Category Archives: theory

Simple and familiar

This is a great little insight into the game design process behind the hugely popular Angry Birds mobile game. Note how familiar concepts (eg. catapults) were close to being dismissed, but ended up being the main engaging mechanic in the final game.


Experiential Education, Augsburg 2012

As part of an interesting collaborative research theme I’ve been exploring with experiential educator Jule Hildmann (Train the Trainer) around the links between ‘initiative games’ in experiential education, and the development of deep context in games for education, we co-authored a paper for the Internationaler Kongress für erleben und lernen (International conference for experiential learning), Augsburg, Germany, 28-29 September 2012.

Jule has developed an idea called ‘Simple Things’ which gives trainers simple tools to develop, structure, run and reflect on initiative games, in order to achieve learning objectives. Initiative games are often used in experiential education, and might be as simple as building the tallest tower with blocks – through to complex team challenges such as getting everyone safely across a fast-moving stream. Jule’s approach, and one which chimes with my own research, is to use metaphor around such activities, structuring them so that they reflect real situations, surroundings and challenges from participants’ own contexts. So crossing the river is not simply a group challenge: the river might be a strong weakness which the team are keen to overcome in real life, and the opposite shore the new direction they want to take.

A card-sorting initiative gameWe ran a 3-hour workshop around the exploration of these themes in Augsburg, in both German and English. By asking the participants to play a couple of short initiative games, and then apply metaphor to the games for their own context (which they visualised in some impressive plasticine and pipecleaner models), we encouraged participants to develop activities with the learning context in mind, rather than applying outcomes to preset activities.

A metaphor-modelThe workshop was a great success, and encouraged us to continue our conjoined research in this area: look out for more work in the future. The remainder of the conference was interesting to me as something of an outsider to the field, and allowed space for a lot of reflection on how approaches and features might move from the predominantly outdoor/active space of experiential education, to the more formal classroom or online spaces in HE.

Augsburg, one of South Germany’s oldest towns

ARG Key Features for Education

Excerpt from paper given today at ALT-C:

“My research across three broad areas persuaded me that, without a doubt, there are lessons which education could learn from Alternative Reality Games.

The perfect approach would be, of course, to create a complete ARG within an educational environment and on an educational topic – much like the ARGOSI project in Manchester aims to do, and a handful of other institutions here and particularly in the United States have either implemented or are in the process of planning.

However, I believe that the lessons we can learn from ARGs don’t necessarily need to be applied as a fully fledged ARG; indeed, there will be many of you working in institutions or departments where a full ARG simply wouldn’t be possible given the political, administrative or conceptual constraints. To this end, I have constructed a list of key features, drawn from my research and from earlier research in the area by Bryan Alexander, Jane McGonigal, Cristy Dena and others, which ARGs offer and which would be of value to educational contexts wishing to increase engagement, critical problem solving skills and communities of practice within the subject:

  • Problem solving at varying levels (graded challenge)
    – enable students to pick their own starting level and work up from there
  • Progress and rewards (leaderboard, grand prize)
    – this could also be assessment
  • Narrative devices (characters/plot/story)
    Note: doesn’t have to be fictional: academic subjects have histories, themes, news etc.
  • Influence on outcomes
    as researchers we don’t think that we are working towards a known answer or statement; and we would like our students to think in the same way: by letting them decide or influence some aspects of their course, this helps to scaffold their path into a critical academic thinker
  • Regular delivery of new problems/events
    key to maintaining engagement. Thinking about ways to keep things moving without putting extra pressure on staff
  • Potential for large, active community
    …which is self-supporting/scaffolding – the potential is less the smaller the group and the narrower the subject interest/specialisation.
  • Based on simple, existing technologies/media
    this is an easy sell

I’m not suggesting that all of these features need to be included in a course; but by taking two, three or four in detail, and bearing the others in mind, I think that the potential to improve engagement and motivation, critical problem solving skills, and foster a course-based academic community amongst its students, is within a course designer’s grasp.”

(Moseley, 2008). Full paper available to download on the Publications page.