13.0576 games, learning and teaching

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Thu May 04 2000 - 05:41:10 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 576.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (34)
             Subject: Games and Modularity

       [2] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com> (53)
             Subject: Re: 13.0557 games, learning and teaching

             Date: Thu, 04 May 2000 06:37:07 +0100
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Games and Modularity

    The intrinsic reward of graduation to various levels is an aspect of video
    and computer games which be adpoted to many pedagogical situations. One
    can imagine a game that helps with Latin drill. The game can render
    feedback on progress through a route traced on map, say from Gaul to
    Rome. Alternatively, one's progress in throught declensions and
    conjugations can be reflected in the erection of say Hadrian's wall.

    With open source code, the very building of such an interface becomes a
    game. Each generation of Latinists and programers can contribute
    enhancements and extensions.

    Of course the institutional incentive may not be present to encourage such

    Certain colleagues practice a more modest sense of playfulness by
    embedding comments in HTML files to be seen only by those with enough wit
    to view the source. Others instill an appreciation for detail by purposely
    sprinkling their file names with the numeral zero and the letter o. Others
    introduce at least one faulty link in a listing of resources just to see
    if their students at least activate the link (if not consult the
    resource). Another presents Web materials with certain sections having
    text and background set to the same colour and hence viewable only by
    accessing the source, viewing with a text-only browser or highlighting the
    section with the cursor. Like the above example, all of these operate on
    the principle of gratifing a learner's sense of accomplishment -- little
    bursts of eureka.

    In a sense planning a good game approach to the electronic medium is like
    lecturing with notecards that can be pulled magically from any pocket. The
    old roll top desk with its many compartments is also another good metaphor
    to keep in mind. However whatever the way one partitions the mental space
    of the pedagogical experience, a place for the show and tell is essential
    for at some abstract level all games are about performing actions and
    about stories nattering about the quality of the performance.

    There are games that are played solitaire but they too have their social

    Francois Lachance

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 04 May 2000 06:37:55 +0100 From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com> Subject: Re: 13.0557 games, learning and teaching

    Willard and HUMANISTS:

    Mary Dee's post prompts me to come out of the closet. I must be that rare creature: one of the last to learn to write on a typewriter; one of the first to play RPGs (role-playing games). I started in 1977, not long after the first edition of TSR's Dungeons and Dragons was published (in a small boxed set with those funny plastic polyhedral dice), and designed and played fiercely for three years.

    Things I learned as a role-playing gamer:

    * The rules are critical to the modeling. The modeling is critical to what we called "realism" (the achievement of transparency in the medium; the suspension of disbelief). But if the narrative is compelling enough, any rules will do.

    * There are always two discussions. 1: the game play ("Blast him with that fireball?") 2: the meta-game play ("Do fireballs do double damage against Ice Giants?") Early on, endless time and effort was spent analyzing and hassling over the rules. This itself was critically important, possibly the main point of the practice -- we were learning, not just to inhabit a model, but how to amend it gracefully. Too complex a model (a set of rules) and the meta-discussion become all-consuming, the thing came crashing down .... graph paper and cold tea. Too simple a model, and the game failed to engage. The intricacies were part of the challenge. At best, the complexities and nuances emerged from the application of simple principles consistently observed.

    * The illusion of freedom is more important to a player than freedom itself. A good DM [Dungeon Master] surrounds the players with situations where their decisions actually have consequences (usually dire), and yet shelters them by bringing everything along a central track to final victory or defeat -- which of them it is, a direct consequence of earlier choices. Suspense is a balance achieved within that context, between action and doubt. A good DM is willing to be surprised, but seems never to be. The critical thing is not the rules, but the implicit contract underneath them. The best rule we ever made was "the players do not have a right to know all the rules of play. That's the DM's job" (that cut out a great deal of ungamely haggling). Having a DM capable of stepping up fairly to that responsibility, being interested yet above it all, was part of the idea.

    * But the biggest lessons are outside the game.

    Although I wrote some of my first computer programs in support of this activity (and it was very clear to me, even writing in BASIC on a system with 4K RAM, that the two emerged from and led back into the same imaginative space) -- I don't think this is about technology, except in the deeper sense that any discipline is a technology. It most assuredly has to do with learning and teaching: but I'll leave you to ponder that (as I know you will).

    Regards, Wendell

    ====================================================================== Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com 17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635 Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631 Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285 ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML ======================================================================

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