Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Week4: Agenda

We're switching things up this week - tomorrow's workshop will begin with gameplay and end with group work, with some discussion of the weekly topic (and readings) sandwiched in between. I'll pick up two Netbooks on my way to class for the overflow. Remember that there's also a copy of Spore available under course reserve at the Inforum, if anyone wants to get a head start. I've also added a brief description of the game and some of its important features the Games page of this site.

  • 9:00am: PLAY SPORE!!!
  • 10:00am: Debrief on the gameplay experience. Discussion of the game in relation to this week's readings, discussion of the concepts of "educational" games and "games as learning engines" (James Paul Gee's arguments), etc.
  • 10:30am: Discussion of the role of educational (formal/informal) games in the library - how important (or unimportant) is this idea in building collections? For your playlists? In your game designs? Why?
  • 11:00am: Group work. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Week3: Agenda

  • Download remaining programs onto the lab terminals (individual log-in)
  • Retrieve netbooks for those who don't have one
  • Discussion about narrative (see previous post)
  • Discussion about narrative within the context of the workshop assignments
  • Assignment brainstorming and group work
  • Playing: Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor Manor

More Game-Design-Tools to Try

For tomorrow - for those of you still looking for a suitable program for the second assignment, you should now have the power to download and test out:

Game Maker http://www.yoyogames.com/make
Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/

Week3: Games and Narrative

This week's reading was written by Jim Bizzocchi – a prof at SFU's School of Interactive Art and Technology. I chose the article because it provides a really approachable framework for studying narrative as an integrated feature of digital games, one that can be applied to a wide variety of game types and genres. A key component of Bizzocchi's argument is the distinction he makes between narrative arc and narrative framework:

Narrative arc: is the sequence of events that make up the plot in film, books, etc. (although of course these elements are not always in the same order). He breaks down narrative arc into a series of steps, which include:

  • "the setup introduces the characters and the storyworld they inhabit 
  • the complication introduces a challenge to be overcome 
  • the development is the long phase that dominates the bulk of the storytelling, as the protagonist works towards her goal 
  • the resolution or climax is the culmination of the struggles of the development phase, often resulting in some form of victory or defeat 
  • the denouement or falling action ties up the stories loose ends, and allows the narrative experience to gracefully end" (Bizzocchi, 2006, p.3)

Bizzocchi argues that the difficulty in applying this model to digital games is that “its power depends in large part on tight control over the design and implementation of details," and that “tight control over details is precisely what the interactive process does not afford” (p.3) (I would qualify this to: or at least affords to a lesser extent).

Bizzocchi outlines what he calls a “more modest framework of limited narrative parameters” for game studies – which can include examination of the following features (although we should note here that this is still a work in progress):

  • "storyworld - what is the environment within which the game unfolds
  • character - who are the beings that populate this game world 
  • emotion - both the emotions shown by the games characters and those elicited in the player 
  • narrative interface - how are narrative sensibilities instantiated in the appearance and the functionality of the interface design 
  • micro-narrative - smaller moments of narrative flow and coherence that occur within a broader context of game play" (Bizzocchi, 2006, p.4)

The game that we're playing this week is a pretty straightforward example of narrative in games - some may even call the Nancy Drew games "interactive stories" or "interactive narratives" rather than "games" - although they do contain a ton of puzzles, hidden objects and exploration elements, which qualifies them as games in my book. That said, it will be important to think through the different ways that stories can be told through digital game design/play. Through experiential elements, or dramatization, through text or through environment, events or cut-scenes. 

Another key question for this week will be how the groups have thought about narrative in planning for the assignments. 
  • What is the role of narrative in the selection process for your Playlists? 
  • What types of narratives (if any) have you discussed incorporating into your game design experiment?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Researching Games for the Playlist

Kelly asked me if I could share some ideas about starting points for finding out the info and details necessary for putting together your Playlist assignment. Although we unfortunately can't always play every game at the early stages of putting together a list or collection (especially when dealing with commercial and console games), there are still many resources available for finding out about a game's contents.

1) Academic articles and reviews (there are surprisingly few of these out there on kids' games, but there are some, and can be a very valuable source of info when you find one). Example: Well-Played, Game Studies Journal

2) Reviews and postmortems published in the press - particularly within publications specific to gaming. Example Kotaku and Gamasutra.

3)  Reviews and articles published on media watchgroups & non-profits. Examples: Common Sense Media and Children's Technology Review

4) Fan reviews and ratings (Metacritic is a great place to look for these)

5) Trailers and promotional materials produced by the game companies or media (Youtube)

6) "Walkthroughs" posted by players (usually unedited, full video coverage of the game being played - often covers a game in its entirety).

7) Demos - many games have small excerpts available for free download. For instance, Steam includes a small selection - game companies often provide downloadable demos as part of their promotion of the games.

Ideally, once a preliminary list has been produced, the games themselves could then be acquired for firsthand exploration and testing.

I've included links to a number of potentially useful sites under "Resources" on the righthand navigation bar of this site.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Agenda for Week2 Workshop

- Starz Animation Event (Friday - Jan.14)
- Meeting the groups: what are your initial ideas for playlist topics & design tools
- Definitions of "gamer" and expertise
- Making and playing games as learning process

- Bryant et al.'s designing for preschoolers article (usability, design strategies, & later on...assessment)
- ESRB Rating Systems: thoughts on process, uses, problems, oversights, etc.

  • Discussion points: Difference in the "process" each team goes through (Bryant et al. user-centered design, informed by theory, iterative process involving kids, parents) (ESRB coding videos of the games for certain types of content - yet "E" comes to mean so much more)

  • From preschoolers to elementary-age....big developmental changes. How would the challenges Bryant describes change over time - how to accommodate for this - how to anticipate without training in child development theory, child education, usability, etc.

  • Assessing and selecting - issues these articles might raise

  • Usability and user-centered processes - how can these concepts be incorporated into collection development OR research OR tech assessment 

- World of Goo and Lego Star Wars

Work on Projects:
- Q: How to construct a playlist without access to all the games? Reviews, trailers, walkthroughs and mash-ups/fan communities (how much is selecting like other forms of research?)

- Netbooks (Inforum) & Discussion about additional tech/consoles & Access to this room

Game Mechanics

©2006 Danc at Lost Garden: "What are game mechanics?"

Revisiting the ESRB

Since we're going to be talking about the ESRB tomorrow, I thought I'd point out an article I wrote about the system last year for an online magazine (and good source for gaming news/reviews), The Escapist. In the article, I argue that the ESRB is running the risk of causing its own obsolescence - at the time, it became the centre of a small but fiery debate, both in the comments section of the magazine itself, as well as on other game community blogs and news sources. I later wrote a response on my blog, Gamine Expedition, which you can read here if you're interested.

One of the groups is focusing their playlist on Nintendo DS games, and will be bringing in a couple of DS consoles to play with during the workshop. If any of you want to do something similar, please do. I can also arrange to have an XBox 360 and/or PS3 brought in (does anyone know how to hook them up to the overhead projector? that would be neat), and can also make arrangements for a Wii by next week if there's any interest in testing out particular titles during class time. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Download Kodu

For those of you thinking of using Kodu for the design-a-game project, here's the link for a free download of the software. If enough of you choose this one, we can do the tutorial during next week's workshop (or the week after). But if not - a good place to start might be to download and go through the "Classroom Kit" (available here), which you can use as an introduction to the program and a way to get yourselves started. (p.s. you can also get Kodu for the XBox 360, for about $5).

I was also looking for video tutorials for Kodu, and found this one, which seems accessible and comprehensive (this one here is the first of 4 segments):

I'll keep putting tutorials and other potentially useful videos in my Youtube folder for this course, which you can find here, or by visiting my Channel.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Hello and welcome to section 104 of the INF1005/1006 workshop series - Children's Digital Games. Please use this blog as an interactive syllabus. I will be using it throughout the semester to post additional information on the course, readings, games, assignments, as well as highlight any relevant current events, research, developments or ideas that may assist you in your journey through the workshop and its major themes. I'll also be posting links to key resources, projects and published research in the Background section, so be sure to check in regularly.

Looking forward to meeting half of you tomorrow (and the other half in March)!!