Out of sync: Adventures with gameplay footage

I'm working on a new research project that will look at the game console as a socialization hub. That's all I really know for now because data collection just started and I'm having a blast. What is less fun is trying to figure out all the devices, setups, cables, wires and systems that are needed for this to work. I thought I had this all figured out, especially after working with some of this equipment for my dissertation, but the technology keeps changing.
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"The Work of Play" in a nutshell

The book I've been working on in the past year - The Work of Play: Meaning-making in Videogames - has been published last week.

Here's the book in a nutshell:

In a chapter published in the Handbook of Research on New Literacies, Constance Steinkuehler (2008) argues that "we need a more robust account of meaning-making process itself." In this book, I've attempted to respond to that call for research by using a sociological approach that's been used in human-computer interaction studies. A common way of studying games today is through pre- and post-test studies, using quantitative methods to study variables that might impact gameplay. While these studies have been important to the field, they are limited by their ability to describe the actual process of gameplay itself, or respond to why it is that these variables impact gameplay. Moreover, many videogames are designed to be played for hours, not minutes, and players' relationships with games change over these long periods of time. Play has become a "black box" that we seldom look into and, in some case, are not interested in studying, because it's a mess to describe.

The approach used in the book was used by Lucy Suchman when she was at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, studying users following instructions in photocopiers. She found out that the interaction between users and machines can be described as a turn-taking mechanism, during which both parties (the user and the designer) have expectations for how the other processes meaning. When meanings are congruent, then the interaction proceeds smoothly; but Suchman had noticed that when communication breaks down, it is due to one or both parties making inaccurate assumptions that instructions were correctly followed, during which time the user will have to figure out where along the interaction did meaning become unclear.

The book explores games along the same lines, focusing on how players interact with one another (how meanings are developed between players) and how players interact with the game design. Some key findings described in the book are:

  • Players can misunderstand aspects of the game design and still proceed with the play with little to no impediment. This forces us to question how is it that we can ensure the intended game meaning is communicated accurately to players. In commercial games, this is seldom a problem because the key goal is for the players to have fun, however they choose to define meaning. In educational or serious games, this becomes more of a concern because we don't want players to walk away with the wrong message.
  • Players develop meanings independent of the game design. Even while interacting within the design of the game, players are actively looking for meaning, especially in situations where they are playing with one another. The games I describe in the book are fighting games, which are ideal for players who want to play in a group. I noticed that players found creative ways of developing meanings that were unique to themselves, and found ways of defining aspects of gameplay that were important to them, e.g. cheating vs. fairness.
  • Meaning-making is not a static process. Meanings change over time. The more time they spend with the game, the more they can incorporate information in the game. Since this is a qualitative study, I was able to describe these changes over long stretches of time as well as on a moment-to-moment basis.
  • The way players talk about games after playing differs from the way they talk about it while they are playing. It's not that they lie or are forgetful, but that the post hoc discussion is essentially a "reconstruction" of an event that leaves out potentially important aspects of their experience.

The book builds on the work of many game researchers in the field. It is also interdisplinary in its approach, drawing in research in sociology, anthropology, computer science, human-computer interacton, linguistics, and educational game research. I hope this research appeals to anyone in the field of games research. If you happen to read it, I look forward to any feedback and criticism you may have.

You can find the book at the publisher's site (http://www.peterlang.com/?310905) or at Amazon.com.

You can also find a sample chapter at: http://bit.ly/j3VYYl.

My problem with "just-in-time" learning

"Just-in-time (JIT) learning" is the newish buzzword you hear often in association with video games and learning. It's a deceptively simple idea suggesting that learning is better when it is "on-demand." You encounter a problem, you're given the information to solve it, and you solve it then and there. No need to memorize a set of facts ahead of time that you may or may not use in the future, no need for abstract concepts that have no bearing on the immediate demands of the situation, no need for decontextualized facts and figures. As far as I know, this concept is assumed to be right and I have never seen the concept criticized before, but I'm going to go ahead and say: I have a problem with JIT learning on two levels: 1) It's overly vague and 2) It often doesn't work.

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On A Lighter Note

If you don't frequent YouTube, you might not know who KevJumba is. As of now, he's the #12 most subscribed YouTube channel of all time and at one time, the #1 most subscribed comedian (he's since slipped to #9 now). When he first started, he was just an average Chinese American teenager posing light-hearted videos to make people laugh. His videos have gradually gained a following of viewers around the world. At the time of this posting, he has around 1.5 million subscribers. His videos get viewed an average of 2 million times, totaling 156 million times as a whole. Since then, he's gained the attention the likes of Jessica Alba, Richard Marx, the Harlem Globetrotters, and Baron Davis. These are some impressive creds by YouTube standards, especially for someone who isn't really trying to do anything more than making people laugh.

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