Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Call for Papers: AMCIS 2014 Mini-Track

This year the American Conference on Information Systems will be held in beautiful Savannah Georgia in the first week of August. We invite you to send your papers to this minitrack on the use of game design principles in business information system development. 

Using Game Design in IS Development
Kafui Monu, University of British Columbia, kafui.monu@sauder.ubc.ca
Paul Ralph, Lancaster University, p.ralph@lancaster.ac.uk

Track Description
We are living in a world where many workers, employers and customers find the highly interactive medium of video games to be as common as television and film. This poses new challenges for businesses since their stakeholders are starting to demand an increased level of interactivity and engagement. This new and exciting area has had analogs in education and science but few researchers have focused on precisely how the designs of these systems influence non-game contexts.

Since games are information systems, IS research can aid the development of these gamified systems; areas of information systems research such as interface design, system analysis, IS development can inform the use of game-like systems in businesses. Game design may also inform more traditional areas of information system research. For instance, recent work has investigated how business software vendors use gamification to aid in the adoption and use of enterprise information systems.

This mini-track is designed to provide a forum for researchers how investigate how game design affects non-game IS development and how traditional IS research can be used to inform game design and development. We are interested in a variety of research, including case studies, empirical lab studies and action research.

Topics of interest include:
 - Game Design Thinking
 - Video Game Development
 - Gamification
 - Serious Games
 - Pervasive Games
 - Game Design Theory 

Deadline for submission is March 1st, 2014. To submit a paper, please follow the directions at http://amcis2014.aisnet.org/index.php/call-for-papers.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year. Full of Possibilities.

Well it is now 2014. Strange I don't feel different. But it is a good time as any to reflect about this whole blogging thing and to think about the future. So here is my list of things I learned through the experience.

1) Write. Just write.

When I first starting blogging I really didn't have any solid plans. I just needed to write. I had just finished a paper about game research in the information systems discipline and my head was full of ideas. I realised that it was not possible to write full research papers on all the topics that I was thinking about but I needed a place to write them down before my head exploded. I found it to be cathartic.

2) Writing can be fun.

I also found it to be fun. Writing helped me to coalesce some half-baked ideas that had been swimming around in my head and it was great to see them fully realised. Here were my little thoughts down on "paper", so to speak. Google Images also made it enjoyable.

3) You can only do so much.

The last two months of last year were overwhelming and I really didn't have time to take care of myself, let alone write on a little blog. This year should be better. I hope.

4) Academia is awesome.

My favourite article was my one on aesthetics and Candy Crush. I liked it because I was able to use a theoretical framework to help explain my feelings about a topic.

5) Writing begets action

This blog has given me the confidence to evangelize gaming research in my academic field. If I did not see how many interesting and important research ideas could be generated by mixing game research and information systems research then I would never try to form a Special Interest Group on the topic. However once I saw what I alone could think up I thought about what a whole research team could do. This could be amazing stuff!

As for the future, I have some topics that I want to cover. I want to take a closer look at simulations and why they are so good at helping people to learn. Also, a former student of mine asked me whether I would design my current class into a game. I have to admit that I have become somewhat curriculum-design fatigued (I have been doing it almost non-stop for three years). However I might just put down a blueprint of how to turn my class into a game. It might be an illuminating exercise. I have also decided to take a look at the not-so-cool characteristics of gaming (and gamers). What are the consequences of bringing in some of the odious charactersitics of the gaming community into non-game contexts?

Lastly, a good blog without readers is a good game without players; well crafted, interesting, and utterly pointless. If you have followed me from the beginning or are just now reading this post then.....

Monday, December 23, 2013

Post Milan Roundup

Things have been crazy lately with the term wrapping up and the ICIS conference. My main reasons for going to the conference was 1) to get in touch with IS researchers, 2) to see old friends, and 3) to get more people interested in this little thing called games research. The poster session went well and I made some very good contacts for future game research. I am so excited!

Very few people at the conference were working on games at the moment but many people said that games and gamification was the "hot new thing" when I mentioned my work. Many also mentioned that people are getting into gamification research right now. Who knows? Maybe in the next two to three years more game research work will become mainstream in the IS community

Coincidentally, signs of this change occurred when I was at the conference. A list of game researchers on Twitter was compiled and released last week. Check out the list to find other people doing cool work. Also the Special Interest Group on Games and Game Design Research passed its first round of approval! I should leave the country more often!

Milan itself was quite interesting. I didn't have a chance to really explore the place until the last day but there was no way I was going to Italy without getting a pizza. It was easily the best pizza I have ever had and it was just at a local cafe.

So in a few days I will give you an idea of what to expect in the New Year and a wrap up of my thoughts on this whole blogging thing so far.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Off to Milan in December

Well after a bit of work over the year, the first paper on the effect of games on the IS discipline has been accepted! I will present it at the Workshop for Information Technology And Systems in Milan. I guess I should play some Championship Manager so that I can fit in.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

That Wonderful Feeling

"The belief that one causes observable changes in the game environment allows the player to attribute positive events to him or herself, which leads to pleasurable emotions like joy and pride." (Klimmt & Hartmann 2006, pg. 159)

-Klimmt, Christoph, and Thilo Hartmann. "Effectance, self-efficacy, and the motivation to play video games." Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (2006): 133-145

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Papers,Please: The Future of Gamification

There is a game that I played during the summer as a demo called Papers, Please. It is by far one of the most interesting games I played in a long time. Now that the game is out it is getting rave reviews. The game is seemingly a perfect poster-child for gamification. It is a game that makes desk work fun!

The purpose of gamification is usually to create engagement amongst its users. All gamification efforts try to make mundane and routine tasks fun; and Papers, Please does an excellent job of creating engagement. However, its implementation also shows precisely why gamification as we know it is in trouble.

The premise of the game is that you are a citizen of a fictional Eastern European country in the 80's called Arstotzka who has been chosen as a border agent. Your job is to check passports and various other documents to ensure that the right people are let into wonderful Arstotzka and the bad guys are left out. That's it. Oh also you have to gain enough money to feed your family by processing enough people during the work day. If you do not make enough money then your family will end up being cold, starving, without a home, or dead. As the game progresses the government adds more rules and documents for entering the country. This of course means that there are more chances for you to have the wrong person enter the country. If you let the wrong person through you are fined a certain amount of money.

So let's start with why this game, at first, seems like a justification for gamification.

1) It makes boring work fun.
The game has taken meticulous, routine work and presented it in such a way that people are willing to pay money for the privilege of doing that work. Players continue to do the work, no matter how frustrating it may get and they are willing to learn how to increase their performance. All without any external incentive to do so. If it can work for a fictional border control office then why can it not work for other types of jobs?

2) The game has very little abstraction
This is work that happens/happened in real life. As a player you must check a person's passport photo against the person's face, you must ensure that the issuing city for the passport is from the correct country, you must ensure that a person has the correct visa for the stated reason for visiting the country and so on. Real people get paid real money to do the exact same activities every day. Other games abstract the actions that occur in their worlds. For instance, hacking a turret in Bioshock has no connection to hacking in the real world.

 3) Work = Winning
 The routine and mundane work is how you win and survive in the game. If you do everything correctly and efficiently then you make enough money to move into a nicer apartment and your family does not starve. Do not do the job correctly and you lose money instead of making it and may even be thrown in prison (the Astrokhazan government isn't exactly friendly).

So Papers, Please is directly related to the work of a border agent but this does not explain why it is considered fun. The dirty little secret is that even though the game play is about boring desk work it is the narrative that really makes the game interesting. The tedious work is just a way to create stories and bring the world to life. Sometimes a character will show up at the border crossing who is a disgraced athlete, or a shady nightclub owner,  or part of some rebel group. They may be trying to get into the country or they may just show up to give you a warning. These encounters create moral choices for the player and leave the player reflecting on their actions. It is up to you whether you will simply do your job or whether you will try to beat the "system".

This makes Papers, Please a perfect indictment of  the current point of view for gamification derisively called, "pointsification". According to this view Papers, Please would be a good game even without the story. All you need to do is reward good behaviour with points and punish bad behaviour by taking away points. The game does have an "Endless Mode" where the player can continue the game once the story is completed. However the game sessions are set to end fairly quickly and it seems that endless mode tests whether the tediousness and boredom of the game gets to you rather than prove how fun it is to process people through a border.

So the game proves that to create a good gamification platform you need people who can weave a good story, music, aesthetic, and interface design into a compelling piece of art. This is a tougher sell than sending a "gamification consultant" into a company to advise that they add points to their annual performance reviews but it really is the only way to go. It means that rather than being a cure-all, gamification efforts are difficult, involve risk, and are dependent on the work of dedicated and talented people. Just like all other business processes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Game Patterns: Why Every "Intro to Programming" Class Should Begin with a Children's Card Game

With my classes starting and me nerding it up with friends last week, I didn't have a lot of time for the blog. But I did think of a few ideas which I now have a chance to write down.

We have already discussed game mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics but we have not discussed how to use this knowledge to aid gameful design. Today we will start off by talking about dynamics. Paradoxically, I thought of this idea when I was watching a video on aesthetics. Below, Extra Credit talks about how we have been getting it all wrong when discussing game genres. It really gets interesting around the 2 minute mark.

The video is perfectly right; it is rather silly to use the mechanics and dynamics of a medium to define its genres but it can be useful. By describing a movie as a "wide angle shot" movie, I know that it will feature many panoramas and vistas. Therefore if someone were to tell me that an educational video on nature was a "wide angle shot" movie then I could guess that it might show some amazing panoramas of natural wonders.

This should be the same for video games. We know that video games can be educational but what types of video games are best for teaching a particular type of subject? And is it possible to determine the types of dynamics that are needed to effectively teach and train specific subjects? Before we can answer that question we first need to discuss a fundamental concept that I call game patterns.

A game pattern is a set of game dynamics that define a game. You can have two very different games that share a pattern. This is different from a genre since, as mentioned by Extra Credit, it makes more sense for genres to be focused on how the medium makes us feel rather than the dynamics that we play. However, understanding a game's dynamics can be used to understand what it can teach us. For instance, you can have two games, one with a challenge aesthetic and another with a discovery aesthetic; but both could have the same game pattern where the player must navigate a character in a 2D environment. In one game the player may have to defeat a number of challenging enemies and in the other game the player may just need to navigate through the world to discover new and crazy things. Both have vastly different aesthetics but have very similar dynamics.

But if Fez and Rogue Legacy share a game pattern then does that mean they are teaching players the same thing? Since both games involve navigation through the environment, they both test the player's navigational skills, as well as reflexes needed to correctly jump onto a platform. As long the games share the same 2D platformer game pattern then the player will learn these things. Of course since the games are different this may mean that the player may learn things in one game that they do not learn in the other.

Moving on to more cognitive skills, as I mentioned in the last post, there is evidence that playing Starcraft increases cognitive flexibility in players. Cognitive flexibility is defined as "the ability to coordinate attentional processes between two or more concurrent or alternating operations". With this definition, ANYONE who has played Starcraft could tell that it increases cognitive flexibility but the real question is whether other games that follow the same game pattern as Starcraft will provide the same results. How similar do the games need to be? You could say that Europa Universalis is also a real-time strategy game where the player must switch between different forms of information; but the player has the ability to pause the game in EU and not in Starcraft. Is this difference fundamental for  the game's effectiveness in teaching cognitive flexibility?

By analysing the dynamics and mechanics of a game can we begin to isolate the ways in which it can teach us skills that are useful outside of a game? For instance, I had a conversation with a friend about a bastion of nerdom: Magic: The Gathering (MtG). For those of you who do not know about Magic the Gathering, this video should give you an idea.

So it is very similar to Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh and other collectible card games. MtG can teach you about basic math since it involves keeping track of your life points, the life points of your creatures, effects on your creatures, and so on. But as Finn says in the video above, the game really teaches logic. A player can use a set of cards that has several "combos" that, when played together, have a devastating effect on their opponent. These combos can only be identified by studying how the cards affect other cards in the game. It is possible that the game creators did not even expect for the cards to be played together.

Most of these combos are a set of "if -then-else" statements that ensure that the player does well in the game. Now the beauty of using specific dynamics to teach a concept is that the designer is free to use whatever aesthetic they want for the game. If your audience likes to day dream then you can use a fantasy card game where the player pretends to be a powerful wizard. If your audience is competitive then you can create a dueling-card game where the player is trying to destroy their opponent (like Jake), or if your audience is inquisitive then you can design a game where the player tries to gain and learn about new and exciting creatures (like Pokemon). If the basic game pattern is the same then the player still needs to use logic to do well in the game. So the aesthetic is the "hook" (why people enjoy the game and their motivation for playing) and the pattern delivers the lesson. In the case of MtG, and other duel type games, it is the lure of domination that makes you learn the how to use logic to win the game.

For my research, I would love to setup a similar study as the Starcraft study to determine whether a collectible card game that has several combos is best for teaching a context that involves logic like computer programming. A card game where the player must use several complicated combos to win may provide a better chance for learning logic than a game where combos are not so important.

Just like the Starcraft study I could find 70 people who have never played collectible card games or know how to program and subjects would play in a week long Magic tournament, Pokemon tournament, or go outside or whatever non-gamers do. I could then teach programming to all of the subjects and ask them to code a simple program. It would be interesting to see whether those who competed in the Magic tournament learned significantly faster, or wrote better code, than those who did not. Of course I would have to get this past ethics review since there could be possible side effects.