RWBY Girl Power

In the constant pursuit of pop-culture and more than a passing interest in illustration, I’ve struggled to find characters which my pass my 11 year old daughters “meh” test. You can imagine how utterly deflating it was, when she didn’t see the power of Buffy as a strong female lead in efforts to influence her media diet. RWBY however has hit a huge home run. Mr9 is talking about painting his room with Yang art, and Miss11 has been busy watching the web-series in the lair known as “keep out my bedroom”.

It’s set in an academy, where seemingly already awesome fighters with an array of plausible weapons and auras are put together a students. I really like the art, animation and audio (wear headphones) — and the storyline grows as the add characters. In addition, the production crew put up “notes” on how RWBY is written and created, and of course, the creator Monty Oum harnesses the considerable fan-creativity by allowing artists to submit new characters, clothing and re-create existing ones that make it into the final films.

Buffy, for all her power never really managed this in her hey-day. I can’t help but think that the success of web-series in increasingly connected to the cultural production of fans. And yes, we’ve binged on the series and bought the merch already.

RWBY isn’t alone in this powerful-girl animation of course, we’ve seen it before — but right now, I think it is one of the best all-round web-series on offer, go watch.

Why “Flipping Classrooms” works, to a point.

Jargon abounds in education. It’s part of a tradition of differentiating one idea from another as well deciding who’s in and out of any group or culture. “Flipped Classroom” is one such term which is socially constructed to mean inversing the twin-axes of lectures and tutorials. The basic rationale is that all lectures are boring and no one learns anything anyway. In addition,t the advent of low-rent media production, and the ability of people with no history in media can hack out a video or make a ‘how to’ sitting on a bus. Therefore, we can use lecture time more productively and also class tutorials. So, if I have a rudimentary understanding of computers and media, we can produce another market reform, which will improve learning — because of technology and popular culture’s willingness to buy personal devices. This is all very well — if you have a small class size and the learning orientated around a small number of teachers — or just one. It falls over when you have several teachers and several hundred students. Then, the lecture becomes the essential ‘trunk’ which will allow the roots of tutorials to grow. It’s at best an assumption, mostly made though ‘flipped rhetoric’ that the course doesn’t contain meaning, or that technology isn’t being used outside the classroom and lecture in purposeful ways to support students.

Outside of the jargon, and it’s ability to impress people who don’t know what you’re talking about, or conceive alternative explanations, uses of media or skill of the ‘team’ teaching, the idea which has strong arguments in K12 could do with a lot more research in Higher Education — especially in large class sizes.

 

Open Badge Chat

Another interesting evening discussing Open Badges, and I’ve come to find myself thinking in quite different ways when it comes to what I think they are useful for. There’s a lot of talk about how they can be used to credential all sorts of skills and achievement, and most of the time this is connected to the discussions of how do “we” get employers to recognise them.

Im interested in tokens, symbols, rules and values – and to me, Open Badges is a sort of ‘bit-coin’ connected to cultural production and reproduction. For example: In a game, if I hold a badge for an achievement, someone could ask me to help them earn theirs and I could co-op with them, or simply tell them how to go about it. But games are synthetic worlds, and not subject to the same economic, political and social forces of ‘real life’. In ‘real life’ you can’t easily walk up to experts in the expectation that will a) notice b) help and c) help for free. The idea of “open” badges to me signifies “open social systems” which are based on an input and output market relationship. Even the term ‘earn’ a badge, provides a strong clue about how many people socially construct what they are and in term what they mean.

I see the Open Badge system as a way to re-create some simple ‘game-like’ methods within ‘structuralist’ domains such as Moodle or Drupal. They might, if well designed, allow some application of ‘critical gaming’ such that we provide alternative ways for students to learn about a topic. For example: if we’re teaching about gender, we can create a critical game to immerse the player in a series of events in which they use a range of skills, cognitions and emotions to make sense of — the real world. I am not at all convinced that “open badges” are not conceived as yet another way to create winners and losers though education, especially when institutions are already trying to standardise (real monopolise though narrow consensus and exclusive trade) their implementation.

If open badges are part of a more poststructuralist approach to learning, then as trade-tokens and symbols, these things seem better placed inside closed communities — and indeed when you look at social systems such as Steam, you see that there already exist — in less declarative forms. If they are just another reform to marks and grades, then I seriously doubt they will attain much currency in a system which has already decided who is a winner and loser. That to me isn’t the value of “open badges”, or at least I didn’t think it was.

Neoevolution baby.

Neofactory workers

One of the sociological benefits of games is their ability to create temporal spaces for play. They benefit from the confluence of game media and culture which swirls around the metaverse and unleashed once the game loads and “you’re in”. No other media can provide a corporeal and hyper real immersion like this. No only are you immersed in a synthetic world, but you are liberated from the mental neofactories created by Google and other monolithic advertising and retail messages which proliferate the textual world of the Internet.

Kids should not learn to become the labour of Google as a result of unproven educator belief that typing on the cloud is better than holding a pen or pencil. The mass adoption of Google by schools in particular is deeply concerning given Googles unique position to information filter and service political and industrial data collection agendas. They are unaccountable to anyone except themselves already.

Games are many things, but predominantly post structuralist in their ideological design, playing by their own rules and filled with values we once associated with community and cultural literature. As a parent I refuse to allow my children to believe learning and using Google/Apple products are connected in ways other than retail. I’d rather they had zero access to technology in school if this is all that is on offer. Kids either have a media education or they don’t. I’d rather they learned to build an argument than a google (anything). They seem to have no issue navigating the metaverse, and I see no reason to try and regulate it though brand values.

While schools insist on narrow application of media (brands) towards the same structuralist goals, games provide a useful cognitive disruption to the consumer, mass messaging of a few industrialists. Ten years on, public education has an information filter which is intended to create inequality, yet those inside the fence have accepted it. Welcome to District 12.

I’m not a fan on the neoliberal ideology when it comes to education. The winners and losers agenda is morally bankrupt, yet also accepted. At no point do I support the use of neofactories of child labour, presented as digital learning. This is simply a move towards market-driven reproduction — and at best ignorant and worst, deliberate. There seems to be very little critical analysis of corporate agendas in education, but then again, if functionalism and structuralism in your meal ticket, then the this might appear to build a better learning machine for the existing paradigm and negate the need to consider the brandification of education is yet another form of class war where most kids are born to lose.

What schools need to get their head around is that there are some great models for Critical Games, and that these are built around the things that schools are supposed to offer. Until then, let them play. Let games disrupt their mental models of how the world could be. Let them learn.

Good learning involves time travel

For a while now, people have been re-working commercial games to access the educational market. There is a blurring of the lines between educational games and commercial games which now represent themselves a educationally altered complaint beneficial safe. It appears through the media at least, successful commercial video games, popular in society are making new inroads into the classroom. The implication is one of schools softening their protests in light of the work of scholars such as Gee, Jenkins and Juul. Now almost everyone in our (Australian) society plays games, the rhetoric of new media has moved from ‘games are bad’ to ‘screen time is bad’ in light of games advertising providing them with much needed revenue and failing to the attain much in the way of moral-panic in their dwindling audience.

However it may appear to the observer, games in school and out of it remain as different as oil and water, despite the outwardly observable aesthetic and ludic similarity. For example, Minecraft in school is fundamentally being rendered in opposition to how it is used out of school. This isn’t a lack of teacher skill or ignorance, it’s because these spaces are incompatible. The fact children like it (or recognise it), therefore we should use it, was never successful argument for watching commercial TV in classrooms in the 1970s, nor for allowing classrooms to have a bank of arcade machines to learn by playing Joust, Defender. Games have emerged as a new cultural literacy from domains other than school. The fact Minecraft is a sandbox game does not somehow emancipate it (or learning).

Schools didn’t see any value in classic adventure games then, and they don’t now. You won’t see them buying Child of Light, Brothers or Dark Bounty. They don’t buy consoles, they buy iPads and drool over Google’s next effort to recruit them.

Schools are an essential part of the patriarchy. We know this, it’s a reality we have to accept. Schools have a place in society (as it stands) and so far a patchy history of using any technology in a way which demonstrates better ‘outputs’ for students. RIP the Digital Education Revolution, it was dead before it hit the beach. They are strongly structuralist in nature and subscribe to allopoietic processes and social systems of input and output. They might allow Minecraft in, but it still appears threatening. There of exceptions — as there always have and will be — but the idea of kids playing either a temporal game or persistent game (which can be accessed and used beyond the campus) will only be realised in exceptional circumstances, and I’ll argue with exceptional teachers.

These teachers (and schools) might be part of the patriarchy in terms of civic position. However, they are likely to have sufficient will inside the school culture to attempt post-structuralist approaches to schooling. Therefore, when you see Minecraft used exceptionally well, it will appear within a school which values autopoietic processes and social systems.

This is important, because at home, kids are engaged in games which are geared towards post-structuralism and yet by their nature, governed by rules and values created by the developer. The developer didn’t make the game in a vacuum, and clearly we can see numerous tropes in games which point to other literature — often that which rails against structuralism and liberal politics. Games such as Skyrim, Assassins Creed and Time Machine,  all involve some aspect of alternative futures. It’s a theme which has been reproduced for decades in game-cultures.

Porting-commercial games into what is a structuralist regime which sees technology (of all kinds) as another way to create market reform, sell product and self-promote individual status … but there’s no evidence to show that these things are done in a way which prevents cognitive dissonance and confusion in the children being forced to play inside the patriarchy and output things which adults see as ‘valuable learning’. What is needed here is better approach to using media across schools — which seems highly unlikely while ever the commodisation of childhood is something that can be sold to schools as ‘learning’.

There are many good reasons to employ games in the education of young people. There’s no reason to think schools are the place to do it currently, or that what kids are doing at home is the opposite of ‘good learning’. I think they can use games to great effect, once they learn to align themselves with things kids actually value.

Reality was never broken.

One of the central claims made by Jane McGonigal in her popular TED Talk, and subsequent book and media career – is that Reality is Broken, and for many people (particularly youth), video games are a way to feel ‘good at life’. There’s little doubt that this has been well received online and in the media, which as we know are not reality. However, for the most part, her arguments are highly moralistic and difficult to prove. They are a form of media violence insofar as they once again depict a youth in crisis, who choose media use over civic engagement. There’s also little travel to be made in showing most of society is playing games, or that pervasive networked games are more complex and chronologically advanced than ‘videogames’. These are logical and easily observable though the media, and became the loci of attention by those who became interested in games and culture, circa 2000-2010. Overwhelmingly, this new field of reseach railed against the psychological claims being made though experiments about violence and addiction, which has been the traditional axe brought upon all forms of emerging media, though videogames are a simple target — and a ready market for the associated ‘therapies’ that families can pay for.

There’s no doubt youth are complex and that some people over-use media among the many options they have when they ‘don’t feel good at life’. However, suggesting videogames can resolve this is ambitious, and I think misguided. We are moving past a time where it was sufficient to consider what games are and who plays them. We are in a culture where identity is formed through communication. What is being missed entirely in the media-rendering of digital games and society in the ‘reality is broken’ arguement is that it fails to explain the fundamental differences between closed and open social systems. McGonigal is clearly an instrument of the open system, and have valorised this idea though various means.

However, that girl in her bedroom playing Minecraft, or the son who’s playing way too many hours in Team Fortress are choosing a very different “half-real” way to spend their time, and there’s no evidence to suggest this is to rebel against the commercial interests of adult-run politics and industry.

Social systems use communications as their particular mode of autopoietic reproduction. Their elements are communications which are recursively produced and reproduced by a network of communications and which cannot exist outside of such a network (Luhmann 1986, p.174).

It’s would be nice to believe that if we can only extract the ‘best parts’ of videogames, that we could use them to heal the shallowing of society, poverty and improve healthcare simply by designing a game and getting ‘the crowd’ to play it. Sadly games comprise of three elements as systems: a biological (you and me); a social system and a psychic system. In fact those kids who are immersed in online multiplayer worlds — such as Minecraft — are building their identity and finding meaning about ‘reality’ in almost the opposite way those kids who are hooked on Facebook, Instagram and so forth. They, are part of open systems which exist – in reality – simply to valorise products using the same societal systems that established factories, so it’s no great shock that kids are now working inside Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple factories too.

Reality is not at all broken, it is exactly how each of us perceives it. The world looks very different to a cat, who I might point out is also a type of popular media phenomenon.

Got dumb students? Gamify their dumbness.

I have a love-hate relationship with ‘gamification’. One reason is that it’s used as a slogan to promote a select group of people’s businesses. Secondly, it appears aimed not at game-designers, media-scholars or sociologists but at one subset of education — instructional designers. Lastly, teachers are not taught about becoming a designer in their under-graduate studies, unless of course they already are or are planning to teach ‘technology and applied studies’ – which includes graphics, wood, metal, plastics, product and food.

The state of school curriculum dictates what teachers learn in their under-graduate program. As most teachers will never teach a ‘design’ subject, they only get a few weeks of lecture/tutorial discussion about design in their whole program. They get even less exposure to media studies and yet the overwhelming dogmatic signals emerging from the PR department of schooling ‘awesomeness’ is of teachers as designers and media savvy experts. Now we have ‘gamification’ added to the vocabulary as though you pick out a bunch of ‘game features’ and apply that to your grade book or LMS. I won’t dwell on how utterly false this is, or how divisive it is towards demanding teachers act like designers or media and knowledge systems experts simply as a byproduct of the Internet being invented.

The worst variants of gamification emerge from an assumption that students are in a deficit position when it comes to study. Some group of people, probably via design thinking, chart a path of problems and possible solutions using ‘game like approaches’. The output from instructional designers and educators will of course have a locus around their own existing skills, beliefs and preferences. This is why so many ‘gamification’ projects are simply WordPress with BadgeStack or BadgeStack in Moodle. Quelle surprise as they say. One example I’ve seen recently in the UK, attempts to solve the ‘library problem’ where students can’t research a database to save their lives. (oh, game idea!). The end result is of course a hat-tip to game-studies followed by badges as a reward for action; which is apparently friendly, fun competition.

No, the point of approaching student development IN THEIR FIELD, is to immerse them in a serious, honest system which treats them seriously. No Dora the Explorer icons of books with eyeballs for goodness sake. Through their efforts, the player (student) must have choice and must be able to recognize their progress to becoming a successful, viable ‘expert’ in that field — at their level. Making it ‘fun’ to find a book has nothing to do with this, unless you are aged 5.

So I don’t hate gamification, because I think it will replace current forms of educational development, which increasingly irrelevant in an era of massive convergence, domestication of technology itself and emerging theories around cognitive media (which includes games). I hate it because people latch onto it as though its some ‘fun’ mod for Moodle which can turn something boring (without personal meaning or recognizable value) into something ‘funner’. It misses not only the point, but diverts funding into un-sustainable garbage.

Media Literacy: Out of bounds.

The overwhelming assumption made towards media literacy in the digital age is that its locus of need is not an individual, but towards commerce, schools, media industries and so on.

On the whole, the work being done is not concerned with how the mind works in relation to media exposure and communication characteristics – [think] – why are people glued to their screens in public and private spaces? – but towards artificial construction of meaning from those messages. For example the self-referential need to ‘selfie’ or ‘like’ a media image, not to ‘troll’ other people and to abide by socially constructed norms, based on commercial policies and economic drivers.

The needs of the individual are increasingly secondary to the need build central cognition of the media as it represents itself and the world. Children especially need to develop deeper understanding of media-forces, not merely ‘being aware’ or ‘using it responsibly.’ Children, even young ones, are not passive receivers of so called ‘media effects’, but active in social construction and reconstruction of media. This is why banning or allowing games is peripheral to the central problem of parochialism.

We don’t know enough about how the mind works during media exposures, and media evolves at a pace current research can’t match. This leaves anyone reporting “kids must learn to …” followed by a list of ‘digital skills’ is at best guessing – but welcome to add to the research as well as the rhetoric. I acknowledge also that education futures is a form of mass entertainment, tuned to a very willing and responsive group in our society – teachers. It is this which I find most offensive and unhelpful these days, the individuals greatest contribution is being part of a paying (but unknown) audience.

Media literacy is a way to empower individuals and includes understanding the motives of media industries, potential positive and negative effects which accumulate as byproducts of daily (some say continual) behaviour because media companies (Facebook, Google, Twitter etc.,) are not subject to ‘strong’ public policy and often refuse to respond to public criticism. They do however coerce individuals to act as agents though offering some vague promise of increased personal status or wealth in exchange for loyalty and labour. One conclusion which can be drawn is that if the individual (the student) is prime, then current assumptions and calls for media-literacy are both down-stream and conditioned by automatic routines of  media itself (check status, like, add a follower, take a selfie).

The media are conditioning the way people ‘see’ the world through stories and routines — and sadly, teachers are implicated in this. For example, some media reports have claimed that teachers are the most active group on Twitter. Without better ‘media education,’ information processing, meaning making and matching is at best being ‘filtered’ by educators as well as their institutions. The so called ‘flipped classroom’ is a good example of knowing more about the media than about the mind of the individual who is required to watch it as part of their learning. The challenge is not to know how to ‘get’ or ‘curate’ information but how the individual mind can be protected from the flood of messages until such a time cognitive media theory can be applied to both curriculum and methods.

This all points to a growing and corrupt market for media messages towards educational experiences. It’s central to my belief why digital games are ‘out of bounds’ too. Media literacy is concerned with what children will provide (cultural production) to the ‘structure’ of society, rather than the ‘agency’ of the individual. Game-playing has not been seen as particularly useful by schools. In the home, digital games are effective tools to sell phones, computers and home entertainment. Schools do almost nothing to address this through their structures — so can’t complain when games-networks take on the community task of deschooling children from the media-norms that  hailed as the vanguard of emerging classroom methods — aka “Web2.0.”

Without building a ‘media literacy’ curriculum around the needs of the individual’s cognitive mind, we’re left to build it around brands, money and the aspirations of a small group of teachers who inhabit media itself. In addition, schools cannot escape responsibility for unwanted social side effects (stuck on Facebook, driving while texting, etc.) as there’s no evidence that what is being done now (a patchy mix of trial, error and personal belief) produces any lasting changes on the individuals media literacy. How does the structure differentiate ‘bad’ media messages from the individuals own ‘good beliefs’? On the basis of evidence so far, playing Last of Us or Titanfall is just as valid as making children write a blog or use Google Drive. But surely … logic and reason is that the individual is too feeble minded to know what is good for them.

By insisting the current version (popular, but guesswork) “media literacy” is ‘good’ – is simply a byproduct and subset of the ongoing commoditising of the individual. Education appears to create a demand, rather than provide effective defences from it. It seems very odd that in all the market reforms to education, media education remains ‘off limits’ when it comes to curriculum and teacher training. Now why is that?

Open Badges: The game approach

I am so tempted to rail against the idea that “open badges” should be a standardised, inter-changeable set of didactic skill-based competencies run by and for the people who currently credential society. So I will.

It amazes me how fast people jump onto things they barely understand by immediately excluding alternative discussions and approaches other than their own.

There are some high level ‘goals’ being reported as “emerging pathways.”

“Coordinate partners and formalize learning pathways.”

“Create coalitions or strategic councils to champion the endorsement/acceptance/value of badges.”

“Build national frameworks of badges that are based on common criteria, but offer flexibility in local implementation. For example, statewide afterschool networks all have program improvement processes that are similar, but utilize different tools.”

APA: Summit | Reconnect Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.reconnectlearning.org/summit/

My intake of breath here is that these things are fully intended to replicate existing systems, and likely to take decades and never reach a consensus. Open Badges to me are potentially useful in using game and media theory towards re-imagining how learning takes place – but no one wants to be a fool in a kings court. Maybe the “Open Badges” movement has plotted its course already, and another supertanker has headed out to sea. It seems a weakness to omit discussion of how people learn, but focus on what they should learn and with what tools, and part of the ongoing dogma with deeply established roots in instructional design and modernism. On this basis, Open Badges will be as inequitable as the current system.

The idea that the existing power vested inside the current social system must endlessly increase its grip on society using new technologies seem dubious to me. After all, this is OPEN badges, right? not Pearson or UCLA Badges. What evidence is there that when everything becomes standardised, then it also becomes equitable? The answer is none, because so far no one agrees on what these standards are, and the lure of competition and valorization of cultural production is never distant. There are many kinds of alliances, and all of them seek the same thing – power.

Take the case of “digital literacy.” OPen badges are likely to be the focus of educational technologists once more and a new attractive way to extend current practice and status. I’d arguable we’re in this ‘place’ now because students still do not receive a quality media education across all sectors from the age of 5. We, therefore, have an ongoing organisational problem which Open Badges won’t solve, especially by being subsumed by it.

If you’ve played any pervasive game, you’ll know how badge systems work with game-mechanics and social structures created . As a result. Why not use this to conceptualise your open badge system? If you don’t then you’ll probably get a badge for attending an EndNote class real soon and never be asked to work on your talent tree.

Why games are still violent, but we’ve moved on

One of the sites I subscribe to is The Brainy Gamer. The latest post talks about Xbox’s E3 presentation in terms of what what said and shown. It’s almost impossible to get information like this from the traditional ‘halls’ of Nordic and American game-scholars and I urge you to take a look.

What is interesting (to me: my blog: my interest) is how difficult the games-industry finds the process of dissemination when the audience are masters of social-reproduction. The audience are all experts, and worse, they share a depth of knowledge which they share instantly in response to almost every announcement and gaff. As much as the culture wants XBONE and Next Gen to be amazing, they hold everyone to the highest possible account. A post such as this is a great example of just how much gamers undertake critical analysis at every opportunity — and surely a skills every classroom says it wants to attain.

More interestingly is that over half of XBONE’s presentation was violent. In over fifty years and five thousand studies about media violence, there still in no clear connection between smashing Orcs in a game and actual violent behavior as a result of — smashing Orcs. In the work people are doing about games and society, the post-Nordic school still encounters ‘media violence’ arguments from the small number of psychologists who actively believe it to be true – the conversation is no longer about what media (games) do to use, and more about how we use media (games) in everyday life.

The point here is that ‘media violence’ is old hat. Games are often violent but this no longer occupies the spot light about moral and media panics. Even the psychologists have subsumed games into broader claims about screen time and the Internet more broadly. We know the primary socialisation of children is NOT from video games at all, and correspondingly, mediated violence in games is generally seen as peripheral, and less worrying that that which is seen on the TV or in movies.

So why are gamers still hung up on it? Well, one reason might be that games have moved past ‘action’ games and are exploring deeper narrative based games, where the story (including animation, sound, dialogue, script, acting etc.,) is of increasing importance culturally. Games like The Last of Us and Mass Effect have had such an impact that the game must not have a greater variety of pace, experiences and storylines — not just better mechanics, talent trees and guns. It’s one reason people are showing so much interest in game-design and game-experiences right now — because they are demanding games move even further into cinematic, interactive storytelling.

Anyway, go check out The Brainy Gamer — always find myself thinking about what get’s posted there.

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