Learning Through Play (Microessay #3)

Terence Gogarty

Professor Jong

ENGL 398D

A teacher awarding a student with a gold star for achieving a high mark on a test is nothing new. This reward not only congratulates the student on their academic performance but also serves as an incentive for them to maintain this performance in the future. However, why does this system not engage every single student? How come not all students are motivated or driven to earn these rewards? With the introduction of video games to the learning process, it is apparent that this reward system is due for an update. Not only do games create new incentives for achievement, but they also introduce new systems for learning and cause reflection for previously established measurements of students’ abilities.

James Gee claims that by having students participate in this ‘edutainment’, teachers are now able to effectively measure what he calls ‘collective intelligence.’ (Mackay) He posits that humans are not meant to function in a solitary environment, but rather collaboratively. By having students play certain games, they are able to exercise this ‘collective intelligence’ analysis can be done on how they interact with their environment and others players. While some games do not explicitly teach educational skills, it is argued that these games teach equally important ‘non-cognitive’ skills such as discipline.

The general consensus seems to be that games should not be viewed as a replacement to education, but to rather complement it and to aid in analyzing the learning patterns of students. For example, Constance Steinkuehler conducted an experiment studying the educational merit of video games and seems to have found a correlation between poor academic performance and lack of motivation. She conducted this experiment using a group of boys who read, in an academic setting, read several levels below their grade. However, these same boys excelled at reading texts within video games they played. When presented with these texts, they actually read above their grade level. Her conclusion was that because these boys had a choice when it came to their reading material, they were more motivated to overcome challenging passages. This calls into question the validity of the standardized tests that are being used to measure these levels and whether the results are truly indicative of the ability of the students.

When a game has been specifically designed to be used as an educational tool, it can be beneficial for educators. When a student plays with a game, it will log every single input. By having a game quantify every aspect of the student’s interactions and actions, this can provide the teacher with a more clear view of their understanding of the material. If the student is struggling in a certain area or is not absorbing the intended purpose of the game, the teacher will receive automatic feedback and will have an opportunity to correct these errors, thereby expediting the learning process.

While these developments seem to resemble the early stages of a reformation, the questions remains on how these new methods of learning are translating to overall academic performance. At the moment, there are fews studies which analyze this aspect and instead focus on the broader effects of edutainment. Studies on the effects of brain training games on transferable skills have not been positive. They found that the skills acquired and improved upon in one game did not necessarily translate into another game. In fact, the initial improvement was attributed to practicing repetitive actions. (Malykhina)

Despite initially praising the potential educational benefits of video games, Mark Griffiths fears of the negative reinforcement that certain games promote. In his article from 2002, he commented that the most popular games were typically violent and that games which did not promote prosocial behaviour had the potential of leading the player/student to developing ‘negative behaviours and emotions.’

Outside of the classroom, the implementation of game mechanics into learning tools is widespread. Duolingo, the number one language learning tool on Apple’s App Store, uses many of these mechanics. A person’s progression through various language-learning stages is measured in ‘XP’, their score is ranked amongst their friends on a ‘leaderboard’, they can spend in-game currency on outfits for their avatar and they are given a ‘life bar’ of three hearts. In addition to providing an accommodating and familiar environment, these game mechanics provide incentive, or motivation, for the player to progress through the language learning tutorials.

HabitRPG is a self-improvement tool that applies a progression and reward system, similar to what is found in an RPG, with the goal of having the ‘player’ develop positive habits. While not resembling a game in the typical sense, the player will engage with a user-friendly task manager wherein they take various habits from their life and apply them to the game’s progression system. A certain number of points will be applied to a habit that the player would like to maintain and if they carry out this habit in real life, they will earn in-game ‘gold’. Gold acts as currency in HabitRPG and can be spent on indulgent habits, such as eating unhealthy food, watching a movie, etc. In order to ensure the repetition of positive habits, players that neglect to play HabitRPG will cause their ‘in-game’ character’s health to decrease. The philosophy of this tool seems to be to empower the player by having them view themselves as the hero in their own game in order to help them break patterns of procrastination and develop self discipline.

While still nascent in its development, the progress of edutainment at this point in time makes the future look promising. Fair points have been made in regards to lack of proven results, but it is undeniable of the effect that it has on the dynamic between teacher and student. As the world progresses towards automation, it is difficult to imagine an educational system that neglects the use of interactive media.

Sethi, Chitra. “Can Videogames Reshape STEM Education?” ASME. 1 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Olson, Samantha. “Storytelling In Video Games May Improve Social Skills, Emotional Capacity In Kids With Autism.” Medical Daily. 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Mackay, R.F. “Playing to Learn: Panelists at Stanford Discussion Say Using Games as an Educational Tool Provides Opportunities for Deeper Learning.” Stanford News. 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Malikyhina, Elena. “Fact or Fiction?: Video Games Are the Future of Education.” Scientific American. 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Griffiths, Mark. “The Educational Benefits of Videogames.” Education and Health 20.3 (2002): 47-51. SHEU. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

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Modding: Limitations on Innovation

Terence Gogarty

Professor Jong

ENGL 398

April 9, 2015

When games like Oblivion or Skyrim are released, some players completely ignore the original gameplay parameters created by the developers and instead opt to play the game with user-generated modifications. However, some players augment the game with so many different types of mods that what they end up with is an almost entirely different game. In fact, a player can carry out their adventures only with user-generated equipment, weapons, houses and even missions. Not just in the case of these two games, but some modifications can prove to be incredibly popular amongst players that they end up being developed into standalone products.

Counter Strike, which began as a mod for Half-Life, is an example of this. What began as something simple ultimately snowballed into a franchise of games. Even though it initially began as a mod, players can still completely ignore the standard ‘terrorists vs. counter terrorists’ team death match servers that are offered and instead play on servers that solely host modified maps and game modes. These, amongst many others, include ‘surf’ maps, wherein the physics of the game have been manipulated and players complete obstacle courses by ‘surfing’ along walls.

Counter Strike is not the only example of a mod transcending into a full retail product. Defence of the Ancients, or DotA, began as a modification on Warcraft III’s ‘Battle.net.’ It became so popular that the IceFog, one of the creators of the mod, was hired by Valve and is now the lead designer of DotA 2, currently the number one game on Steam.

But are these ‘rags to riches’ stories expected to be a considered an attainable goal amongst modders, or are the aforementioned examples exceptions to the rule? In his article Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry, Julian Kücklich makes a strong argument in how game companies, such as Valve, are using the modding community as a tool in their research and development. They monitor the trends in the type of mods which are being creating along with which mods are being the most used by players. This not only allows them to create future products which cater to their customers tastes, but it also eliminates a large part of the risk involved in implementing new additions to future products. While this may prove fruitful for developers of the platforms in which these mods are taking place, what is the perceived gain for the modders themselves? Kücklich states that these developers are not actively recruiting modders and instead using their work as a form of free labour.

Not only is this labour considered ‘free’ because of the lack of wages associated with the work, but also the fact that modding is interpreted as a leisure activity. Upon first glance at this community, this is an understandable conclusion to reach since there is no apparent economic incentive for modders. This sentiment is further justified by examining end-user license agreements that modders operate under. Having inspected the EULAs of Bethesda and Blizzard’s Battle.net, they all maintain similar legal boundaries to the example stated in Kücklich’s article. The EULA explicitly states that any modifications created by the player belong to the developer royalty-free. Under this assumption, the modder is doing this solely to exercise their creativity or to, hopefully, be recruited by a game company.

This implementation of an EULA seems to be a way for the developer to maintain the upper hand, legally speaking. In one sense, this is understandable from their point of view. For example, Minecraft’s creator Markus Persson openly claims inspiration from the open source game Infiniminer, which contains an alarmingly amount of similarities. These similarities include the ‘lego style’ aesthetic design to the goal of ‘mining.’ Since there was no EULA to enforce, Minecraft went on to become one of the most profitable video games of all time whereas Infiniminer, along with its creator, became its obscure spiritual predecessor. It seems, though, that these EULAs are not heavily enforced. Typically, if a modification has become popular enough amongst the gaming community and ultimately warrants a standalone product, the original creators, as seen previously, are involved in this process.

To counter this trend, however, is the mod ‘Gun Game’ for Counter Strike: Source. In this mode, the player will progress through a series of weapons and will be awarded the next weapon by killing another player, with the ultimate goal being to complete an entire weapon cycle. This mode, being incredibly popular in the Counter Strike: Source community, has made its way into AAA titles such as the Call of Duty series. Save for a few minor differences, the game mode is near identical, including being titled ‘Gun Game.’ There haven’t been any articles that state whether the initial developers were compensated or involved in any way, but if the EULA is to be any indication of how business was to be conducted, all dealings were done exclusively with Valve. However, Michael Barr, the lead developer of Gun Game, helped implement the mode in Counter Strike: Global Offensive, now under the title ‘Arsenal.’ It seems that with these agreements, the developers are bound to the company under which the mod was implemented.

If there was some form of deregulation or ‘freedom’ when it came to modding, could this provide an economic incentive for people to become involved in the modding community?  This would seem to be the outlook that Linden Labs has applied to Second Life.  The game contains modding software, albeit rudimentary, free of charge, and enables players to create clothing, costumes, furniture, etc. Not only are they able to freely create, all of their creations belongs to them outright, not to Linden labs. Similar to a ‘laissez-faire’ economic policy, Second Life has allowed its players to sell their creations amongst themselves, free of any intervention from Linden Labs. In fact, this method has become incredibly fruitful for one player in particular. In 2006, Ailin Graef became a millionaire out of investments she made in Second Life in just over two and half years.

This is clearly not a black and white issue. As it becomes a more prominent part of the gaming landscape and impacts the decisions made by developers, modding should be given more value than it does at the present. It should not be viewed as a fringe element of gaming, but should rather be promoted and encourage. While the previously mentioned companies do offer methods for players to mod, it comes with many strings attached and ultimately benefits the developer, not the modders.


Kücklich, Julian. “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry.” The Fibreculture Journal, 5 (2005). http://five.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-025-precarious-playbour-modders-and-the-digital-games-industry/

Blessener, Adam. “Valve’s New Game Announced, Detailed: Dota 2.” GameInformer. 13 Oct. 2010. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

Cooper, Hollander. “Valve Working with Gun Game Creators on Modes for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” GamesRadar. 22 Sept. 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

The Word of Notch. “The origins of Minecraft.”notch.tumblr.com.  Tumblr, 30 Oct. 2009. Web 7 Apr. 2015.

Hof, Rob. “Second Life’s First Millionaire.” Bloomberg Business. 26 Nov. 2006. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

Chrono Trigger, the Bible, Capitalism and Legitimacy

When questioned about the possibility of a sequel to Chrono Trigger, Shinji Hashimoto, vice president of Square Enix, replied, “If people want a sequel, they should buy more [copies]!” (Reilly, 2009). This acerbic response typifies the relationship between producers and consumers in the video game market. Game studios, such as Square Enix, will create games to fulfill the needs and wants of their audience not only in order to provide a satisfying and engaging experience, but will do so in hopes of reaping profits and converting them into becoming repeat customers. The final product will also be assessed differently by both the consumer and the producer. The consumer will judge a game based on its narrative, gameplay, graphics, etc. Essentially, their enjoyment of the game will derive from the experience it provides them. The producer will judge the game on how effectively the satisfaction of the consumer translates into profitability, not enjoyment. For a game that was not a profitable enough to warrant a sequel, according to Hashimoto, the question remains as to why their is such a vocal demand for people wanting ‘more’. What is it about Chrono Trigger that resonated with its target audience that generated such a vocal minority? Is it because of its seemingly apparent tributes and references to classical literature? Its possible that when a narrative is based upon common, traditional stories that it creates a sense of familiarity towards cultural values for the consumer. Aside from narrative, the game mechanics of Chrono Trigger provide an engaging and familiar environment for the player to interact with. The progression system, the ability to ‘level up’, is also reminiscent of the capitalistic system wherein the player will accumulate wealth, represented by levels, in order to provide the opportunity to fulfill their goals. The question remains as to the socially constructed conditions that caused Chrono Trigger to feature allegories of the Bible and capitalism.

Incorporating familiar stories and their tropes into a video game not only serves a narrative purpose but also acts as a marketing tool. Having video games feature literary devices that remind players of classic literature creates a familiar environment for them and will aid in their immersion. For instance, due to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga incredible influence on the fantasy genre, its story and characters have spilled over into other mediums and stories. The majority of successful fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Skyrim, World of Warcraft and The Witcher. owe a great deal of debt to Tolkien. Amy Hennig, who formerly served as Creative Director for Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, claims that “Many elements of the most popular games have classic roots and when we play these games we are interacting with worlds that are timeless. I believe that classic literature, myths, and legends endure because they are a reflection of something deeply embedded in our collective consciousness” (Perry, 2006).

One of the potential factors that could effectively explain the reverence towards Chrono Trigger is how heavily influenced it is by classic literature. To briefly summarize, the game is set in an Earth-like world where the three main characters, Crono, Marle and Lucca, use time travel in an attempt to discover a way to prevent the future destruction of their world. The one threatening this destruction is Lavos, an alien parasite who arrived in Crono’s world via a meteor. Since the arrival of Lavos, it has been draining the Earth of its energy resources with the goal of producing off spring that will continue doing this to other planets. This plot of bears a close resemblance to the Book of Revelation from the Bible. In Revelation, Wormwood falls from the heavens and infects all of the rivers and springs and causes many people to die. ‘A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.’ (English Standard Version, Rev 8:11) The character of Crono also features many parallels to Jesus Christ. Two particularly notable similarities are that Crono sacrifices himself to save his party and is later miraculously resurrected, similar to Jesus dying for the sins of everyone, and also the fact that he manages to feed an entire military with a few pieces of beef jerky, much like when Jesus fed hundreds of starving people with a few morsels of bread.

There are many other references to literature throughout the game consisting of everything from The Frog Prince, represented by the character ‘Frog’, and Isaac Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’, as represented by the character ‘Robo.’ It is difficult to say whether these additional references to literature are implemented intentionally or have simply become traditional storytelling tropes due various forms of legitimacy. What is questionable, though, are the seemingly intentional and constant references to the Bible throughout Chrono Trigger. It is possible, though, that this can be attributed to social constructs that Japan has faced due to their relationship with Christianity. In order to understand this, one must understand Japan’s historical context.

The inception of Christianity in Japan began with the arrival of Francis Xavier in 1549. Roman Catholicism, at this point in time, began to develop a large role in Japanese culture; this was represented by nearly half a million followers. Despite adversity from the Council of Five Elders about Portuguese intervention in Japan, they allowed it to continue due the trade that was facilitated between the two countries. However, once the council was eliminated after the Battle of Sekigahara and the Tokugawa shogun lineage began, this attitude changed. This new government viewed Christianity as a threat to the political unity of Japan and eventually outlawed it in 1638. Despite this, Christianity managed to survive in contained, secretive community spaces.  By the 19th century, the ban was lifted in order to facilitate religious tolerance within Japan and to have a positive relationship with the United States, who were critical of the persecution.

Out of the three main religions in Japan, Shinto, Buddhism and Christianity, the latter seems to have a great influence on Japanese culture, despite only comprises of about 2% of the population. “Christians are strongly represented among the best-educated, leading elements in society and therefore exerted a quite disproportionate influence.” (Jansen & Reischaver, 213) With this, Christianity had a major influence on Japanese ethics which caused Japan to adopt many attitudes that were representative of occidental values. To emphasize, Christianity’s effect on ethics overshadowed the impact that Shintoism and Buddhism had. It is therefore not a coincidence that contemporary Japanese games, or specifically, Japanese RPGs feature Christian dimension.

For what reason has the Bible become culturally legitimate? Why did Christians yield such a large amount of influence? Why, after so many thousands of years, are certain texts considered to be valuable? When there were attempts by Portugal to colonize Japan through the use of Christianity, the reason why it was tolerated and not immediately sanctioned was due to trade. If Japan allowed Christian influence, they would be reciprocated with a lucrative trade route provided by the Portuguese. With this relationship, Christianity gained a sense of legitimacy due to the fact that the religion and its teachings were associated, by both citizens and political figures, with prosperity. This is a possible reason as to why the Bible is culturally relevant and legitimate to Japanese culture and a reason for Chrono Trigger’s allegorical nature. In addition to this, since religion has a strong correlation with values and opinions, it is plausible to say that featuring religious motifs in Chrono Trigger can function as a marketing tool to elicit an emotional response. Robert Rosenthal writes on the subject of consumer behaviour, “Studies have shown emotional and psychological appeals resonate more with consumers than feature and function appeals.” (Rosenthal, 2014).

Similar to real life, the goal of the player in Chrono Trigger is not only to defeat the final boss, but to accumulate wealth along the way. In the game, prosperity is represented by “levelling up” and measured by acquiring as many valuable items as possible. If, however, this yearning for prosperity become a player’s priority, they can be inclined to ignore the main objective of the game. Instead, it is possible that they will be enamoured with their own character’s accumulation of capital assets that they focus solely on upgrading their perks, collecting loot, managing their expenses and time, trading with store clerks, finding hidden treasures and clearing maps. Instead of completing the story, the player acknowledges the opportunity cost and finds it more desirable to focus accumulating wealth. However, it would not be a fruitless endeavour since the game does reward the player for the time that they invest in their characters. If one player puts 50 hours of gameplay, and another only puts 10 hours, which one player is more likely to be possess more items and be more skilled? 

Progress is defined by how much time you invest into your party, and that time invested reflects the capital that you gain. It is similar to the capitalist ideology where it is believed that a person’s wealth is represented solely by the time and effort they put into attaining it. A person is rich because they worked hard to generate wealth whereas a poor person did not; this interpretation does not, however, acknowledge systemic prejudices.

Since Chrono Trigger is an open world RPG, the decisions are left in the hands of the player and it is their duty to traverse the world in order to complete the story. The world is the free market, without any intervention from the game. The only factors that define which of the twelve endings that the player receives is defined by the choices they make. These choices manifest themselves by the strategy the player uses the time travel aspect of the game in order to defeat Lavos.

At one point in the game, there is an option to use the epoch, the time travel device, in order to visit the near future. When the player arrives in this area, it turns out to be a dystopian future. The humanoid robots have taken over and humans have become extinct due to starvation. This seems to mirror what many people fear the future holds for the world if capitalism, in its current form, continues to exist. Automation has taken over and humans have become obsolete; it is all self inflicted.

Even in 2015, Chrono Trigger still holds a dedicated fan base and has been re-released on the Nintendo DS. It is praised for its multiple endings, engaging story and overall quality. It considered by many members of the public to be one of the greatest video games of all time. Despite the fan base and how effectively the game acknowledges many topics from the Bible, to capitalism, why would this not be considered for a sequel? The term ‘success’ is not as simple and concrete as it seems to be. From the consumer point of view, based on the games merit, it is considered to be a success. From the point of view of the producer, it is considered to not be successful due to its profitability. Is a game’s overall success determined by its merit or its sales figures?

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Terence Gogarty

Juliano Lepore

Hannah Abarca

Sean Humphrey

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  • Damodaran, Aswath. “Return of Capital (ROC), Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) and Return on Equity (ROE): Measurement and Implications.” Stern School of Business. 2007.
  • Lindley, Craig; Nacke, Lennart; Sennersten, Charlotte (November 3–5, 2008). “Dissecting Play – Investigating the Cognitive and Emotional Motivations and Affects of Computer Gameplay”. Proceedings of CGAMES 08 (Wolverhampton, UK: University of Wolverhampton).
  • Jansen, B.M & Reischaver, O.E., (1977) The Japanese Today: Change and continuity. Harvard University Press.
  • Rosenthal Robert. Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures LLC, n.p. Web.
  • Perry, Douglass C. “The Influence of Literature and Myth in Videogames.” IGN. Ziff Davis., 18 May 2006. Web.
  • The Holy Bible: The English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, 2001.  Web.

‘We have the power to create… right now’

To create a video game from scratch seems like an impossible task. Other forms of creative expression have very low barriers to entry: writing requires a pencil and paper, photography requires a camera, singing requires a voice… all that is needed is basic knowledge of how to operate these tools. Video games, on the other hand, seem to require an almost encyclopedic knowledge of computer sciences in order for somebody to execute their vision. As a result of this barrier to entry, the only people who’s creative visions are being executive are those who have the privilege to attain these skills. According to Porpentine’s article, these developers are ‘rich white people’ and have created a homogenous, misrepresented environment. The way to overcome this? Twine.

Twine is an application that allows the user to create a text-based game, or interactive fiction, without requiring any prior programming knowledge. The application comprehends the input of English phrases and syntax and converts it into HTML/CSS. The idea is that the user is solely responsible for executing the creative vision while Twine handles the technical backend of the process. This allows for many people of varying backgrounds to represent themselves and their visions in video games. If they have a story they wish to express or a message they wish to spread, they are now be able to. For example, if they are in agreement with Porpentine’s assessment that BioWare misrepresents lesbian sexuality, Twine empowers these designers and allows them to have a voice.

There is something to be said for people producing amazing creations utilizing user friendly tools. Players of Minecraft have created absolutely incredible monuments and mini-games using simple in-game software. Even something as archaic as Microsoft Paint has been adopted by people and used as means of expression. While I wholeheartedly agree with Porpentine’s vision of enabling a diverse set of people to execute their vision, I disagree with her disdain towards traditional programming languages.

Her article equates knowing how to program to being a machine and that designing a game using traditional means only serves to interrupt the emotional aspect. To her, Twine removes all of these ‘distractions.’ This advocation of solely using Twine to create games and avoiding learning programming seems to be a dangerous path. If somebody is truly passionate about designing video games and possess copious amounts of ideas, it would seem bizarre for them to lack the technical knowledge. In fact, it would limit their ability to create and would leave them with an inability to transfer or expand upon their skills. When somebody wants to build a car, they need to know more than just how to drive. They need to possess the knowledge of exactly how every moving part interacts with one another in order to create the best car they can.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recognized that people were having difficulty grasping fundamental computer science and acknowledged it’s difficulty. With this in mind, they created a tool called Scratch. Similar to Twine, it presents an accessible, user friendly interface where the user is able to execute commands by solely relying on their comprehension of the English language. The purpose of Scratch is an educational tool for those who are interested in acquiring programming skills. While presenting a simple interface, it is simultaneously teaching it’s user the fundamental logic and principles of computer science by associating its tools to programming functions. For example, boolean expressions are presented as ‘sensing’, loops are presented as ‘control’ and variables as ‘data’. Similar to Twine, it allows practically anybody to create, but while simultaneously education them.

Twine would be a much more efficient if it was viewed in a similar manner to Scratch; as an educational tool. By empowering people to create their own interactive fiction, it has the potential to serve as a stepping stone to developing their skills as game makers and story tellers. It should stimulate peoples desire to design games and motivate them to continue learning traditional methods in order to better execute the visions they hope to achieve.

Porpentine’s game did a great job of transcending the typical confines of text-based adventures. I’ve never played a game with such ambitious and fantastical themes. Having a recently acquired a basic knowledge of how applications functions, thanks in part to Scratch, it was interesting to see where she implemented her loops. This game embodies her philosophy of augmentation in opposition of consumption by her disregard of traditional storytelling rules. After completing the game, I was left with a need for ‘more’. Imagine what she, and every other designer, could achieve outside of these confines?

References

Porpentine. “Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution.” Nightmare Mode. November 25, 2012. http://nightmaremode.thegamerstrust.com/2012/11/25/creation-under-capitalism/

Resnick, Mitchel et al. Scratch. Computer software. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT Scratch Team. Web. 19 February 2015.