Play nicely

I really like the potential which Google Earth has as a gaming platform. When we started discussing options as to how we might use it to build a game, I used some of the tutorials here to design a mini Google Earth interactive story/treasure hunt and shared the idea and some initial stages of the game with the group.


I also suggested some other possibilities: Google Earth offers rich potential for roaming and I thought that we could exploit it to capitalise on Gee’s ‘multiple routes principle”: we could allow players to ‘make choices, rely on their own strengths and styles of learning and problem solving…’ (Gee, 2007, p.223). Additionally, it is the perfect arena in which to allow learners to make discoveries, to keep ‘overt telling’ to a ‘well-thought-out minimum’ (ibid, 226).


Our group decided to go with a different tack: a refugee’s journey; given the current political context, this ‘serious’ game was deemed to be timely. It was decided that Google Earth would only be used to provide video illustrations for a game which would be built in Twine. I had real reservations about this as I felt that it was going ‘off brief’ and I really felt that we could capitalise on the wealth of tools and features offered by Google Earth.


This collaborative process was, for me, really frustrating as, particularly working remotely, I found it hard to get my voice heard. It provided me with some insights into and a sense of empathy for how our students must sometimes (often?!) feel when we require them to engage in group work. I wanted to be an active, contributing member of the group but, because I didn’t feel a sense of ‘ownership’ of the game and the concept, I was a little adrift throughout the design and build process.

In her paper on groupwork, Burke references a term I’ve hadn’t heard before, ‘grouphate’:

‘Grouphate has been referred to as the dread and repulsion that many people feel about working in groups or teams’ (Sorenson, 1981).

She also outlines some of the key disadvantages of working in groups, which she takes from Beebe and and Masterson (2003).

  1. ‘There may be pressure from the group to conform to the majority opinion. Most people do not like conflict and attempt to avoid it when possible. By readily acquiescing to the majority opinion, the individual may agree to a bad solution just to avoid conflict.
  2. An individual may dominate the discussion. This leads to members not gaining satisfaction from the group because they feel too alienated in the decision making process.
  3. Some members may rely too heavily on others to do the work. This is one of the most salient problems that face groups. Some members do not pitch in and help and do not adequately contribute to the group (Freeman & Greenacre, 2011). One solution to this problem is to make every group member aware of the goals and objectives of the group and assign specific tasks or responsibilities to each member.
  4. It takes more time to work in a group than to work alone. It takes longer to accomplish tasks when working with others. However, the time spent taking and analyzing problems usually results in better solutions.’

She goes on to explore how this negativity about groupwork can be overcome: ‘these feelings diminish among group members who have received proper instruction about working in groups. One way to overcome grouphate is to form realistic expectations of group work.’ There are, as she notes, many advantages to working in groups:

  1. ‘Groups have more information than a single individual. Groups have a greater well of resources to tap and more information available because of the variety of backgrounds and experiences.
  2. Groups stimulate creativity. In regard to problem solving, the old adage can be applied that “two heads are better than one.”
  3. People remember group discussions better. Group learning fosters learning and comprehension. Students working in small groups have a tendency to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same material is presented in other instructional formats (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005; Davis, 1993).
  4. Decisions that students help make yield greater satisfaction. Research suggests that students who are engaged in group problem solving are more committed to the solution and are better satisfied with their participation in the group than those who were not involved.
  5. Students gain a better understanding of themselves. Group work allows people to gain a more accurate picture of how others see them. The feedback that they receive may help them better evaluate their interpersonal behaviour.
  6. Team work is highly valued by employers. Well developed interpersonal skills were listed by employers among the top 10 skills sought after in university graduates (Graduate Outlook Survey, 2010)’.

The outcome of the group activity, despite my own sense of discomfort and detachment from much of the process was, ultimately, very well-received by our peers.

As well as gaining ‘a better understanding’ of myself and learning about my own weaknesses when it comes to groupwork, I also used the time we had to test some concepts with Graeme (another member of Group 2): I recorded some Google Earth fly-throughs, created .KML files and shared them with; he was, via the link, able to open and view them directly in Google Earth. We’re also planning on working together to build something within GE, to allow us to test more principles and options for game-play.

This process also encouraged me to think about the fact that gamers opt to work in teams, to play together (nicely); gaming is a tool which facilitates the development of team-working skills. Maybe we needed to play together before working together?

Beebe, S. A., & Masterson, J. T. (2003). Communicating in small groups. Pearson Education Inc. Boston: Massachusetts.

Burke, Alison. (2011). Group Work: How to Use Groups Effectively. Journal of Effective Teaching, 11(2), 87-95.


Minecraft: building an understanding

I’ve never ‘got’ Minecraft. My nephew tried to teach me how to use it a few years ago and I failed in his eyes: I was ‘slow’ and kept asking ‘stupid questions’. When Mary shared this video on Twitter, it struck a chord.

However, my experience of exploring Edinburgh University’s Minecraft space felt entirely more comfortable and I’ve been thinking about why. As with Second Life, meeting virtually and synchronously in a shared space scaffolds our understanding of that space. It ‘feels’ like a safe collaborative arena. In our Minecraft tutorial, Noreen was there to guide us and provide us with tips and hints. She also took me on a tour of ‘her’ space – an outdoor theatre she’d created – and she showed me an underground tunnel which snaked below the buildings above ground. In terms of my own actions, I simply planted some flowers and laid some tiles: I struggle when I have to build ‘high’. But what I enjoyed and what I hadn’t appreciated prior to this is that there isn’t always the requirement to ‘do’ to ‘act’ within a game space. Observing and looking can also bring rewards. It was my desire to act and do before I was really ready which resulted, after all, in my death in WoW.

I also began to reflect on why I’d failed to learn how to use Minecraft previously and I realised that I was trying to work from the abstract into the situated and embodied world of the game rather than the obverse. I was trying to learn the rules, understand the world, before I’d immersed myself in it. As Gee notes, ‘Abstraction rises gradually out of the ground of situated meaning and practice and returns there from time to time, or it is meaningless to most human beings’ (Gee. 2007, p.87), ‘There really is no other way to make sense.’ (ibid, p.84). The ‘probing principle’ (ibid, p.105) offers a more effective approach to game/world familiarisation and to learning.

Our week in Minecraft coincided with a visit to a little primary school in Lancashire. I was there to carry out an ICT audit and support the school in developing an understanding about what actions they needed to take if they were to progress their use of ICT in teaching and learning. Given the recent re-launch of Minecraft Education, I thought that I would, informally, speak to as many students as I could about their use of Minecraft and how they had learned about it.  A lot of pupils reported that they had approached their learning of the game using the probing principle, through ‘Just doing it’, ‘Seeing what happens’, ‘Playing’. A lot also learned from their close friends/relatives – to an intimate affinity group – to seek guidance and support about how to progress through Minecraft. Many of these guides were older siblings/cousins/friends. A couple of pupils reported that they read books and articles about Minecraft but that they did this once they had already been immersed in the world for some time; as Gee notes, it is unlikely that such texts would make any sense if approached without a prior appreciation of the world, ‘texts associated with video games – the instruction booklets, walkthroughs, and strategy guides…do not make a lot of sense unless one has already experienced and lived in the game for a while.’ (Gee, 2007, p.98).

The children were keen to tell me about their work and their play in Minecraft and they sent me an image of the Parthenon that they’d built.  They also told me about a game that they thought I’d enjoy: ‘Slither‘. They really became enthused and open when asked about their game-play; I was recognised as a potential member of their affinity group: we shared a ‘common endeavour’ (Gee, 2007, p.206) (although they were ‘endeavouring’ much more successfully than me!). I’m not yet ready to refer to myself as a ‘gamer’ though. I’m not sure when that will come. Is there a level of proficiency or a stage of achievement to be reached before I will feel like I am adept enough to feel like I am an ‘insider’? (ibid, p.212).

Pokemon possibilities

A work day in London was lightened through the playing of Pokémon (although I did, as I reflected on in the forum) feel a little silly playing as an adult.


I headed to the British Museum during the day and it was stuffed with school groups. The pupils were working on worksheets and were – it appeared – having a great time; there was much excitement.


However, I did think that there were other possibilities which could have been exploited via location-based gaming. There are many Pokéstops in and around the museum and the consequent ‘gamification’ of their educational visit could have been enhanced by supplementary activities relating to Pokémon Go.


There’s lots of interest in this article too:

  • Regarding educational potential, I would argue that physical play is secondary to the social learning that takes place with Pokémon Go. Sure, video games sharpen hand-eye coordination and pattern recognition. But they also teach problem solving skills, resilience, and meta-cognition. When players meet together at Pokéstops—which are often parks, museums, and historical buildings—meaningful conversations can emerge. Like Minecraft, the learning in Pokémon Go resides in the game’s growing community of practice. There is social knowledge construction that takes place among its players.
  • Game scholar Raph Koster considers Pokémon Go to not be just an augmented reality game. Rather, he argued that it is a massive multiplayer online (MMO) game, like World of Warcraft, but pervasive, in the real world. In this sense, Pokémon Go is more like live action role-playing (LARPing), than a smartphone game.
  • Koster’s article can be found here.

I’m dying here

It was a bit of a shock, getting attacked. Until this point, I’d felt in control of choosing my enemies and therefore being ready to respond to their (slow) advance. This time, I was set upon by a gang of Blackrock assassins and was killed three times.

I’d accepted a mission from Mashal McBride and then was tempted by a supplementary task: to extinguish the fires that were burning in the vineyards. Why I didn’t see the quest name (Extinguishing Hope) as a hint that I should perhaps avoid this, I don’t know.


The attack felt brutal and I felt hopeless as I watched me/Lyrabloom/us die. The impact of my character’s killing was experienced with more of a sense of panic, of helplessness than I would have experienced if I were watching a film or reading a book. As Gee notes, the ‘tripartite play of identities…is quite powerful. It transcends identification with characters in novels or movies, for instance, because it is both active (the player actively does things) and reflexive, in the sense that once the player has made some choices about the virtual character, the virtual character is now developed in a way that sets certain parameters about what the player can now do’ (p.54).


I had failed. I had failed Lyrabloom and I had failed as a gamer. My virtual character was dead. My real-world identity was confirmed in its suspicion that I am not, and never will be, a gamer, and my projective identity was now a ghost. I thought that this ‘project in the making’ (Gee p.50) was done.  And then I was told to make my way back to my corpse. I could be resurrected. My failure was not total and I was able to resurrect Lyrabloom (granted, for her only to die a few more times before we made our way out of there).


The game allowed ‘repair work’ (Gee, p. 57) to happen.; the game creates a ‘psychosocial moratorium’  (p.59)There was a low cost of failure: Lyrabloom lives again.


WoW: getting started

The first pig of a job was getting WoW downloaded. I’m currently living in the sticks and my broadband is both slow and unreliable. I had to use a friend’s connection in the end. The test of tenacity to install the game might be seen to be a learning experience in itself: I began to realise that I had capacity to be more patient than I had ever thought possible.

On first launching the game, I was enthralled by the quality of the graphics and the stunning soundtrack; I listened carefully as what I thought was the exposition was narrated. I then discovered that I was actually watching an advert for Legion – WoW’s latest expansion set…It struck me just how much of what I was doing I was simply doing through trial and error. There were no instructions, no guides (Discovery Principle – Gee); however, as I was to discover, my route into the game was carefully scaffolded.

When I finally did enter WoW, the first thing I had to do was create my character. And then I was in.


It was a dizzying space: full of small, intimate battles, with the clang of swords, the grunts of efforts and silent cries for help in the comms panel at the bottom of the screen. Lyra/I/We (Gee’s three identities) were unable to help. I found my way to Marshal McBride and accepted my first quest – killing spies. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it, so I asked for help and was greeted by silence (turns out I wasn’t communicating properly).


I had no choice but to throw myself into the game and figure out how to kill the spies myself. Of course, I wasn’t doing this myself: the game design ensures that a complete novice is able to operate within it, within a ‘regime of competence’ (Gee). Once I got started, the first challenges were fairly straightforward and allowed me to get used to how to control my weapon (I can, as a Mage, only freeze my enemies), how to loot and also to develop more of a sense of the semiotic domain in which I found myself. At this stage, unless I targeted someone/thing, I wasn’t under threat of attack myself.

During the first few challenges I got a lot of input for a lot of output (Amplification of Input Principle – Gee) and started to think of myself as becoming a little better than a novice. And then I died.


Caillois and game classification

Caillois divides games into four categories:

AGÔN: competition

ALEA: chance

MIMICRY: simulation

ILINX: vertigo (linked to the desire for disorder and destruction)

He posits that games can also be placed on a continuum between two poles:

PAIDIA: diversion, turbulence, free improvisation, carefree gaiety. JOY.

LUDUS: rules, conventions: a discipline for paidia. DIFFICULTY.


With regard to one of the themes which I am focusing on, narrative, Caillois notes that ‘Identification with the champion in itself constitutes mimicry related to that of the reader with the hero of the novel and that of the moviegoer with the film star’ (p.22). Further, he proposes that, ‘bicycle races, boxing or wresting matches, football, tennis or polo games are instrinsic spectacles, with costumes, solemn overture, appropriate liturgy, and regulated procedures. In a word, these are dramas whose vicissitudes keep the public breathless, and lead to denouements which exalt some and depress others’ (p.22).






The Seven Rhetorics of Play: 

  1. Play as progress
  2. Play as fate
  3. Play as power
  4. Play as identity
  5. Play as the imaginary
  6. Rhetoric of the self
  7. Play as frivolous

Defintions of play: 

  1. definitions by players of their own play experiences and functions
  2. definitions by theorists of intrinsic play functions – players game-related motives for playing
  3. definitions by theorists of extrinsic play functions – the forms of play in terms of the functions they are supposed to serve in the larger culture.

Sutton-Smith, Brian., (1997) “Play and ambiguity” from Sutton-Smith, Brian., The ambiguity of play pp.1-17, Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press

Playtime and lack of time

I think I’m a Calvinist at heart. My work ethic is well-developed and honed, my ability to play, less so. At the moment, I’m waving not drowning when it comes to work and squeezing in the time to read about play felt somewhat ironic. However, Kane’s  passionate exploration of and defence of the importance of play in its multifarious forms was heartening and enlightening. Kane’s essay is a rallying cry is that ‘play and only play that makes man complete.’ (Eigen and Winkler)

Kane distinguishes between the modern and the ancient visions of play; the former ‘sees players as the ultimate embodiment of human freedom’, the latter ‘sees players as determined by forces largely beyond their control.’ (p.39)

In terms of the modern rhetoric of play, Kane identifies three core visions of play (summarised here in a playful (and, due to time constraints, necessary) stream of consciousness…

  1. Play as progress: play as necessity; powers of childhood play (as argued for in Rousseau’s ‘Emile’); play as a counter to ‘factory schools, producing factory minds’ (p.43) (this came to mind when I read that); Froebel’s concept of ‘play gifts’ – to enable children ‘to externalise concepts in their minds rather than have ‘the facts’ imprinted on their brains’ (p.41); Motessori; ‘play makes you live longer’ (p.44) (at the moment, it looks like I might dies young(ish))…
  2. Play as imagination: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up’ – Pablo Picasso; play as a transforming human process; play as imaginary; ‘the great instrument of moral good is the imagination’ – Shelley; ‘Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays’ – Schiller; ‘Play, like imagination, could mend the broken soul’ (p.46); ‘…the imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom.’ – Buñuel; play as imagination should subvert play as progress…
  3. Play as selfhood: ‘Play is an attitude before it is anything else.’ (p.48); the ludic, playful self as self-determining.

Kane posits that ‘Modern play in all three of its definitions – as progress, as imagination, as self – can become an unlimited fuel supply of human dynamism.’ (p.49). He cites Howard Gardner: ‘We play to master our self, our anxiety and the world.’ (p.49).

With regard to ancient notions of play, what is acknowledged is that we are ‘often played with’ (p.50); we are ‘sport to the gods…’ (p.50):

  1. Play as fate and chaos: ‘Fateful play is a largely passive, not active practice…’ (p.51).
  2. Play as identity: ‘…we are players because others expect us to play.’ (p.52); Kane proposes that ‘collective play is the festival’ (p.52) and modern entertainment spaces aim to deliver the ‘collective tingle’ (p.53) to us as players in a ludic society.
  3. Play as contest: ‘While playing to win, they raise standards and levels of achievement in human society.’ (p.53). Our sports culture manifests the play ethic most overtly. However, arguably the flip side of this contest culture is the ‘playa’ which Kane characterises as being dominated by a ‘vicious agonism’ (p.55).

Kane goes on to examine what play might prescribe for us, for the way in which we lead our lives:

  1. ‘Living as a player is precisely about embracing ambiguity, revelling in paradox, yet being energized by that knowledge.’ (p.55)
  2. ‘…play (is) the fruitful, novelty-generating energy that sustains the vibrancy of a system…’ (p.56)

In terms of non-zero-sum games (such as life), there are rewards for those who commit to the long game and commit to being sociable and to extending the complexity and reach of their networks. A passion for the new, for novelty, is also key. Miller claims that all successful animals must be ‘neophiliacs’.

In order to succeed, I have to play more.

Other quotable quotes

‘…initial playful activity is an essential prerequisite of the final act of understanding…’
– Paul Feyerabend, Conquest of Abundance, 1999

‘To be a player is to try and live and thrive between freedom and determinism, chance and necessity.’ (p.40)

‘…play is a deep, natural and lasting resource for modern humans.’ (p.40)

‘Players needs to be energetic, imaginative and confident in the face of an unpredictable, contestive, emergent world. Players also accept the complex relationship between all forms of play whether ancient or modern.’ (p.41)

‘Play is about freedom. But it is also about the freedom to get it wrong; to imagine a future, and then have it tumble down around us in reality…’ (p.50)

‘Under complexity, our individual interactions – no matter how vigorous, singular and inventive they may seem to us – are merely part of the massive carnival, the implicate order, of the universe. The complexists’ player needs to radically temper his or her egoism – to accept that they are only a player in the ‘team game’ of life, co-evolving with others.’ (p.61)

‘A network is a possibility factory’ (Kelly)

‘For us nor to be daunted, crushed or demoralised by the complexities of the worlds, we have to reduce its burden upon us: we have to learn to create spaces to dream of alternatives, try out scenarios, give ourselves room to experiment, allow ourselves to say ‘maybe’ or ‘as if’ to our dilemmas, rather than always a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’. To invert the title of Milan Kundera’s famous novel we have to embrace ‘the bearable lightness of being’. We have to be able to transform the uncertainties and risks that our increasingly complex, twenty-first world presents us with – that is, we have to become players. And we have to believe that this activity is necessary and worthwhile – ethical, in other words.’ (p.63)

Kane, P., (2005) “A general theory of play” from Kane, P., The play ethic: a manifesto for a different way of living pp.35-64