Numbers Are Everywhere

Everywhere we look we find numbers. They are deeply rooted in our psyche for some reason… I blame Pythagoras.

Pythagoras taught us that numbers existed even before the universe itself. Numbers could explain the mysterious workings of nature and were to be revered as divine. Pythagoras’ religious and scientific views were, in his opinion, inseparably interconnected. In essence, Pythagoras was the first Numerologist. Numerology is the study of the purported divine or mystical relationship between a number and some coinciding observed (or perceived) event.

Numbers are everywhere.

Since Newton’s idea of the clockwork universe, Einstein’s “God does not play dice” in his dismissal of quantum mechanics, symbology like 666, superstitions tied to historical events like Friday the 13th, the 11:11 clock phenomenon, PISA, TIMMS, NAPLAN, MySchool, the governments ridiculus ploy to have students weight on report cards, the coming Big Data revolution, through to my use of RunKeeper…. 

Why are we so obsessed with numbers? What is the purpose of it all? These questions are deeply philosophical and you could spend your whole life studying them. In fact, some people do. Simply though, the ability to quantify everything gives us the illusion of control and uniformity that we so desperately seek.

This time of year the bloggers come out with their yearly reflections – how many posts they have made, how they need to better balance the dichotomy of their need for social recognition against their need for quality family time. These reflections include how many Twitter followers they have, how many tweets they made, how many retweets, how many badges they earned, how many views their youtube videos have had in comparison to the billion that Gangnam style has had.

Numbers are everywhere

Some would explain our obsession with numbers and quantifying as the Gamification of society. Maybe Jesse Schell’s tongue-in-cheek DICE talk, “When games invade the real world” was on the money. 

In 2012, when I was climbing the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, 45 miles outside Beijing, a girl no older than 10 years of age was counting the stairs. “497, 498, 499.” I asked her why she was counting the stairs and she replied, “To see how many there are”, looking at me incredulously. It was right then that it occurred to me – sometimes numbers are just that. Numbers. They can mean whatever you want them to. Or they can mean nothing at all. 

We need to take ourselves a little less seriously. I know I do.

The video below shows how we often turn to play and games to pass time, and how all of us have at some stage in our lives created whimsical games when confronted with similar contexts. At some stage we were all game designers – a time in our lives when numbers were just that. Numbers.

This year’s motto was “Do something.”

My motto for 2013 is “Forget the Numbers.”

What’s yours?

Happy New Year Everyone.

The Multiplayer Classroom

In 2010, Jesse Schell gave a talk at DICE titled, “When Games Invade Real Life.” It’s a great talk – tongue-in-cheek about the much-hyped ‘gamification.’ During this talk, Schell mentioned Lee Sheldon, an Associate Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who at the time was using game design principles to re-think the college classroom. His book, The Multiplayer Classroom has been on my shelf since the beginning of 2012 and I have finally got around to having a read. It’s an interesting approach and Sheldon gives examples of it being successfully used in everything from game design, high school mathematics & history – basically the class is designed as a multi-player game.

Class time is divided between fighting monsters (tests, exams), completing quests (presentations, analysis, research) and crafting (essays, assignments, reports). The class is split into Guilds (small groups) and each member of the group takes on a role – Mage, Ranger, Warrior, Healer or Necromancer.

Everyone on day one is a Level One Character. Through Quests, Missions and Raids, characters from Guilds can level up by gaining XP, according to the following XP levelling chart.

Students are given the syllabus at the start with all requirements clearly given. Sheldon gives some examples:

·      Solo: Craft your own game proposal. (Written, 50 pts.)

·      Solo: Sell your game proposal to the class. (Extra credit. 25 pts.)

·      Raid: Guild reading presentation (75 pts. each person, 1 of these per guild)

·      Pick-Up Group: 2-Player reading presentation (150 pts. each person, cannot team with fellow guild member) OR

·      Solo: Craft 3 page analysis of MMO-based research topic (Written, 100 pts.)

·      Solo: Defeat Five Random Mobs (5 written reading quizzes, 250 pts. total, 1 extra credit question per quiz)

·      Solo: Defeat Level Boss (Midterm Exam, 400 pts.)

·      Guild: Craft Final Project: Video Game Concept (Written, 400 pts.)

·      Solo: Class attendance (300 skill pts. total, 10 to start. 290 additional pts. at 10 pts. per day of attendance)

·      Solo Camping: Glossary Building (Extra credit. 1 pt. per entry. 50 pt. cap per player. First come first served. Each mob only spawns once.)

·      Group: Peer Review Secret Ballot (Extra credit. 0-100 possible XP as follows:

1.     Guild Leader 100 pts.

2.     Raid Leader 75 pts.

3.     Solid Guild Crafter 50 pts.

4.     Needs Rez 25 pts.

5.     Leroy Jenkins 0 pts.

It’s a pretty novel approach. And I like it. Sort of. But saying to everyone when they enter class for the first time “You are all going to get an ‘F’ for this class, unless…” – isn’t that the same idea that all teachers give students? Classes have always been games if we use this idea. I mean, unless the student completes the work a teacher sets, to a certain standard, then they are going to get an F. (They start at 0%, complete assignments that adds ‘points’ to their cumulative score…)

What I would like to see instead is that on the first day of a new semester you wrote on the board,

“During the next 20 weeks you have the opportunity to become [expert/high-ranking game character/whatever] specializing in [subject area]. How you get there is up to you.” 

Now, that would be novel.

Games? In Learning? I’m Confused…

Confused Sonic by ~EdoBean

It’s evident from recent weeks that many are confused when talking about games in the same breath as education. This is understandable. The question, “What is a game?” still elicits varied responses depending on who you talk to.

Most fields of study have been around for thousands of years, have fairly clear definitions and boundaries and have a vast body of knowledge to draw from. Whilst games in various forms have been around as early as 2600BC (see Exploring Games Through Culture) and are a universal part of human experience, definitions from Callios, Huizinga, Salen, Zimmerman, Pearce, Wittgenstein etc. have no real agreed definition of what a ‘game’ actually is.

Whilst there is no concise definition that is universally agreed upon, we can draw from the literature and by examining many of these definitions and synthesising this work into something that is coherent, we can establish a baseline for our discussion around games. Briefly, the common elements are:

  • Games are an activity that generally have an uncertain outcome.
  • Games have rules and to a degree, conflict.
  • Games have a clearly defined set of goals.
  • Games are artificial, safe, make believe, and they are outside ordinary life. This is sometimes referred to as the players stepping into the “Magic Circle” (see Games, Play & Porous Membranes)
  • Games are voluntary
  • Games are systems
  • Games are a medium unto themselves and a form of art

If we now add relatively new fields like game design and gamification into the mix, you can start to understand where the confusion comes from.

Meeting with Donald Brinkman from Microsoft Research in Melbourne recently and having several meetings the DEECD folk (who have not long completed their serious games and virtual worlds trial), it is important that there is a shared understanding of not only the literature, but also of a critical vocabulary – a set of words or common language that enable us to have meaningful discussions around the use of games, and at the higher level, allow DEECD folk to make informed choices and decisions in regard to policy development.

This common understanding is important otherwise we risk propagating misconceptions and misunderstanding which has implications for a learning method that is just starting to gain real traction in education circles. Understanding the differences between Game Theory, Game-Based Learning, Game Development & Gamification is paramount to elevating the dialogue.

Misconceptions that I have come across recently include:

  • Game Theory is the theory of using games in learning.
  • Gamification is the use of games in learning. 
  • Gamification could be seen as dumbing down the curriculum. 
  • Game Design & Development is digital only. 
  • That the study of games needs to be integrated into a subject.

This is part 1 of a series of posts that will look into the differences and similarities between Game Theory, Gamification, Game-Based Learning and Game Development.

Zombies, Run!

“Gamification is the application of game elements in non-game contexts.” – Sebastion Detarding, MindTrek, 2011

Entering the second week of the University of Pennsylvania MOOC on Gamification via Coursera, I have to say it is better than what I was expecting in both content and delivery. Over 66,000 people from 174 countries are taking this 6 week course, and after enrolling with a large amount of skepticism about ‘gamification’, am quite enjoying the discussion taking place in the forums. Much use of the term ‘gamification’ is often grossly oversimplified or sometimes just plain wrong, but the discussions taking place in this course seem to be elevating the dialogue around this topic.

Zombies, Run! was mentioned in Week 1. Whilst hearing about Zombies, Run! when it was initially a Kickstarter project, I thought it time to see what it was all about. Zombies, Run! is described as,

“an ultra-immersive running game for the iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and Windows Phone. We deliver the story straight to your headphones through orders and voice recordings – and back home, you can build and grow your base with the items you’ve collected.”

It’s not too bad. Whilst you are running the story unfolds between songs in your playlist, you engage in interval training whilst trying to escape zombie hordes and you pick up objects (seemingly at random) that can be used back at base to unlock further missions. The results are collated for you where you get access to statistics on distance travelled, time, average speed, calories burned etc. As you can see below, I have just started an exercise campaign after 6 months of 100% inactivity…

Screen Shot 2012-09-02 at 6.50.14 PM

I’m going to continue using Zombies, Run! until I finish the storyline. What is interesting is that games or ‘game-like’ activities continue to invade real life – a real-life Zombies, Run! has already been implemented with events springing up everywhere.