This morning the blog is brought to you live from Glasgow Caledonian University: The Digra Scotland event on games. I used to work at Glasgow Cally so it's nice to be back. I even managed to recognise some former students, which is quite a feat as I have trouble recognising my current students. :-)
Consolarium: Derek Robertson
First off, we have the famous Derek Robertson from Learning Teaching Scotland. He is explaining about the Consolarium's work, particularly his work with the brain training game on the DS. He did a pre-test/ pot-test design study on mental arithmetic using games consoles. He mentioned significant improvements, but doesn't report the details. I would really like to look at it all carefully. Their positive results have interested HMI and they are planning to extend it to 20 other schools. One of the interesting points he makes is about how watching kids using games in the class can make their teachers see them differently - "You really are quite bright". He also mentions that he did work in his own primary class with the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis to do with meta-cognition. The children thought about their strategies for solving problems and how they could improve them.
Apparently Aberdeenshire council is thinking of investing 80K in a set of game equipment to have in every school in the cluster, which is fairly forward looking of them! The teacher in the video he shows us is concerned that when kids come into schools normally, they power down. They use less technology, and think less inside the classroom because of it. This is rather counter to most teachers' (or members of the publics') perceptions of technology, I would say.
When I listen to Derek I always get te feeling that I missed my time. I wish I was going to school now with all these crazy games technologies in the class. He has a photo album full of unlikely photos of teachers playing guitar hero, giving it their all.
Derek is moving on to talk about the Byron review of games, which he feels is a bit one sided. He also mentons Boris Johnson's comments about gamers being like blinking lizards. :-) His slide mentions the phrase "cognitive stagnation" which I have not come across before. It seems like a useful phrase for a university lecturer to know. I most certainy wouldn't apply it only in the context of games: university modules can exhibit it too, unfortunately.
Derek now demonstrates his guitar hero prowess to the appreciative games student audience at Cally. Oh yes, they like that. He also explains a rock project in Aberdeenshire where kids used guitar hero and formed a rock band, and designed guitars etc. Also, he mentions the game making project LTS did which we were involved in, dance mats in nursery schools or for teaching gaelic, wiis, nintendogs, PSPs, pro evolution soccer, and the work in Stirling Council with Crazy Talk. I am really pleased to see how much excellent work in going on in Scotland. Scotland's long standing reputation for high quality education is still deserved.
Glasgow Caledonian University
Romana Khan is discussing her PhD work on developing a taxonomy of players and player experiences. She uses the bizarrely named research technique of "cultural probes" to understand player's thoughts and feelings over a period of a couple of months. For example, users might record diaries or photos. However, as Romana wanted to work with large numbers of users, she decided to use Facebook as an online diary. She started with a survey to explore user attitudes to social networking. Important features were:
- Communication (comments and private messages)
- Privacy (73% of users had public profiles because they wanted to meet people)
- Usability, aesthetics, messages, photos
These features were incorporated into a site (PlayJ) to use for cultural probes about games. They are running a study with 2nd year games students who are using board games.
Craig Stevenson (iDore)
He is a programmer on a project at Cally where they are working with a company called Core to provide exercise for children and adults who suffer from dyslexia. The idea is that doing certain exercises involves pasrts of the brain which help with dyslexia. I must say that alarm bells are ringing with me at ths point. As far as I am aware there isn't good research evidence for dyslexia being improved by exercises. Certainly the neuroscientist who spoke at the Scottish Learning Festival was skeptical about programmes like Mind Gym. They currently have a paper based exercise book, but the problem is that users find it boring and repetitive and so don't stick to the exercise routines. So the project is aiming to make a game version of the exercises to make them more fun. For example a kung fu game, with an eye toy style interface. They also have an interface for a diary which can record information about the users' involvement in the exercises. It looks like a really nice interface and a fun set of games. But will it help dyslexia? Hmm.
Gianna Cassidy answers my question about this by mentioning research literature which is exploring the use of rhythm in helping dyslexia, but the researchers on the project acknowledge it is a controversial area.
Dave (my old pal) is talking about emotion in games; how to elicit player emotion through game design. He describes some of their work on emotional modelling, both in non player characters, and in capturing player emotions. He describes some ways to measure users' physical responses to games using galvanic skin response, heart rate, eye trackers. These are tricky to interpret. Boy, are they tricky. My PhD student Irene Higson (who will be speaking after the break) is discovering just how hard this be. Games could then be used to modify emotion, if you know what the current emotional state might be.
Dave is talking about measuring action tendancies (player intentions as measured through physical movements on a game controller) and how this can be measured with a game controller called the "Joy pad". Events can be logged from the joypad, using an application which is called, of course, the joy logger(!). He reckons action tendancies are more likely to be easier to interpret than heart rate etc, but they haven't had positive results yet. He also briefly mentions inducing fear in players (through music) and then measuring the fear in their eyes with an eye tracker. I wonder who they picked on to scare?
Phil did an MSc project at GCU in which he developed a motion capture suit in 6 weeks. Which is pretty cool. My last 6 weeks were not nearly so productive. :-) Motion capture equipment is used to digitally record the movements of human actors so that they can be applied to digital characters for films and games. The best know example is Gollum from the Lord of the Rings films. The approach used in this project is sourceless sensing: it measures natural phenonena such as gravity, magnetic fields and intertia. These measurements are then combined using Process Too Complicated to Explain. The advantage of this approach is that it's really cheap and versatile in comparison to the systems which use a series of expensive fixed cameras. He has done an incredible amount of (tricky) work for an MSc project.
University of West of Scotland (formerly known as Paisely Uni)
UWS do research in AI, Game based learning, virtual worlds and schools games projects relating to alcohol awareness. I am refraining from making the obvious comment about Paisely and alcohol. Daniel Livingston has been working with Second Life and sloodle, which is like the Moodle open source learnng environment, but in Second Life. He equates virtual learning environments with learning on paper (in terms of dullness). He may well be right, but simply making something 3D doesn't make it exciting. I am very good at boring students in 3D (i.e. real life). He mentions that James Paul Gee has visited a teen grid event in SL. Adults could hear what was happening and take part in chat discussions by using a Moodle tool which relayed info from the SL grid. This seems a bit weird to me. The reason that the teen grid is restricted is to protect children. If you were feeling wicked you might say that this is a sloodle feature to enable the cyber stalking of children. ;-) But I wouldn't be wicked like that.
Ok, to behave myself, Sloodle does seem to have useful teaching/assessment features like user authentication, a glossary, a blog, assignment drop box, quiz tool etc. These might be useful for teaching my module next term.
Benoit Chaperot is now talking about computational intelligence aplied to computer games. Specifically, automated control of motor bikes in a game called Motocross The Force . They monitor the performance of AI motor bikes as they pass through way points in a level. They use a multilayered perceptron neural network to control the acceleration, braking, turns and learning on the motor bikes. They also use reinforcement learning techniques to train the bikes. His demo shows the bikes trained with these techniques. They crash a lot. Spectacularly. This is interesting AI work, and a hard problem to solve.
Thomas Hainey is applying Game-Based Learning to teach requirements capture and analysis in software engineering to university students. They are collaborating with the company TPLD in Dundee to make a simulation (by March 2008) and then conduct a longitudinal study to evaluate it. He performed surveys of uni students (971) to see whether students play games, or think they could be used to help teach in HE (Yes, they do, it turns out). He used Malone and Lepper's framework to uncover students' motivations for playing games. His list of high level objectives for the game is ambitious, involving higher level cognitive skills and metacognition. I will be interested to see more about this work, to see how they are trying to support and evaluate these skills. Part of his PhD work is to develop an evaluation framework based an extensive literature review. This could be an important contribution.
Various of my colleagues are speaking, but I am not. Hooray!
Asad Nazir is explaining the FearNot! project which is anti-bullying software for 8 -12 year old children. It's a giant EU project with partners in Germany and Portugal. It's a clever use of AI techniques for a simulation of character interactions. Children give advice to virtual AI controlled characters about how to react to situations where they are bullied. The characters put the children's advice into practice and so they can see how helpful the advice is. The AI characters in FearNot! have emotional models which get updated according to their experiences in the story/simulation. This is based on Ruth Aylett and Sandy Louchart's emergent narrative theories which goes some way to broaching the theoretical conundrum of interactive storytelling. (Briefly: if the audience takes part in a story they might change the outcome. But how does the author anticipate what the audience might want to do in the story enough to write it in advance?). Assad shows the FearNot! demo in a playground scenario where one of the characters gets bullied.
Heather Rea (Bamzooki)
Heather is using the CBeebies game Bamzooki to get children interested in engineering design. The engineering process has the stages with computer aided design: design, simulate, iteration and revision. They are trying to invesigate the feasibility of inferring design knowledge from user actions within the Bamzooki environment. In a way this is similar to what we are trying to do with Adventure Author: infer what stage of the creative process children are at from what they do with the interface. Once we can do what, we can tell which design processes are likely to be successful given independent ratings of how good the resulting games are.