PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

simulations miscellany, 27 January 2013

ArmchairGenerals

With absolutely no predictability whatsoever, PAXsims once again brings you various and sundry items of gaming news,. This time we have quite a few interesting scholarly articles in the mix:

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In the  International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations 4, 2 (2012), Mark Pearcy discusses “America’s Army: “Playful Hatred” in the Social Studies Classroom.”

America’s Army is a first-person “shooter” online video game produced by the U.S. Army and freely available on the Internet. Ostensibly a recruitment tool, the game constitutes a “mimetic” experience that encompasses real-life Army codes, regulations, and behaviors, approximating an authentic military experience, including realistic missions that involve violence. This article considers the educational role of such mimetic games, practical impediments to its inclusion in classrooms, and the conceptual demands the use of such games may place on teachers and students. Additionally, this article considers the ideological barriers and arguments against the educational use of games like America’s Army. Finally, this article connects the experience of America’s Army to Douglas’ (2008) concept of “playful hatred,” calling for a reconceptualization of the term towards a more competitive and pedagogically useful approach.

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In Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, 6, 1 (2012), Henrik Schoenau-Fog exploresTeaching Serious Issues through Player Engagement in an Interactive Experiential Learning Scenario.”

In order to inform about a serious subject concerned with the tragic consequences of being a victim of war in an interactive narrative game-like experience, it is essential to design a scenario which engage the participants despite the grave content. This paper thus focuses on how player engagement and playfulness can be applied to drive participants through a non-pleasurable experiential learning scenario in order to communicate serious topics. By investigating the concept of engagement in games, a framework of player engagement will be described. The framework has been used in a case-study to aid the design of an application – the “First Person Victim” – which is intended to be used in combination with an in-class discussion in order to address the serious topic. An evaluation of the scenario indicated that theme related feelings like hopelessness, fear, loneliness, and chaos are experienced by engaged participants and that there is a potential for using the scenario as a tool in teaching.

As the article discusses, this is done through the development of a “First Person Victim” video game which “places the participant in the role as a civilian in a war torn country during an airstrike, where it is possible to explore tragic and dramatic events.”

During the entire experience, the participant’s narrative construction depends on encountering several different audiovisual events varying in tension (Fig 2). There are in total 42 events organized in six scenes, each with seven events. These events can be audio events (e.g. a phone call or cries for help), audiovisual graphical events (e.g. an exploding building), texts (e.g. sms-messages) or video recordings of real actors placed the 3d world.

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Fig. 2. (a) Meeting a smuggler. (b) Woman being harassed. (c) Rockets hit the City

An ‘Interactive Drama Experience Manager’ (Schoenau-Fog et al. 2010) organizes the various events by selecting the next possible events based on the users’ navigation in the environment as well as causality. For each scene there is one less event to encounter, so in the first scene in an apartment it is possible to encounter seven events, in the next scene on a street there are six events and so on. The final events are all concerned with tragic endings, and users have no options for happy endings. The scenario is mediated through the game engine Unity (2011) by inverting first person shooter (FPS) conventions so it is not possible to use weapons or engage in combat. However, the participants can be shot at, hit by rockets or explosions and step on mines, but in order to let participants encounter as many events as possible before the discussion, it is not possible to die. There is no explicit goal defined by the scenario, as it is the intention to let participants define as many intrinsic objectives as possible in order to keep them engaged through the emergent narrative.

Some participants found the experience engaging, and wished to continue—but others did not.

The main objective of this study is to evaluate engagement in the FPV application and the results show that 40% clearly wanted to continue playing, while 32.5% did not want to try again and 27.5% were in doubt. The survey and observations show that the engaged respondents, who wanted to try again had the desire to continue due to intrinsic objectives, activities related to exploration, solving problems, experimentation and experiencing the characters and story. Moreover, they also wanted to continue mainly because of the theme and positive elements from the game design. The evaluation furthermore investigates the affect experienced by the students, as the mediation of feelings related to the topic is important for the communication of the theme. The engaged group reported the experience of more feelings related to the theme than both the group of respondents who were in doubt and the group who did not want continue.

The group who did not want to continue playing reported that it was mainly due to game design issues and technical problems while feelings related to the theme were not as frequently reported as in the other groups. While most of the students in this group state that they did not feel anything in particular, the findings show that engaged students report that the FPV triggers negative feelings, which are related to the theme, and that they want to continue even though those feelings are not fun, enjoyable or pleasurable.

The findings thus suggest that this affect can be the result of the activities introduced in the PEP framework – e.g. exploration and experiencing the characters. Since there is nothing explicit to accomplish in the FPV, the affect encountered is not intended to include positive feelings such as satisfaction, triumph or closure, which is usually related to accomplishments in game experiences. However, disengagement can also be a sign of successful communication of the theme, since negative emotions related to the content can make participants not wanting to try again. For example, one teacher who did not want to continue stated that she felt afraid and powerless: “I felt a lot like a victim. […] that loneliness… I felt bad.” (Female, 42)

The study finds some potential educational value in the FPV, but provided it is appropriately debriefed and integrated with curriculum.

Another goal of the evaluation in this study is to investigate the potential for using the FPV as a tool in teaching. Findings of the survey show that the engaged students reported that they learned something related to the topic more frequently than the other groups. Moreover, a majority of the students who were disengaged state that they did not learn anything related to the theme. When discussing the experience with the classes, both students who were engaged in the experience and students, who did not want to try again participated in the discussions. Although there was a risk that the self-selective sample of the discussion could result in that only the engaged students would contribute, the discussion showed that also students who were not engaged during the experience of the FPV participated actively. However, the factor of social expectancy could also have affected the outcome of the discussions, as students might want to answer “correct” during the interview, especially because one of the designers, who is a refugee himself, was present at the discussions.

During the post-game interviews, teachers state that applications such as the FPV could have potential in teaching as an initiator for in-class discussions about a theme. Some of the teachers mentioned that there were examples of students, who usually never contribute to discussions (especially the “quiet boys”), who took active part in the discussions after the experience.

The findings from the discussion and teacher interviews supports the idea that an in-class discussion and debriefing is important and valuable for learning as it makes learners reflect on another level, which is no always achieved during the experience. However, a comparison with a group of students who did not have a post-game discussion would be needed to verify this impression.  The results furthermore suggest that the FPV can be seen as a successful exemplification of how learners in a designed experience (Squire 2006) can gain knowledge of serious issues by “doing and being” (ibid. p.32) in an experiential learning scenario.

Methodologically, this is a very serious and thoughtful piece of scholarship, and well worth a read.

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The third issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing came out late last month, with articles on “Creativity Rules. How rules impact player creativity in three tabletop role-playing games,” “An Embodied Cognition Approach for Understanding Role-playing,” “A tale of two cities: Symbolic capital and larp community formation in Canada and Sweden ,” and “The self-perceived effects of the role-playing hobby on personal development – a survey report .”

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Want to know how best to teach agent-based simulation? C M Macal and and M J North have some suggestions in the Journal of Simulation (2013).

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In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation, Susannah J. Whitney, Philip Temby, and Ashley Stephens offer “A review of the effectiveness of game-based training for dismounted soldiers“—and find the results rather disappointing:

Computer games are increasingly being used by armed forces to supplement conventional training methods. However, despite considerable anecdotal claims about their training effectiveness, empirical evidence is lacking. This paper critically reviews major studies conducted in the past decade that have examined game-based training with dismounted soldiers. The findings indicate that these studies are characterized by methodological limitations and that the evidence regarding the effectiveness of game-based training for this military population is not compelling. Furthermore, due to methodological limitations with the studies, the possibility of negative training effects cannot be discounted. The paper concludes with implications for the scientific and military communities, as well as recommendations for the conduct of future studies in this area.

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If you haven’t yet read the December 2012 issue of the M&S Newsletter, published by the Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office of the US Department of Defense, now’s your chance.

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Michael Peck is in search of women. More specifically, in the wake of the recent US decision to (finally) open combat roles to women, his latest gaming column at Forbes asks “Are Female Soldiers Coming to Video Games?

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Issue #3 of Modern War (January-February 2013), complete with a game of near-future coalition operations against Somali pirates (and Somalia).

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This year’s Serious Play conference will be held on August 20-22, 2013 at Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA—and they are looking for speakers.

SEATTLE – Jan. 22 2013 – Submissions are now being accepted from professionals who create games or sims or lead game programs for the education, corporate, military, healthcare or location-based market to speak at Serious Play Conference. The annual gathering for leaders in the industry will be held August 20 – 22, 2013 at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Wash., just outside Seattle.

A new feature of the conference will be four pre-conference workshops on Monday, August 19 designed as introductory sessions for new serious game program directors, workforce and talent development professionals and K-12 educators and university faculty:

  • How to Integrate Games into the Classroom – created for heads of school districts, curriculum specialists and cutting edge teachers
  • Using Location-Based Games – designed for Instructional designers, museum education departments, non-profit organizations and entertainment destination professionals
  • Using Games to Grow Talent, Train and Engage Employees – aimed at IDs, HR and organizational development, military and government workforce managers
  • Building a Serious Games Curriculum – geared toward faculty of higher education institutions interested in adding serious game degree programs

Speakers at both the main conference and the various workshops will share their expertise and outline critical success factors in game design. Industry analysts will discuss the latest industry trends and how best to take advantage of current market needs.

The submission form is located online at www.seriousplayconference.com/speakers

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The Stack Academie 2013 gaming convention will be held on 3-5 May in Montréal. Volko Ruhnke (designer of Wilderness War, Labyrinth and Andean Abyss, and codesigner of the forthcoming A Distant Plain) and Brian Train (designer of Algeria, Arriba Espana, War Plan Crimson, and a great many others, and the other codesigner of A Distant Plain) will be guests of honour. More details here.

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One response to “simulations miscellany, 27 January 2013

  1. Brian Train 28/01/2013 at 5:55 pm

    Looking forward to seeing you at Stack Academie Rex!

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