Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gaming In Libraries 2005: Mon Dec 5: Walt Scacchi


Walt Scacchi
from the Institute for Software Research, and director of research for the Laboratory for Game Culture and Technology at U CA, Irvine framed his talk on “Computer Games in Libraries” in terms of game culture and technology, new game opportunities for public libraries and libraries as community centers for games culture and technology.

Game culture and technology recognizes that games are immersive, experiential literary forms. Game play is emergent narrative, gaming is a global industry, modding is practice based learning and career development, games are new media, new cultural forms, and game culture is a social movement.

Walt said he thought that radio, cinema, television and the Internet all had impact on libraries (ha!) and like those other new formats, will require dedicated physical space and special collections in libraries.

FPS focusing on storytelling and storymaking from a first person perspective – the player becomes the character, the character’s story becomes the player's story.

Walt reinforced the idea that gaming is about reading and writing (even card games!). tracks online gaming 3-4 million players a day over 78,000 servers (An analogy: every server online is like a broadcast TV station – over 80,000 channels.)

Games tops application area for open source projects/software, and only a small number of people are making mods. However, a small number of people can connect a lot of people. They can have significant impact though (think of six degrees of Kevin Bacon). Walt's slide “When you program open source, you’re programming communism” demonstrated that social movements require an opposing force.

Games are also about creating careers. There is gameplay, and metagame play, and expertise evolves into jobs. Games are now coming with mod tools –Software Development Kits (SDK) that comes with the retailed game engine;1-2% takes on modding activity.

There is a layman’s guide to making mods that takes the ethics/consequences of mods into consideration. Example: Counterstrike mod – 95% of Half-Life purchases are to play the free download Counterstrike.

New languages are emerging such as "l33t." Walt referenced a recent article “LA Renews its Libraries as Modern Civic Centers: more than just housing books, the new and refurbished librarians bring people together.” by Noam M. Levey, LATimes, 11/27/05

Walt gave an overview of New Game-related R&D efforts
  • Visual and performing arts – portals for artists, game as medium
  • Humanities and Social Science - machinima
  • Alternative Game cultures and venues – hot rod gaming computers (overclock and speed up computer to gain an advantage), LANs (socializing) GameCons (learning)
  • Science Learning and Technology Education
  • Games for informal education
  • Learning STEM domains and practices through immersive roleplaying

He spoke about an MIT experiment – players tried to turn Battlefield game (FPS) into a nightclub to get characters to dance together instead of shooting one another.

50 million units of the Sims sold @ $40 apiece; around 100,000 people turn the Sims into a storytelling medium. Hollywood screenwriters are testing out their ideas in games! A readership of 100,000 downloads is a successful publication. You can trecast, replay and rewrite someone else’s mod. The Movies, a new game, is a natural progression of the popularity of in-game film. The Movies embraces machinima as the whole point of the game. It’s been out for about 6 weeks, and a 6 minute movie “The French Democracy” gets its plot from the Paris riots of just a few weeks ago. Additionally, it is subtitled in English, not the primary language of the user. Use of a game to comment socially and politically on current events.

Gaming is social –LAN parties are opportunities for people to bring their hot rod computers and play with friends. These are BYOComputer events! An example: Quake con: 5500 participants, pay to play. And they pay (the average online gamer is 29, with a $70000 income and has high end game machine (around $5000 retail, worth up to $10,000 with "hot rod" mods).

You can have a LAN party anywhere there's room: the mall, the subway. Stakes can be steep: $50,000 prize to winner. For some photos of LAN parties, mods, and game centers, check out Libraries might consider new operating hours to accommodate LAN parties.

Educational Games – is it an oxymoron? “Bringing games into K-12 classrooms is a road to hell paved with good intentions.” There are no success stories to date.

Some examples of science education game sites:
Kinetic City Games is a 2 million dollar site that partners with National Science Foundation and AAAS to meet science standards for grades 6&7. the games are in flash, because it’s the most ubiquitous computing environment worldwide. Flash is not 3-D.

The Heart of the Matter
from CERN features an "accelerate the particle" game that won a Nobel prize in particle physics 20 years ago. No rules on the site – it’s intuitive.

Games do have a potential for learning but we are not going to be able to do it through schools for 3-5 years. There may be venues to experiment with the learning capabilities in afterschool or science/art/history museum and library programs. There are only 250 science museums in the US On Sunday night at our speaker's meet-up, Walt told me that (hopefully, I have this figure right, or he'll correct me if I am wrong) 80% of science education is learned not in the classroom, but hands on at science museums, because the school system isn’t able to provide hands on learning opportunities)

Telemetry Indianapolis is a driving simulation and a mechanical engineering software appropriate for males ages 12-85.

What about kids who can’t read? The very young, ESL students, etc who need to meet those science standards in subjects like the environment or the human body. Walt worked on creating a game story with tasks that relate to national science standards – questions with a transparent interface and no textual questions.

Walt concluded by talking a little bit about ethnicity and games. People now buy computers before they buy televisions, and games may be a way not just to bridge the digital divide but to bring information to younger non-native and ESL speakers.

He left us with a challenge: Library Specific Games that might be created:

Knowledge Quest
  • A navigational or adventure/discovery game
  • Find and assemble knowledge from library resources
  • Acquire library research skills
  • Resident librarians are the mentors and masters of the game
  • This is a game that could be built with open source and community participation.
Interlibrary game grid
  • MLS a a public network of aonline information accessible through home work school and libraries
  • Create a virtual value added network for library patrons
  • Facilitate inter-library game play and game culture ie branches compete on Civ IV or create a movie together – collective moding.
  • Deploy online community information sharing systems
  • My game space web portals, blog, wikis, rss rofuns, etc – reading and writing!


Chad said...

I know this is sort of an odd point to focus on, but I take issue with the statement that games NEVER work in classrooms. The successes are probably exceptions rather than the rules, but I know I learned at least some general concepts and ideas from Oregon Trail. (not to mention the planning and decision making skills involved)

For example - I would have no idea what Dysentery is today if my entire Oregon Trail family hadn't died of it time and time again!

Beth Gallaway said...

I know! I don't think I am misquoting him.

It stood out to me as a challenge - let's find ways to CREATE opportunities where games in classrooms WILL be successsful.

I played Oregon Trail too, and it drove home the point about the odds against a successful trip west. And I still recall state capitals and learned about the railroad system and time zones because of a collecovision game I used to play... Agent USA.

Chad said...

Nope, you weren't misquoting, I heard the same thing.

I wonder what your average fifth grader plays in school today as an educational game. Around my time it was Number Munchers or Oregon Trail, and that was about it. Are newer entries just not up to snuff?

Beth Gallaway said...

They're playing Runescape, at the Swift River School: