A groundswell of playfulness

Hamish Curry, Education Manager at the State Library of Victoria reflects on gaming and playfulness after recently taking part in conferences in Auckland and Melbourne.

Games and playful thinking have been popping up a lot for me recently, more so than usual.

There seems to be a shift in the discussion from the games people play to how games both reflect and add to the culture of our workplaces and public spaces. School libraries can potentially be a hub for this kind of discussion enabling the exploration of games and apps that contribute to our understanding of digital literacy, deep reading and game elements.

In digging deeper I headed along to the inaugural Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) from July 19-21. Here more than 40,000 gamers descended on the Melbourne Show grounds to indulge in games from all kinds of mediums: card games, board games, video games, and talks about games. The scale was overwhelming. It was a powerful physical reminder of just how ubiquitous and diverse games are, as well as how rich the networks and local game development scene are too. I spoke on a panel about The Playful Library exploring the ways in which library spaces can be designed and co-programmed to support games culture. If libraries are keen to engage with the community, then games become a powerful way to bring playfulness and partnerships into their spaces.

Speaking of spaces, I was New Zealand bound the following day to participate in the Auckland City Council’s Hui ‘New Rules of Engagement: Future Directions for Children’s and Youth Services at Auckland Libraries’. This two-day event explored the ‘serious business of being playful’ and brought about 180 staff together to discuss how library spaces can be revitalised, redesigned and reprogrammed to better support families and youth services. There was a strong sense of community driven perspectives coming through the sessions, which also included a workshop on building bridges with newspaper whilst being shot at with Nerf guns! Clearly the play potential of libraries was a key focus, and the energy of the room suggested that the tenacity and eagerness of staff was certainly there.

The themes of risk, innovation, and opportunity kept surfacing. Something that also surfaced during this Hui was an article I’d written for the Schools Catalogue Information Service on Games and learning. In it I explore the ways in which games complement and contrast with education, and how control is always shifting.

Being playful reminds us all that control is at once a state of mind and an opportunity to do things differently.

Image credit: Steam punk nerf guns at Auckland Libraries Hui – librarians vs children!

Splash: multimedia resources, games and online events from the ABC

Splash is a new educational initiative developed in partnership between the Australian Broadcasting Commission and Education Services Australia. The site includes a large library of media clips, audio, games and activities for teachers and students mapped against the Australian Curriculum.

The multimedia library provides access to the ABC’s impressive archive, including age-appropriate notes and questions. There is also information for parents, including a brief guide to the Australian Curriculum. All resources are free and can be accessed from any device.

In addition to resources, Splash is also the hub for live national events facilitated through online conferencing, connecting students to experts and each other.

This brief introductory video provides background to the project and highlights key resources.

Reading Matters 2013

The schedule for Reading Matters 2013 is now available, boasting an impressive line up of emerging and established authors from across Australia and the world.

One of the themes explored this year is story told through different mediums with speakers including poet Tim Sinclair, games developer Paul Callaghan and American graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier.

The conference will also explore adults and teens within the YA context and gatekeeping – who decides what teens can, can’t and should read?

International guests include:

Libba Bray (UK), author of the Gemma Doyle trilogy and Going Bovine

Gayle Forman (US), author of If I stay and sequel, Where she went

Keith Gray (UK), author of Creepers.

To find out more about the program and how to book visit the State Library of Victoria website or contact the Centre for Youth Literature on 8664 7014 or email youthlit@slv.vic.gov.au.

TED talk: Your brain on games

With Christmas almost upon us we are seeing the usual raft of big name video game releases. With that in mind it seems timely to take a look at a recent TED talk by Daphne Bavelier exploring the effect of video games on the brain.

Professor Bavelier is a researcher into the brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. Her talk avoids the more difficult question of whether violent video games promote violence, instead drawing on her research to look at the benefits of playing fast paced games (such as first person shooters) on brain development. Her insights into the development of eyesight, multi- tasking and cognitive abilities of gamers might surprise many. You can even test your own abilities in some of the fields during her talk.

Professor Bavelier also touches the question of why educational games tend not to be as popular as traditional video games. Her analogy of ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ is a good reminder of the fundamental mistakes many game designers make when designing educational games.

On a related note, the Sydney Morning Herald recently published an interesting article about game designer Jens Stober, who is aiming to change attitudes towards asylum seekers with an upcoming game. It’s an interesting exploration of the topic of whether games can be used for change.



Infinity Ring: Read the books and play the games

Today our guest post comes from Joy Burlak, Education Resource Centre Manager at Sunbury Downs College. Joy explains how the Infinity Ring series of books and games is taking her school library by storm.

A poster came across my desk from Scholastic, promoting ‘Infinity Ring’ “Fix the past. Save the future. Read the book. Follow the guide. Play the game. www.infinityring.com ” 

Such intrigue! I could not let that go without further investigation. The poster had piqued my interest in the exact way we try to entice students – we want to stimulate their curiosity. I was curious.

I went onto the Scholastic website and read about the ‘New Multi-Platform Time Travel Adventure Series Infinity Ring.’ The concept is simple. There are 7 books in the series. Each book comes with a guide which allows access to a new adventure in the online interactive game ‘Infinity Ring.’ I was hooked. Then I saw the promotional video.

The pace and drama of that video was enough. I showed it to some of my students and they too were hooked.

All I had to do now was organise for the IT department to unblock the game, and then we had to allow permissions for Unity web player to run across the network.

In the meantime students were reading up a storm, making sure they had finished the book before the game became available. The day finally arrived and the first student started playing. Soon enough we had an audience to be proud of. Those who had borrowed the book (I bought 3 copies) ran off to get their copy so they could sit and read and then get onto the game. That first day created 6 reservations for the book.

The first book is called ‘A mutiny in time’ by James Dashner. It introduces our heroes and the premise of the series and then takes the reader on a wild adventure back in time to Christopher Columbus in 1492. The adventure continues with the first game when students are taken back to1792 and the French Revolution. There are 7 books in the series, to be published over the next 18 months. James Dashner wrote the first book and will conclude the series, however the books in between will be written by other authors. This allows for a shorter publishing run and ensures interest remains at fever pitch.

The graphics are amazing and the plot is complex enough to challenge Year 8 students. I would suggest Year 9’s may even learn something. The website comes complete with Teachers’ Notes and free Common Core whiteboard activities. Circulating whilst students play the game provides an excellent opportunity to challenge their curiosity. A comment was made about crossing to the other side of the river, so my natural question was “What is the name of the river that runs through Paris?” The name d’Artagnan came up, so again the questioning continued – is he a fictional character or is there an historic link? The answers had to be provided the following day, before the game could continue.

We have decided to have 1 day each week as ‘Infinity Ring’ day. Students will be either playing the game (after reading the book) or actually reading the book. The best of both worlds!

Thanks to Joy for telling us about the passion of her students for this new series of novels. We’re off to read the first novel and start playing!


Explore the Creativity of Indie Video Games

As part of the Off-Book series exploring cutting edge art and internet culture, PBS has released a fascinating video examining the Creativity of Indie Video Games. The video makes some interesting observations about the changing culture of gaming, which organisers of the Freeplay festival argue is “the dominant art-form of the 21st century”.

Indie games are seeing a surge in popularity and are seen by many as a reaction to overblown, overhyped or overly violent big budget games (often referred to as Triple A titles). In contrast to Triple A games, Indie games place emphasis on visual styling, innovative game mechanics and storytelling. Games like Passage, Papa & Yo or Journey explore complex themes and aim to create an emotional response in the player, while games like Bastion place an emphasis on the importance of story.

PBS Off-Book: The Creativity of Indie Games (YouTube)

While the use of gaming in education is a developing field, these Indie titles certainly present some exciting prospects for exploration in the classroom in terms of storytelling, art and game development. The other benefit is that many of these titles are relatively inexpensive and run on mobile devices or low specification computers, so have a look at this video and then jump in and try some of these fantastic indie games. The full list of games featured in the documentary is available in the video description on YouTube.

Make Lego creations in Build with Chrome

Many of our readers might be relaxing on school holidays and some of you could be looking for a great tool to keep the kids (or yourself) entertained. The Build with Chrome app allows you to stake out land on a map and then build your own virtual Lego creations. There have already been some fantastic creations built.

The app is only available in Google Chrome though you can view the map in other browsers. This may create some problems for work computers that are still limited to using Internet Explorer. It’s another great reason to lobby for the freedom to install other browsers on your computers.

Building does require logging in and at this stage the creation must be built and published in one session as you can’t save a work in progress. Buildings also require approval before they are published which hopefully means that innappropriate structures can’t be made.

But the best part of Build with Chrome? You can play with Lego to your heart’s content without having to experience the pain of stepping on a block with bare feet!

Build with Chrome

PBS explores the artistry of video games

With the launch of ACMI’s new Games Masters exhibition we thought you might like to get in a gaming mood with a video from the fabulous PBS Off Book series. It explores the changing landscape of gaming and in particular the artistry that is coming from the rise of independent games (Jason Rohrer’s amazing indie game Passage is a particular favourite of ours. Play it before you watch the video to avoid spoilers). The documentary is a great reminder of how games can be used to tell stories, create experiences and explore decision making. It is food for thought for educators looking to harness the power of games in the classroom.

The video also touches on a couple of the more popular games that are currently being used in learning, Minecraft and Portal.  To find out more about using games like these in education make sure you have a look at the work of two outstanding Victorian educators Adrian Camm and Lynette Barr. You can also find out about using Portal in the classroom at the recently launched Teach with Portals site.

The PBS Off Book series features other great videos exploring cutting edge art (often with a digital focus). The Youtube channel is well worth a look.

Will we regret playing games?

At the recent Games for Change conference Jane McGonigal spoke about the importance of gaming. Her speech touches on the one of the standard criticisms levelled at games, that they are a waste of time.  In an interesting twist McGonigal explores the topic based on the top five regrets of the dying. You can watch Jane’s speech (5.20) at the Kotaku website.

Jane is certainly a passionate advocate for the value of gaming. You can find out more about Jane’s work or watch her TED talk ‘Gaming can make a better world’ below.

What do you think? Are games a valuable form of expression, exploration and communication or will gamers look back and regret the amount of time they have spent in virtual worlds?