Great games for under ten bucks?

In an effort to start collecting the use of games in the classroom, I’ve make a really short Google Form here in which I’m asking people to recommend a game for the classroom, which costs under ten dollars. The results of what people put into this are shared on this response form. We know people are using Minecraft, Portal etc., but for many schools free or cheap is an essential criteria for choosing a game.

I’m asking for simple information: the game name, a link if you have it and to choose what platform and game type best describes it from a list (or add your own). Finally, just let people know why you recommend it.

The aim is simply to start to collect what games are being used in a spreadsheet of data that you can use for your own purposes. No names or personal information please … this is anonymous crowd sourcing. Open to anyone, teachers, students and parents!

Thanks for your input

Negotiations of Play

negotiations_of_play

I’m pleased to say that I’ve posted my project website for my thesis, called Negotiations of Play. This is designed to support parents and to capture the experiences of Australian parents and caregivers of children aged 4-12. Right now you can leave your email address if you want to notified of then the study commences. I expect that this will take about 12 months to collect.

Overall, there is no research into what parents and children think about online games or how parents mediate them in Australia. Much of the reports in mass media tend to discuss statistical data which they use to inductively to tell parents what they should or should not be doing. The dominant literature which voices concern focuses on, and extends the long running negative ‘media effects’ debate by experimental psychology. The positive often focuses on theories of ‘flow’ and the design of games and player behaviours, especially fun, motivation and enjoyment.

My approach is somewhat different in that I am interested in the broad negotiations between the media and families and inter-family conceptions of the role video games play in family life as media markets, which to me plays a key role in developing both adult and childrens literacy. The market benefits though reproductive process helping expand what games can do. Evidence of this can been seen in the rise of new forms of games which negates much of the ‘violence in games’ claims these days. I see what games do as establishing what I’m calling a neo leisure class. People in constant negotiation with game designers and media producers through the cultural production of their avatars and game-identities. In particular, I’m interested in network mediated culture which I think is largely ignored or overlooked in game-studies, yet as every Steam or Xboxer knows is an essential site for identity, socialising and play.

I have many people to thank for getting me to this point: Not least: My wife and kids and our household’s game characters – Vormamim, Vorsaken and LollykingOMG each of whom have played an important role in developing my interest in the issues and controversies of parenting the gamer generation. Then there are those whom I know in-game by gamer-tag (anonymously represented here). Next, those whom have contributed significantly to what I now call ‘work’ – the ones who I ‘talk to’ on Twitter, but also those who have been working on using games for over a decade in Australia: Judy O’Connell, Bron Stuckey, Jo Kay, Kerrie Johnson, Westley Field and countless others in Australia and overseas such as Derek Robinson and Peggy Sheehy, two people I see as key critical thinkers in what games can do to improve kids lives, especially those kids who are increasingly being marginalised by educational technology’s neoliberal-elitism.

Finally, and not least my PhD supers Professor Catharine Lumby and Dr. Kate Highfield who have been amazing in the last year of my life and lit the darkest of days when I’ve needed it most. A few more essentials, Dr. David Saltmarsh who has really expanded my thinking and coffee drinking and Mal Booth at UTS Library who shares a love of ink-pens, Alfas and innovation.

Values in play: A discussion

It’s been said that media is always arbitrary, it comes loaded with values. I like to look at games as having embedded values, co constructed by the player and the designer. These are now so complex no one experiences a game in the same way. Game values, and often reflect social and cultural understandings shared between people and groups. For example, fairness, where opposing players expect the other to abide by the rules.

What I’d like to invite you to do, is to contribute a game title and the values that you believe it encompasses. They might even appear contradictory as you list them. My goal is to develop a list of values that you see in games you play.

I’ll kick off with Team Fortress 2: competition, comradeship, humour, ambition, compassion.

Serious Play Conference

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If you’re interested in serious games, serious play and so forth, there is a conference on right now using #seriousplay which is throwing up some interesting ideas, research and resources. My good friend Bron Stuckey is presenting on Gamification along with Peggy Sheehey and Knowclue Kid, I only wish I could have tagged along.

The website for the conference is here. For a mere $50 a year, you can become part of the Serious Games Association too (here).

For an example of the kind of work being done in this field, have a look at this ‘social clues‘ game for children with autism. I don’t think lacking social clues or empathy towards others is necessarily limited to autism — perhaps playing this game might help the ‘normal’ people to be more inclusive and empathetic — not least in the workplace later in life.

Another great resource is called Preloaded. This to me is where the future is — people who understand media-games-education working with libraries, museums, and broadcasters to bring great games into learning though methods other than the belief of the current local educational czar who may or may not be interested. Preloaded is well worth spending time exploring.

Videogames and Australians

It would be incorrect to assume Australians have responded to the phenomenon of videogames in the same way other nations have. In a sense today’s contemporary gameplay is a global network of servers and players whom preference certain games or genres. However, despite the ease of access to international information about videogames, childhood, parenting and school, very little information is based on national evidence and is not one single progression of discussion, study or debate – but a multitude which often have little in common aside from the term videogames.

I argue that videogames are essentially grouped into three periods of study and interest. Each period of study has seen increasing diversity and technological advancements of videogames and gameplay. I make a point of also separating videogames and gameplay because they evoke quite different conceptions and emotional reactions in both adults and children.

The first period is pre-2001. I realise that between the mid 1970s and 2002 videogames made many technological and cultural advances, but in terms of study, this period was concerned mostly with what games are, what play is and the effects of video games on society. It followed a long tradition of viewing media with suspicion and conducting experiments with small groups of participants to try and guage how playing certain games (mostly violent and sexualised) altered the behaviour of the sample subjects. As numerous scholars have argued, the methods used to do this are suspect and they made many assumptions, demonised and simplified games to the point of being little more than an erant-interactive film. Despite the claims from clinical science, it has not been shown to lead to real-life violence in any predictable way.

The second period is between 2001 and 2009. This is essentially because this period of scholarly interest and research began to look more deeply at the assumptions being made about videogames. In the literature, you will find many respected media, sociology, game and educational academics began to write about and discuss new dimensions of games and critically appraise the ongoing claims about aggressive and habitual behaviour in real-life. People like Marc Prensky, Jasper Juul, James Gee, Henry Jenkins and James Seeley Brown expanded the field of research (and potential research) well beyond the realms of science, economics and mathematics. This era also is the foundation of the majority of ongoing debate about videogames in popular culture. It plays out in newspaper, magazines, television and websites on a daily basis.

The essential question is usually: Are videogames bad for childhood development (and therefore society) and what should be done about it.

The answers probably lie in the third period of research and study of videogames, which can best be described as beginning. In Australia and prior to 2008, videogames were treated in national studies as a leisure activity. In that regard a videogame was treated like a trip to the movies, playing a game of soccer, listening to music or reading a book. It was not treated as a media-text with unique properties. It was not investigated in the public domain in association with or in preference to the kind of media-choices that families take in their stride in 2014. Most significantly, it was not treated as a form of literature nor something which was used in education or the workplace.

We therefore know very little about videogames and Australians right now. We have seen reports of statistics, but these often focus on simple demographics and size of the market. This is unsurprising given the close association some scholars now have with the games industry — and how secretive the game industry is about their data and their customers players.

In 2008 we knew that most parents were not overly concerned about aggression, violence or so called addictive qualities of video games. We also know that those parents with children aged 12 and over we considered to be the first generation of children to have grow up with access to video games and that over half had played video games as a child and continued to do so using a computer. Again, no specific details on the type of computer or game and even less about consoles and handhelds.

We can’t compare todays figures with older figures because there have been significant revisions to how videogames have been classified and how questions have been asked at the national level. For example, videogames are now considered part of children’s ‘screen-time’ use, but as most parents know — that use varies as does children’s access and the type of games they can play at any given available time. No data is being collected on the use of screen time or games in education, despite the billions of dollars of educational technology funding lavished on teachers and school systems since (weirdly) 2008.

What we do know is that the media presents videogames in ways intended to gain the attention of parents: either as customers or to perpetuate the same ‘media effects’ panic which has been rolling though popular media since the 1930s. We do know that all children and the vast proportion of adults play video games of one sort or another in the home, where as the vast majority of teachers and students (identity switch) do not. It strikes me as bizarre that some teachers are now expressing new interest in game-based-learning as though our culture has not already embraced it as media entertainment and used it to make sense of the world from the inside out for a very long time.

Videogames are a prolific and much enjoyed form of media entertainment in Australia. Despite ongoing media panic, Australians have not had the level of negative emotional reaction to videogames as might have occurred in other nations. We can’t assume that data and facts from PEW (American Life) can be generalised to Australia in the way the Aussie Dollar is a bit like the US Dollar.

We don’t need to hide from teaching and studying games, and games don’t have any excuses to make. The fact that Australians are highly likely to engage with complex, computational problem solving from pre-school onwards despite un-ambitious and media-conservative educators and narrow media ownership whos dislike of games is obvious — is quite remarkable.

So if anyone questions why you’d want to use videogames in school or home it is fair to say that as a media-text we see far more value in them than media reports broadly admit and far less danger than they claim.

How hard is being a game-kids parent?

Technology is produced faster — and with less ‘need’ than society can resolve what to do with it — beyond what marketing companies tell them. We are bomarded with media messages. Whether parents like it or not, the largest form of media which makes more money today than last week is the game-entertainment industry – and it’s made it very easy to purchase and keep purchasing it’s products (also called games).

Teachers who “like” technology have bought into the marketing circus with such enthusiasm for the same reason. Those “selling the future” online via Twitter — for profit — tell them what to buy and make it easy for them to buy it.

Let me be really clear about why this is a growing problem for parents. Educational technology is saturated with brands, and people seeking to improve their status though brands. To do that they need your children. Most of them operate on dogma and rhetoric, few know the first thing about games as a media form.

As parents, we know the BIGGEST area of  anxiety and conflict in the home is VIDEO GAME USE. At school – the solution is to ban them. This is what I’m calling “the Vegas solution” — you simply move things you don’t like off the strip. The main aim is to keep teachers buying into the same crap that people have peddling for a decade — which has no evidentiary positive impact on kids or society so far. But it keeps the Casino boss happy.

So back to games. Why are they more of a problem now that a few years ago?

No longer stuck with the burden of physical delivery or tethered to permanent power-outlets, the game-entertainment industry (don’t separate them) — has worked out not only what people like to do most with technology — interact with media socially using romantic fantasy — but how to keep them paying attention, and spending money. If they are not doing that, they are watching NetFlix or YouTube according to the statistics.

Game-kids do a tremendous amount of emotional work both in the game as a player, and in the home as consumer being bombarded with messages to consume more. When many parents themselves lack the kind of mental executive function to PUT THE SMARTPHONE AWAY for more than a few minutes (they certainly can’t ride a bus or train without one) why on earth would they think kids can manage it? When kids see one rule for them and another for adults — then lines are drawn and the war begins.

It is hard being a game-kid parent because we don’t have mental models of what to do (from their parents). We have media models of what good and bad parents are, related to commercial interests. Our friends are also conflicted on what to do — leaving mass media tell us don’t use that, but this!

Then there is the false journalism which tells them they are bad parent. For example, the ABC News yesterday said “video games were named as a factor in the Sandy Hook Shootings” … then moved on with no explanation — to another story. In case you missed the actual report, video games were explicitly ruled OUT as a factor — and indeed the shooter played Dance Dance Revolution for 4 plus hours a day when and if he could play games. When the main public-funded news can’t bother to fact check, it’s no shock that parents get false messages, and no real advice.

Games are hard to live with if you treat them as though they are akin to TV or watching a DVD. But when going for a bike ride involves putting 4 bikes the Toyota, driving 30 miles to find a decent parkway … then there’s something wrong with how we live which can’t be solved by trying to work out which are the good and bad games — they good and bad kids — or how to extract the games-entertainment agenda from our media saturated society.

How hard is it — VERY hard. What is happening in public education — nothing, unless you could the dubious claims of clinical psychologists that games are addictive – which is also a marketing message.

Making sense of media reports about games.

I happen to believe video games are an essential media-element in the lives of Australian families, because they are pervasive in our culture. They are on mobiles, computers, tablets and in classrooms.  In the decade that saw teacher-endorsement of Web2.0, and equal amount of time, effort and millions was spent trying to protect society (which includes children) from video games – and the DER vanished into history as school leaders try to ignore the past and talk this afternoons trope.

Parents are not idiots and everyone uses a mobile these days.

Firstly, games has a classification system. Given 97% of adults have played a game and 85% are present when games are purchased, media panics over game producers pushing horror an violence on the public (which includes children) is wrong. But then, as a thinking adult, I’m sure you know that media, especially when owned by Murdoch and friends, is both selective and biased. In addition, traditional media (which includes journalism) has nothing to gain (status or economic) from people playing video games and not giving them the attention they assume they warrant, despite social media being far more open and accessible than they are. But I digress.

Schools don’t believe in video games at all – ask why.

Video games are educational.  By saying that I mean — of themselves. They are as worthy of children freely exploring them as they are given silent reading time, free play in the school yard or put on the ‘edu-game’ in the library.

Games and game players are subjected to more academic scrutiny that 99% of technology that is now assumed to be “the norm” in classrooms — yet no significant studies suggest “Web2.0” makes any difference in the lives of children — or that games would be worse. That’s the tragedy of Web2.0 in education for me, it quickly became an unambitious trope, full of commercial dogma pretending to be scholarship in order for a few to create a conference-circus lifestyle, in the traditions of American Fairground Shows. Web2.0 is introduced at will because it’s popular – and because brands are great at getting your attention. Schools systematically and selectively represent media that they think politicians and bishops ‘like’, especially if they get to crow about it at a conference. If a game is allowed in, then it will be sanitised. The teacher must be the celebrated innovator and leader in the story — and the students emancipated from otherwise ‘dull’ teaching methods. Again, no evidence that this has any positive effects at all — where as there is plenty that a few hours alone with a game works wonders on kids – especially boys who clash with school. It works even better if adults are helping them. Kids are as BORED with mini-laptops and ‘apps’ as they are with listening to Bueller, Bueller — Beuller.

The method matters when reading about video games, not the metaphor.

When reading about what games,it’s really useful to look for the method by which the authors come to their conclusions. In academia, methods matter — and offering opinions over evidence doesn’t get you too far. Its like saying people drive cars, cars kill people therefore people are cars. It just doesn’t make sense.

In many cases the method is neither obvious or  mentioned in the popular press articles. In some domains, particularly clinical psychology it’s the wrong method, used to validate a theory — not to generate new theory of games. Rarely do they address the rich evidence available. For example, neuro-science shows video game play has numerous benefits to humans, but not all humans. Again, not all humans like TV, walking the dog or writing blog posts. Each of those need methods of approach, which can be from many angles.

Clinical psychologists turned ‘game addiction’ into a multi-million dollar business.

In this research domain, ideas in which data fits the theory “games are adductive” are commonly echoed. Somewhere they will state — less than clearly — that hundreds of studies show games are addictive and refer back to gambling addiction. Most famously, is Kimberley Young declared in 1999 that internet addiction was “akin” to gambling addiction, and has since tacked on mobile phone and video games, which she also connects with moral decay and loss of innocence. Young’s declaration has less to millions of dollars in therapy sessions to drive out the human enjoyment of interactive media. On the basis of these studies 97% of Australians are pathologically addicted to the Internet, mobile phones, computers and video games. However, try asking your health insurance if that is covered or apply for workers compensation for over use of technology at work. You see, as much as they want it to be true — it remains little more than ‘something to work on’ as far as the World Heath Association is concerned. Game addiction is right up there with Scientology when it comes to it.

Playing Black Flag: A pirate game, where feeling like a pirate allows a scarf to be a hat, and a dog to keep you company.

More cowbell

While it may be true that hundreds of studies repeat and reaffirm this negative position, there is also hundreds of academic counter positions which generate and offer better theory of games – and how to mediate them in the lives of children. You might have seen James Gee talk about this on PBS or conferences. There is significant other social research which rejects this need to validate and vilify electronic media on the basis of false theory and popular journalistic interest in whipping up parent anxiety. Why is this person saying this? What’s is they want? Why now? Mostly – what the hell to these people play?

For parents, it’s useful to remember when you read about how terrible games are that the data presented in most often there to verify and keep afloat continued assertions of clinical psychologists who’s business is — treating internet, game and mobile phone addiction — which is not a recognised pathology by any stretch of the imagination. They might as well treat you for TV addiction — which of course prior to 1999 was their previous gold mine among nervous parents. I like this quote attributed to Rod Sterling (1924 – 1975), best known as the creator of The Twilight Zone, was a seminal figure in the Golden Age of Television and became a cultural icon of the 20th century.

It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.

Today, you can’t have a serious conversation about video games without 12 dancing clinicians waving toilet paper at you – In the mean time, peoplewatch TV and play.

There no such thing as video games!

The best research generates theories of games which can be seen in examples in the real world, not simply small laboratory experiments or citing previous studies which agree with your view. This is where better understanding and approaches to social gaming emerges from. Sadly though, many educational games are not based on this research either, but on avoiding the wrath of clinicians our casing in on popular culture and parent fears. Having said that, clinicians and educators use a very broad brush when it comes to which video games hurt or help. Which games? Where are they used? What for? By whom? What did they say? How was this conclusion arrived at?

Video games are not a leap of faith. They are the most significant media firm used in society to date and part of cultural literacy.

Over 97% of people in western countries have played them. They it’s no evidence to suggest those people have any long term behavioural issues. With parent mediation, along with any other media, they are of themselves a valid media text which your child with both enjoy and learn from. They will not learn more from an educational game, though they may be able to repeat facts or patterns. They certainly won’t learn from our about them in school, which has historically done everything it could to ban and demonise them. The leap of faith comes when parents and schools recognise that playing them is healthier when they step back and don’t overlay it with their own agenda. Only then can they start to see the theories being featured in social research as game related media studies.

Let them play, learn what they play, learn how to predict and prepare kids for media. I’m sure my theory that a few hours a week of video gaming at school for the sole purpose of playing (enabling alert, orientation and executive brain networks) won’t be seen as academic, unlike copying from the board or one prison telling you about how the world is. But that’s because I have unicorn blood and I’m a parent as concerned about media as another.