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Viking: pillage, plunder and gaming

11 Sep

No, this is not me lifting the patio…

I took this picture yesterday at the National Museum of Scotland where you’ll find evidence from many cultures who believed in some kind of afterlife and therefore ‘went prepared’!

This image is of a Viking found buried on Orkney, one of the Northern Isles of Scotland. Just over a thousand years ago this fella, at around 30 years old, was buried with everything that was dear to him… perhaps everything he owned?

Either way one of those items was a game – highlighted below – described by the Museum as a ‘set of bone gaming pieces’. It looks like something similar to Solitaire maybe..?

This caught my eye as an example of how long we’ve been enjoying games. Clearly there were games long before one thousand years ago but I doubt everyone was buried with a game… so it’s telling that, for what ever reason, it was deemed appropriate to bury this chap with ‘his’ game.

I wonder if he was known for taking it down the pub for the boys..? Perhaps it was a single player and he was a bit of a loaner..? Along with the game were farming tools, his warrior’s gear and a few everyday items… giving even more weight to the importance of the inclusion of the game I think.

How about you..? What do you think?

Transformational Games

8 Sep

A great couple of clips from Jesse Schell… he not only understands this games but he’s also got a smart handle on education – ex Disney Imagineer, Game Design expert and now Professor at Carnegie Mellon, Schell carries some clout when talking about Games Based Learning (GBL)

What I enjoyed most about these two talks is that he backs up what I was trying to achieve through the QR Treasure Hunts that I designed for my Masters project. He talks about putting the teacher in the position of overseer, or ‘Dungeon Master’ as he puts it. In Role Playing Games there was always an extra player who wasn’t part of the main game who had to oversee the game play. In the games I created ‘I’ was the Dungeon Master (Role Playing Games were even part inspiration which was reflected in the first game’s name – NEoN Knights!), but when pitching ideas to teachers the role of overseer was their’s; they would take my tools and game ideas and populate them with their own content, map out their own courses, decide the parameters of the game, etc.

Talking of parameters, Schell also talks about how difficult it is to fit games into school schedules and timetables. This was also something that I had considered… therefore I tested game running times from 5 mins to 5 days and several variations in between. All of them worked in their own way, they just had different dynamics, but dynamics vary for many reasons including what the purpose of the game is. The brief needs to be clear, what do you want the players (students) to achieve… and this is where Schell starts…

Rather than talk about Edu-tainment or Serious Games, Schell coins the term Transformational Games – games that will change the player in some meaningful way. This of course doesn’t happen on it’s own – the outcomes need to be considered so that a route to those outcomes can be designed. This is where the co-design between game designer and educator is essential. I was fortunate enough to have great discussions with the likes of Gary Penn at Denki, Derek Robertson at Learning and Teaching Scotland and Kenji Lamb at JISC RSC NE Scotland. Each (Google them) have an animated passion for games and education and how these two can come together and were a great source of inspiration to what I would go on to do.

So it’s a boost to hear someone like Schell backing up my processes…

Whoa! Maybe he’ll put my name forward to the Imagineers at Disney..!?


Fiction ‘improves social understanding’

8 Jul

UPDATE 24.09.2011:

As of this update I’m working on the design and layout of a book for a local photographer. A local writter is providing appropriate captions and the one included below is pertinent to this post. While the quote is specific to reading, I also believe it to be true of any form of narrative with which we can engage, ie analogue and digital games:

“In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to lead; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.”
S.I. Hayakawa (1906-1992), academic and United States Senator.

This is kind of interesting… I suppose anyone interested in fiction would believed this to be true anyway… but this clip from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme would suggest that the findings of Prof Keith Oatley are a little more conclusive.

In a way it almost common sense to say that reading fiction improves social understanding because of course, paradoxically, fiction is never entirely made up. Fiction is a writer’s response to something he has observed in the real world.

As with anything, there are times when this is done well and times when it is not… but that’s another story…

The other interesting aspect to this games. I am convinced that games are exceptionally good at delivering the same story based experience as books. In a game however the player is part of the experience (creating their own story), within the context of the prescribed plot.

80’s Computer Games legend, Dino Dini, in his Keynote to the NEoN Digital Arts festival Festival in Dundee talked about this very idea and inspired a great deal of what I would go on to research through my Masters project. He talked about ‘excessive narrative diminishing player experience’… how too much ‘prescribed plot’ in a video game could hinder a player from creating his own story… by creating our own stories he suggested that we learn to understand ourselves and develop as human beings.

Oatley would appear to agree with this idea as he uses the analogy of a ‘flight simulator’ to give emphasis to his theory… and so, the circle is complete… and I rest my case…!

What do you think..?

Oatley’s research has been collected into a book Such Stuff As Dreams – The Psychology of Fiction and  is available now.

Mystery and the QR Code

17 May

So, second semester assessment out of the way, time to focus on the QR workshop.

The background to this is that I did a QR hunt for the Game To Learn conference and the people who organised that have organised this event in Edinburgh, Open For Education. The focus of the event is to introduce educators to a wealth of Open Source (free) resources available for use in the classroom.

So, I was offered the opportunity to do a session based on QR (Quick Response) codes which would suit predominantly FE/HE lecturers.

I’m assuming the group in Edinburgh will mostly be ‘newbies’ to QR so i’ll start with a bit of history, and then get into the mystery

If you’re interested in coming along (or know someone who might) please let me know in the comments below or tweet me @onthesuperfly (I need to know how many biscuits to bring…) and if you don’t already have a QR Reader on your phone take a few minutes to see if one is available before you arrive… iPhone/iPad and Android are easy (NeoReader, iNigma, Scan, Quickmark come recommended), for all other phones just google you phones make and model along with ‘qr reader’ and see what comes up.

Additionally, if you know of any particularly creative examples of QR codes, especially if they are yours, then let me know. I’ll include a showcase of what’s being done with QRs as well as what I’ve been up to, so I want to hear from you… especially if they are yours!

QReativity – Mystery of the QR Code
Masters of Design Studio
Duncan of Jordanstone
Thursday 19 May at 11am
There will be opportunity  

Hope to see you on there!

Open Letter To Self

1 Apr

As a concerned parent, just over 12 months ago I started looking at the evidence related to the effects of computer games on children and the wider population. This in turn led me to what I am now pursuing as a Masters Project. If you sift through the horror stories you’ll find ‘some’ genuine reasons for concern, but from the evidence I’ve seen, the key issues seem to boil down to common sense and having a decent relationship with your kids.

By no means am I setting my self up as SuperNanny, so first and foremost this is an open letter to my future self, for whom Lego Star Wars II will be a distant, idealised memory.

Jon (Jon in 2021 that is…),

Hope all’s well with you and the family…

It seems to me (the 2011 me) that if our kids (yours and mine…) are playing computer games, we really should know what those games are and, most crucially, what those games entail. Also, how many hours a day are they playing them..? We should know this stuff, and restrict as required! It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, right?

And they are good… they are glorified puzzles… and there doesn’t ‘have to be’ zombie slayings… so don’t demonise them or scape-goat them for crimes they haven’t committed..! (No one said this would be easy…) Certainly a better use of time than TV!

Talking of TV, do you remember that old Panarama ‘Addicted to Games?’ programme from 2010 where the reporter, Raphael Rowe said, ‘If I asked my six-year-old son to stop playing PlayStation football or a Wii adventure game the result was a mini-fit, complete with genuine tears and tantrums. I did not get that kind of extreme reaction when I called time on cartoons on TV, playing in the garden or his favourite action toys.’

This is one we thought about a lot at the time, having had similar experiences… however, it occurred to us… don’t switch the console off halfway through a game! It’s not fair… do parents turn TVs off halfway throughEastenders, or Corrie? (Whether they should or not is another matter…) But ‘no’, they don’t! So, just agree a time limit, then they decide if it’s worth starting another level or not…

Establishing boundaries is what parents have to do all the time… but building in a bit of ‘self management’ drastically reduced our ‘game related’ tantrums in 2011… hope that’s still working out for you in 2021! 😉

Finally, as with everything they do, try not to get ‘old’ and ‘dismissive’, join in! You might not get ‘their stuff’ all of the time, but it’s important to try… it helps keeps our kids safe and puts us in a better position to encourage variety… bowling, dancing… synchronised swimming even!

I must say that I’m looking forward to how this all turns out for us… maybe we’ll look back and laugh… maybe not! I wonder where you are just now… Maybe you’re reading this on your new holoPad at the local Syncronised Swimming Gala..? Either way, i’m looking forward to seeing you… soon!



Geocaching + Prototyping

21 Mar

The Games Based Learning conference, Game To Learn: Take 2 in Dundee this past weekend was a great experience and i’ll blog more about some of the outcomes as soon as I can process them all.

One of the things I was keen to do was document one of my ‘SuperFly Safari’ treasure hunt QR experiences. I wanted to try to capture and understand more about what is so enjoyable about these games; but also what the story capturing process might be if it was integrated into the experience.

Capturing my own game was problematic as it seemed to hinder the process of play. It was also very difficult to follow anyone as the game was being played in breaks between talks and meals. What I chose to do instead was tag along with a group on Ollie Bray’s GeoCaching workshop. While I was taking part a little bit, the main focus was documenting and observing.

This gave me many insights, not only during the game but also afterwards. The fact that I was taking images meant that no one else had to bother too much; instead they got on with enjoying the game in the knowledge that I would be sharing my images afterwards. Once the images were uploaded the sharing began, and while I didn’t know everyones email or twitter id, they soon materialised via the network that had grown in the group.

The fact that everyone playing was a teacher or student teacher was also helpful. It demonstrated to me that I could devise games like this as a demonstration of what could be done, but not worry about how suitable it was for kids… I could give them ideas but it was down to them, and more enjoyable I think, for them to think of ways of interpreting the game into their own area or style of teaching.

I was happy that here was evidence of any area where stories could be made, recorded and shared… and with a bit more work, the experience could be enhanced to have real learning outcomes built in. You can find a visual record of our story here on Flickr.


Creative Crowd-sourced QR Codes

10 Mar

UPDATE: Today (20 May 2011) i’m at the ‘Open For Education’ Conference – for ‘Open‘ read ‘Open source‘.
I’ll be giving a talk, ‘QReativity – The Mystery of the QR Code’
This post, from back in March might be useful as it contains a brief screen cast of how to create your own QR Code.

All feedback gratefully received!


I’m pleased and excited to announce that my exhibition project SuperFly will be exhibiting at the Games Based Learning conference Game To Learn: Take 2 next Friday and Saturday.

I’m working on a new QR hunt as well as preparing a potential lecture for the event… just in case…

I’ve also decide to try and gather a crowd sourced collection of QRs, called ‘SuperFly QReative’. In many ways these little black and white collections of squares are just about as dull as any contrasting collection of ink or light could be. However, it turns out that the technology that scans them is very forgiving in the way that it reads the information. This means that, should you be so inclined, there is the possibility to get extremely creative with the humble QR and turn it into a thing of even greater beauty! (there are examples on the SuperFly website…)

If you’re unsure about how to make your own #QR.. i’ve made a little video to help!

So, visit SuperFly, send in your modified QRs, and the good news is you only have until next wednesday, 16 March!

So not even time to think about it too much, just do it!

Visit SuperFly for more info! (and please spread the word…)

Narrative is the Key!

7 Mar

Had some very interesting discussions around the area of Games Based Learning (GBL).

However, while there are examples of learning through the mechanics of specific games such as Nintendogs, the main focus seems to be the ‘situated’ learning aspect… creating a context within which to teach other skills. What this actually means is that the game is being used as a conduit for narrative.. which I admit they are very good at, but it’s not really what I was looking for. Besides which, if I am to work in an area that relies heavily upon it’s capacity for narrative I think I would rather go direct to source and work ‘with’ the narrative… which is kind of where I started…

What ‘has’ been niggling me is the fact that my strongest memories of games are where the narrative took over.. either because it was so compelling (Fighting Fantasy Role Playing books) or because the game created a space where narrative was created in the experience of the game (Elite) or the narrative created through sharing the experience of competition with a friend (ZX Galaxians). Non of these games had sound or colour.. one of them wasn’t even a video game. Each of them was, what we termed, ‘addictive’.

ZX Galaxians (1981)

One of my discussions was with a secondary teacher, Nick Hood who has been openly sceptical about GBL and it’s place in his classroom. However, his partner works as a primary teacher and has created her own paper based game, loosely based on the Facebook game Farmville, called Parkville. Nick clearly saw the value in this game in the context of the primary classroom but it seems to me that, again, this is narrative..  (in addition, from what he had already told me about his own teaching methods it seemed to me that narrative was a key component…) so I suggested to Nick that, ultimately, what we are talking about is creating a context for a narrative and that the graphics, sound, etc of games, whether on a computer screen or otherwise, were just the cream and that the real substance was in the story:

What this brings me back to is the strength of narrative and it’s place in teaching, learning, playing, etc… Is there a ‘narrative rock’ that has been left unturned..? Is there a new way of assembling these elements of narrative, play, games and technology that would meet the needs of learning or other areas where engagement is key, such as advertising..  …  ..?

This is a presentation that, back in November, encapsulated for me my interest in narrative and engagment. Jim is a Transmedia Consultant to the likes of BBC Worldwide no less and this video, in 8 short minutes, concisely identifies three areas of narrative ‘story telling’, ‘story forming’ and ‘story dwelling’ and their place in our lives. Add to those @Documentally’s ‘Story Making’ (which I think sits squarely between (or combines) Story Forming and Story Dwelling) then you have a tempting collection of narrative domains and playgrounds in which to place yourself or the player, learner, audience, etc…

Jim’s presentation directly influenced how I approached the design of the NEoN Knights QR hunt and i’m sure will continue to influence my further adventures in narrative..!

The NATURE OF SOCIAL NARRATIVE By Jim Banister from SpectrumDNA on Vimeo.

Knights around-the-table once more..?

28 Feb

Exciting possibility of another NEoN Knights style QR Hunt in Dundee very soon… more will be revealed very shortly but in the meantime why not have a lookie at what happened in November at the NEoN Digital Arts Festival: SuperFly’s NEoN Knights QR Hunt

Power Up!

20 Feb

Below is my 3 slide deck to illustrate in 3 mins why I think a ‘design tool’ – the form of which is yet to be determined – to help teachers implement Games Based Learning, in the classroom, would be a good idea.

It was a last minute idea that I opted for over my original idea. Never the best move when you’ve only 30mins to find appropriate images and manipulate them but it’s what makes design exciting… and no one was going to die… except me when I lost my thread towards the end..!

Round two – many slides, some video and 10min limit – takes place tomorrow… it’s coming together..!

So, the 3 slides were under the general banners of:

Slide 1: What is the problem/question/issue?

There are teachers who can see that GBL is a good idea but feel threatened by a context that they don’t fully understand.
The Space Invader screen shot is also a metaphore for the classroom.. teacher being the gunship under attack..!

Slide 2: Why is the project worth doing?

Classroom statistics… 80% of girls play games, 90% of Boys. But according to US statistics, for every 100 girls, boys are dropping out and being excluded 2 and 3 fold.

Slide 3: What are you going to do with it?

Design a tool that combines the methods of Games design with the methods of teaching and curriculum and create a tool, perhaps through the method of a game, that helps teachers without a gaming background understand the benefits for the classroom.