you want to keep doing it.  The grind as requiring increased investments.  Gets a little out of control at points.  Plays in a way that starts impacting on work -- coming in late, calling in sick, girlfriend bugs him, stops seeing friends.  Wants to cut back.  Has a hard time doing it. Started having some cravings.  Got irritable.  Bugged when he was traveling, and wanted to get back to his game / guild.

* cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
* motivational interviewing

Why these theories?
* evidence-based
* non-judgmental (not like "you must quit before we can treat you")
* on demand
* customized
* adaptable
* contextualized (note these are kind of game-like)

[Slide of a scale -- angels and devils.  What is good and bad about games?]

Good: pretty, reward with random probability (basis of Vegas!), social, rush, role-play, competitive, winning.

Bad: expensive, time, guild may be run by 16-year old kids [Ted says this--laughter], flames, kill-stealing, addiction -- becoming meaner and more cruel, non-gamers don't understand, play as a couple. (Note about how playing as a couple is bad/strange for games -- okay for golf).  Physically harmed by not moving -- repetitive strain injuries. [Ted wants "addictive" in the positive column.] Frustration with the game -- game is not good enough.  Hanging out with people you really don't like.  Contentious, 16-yr old "smarty pants"

Self-report first
Diagnostic criteria

Talks about how to draw the line -- where is too far. Emotional band-aid. Girl-friend. Denial. Loss of job.  Bad performance in school. Emotional discomfort. Immobility.

Their criteria is taken from the framework for pathological gambling.
* preoccupation with gaming
* increasing need for same satisfaction
* can't stop, though this is tried
* increasingly irritable
* plays longer than originally intended
* lies to others in order to conceal
* jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, education-- because of online gaming
* other problems (serious/physical) are being ignored because of gaming (from substance abuse, not pathalogical gambling)
* craving effects -- increasing arousal before, satisfaction afterward

A few of these may be normal, and most have it -- but 5 or more is cause for worry -- questions go to "to what extent is your playing messing with your life"?

What are your goals?
* professional
* academic
* personal

Is there are problem that exists between these goals and achieving your goals?


Constance's Commentary

Goes Meta -- why do we need to do this.  Effects of games. "Fear-mongering" in mass media. Dmitri's work shows that the effects of these spaces is very nuanced.  Jack, Will, Jefferey -- reacting to the notion of games as substance.  Bothered most by the fact that the media has co-opted a conversation that these discussion makes more meaningful. 

Games are designed experiences.  Thoroughly about interaction.  Different players create different forms of experience.
Need for insider gamer knowledge -- how do you know what the important variables are? What is the proper unit of analysis?  Guild?  Group hunt?  What does X mean in the first place?  What is addiction?  Gamer's definition diverges from the player's.  Mother of player may sue Sony based on a meaning of addiction taken outside of the gamer context.  We have a real problem doing media effects research without a robust understanding of the games themselves.

Need for longitudinal work.
Need for normative models.
"'Real life' is always 'my life' -- 'my life' is real."  The answers are very complex -- people writing headlines don't like complex answers.

Comments on GLS Conference:

Peter Ludlow says:

wow, great stuff. Please keep those notes coming!

Posted Jun 23, 2005 12:33:38 PM | link

Jason says:

Greg - thanks for sharing these notes. Were you at DiGRA?

Posted Jun 23, 2005 12:39:24 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

I just attended a workshop on game design by Zimmerman, Hunick, LeBlanc. We played games at an academic conference. this is the second time i've been at a conference where that happened (zimmerman's mmg of rock paper scissors at SOP II was the first) and it's inspiring. conferences are so boring.

personal takeaways were high-quality (if not exactly new to people who have done some reading of these folks in the past):
game design is the art of using mechanics to produce certain aesthetics.

it's hard. very poorly understood.

the dynamics of a game can be better understood through psychology (and by extension, all the behavioral sciences)

negotiations within OPEC over oil production levels is mechanically similar to the way little girls are said to fight over social standing at the playground. yikes! it's the kind of thing you can know in theory, but when you play it out, it sinks in.

and that would be a moment of learning in a game, i guess.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 1:07:22 PM | link

Reuben Linden says:

Here's a treat for all TerraNovans at GLC --

Posted Jun 23, 2005 2:03:32 PM | link

greglas says:

Peter -- thanks -- the battery died today, might have better luck tomorrow.

Jason -- thanks for your DiGRA notes! (I didn't make it -- had something accepted but had to pull out.)

Posted Jun 23, 2005 8:39:24 PM | link

James Cook says:

Some people don't believe you can be addicted to behaviors (such as online gaming). I think the existance of pathological gambling addiction disproves this pretty well.

Ted seems afraid that people will think badly of games if they are shown to be sometimes addictive. I think people need to accept that many things are potentially addictive, but most people can handle them.


Posted Jun 24, 2005 3:39:33 PM | link

Jeff Kroll says:

Hey all, I'm a sociologist at the University of Arizona, and I attended GLS as well. I want to do an MMOG ethnography for my dissertation, so I was especially interested in what Dmitri had to say. Anyways, I thought I'd share my discombobulated notes on GLS, too. They can be found at:

Posted Jun 29, 2005 1:39:34 PM | link

paolo says:

Maybe you'll be interested in Games on Google Maps. It can be the new frontier for online games, no? Someone already thinks about a conference in 2006! ;-)

or on BoingBoing

I also opened a wiki page for collecting ideas and implementations of games on google maps.
Edit it if you have some ideas!

Posted Jul 1, 2005 4:39:32 AM | link