The diversity of games

There’s much to like about playing games.

Even so, the one thing that keeps me coming back, and keeps me curious and excited as ever, is the almost incomprehensible diversity of games today.

To some, this may not be the most obvious of statements, and I have to keep reminding myself, that, in a way, I’m living in an echo chamber (or filter bubble) of sorts. Despite my continous attempts to break out of the bubble, I’m living in a world, where  playing games is comme il faut, the regular thing to do.

At the same time, many people don’t see past the big titles, the billboards, the sensationalist headlines.

That’s a shame.

It’s not that I don’t like “big” games (or AAA, as they’re often called).

On the contrary.

I love them!

I’m currently exploring the enormous, unruly, (almost) living beast, that is GTA V.

It’s big and weird and overwhelming. It’s a beautiful world of chaos, violence, mayhem and umsympathetic characters. It’s a technical wonder, and I frequently stop to marvel at the light. It’s also all the stupid things, some people hate about video games – and to an extent, I can understand that. I also share the concerns expressed by the brilliant writer Tom Bissell:

One of GTA V’s characters admits at the end of the game, “I’m getting too old for this nonsense.” And you know what? I felt the same thing numerous times while playing GTA V, even though I continue to admire the hell out of much of what it accomplishes. So if I sound ambivalent, Niko, I think it’s because I’m part of a generation of gamers who just realized we’re no longer the intended audience of modern gaming’s most iconic franchise.

Earlier this year, I played another huge blockbuster, The Last of Us. It might be less controversial, and it certainly is a more structured narrative, where we’re not allowed much freedom to roam. To me, it was an emotionally compelling experience, where I  remained engaged more or less throughout the duration of the game (despite the slightly trivial gameplay, consisting of sneaking and killing):

One of the most surprising and positive game-related experiences I’ve had in recent years, was spending around 100 hours with the three (amazing!) Mass Effect games. At the time, I was having a hard time getting really involved with the big games, which led to a fair amount of frustration. The meaningful choices and interesting characters of this huge sci-fi adventure had me completely immersed for hours on end:

If all games were like GTA or The Last of Us or Mass Effect, however,  or if all games simply shared the ambition to be big, polished (& expensive!) blockbusters, I’d probably have stopped playing games long ago (or, in the very least, my enthusiasm would have significantly diminished).

Luckily, that’s not the case. At all.

Yesterday I played something completely different, namely the little gem that is “Castles in the Sky“:

It’s a delightfully poetic experience. It made me feel a child-like sense of wonder and exploration, as I kept going higher and higher. When I learned, that Cara Ellison wrote an immensely beautiful piece about the game, my appreciation only deepened further:

As the boy jumps up and up and up, text appears line by line to tell a bedtime story in poetic rhythm, uses your climb to imprint phrases upon the blue backdrop of how you should ‘bend your knees and away you go, to find castles in the sky’. The rhythm is soporific, easy-reading. I imagined myself reading this to someone I loved as I climbed clouds. I imagined that I was reading it to someone who loved me.

I’ve played numerous games like this. Or, actually, I haven’t.

It’s one of a kind, just as many, many games are.

What I have played, however, is a lot of games, that are nothing like GTA or The Last of Us or any of the more or less generic shooters too many people often considers to be almost prototypical games.

I come to think of similarly poetic and thoughtful games like Today I Die, Dear Esther, Braid, …But That Was [Yesterday]and the list (literally) goes on. Oh, and then there’s Journey:

Some people spend time and energy arguing, that some of the games mentioned here are, in fact, not games. It is, of course, a fully legitimate (and probably important) part of our ongoing quest to understand games, but…I have realized, that I care less and less about that discussion. Does it really matter if a game qualifies as a game?

As I wouldn’t want to only play GTA, so would playing nothing but games like Castles in the Sky probably end up being a fairly boring endeavour. No one thing would be very interesting (to me), if it was all the same.  The real beauty is in the diversity, the differences, the  odd experiences (and the imperfection) (the same goes for mankind, I guess).

All of this is to say, that if you think the term “game” refers to a homogenous field, you should probably look a bit closer.

Games are not just about shooting or sneaking or walking or jumping or solving puzzles or driving cars or even overcoming challenges.

Games can make us smile and laugh, they can make us feel fear or hope, they can make us feel small or invincible, they can make us question what we take for granted or they can, when they’re really good, make us think about what it means to be human.

Games are simply experiences, that can be about anything, that can come in any shape and size, and if we prove unable to ever come up with one label, that catches what all games has in common, that’s not a problem at all.

No, it’s actually a testament to why I love games in the first place.

A festival of play & games

I like to play (no shit, Sherlock).

I like to explore play.

I like to talk about play, and I like to bring people together, who play, talk about play and make other people play.

In the past, I have been responsible for a few minor conferences on games and learning (more here & here), both extremely inspiring endeavours (though also very demanding and slightly intimidating). For a while, I’ve been wanting to do something more, building on these past experiences. I wanted to broaden my scope on games & play, and to create an event, that is embedded locally here in Aarhus, but embracing inputs and people from around the world. It’s about learning, of course, but it’s also about all the other ways games & playful activities can improve our lives – whether play is the purpose, or we have our aims set at goals external to playing. I want to create a place, where all kinds of people meet and talk; people who are usually not likely to stumble upon each other (e.g. game devs, educators, librarians, health care professionals, private companies etc.).

I’ve written a fairly long description of my plans, and used the term “CounterPlay” as a (working, perhaps) title:

“Referring to ludic or playful vitality in its most transformative expressions, counterplay speaks directly to the disruptive creation of the new through the reiterations of gaming” (Apperley & Dieter)

My goal is two-fold:

  1. To expand our understanding of games & play

  2. To contribute to a wider awareness of the potential impact of games & play

And here’s a bit more:

CounterPlay is a tribute to and an exploration of the many ways, in which a more playful approach can help us live better lives. We focus on the excitement, intense engagement and rich experiences of people involved in all kinds of playing experiences. This sparks an investigation of how play can be transformative, change our thinking, push our boundaries and lead us places, we never imagined.

And this tweet captures much of it as well:

Along the way, I got ambitious and wanted to build something big. I wanted an international conference  spanning  several days with multiple tracks, workshops, an expo etc. Even though there’s a few events in this domain  in & around Denmark (most notably the brilliant W00t in Copenhagen and Animated Learning in Viborg – both great events, that I want to support as much as I can) I still don’t think the space is saturated, and I feel like my approach is different enough to be relevant.

For those of you with whom I engage on Twitter, you know about these thoughts, as I’ve been talking about this with regular intervals (many of you have been very encouraging as well – thank you!). I almost feel a bit silly to keep coming back to this, and I’ve been a bit insecure as to whether or not my plans are really viable (to be completely honest, I’ve been thinking and talking so much about this, that I’m simultaneously A) afraid that it never happens and B) that it does happen, but fails miserably. None of these concerns are even remotely rational, I know. It’s all in my head). Also, I reminded myself about this:

It’s obvious, that I can’t do something like that by myself. I’ve investigated a number of possibilities, among them the fact that Aarhus is ” European Capital of Culture” in 2017. I haven’t really had much luck, though, and may not have tried hard enough (I clearly haven’t. If I had, I’d have been somewhere else). Even so, I’m currently left with a feeling, that, right now, I’ve got two options:

Either I forget about the whole idea (for the time being).

…or I scale it down (probably to one day), make it more low-key and just go ahead and do it by myself (and draw on anybody interested).

As this is something I really want to do, the former is not too attractive, and the latter is how I often work, anyway, so it’s not much of a choice, really. It just took me some time to reach this (fairly unsurprising) conclusion.

I haven’t given up on the dream of something bigger, but it’s always easier to allow something to grow, if it’s already up and running.

As it happens, I’m also currently planning the next iteration of EdCamp Denmark, that takes place in Aarhus on April 5th. Consequently, I’m contemplating possible synergies between the two. Maybe some people would want to attend both? Maybe I could host the two events the same place? Maybe someone would even be interested in sponsoring both?

For now, I’ll spend as much time as necessary during the fall talking to potential speakers, finding a relevant venue, and possibly acquiring a few sponsors.

As always, I’d love to talk to anybody interested.

All that’s left to say at this time:

It’s happening.

Should we be dandelions?

This one is old by now (in internet terms, at least. It’s from way back in April), but that doesn’t make it less interesting (and I forgot to write about it when I first watched it).

Author Neil Gaiman gave a talk at Digital Minds Conference on being a writer in a digital age.

You should probably watch it (Jenn Falls even made a full transscript, if you’re more into reading).

Gaiman says many things, that greatly resonates with me and the way I work.

The core theme of the talk is change:

“People ask me what my predictions are for publishing and how digital is changing things, and I tell them my only real prediction which is it’s all changing. I don’t know what publishing’s going to look like five years from now. Anyone who says they do is probably lying to you. I don’t know, neither does anyone else. Amazon, Google, all of those things – probably aren’t the enemy. Big publishing – probably isn’t the enemy. The enemy right now is simply refusing to understand that the world is changing.

Change is not inherently bad, nor is it inherently good. It’s simply change, a condition we need to accept and understand.

As a metaphor for the important ability to adapt to new situations, Gaiman keeps returning to dandelions:

try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. Succeed in ways we would never have imagined a year ago or a week ago. I think it’s time for us to be dandelions willing to launch a thousand seeds and lose 900 of them if a hundred or even a dozen survive and grow and make a new world. And I think that’s a lot wiser than waiting for 1993 to come back around again.

Quite often, the major barrier to change is the fear, that we won’t succeed. We could greatly reduce this fear by embracing the idea, that not succeeding is no problem at all. In fact, it’s to be expected in many cases. If we’re so hell-bent on not failing, we’ll probably never succeed.

What does it even mean to succeed? And to fail? Let’s revise our use of these terms.

I can’t help but consider life one big experiment. The same goes for education, society, anything. We keep trying to get it just right, but it can’t be done. There’s no one right answer, no one right way.

Nonetheless, we have to keep experimenting.

My playful dreams with games

Attending conferences aimed at the game industry is always fun, but also usually reminds me, that I probably need to clarify my relation to games.

It’s not that I personally mind my eclectic approach, working in several directions at once, it’s just that I rarely know how to convey a clear image of this in the short amount of time conference networking leaves you with (a phenomenon I was never too happy about in the first place).

“Are you a developer?” “No, I’m..”

…and then people are already gone, moving on to someone less confusing (and confused).

So here’s a humble attempt at describing my dreams with games – in a (relatively (who am I kidding?)) brief post (If nothing else, laying out my position is probably a good exercise for me) (and I will try to use less parentheses)..

Games in education

When I was preparing my Master’s Thesis back at Media Studies, around 2007, I was conflicted. Initially, I was kinda opposed to the idea of games having anything to prove. They are legitimate in and of themselves, damn it! I was and is vehemently opposed to any perception that sees games as nothing but trivial tools to reach goals outside the game, e.g. learning.

Even so, I moved into the field of games & learning. I started exploring how specific games (in the case of my thesis, “Global Conflicts: Palestine“) could be used in education, and what it means, how it challenges teacher/student relations etc. I didn’t have a clue what to expect, but was quite fascinated with what I found. Students considered “weak” in school participated heavily, and talked eloquently about the complex conflict. I mean…some students (almost) understood suicide bombers, because they talked to the mother of one such.

It was a both touching and eyeopening experience, and I knew I wanted to go further down this path. I also believed, that people knew most of this already. As it turned out, most people didn’t, and I figured I had no other option than being self-employed, trying to navigate and mediate between game developers, researchers, educators etc. I thought of “bridging gaps” as one of my primary goals – and I still do.

I quickly realized the need to broaden my scope, and early on, I started working with all kinds of “games in education“; learning games, “entertainment” games, games as “learning tools”, analysing games, making games etc.

By now, five years in, I remain heavily interested in all aspects of games in education. I am involved in several exciting projects, and I might start spending more time on creating better conditions for developers of “learning games” (or whatever you fancy calling them). I have also encountered and worked with more general challenges facing the use of digital media in education, and I spend much time encouraging conversations across domains & an increased focus on sharing knowledge.

More than anything, though, I’m interested in working towards changing the way we think about and practice education. How do we make it much more meaningful for anybody involved? How do we create better opportunities for more people to live rich lives, including being an active part of society? In this regard, games serve as a source of inspiration more than an actual tool. It’s not about the games themselves, it’s about how they can inspire us to think differently about education and learning.

If you want to dive deeper into this, James Paul Gee is probably one of themost vocal & prominent proponents of understanding games as an ideal framework for learning and problem solving:

Summing up, you probably couldn’t point to an area of “games & learning” that doesn’t interest me (that’s not entirely true, because edutainment-style drill & practice rarely gets me fired up. That’s an exception from the rule).

Games in society

Spending a lot of time and energy on arguing for the inclusion of games in education, I am frequently engaged in broader discussions on the role and perception of games in society.

If I have to say it again, I’ll do that. Just for the sake of extreme clarity. I bloody love gamesNot because they can help us achieve stuff, that can be tested. First and foremost because games allow us to do interesting things, go interesting places, and in some (albeit rare) cases, allow us to explore what it means to be human. Or sometimes, it’s just about being as stupid and silly as possible (looking at you, Saints Row).

That’s all fine.

So many people still don’t really understand or care about games, and a (surprisingly) large portion of society are still attracted to the sensationalist headlines of games causing all kinds of harm, and then this happens (again and again):

Oh no, you didn't...
Oh no, you didn’t…

On a less dramatic scale, many are simply happy to maintain the most stereotypical perception of games and gamers, even though the demography of people playing games is shifting. Ian Bogost has a nice take on this:

“Soon gamers will be the anomaly. If we’re very fortunate, they’ll disappear altogether. Instead we’ll just find people, ordinary people of all sorts. And sometimes those people will play videogames. And it won’t be a big deal, at all.”

At the same time, we need to stop defending games at all costs. We need to stop pretending there’s no possible consequences of playing games. We need to abandon the notion that “it’s just a game” as the only answer to any kind of criticism. Hey, if games have no impact whatsoever, how could they be so fascinating? Let’s talk more about why we love games, how they challenge us intellectually, connect with us on an emotional level, and what it means that games are such a huge part of culture and our lives.

I would love to do more to work challenging assumptions and exploring the concept of “meaningful conversations” about games. Most people simply don’t know how to talk about games, or at least they tend not to do so. I have been contemplating events, that bring together a much broader audience than, say, game developers or educators. I’ve also had the pleasure of discussing this with the most brilliant people:

 

A playful life

What I would like more than anything, though, is to contribute to a movement towards a society, where playfulness is an ideal (one ideal, not the ideal. I don’t care much for dichotomies between games/play and other media/activites).

A society where something like this happens more often:

Or this:

Or…oh, you get the picture.

A society where “play” is not relegated to the realm of children, and where playing is something we all do – in a multitude of ways, in all kinds of situations. This is not about games per se, but about fostering a culture, where play is not merely tolerated, but embraced and appreciated.

Among many other domains, education would benefit SO much from allowing play to unfold. Just think about the relationship between play and creativity, curiosity, exploration and experimentation.

…but it’s really not, first and foremost, about using play as an instrument. It’s about acknowledging the inherent value of a “playful state of mind”.

This line of thinking is not new, and many brilliant people are already fighting this important fight (in different, but playful ways). Look towards people like Thomas Vigild, Stine Liv Johansen, Carsten Jessen, Bernard De Koven, Zuraida Buter (whom I recently dubbed “play evangelist”. Actually, all these people qualify for that label).

Those are just some of the people, that inspire me on (more or less) a daily basis. Then there’s all the wonderful game companies, organizations & collectives like the lovely Copenhagen Game Collective.

How do we encourage a more playful approach to life?

So this is all very broad, you say? Yeah. Well, it’s an adventure, and I keep seeing interesting patterns, overlaps and new connections. It all makes sense to me (from time to time).

Any hooks in some of this long tale, that made you want to talk? Get in touch (protip – Twitter works better than anything).

Collective decency

Some time ago, I watched a documentary on wartime photographers.

One of the participants (sadly, I’ve forgotten his name) talked about documenting 9/11, and more than photographs, he was particularly awestruck with the ways people took great risks to help each other.

He called it “collective decency”.

That phrase stuck with me.

I keep thinking about it.

In society today there’s a widespread focus on (among other things) technology, economy, growth, efficiency, productivity, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship…and the list goes on.

Nothing wrong with those as such.

The problem is, that all too often, (collective) decency is not among them.

I’m not romanticizing days gone by, and I’m not saying that decency is non-existent.

Not at all.

I see it all around me, every day.

I’m merely thinking, that it could be much more prominently positioned as something highly valued by society.

Excuse me for being a little idealistic (and naive, perhaps), but in the end, what is society worth, if it does not consist of people, who are first and foremost decent towards each other? The most important is not education (in itself), jobs, money, anything.

It’s how we’re humans in a world filled with other humans.

I don’t have answers, and these are all just my humble laymans considerations.

I would love to include this in more of my work, and the natural choice for me would be to look at play and games.

More and more digital games make us think about what it means to be human, and how we choose to interact with the world and people around us.

Games for Change are very active proponents of this.

Norwegian teacher Tobias Staaby wrote wonderfully about teaching ethics using The Walking Dead (but in Norwegian).

It might be even more explicitly illustrated by the growing interest in physical games, local multiplayer, folk games merged with technology etc. Games that are not about looking at screens, but looking at and interacting directly with people.

Why did people think I was a murderer (in Train Mafia)? What happens when you push strangers (a little too much) in Joust?

Joust!

Oh, and LARPs.

Many games are about nothing else than playing with interaction, exploring how we exist in social relations.

I’d love to investigate a “playful decency“.

Increasing access to games?

Constantly trying to decipher the many, many reasons for not working with games in education, one “popular” argument has, unsurprisingly, to do with economy.

If schools must buy licenses for e.g. an entire class to play a game, that is frequently the one single reason why they won’t go down that road. Games are often considered “the risky bet”, and it seems safer to buy books (analog or digital).

Yes, many interesting games are free or cheap, and often a demo of a game will be sufficient to explore aspects of that particular game.

Even so, full games are to be preferred in most cases, and in addition to the price, the issues of finding these games or demos and the technical barriers of “making them work” is like an insurmountable wall:

The Wall
The Wall

A few initiatives are currently mitigating this barrier, as MinecraftEdu makes Minecraft more accessible and cheaper, Portal 2 is free through “Steam for Schools”, Sim City Edu seems to moving in this direction etc.

Despite these important efforts, the field is fragmented and the examples scarce.

What can be done?

I am not specifically talking about learning games, but all games relevant to education (which all good games can be, in one way or another).

Would it be possible to create a platform, that simultaneously makes relevant games more easily accesible logistically, while also being cheaper or even free?

How would such a platform be designed? Developed? Maintained?

Who would use it? Who would support it?

Why would developers participate in this?

I don’t know the answers, but what I am currently thinking is this:

Lower economical barriers

For games to be used in education, they must be cheap or free.

Can we launch an initiative, that supply relevant and interesting games without the sometimes very high costs accompanying those games?

Lower technical barriers

Alongside economy, technical barriers are obstructing the adoption of games in education.

Some games are too demanding in terms of computer specs, other games only available for platforms schools don’t have access to, or games are difficult (or assumed to be difficult) to get up and running.

It should be easy and straightforward, not getting in the way of playing and exploring the game.

Ideally available for all platforms without installation in some fancy cloud’ish manner.

Curation

While the techical issues may be prominent, so is the actual process of finding relevant games.

Any such platform should therefore be about more than simply making games available.

It should make relevant games available, and thus also offer a curation process. Right off the top of my head, I would love to see games like Spec Ops: The Line (yeah, I just finished that one) and Walking Dead (great for an exploration of ethical & moral issues) be part of something like this.

This would also mean, that individual agreements would have to be negotiated with each developer (and/or publisher etc.).

Business models:


bag_dollars (Medium)

For this to be interesting, developers need to consider participating to be meaningful. Value can be created in different ways:

  • CSR – what companies do to be respected and appreciated in society. Would game developers see the value in becoming a benefactor in education? This is not in itself a possible revenue stream, but might indirectly lead to that.
  • Increased regular sales – in continuation of the above, having access to these games in education, and seeing the effort of the developer might create sympathy and interest with students and teachers, who would, in turn, buy more of these games outside school.
  • Subscription – it could be possible to build a service, that schools etc. would subscribe to.
  • Extra value packs – like DLC & IAP, it might be an idea to sell material, that makes the exploration and use of the game richer in some way. As an example, many teachers would need a guide of some sorts.
  • Donations – as has been shown by the Humble Bundle (by the way, go buy the current Indie Bundle) and others, many people are happy to donate (/pay more than required). It is plausible, of course, that these dynamics are completely different in education.
  • External sponsors – there is an increasing interest in the possibility of private companies sponsoring education, and that might be leveraged here.
  • Other suggestions?

I would love to see this be developed as a non-profit initiative, but obviously funding is important if this should ever become reality.

I assume (and might be wrong) that this would not impact sales/profits in a negative way.

Some kind of verification process would be required to ensure (or increase the plausibility) that you are actually a teacher (e.g. Steam for Schools requires an email from a educational institution, and you need to be verified).

What do you think? Would anything in this direction even be a worthwhile effort? Is it a good idea? Is it feasible? Do you have anything else to add?

Nordic Game Conference 2013

My third time (I think?!) at Nordic Game Conference was also the best experience so far.

The two days flew by in what feels like an instant, but there’s so much to bring back home.

The atmosphere at Nordic Game is always fairly relaxed and informal, despite the packed program. People are incredibly friendly and forthcoming, and you can’t help but feel at home.

I had so many inspiring conversations with lovely people. Among those, I talked for nearly two hours with Jean-Baptiste Huynh, maker of the cool math-game DragonBox (thx to Mr. Vigild for the introduction). Jean-Baptiste immediately started designing a game for me, which led to the realization, that we want the same – a complete & radical rethinking of education.

That makes for a good afternoon.

The talks

Besides talking to people, there’s of course the actual talks.

Lots of talks.

I can’t possibly decide which was the best, but a few stand out.

I guess the most keynote’ish keynote was the one given by famous game designer Tim Schafer, who is an embodyment of good community relations. People love him, probably because he’s smart, quirky, funny & generally seems to be a really nice guy.

At Nordic Game, he talked about “inspiration driven development”…and a lot of other stuff in a very inspirational talk.

It got even better & more wacky, when he started answering questions and moved away from the more structured part of his talk.

The panel on Walking Dead, “The Talking Dead: Voicing a Dynamic Narrative”, was excellent. If for no other reason, then simply because it was so damn charming, fun and with such a wonderfully engaging energy & chemistry.

Oh, and Dave Fennoy (the voice of Lee):

Susan O’Connor did a very bold & inspiring talk entirely without slides, titled “Play It Again, Sam: How To Connect With Your Audience”.

Richard Lemarchand talked about his transition from AAA-designer at Naughty Dog to teaching at USC Interactive Media Division.

Then there’s Ste Curran. His talk was more of an artistic performance than merely a talk.

And he somehow managed to talk passionately about this (and with a good point as well):

Patterns

At conferences, I always try to find patterns.

One such pattern has to do with control.

Rapid technological development has frequently been said to allow game developers to acquire increased control of their work, and this was touched upon by several speakers.

The growing importance of new funding opportunities (Kickstarter & crowdfunding most notably) is also known to play a part in the shift.

As a contrast to this, several speakers also encouraged embracing a lack of control.

On a more philosopical level, many speakers were talking about games, play & life.

Lemarchand also credited Amy Hennig for learning the importance of vulnerability

This resonated with O’Connor:

This reminds me of Ian Bogost‘s review of Jane McGonigal‘s “Reality is Broken” titled “Reality is alright“.

See, I don’t think reality is broken. It’s messed up and horrifying, sure, but we don’t get to fix it, ever. It’s flawed and messy and delightful and repellent and stunning. Reality is alright. And I don’t think games are happiness engines, either. They are complex, rusty machines built to show us that the world is so much bigger and weirder than we expected. I play games to remind me of this.

I’m pretty sure games can’t save the world, but they may very well help us understand it just a little bit better.

I would certainly love to see more games try.

Space for improvement?

As stated multiple times, I love being at NGC. I love the atmosphere, and I find many nuggets of inspiration.

Even so, there’s always things to improve.

First off, the BlackBerry commercial running before every talk in the largest theatre was way too intrusive, and often felt like it “invaded” the actual talk.

Also, people are hungry at conferences.

Some people wished for more technical talks, and I can see why (though I probably wouldn’t attend those myself).

I also tend to agree with people, who wanted more surprising talks; a thing we discussed afterwards on Twitter:

Particularly Christian’s criticism made me instantly think of a piece written by Michael Abbott (@brainygamer) last year:

“But as we’ve waited for games to “grow up” and claim their cultural place in the sun, the medium has broadened and deepened beyond our ability to discern it. In other words, as we’ve struggled to affix labels like “art game” and “experiential game” to a broad stylistic spectrum, game makers – mostly, but not exclusively, in the indie space – continue to push ahead, challenging us to keep up and find new ways to critically engage.”

This discussion now continues different places, and it seems people from Nordic Game are actively pursuing it, which I can only applaud.

It’s a wrap

This year I had the chance to contribute a bit myself (beside the gazillion tweets, that comes pouring out of me at conferences), as Thomas Vigild had invited me to be part of the closing session with him & Simon Parkin.

It was great fun & people generally seemed to appreciate the effort:

If we’re allowed back next year, there’s lots of interesting possibilities to iterate on the concept. Perhaps even make it a little less improvisational?

Me – Ph.D?

It’s funny, how even fundamental things change so rapidly.

A few weeks ago, I was very happy with my life as an edu-entrepreneur (and I certainly still am!).

Then, out of the blue, I’m encouraged to apply for a Ph.D.

I’m very much in doubt, but simultaneously very intrigued by the idea.

I think about it, considering my options.

“How do I build the best possible foundation for my continued work and contributions to the field of education?”

I love adventures!
Did I remember to say, that I love adventures?

There’s no one answer, of course, but I’m aware, that the Ph.D.-appraoch would certainly grant me valuable opportunities.

I decide to give it a shot.

Hey, “immer ein abenteuer”, right?

The perpetual adventure that is life.

Now, the project is split between The Animation Workshop (part of Via University College) and Aalborg Universty (in Copenhagen). First, there’s an internal deadline in VIA, where they have to select their candidates, followed by the “real” deadline with the The Danish Council for Independent Research. It’s all just a few short weeks down the line.

I write an early brainstorm, and, in continuation of my many attempts to promote “transparent communication”, I throw it out there for people to comment upon.

I receive much valuable feedback, and in a few hectic days, I write a very, very rough draft.

The other day, I learned that the internal selection in VIA didn’t turn out in my favor.

No reason to lie; being turned down is never fun.

It just isn’t.

The decision seems to have been more influenced by internal politics than the content of the applications, and even though that’s a bit frustrating, it’s the way it is. I somehow understand.

A few weeks ago, I didn’t even want a Ph.D. Now I don’t want to give up the idea.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned by being self-employed for the last five years, it is to be stubborn. Too stubborn, some might say. It’s just…I don’t care much for giving up.

There’s always another way. Sometimes you’ll just need to look a little harder, dig a little deeper.

That’s ok.

I like digging.

So now I’m investigating these other ways.

I’m not interested in doing a PhD at any cost. Not at all. Many things need to be “right” for it to make sense, and the project itself needs to be defined (primarily) by me. If not, then I’ll spend my time on something else. I’m not looking for a job, I’m just (always) looking for ways to learn, and become better at what I and want to continue doing: challenge and improve education.

I might be a bit naive here, but I’m putting some effort into that; remaining naive, and a tad idealistic.

I don’t care about jobs or careers.

I care about A) having fun & B) improving the world (however slightly).

Post scriptum

“But what is it that I want to research”, you might ask.

That’s a fair question, considering you’ve read this far.

If you want details, you’re welcome to read the application.

In short, I want to find out, what game developers can teach us about working with game development, creativity, innovation & entrepreneurship in education. Can we build a model for game development together with actual game developers – and can this approach contribute to the (as I see it, necessary) transformation of education?:

the project also operates with a broader scope, studying to what extent this transformed role of teachers and students can inspire both groups to perceive themselves as creative entrepreneurs capable of designing and developing innovative solutions.

 

The distance between vision & practice

I’m a pretty big fan of ol’ Bruce. First off, he’s a bloody fantastic showman. Few (if any?) are able to consistently keep up that incredible level of performance throughout an incomprehensible number of shows. I’m not exactly working in music, but I would sure as hell love to aspire for the same level of performance in my own work.

In addition, he’s somehow succeeded in maintaining integrity and credibility over all these years. I wouldn’t know if his indignation is entirely real (as I obviously don’t know the man), but I absolutely believe so. He’s simply that convincing.

I love the connection between young Bruce & old(er) Bruce made in the pretty great documentary “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town“. It shows a young man looking forward, and an older man looking back. They amazingly seem to want the same thing:

More than rich, more than famous, more than happy – I wanted to be great

So much to learn from this guy. In the movie, he also states that:

My work has always been about judging the distance between the American reality and the American dream… I’m always measuring that distance: how close are we, how far are we

And here we are, arriving at the core of this post: judging the distance between the way the world is, and the way it could/should be.

This is the way I work (or, to maintain the above logic, the way I should work).

Education is difficult. Which is why I like it.

Changing education is difficult to the degree, that many highly competent people don’t bother.

It’s simply too hard.

What interests me the most, working in this field, is judging the distance between what education is, and what education should be.

Where are we?

Where do we want to go?

How do we get there?

It’s always a matter of oscillating between practice and vision. Between what happens and can happen in educcational practice, and what we, on a visionary level, would like to achieve.

Vision

I’m not interested in engaging only with grand visions, nor am I interested in exlusively working with practice.

The space between the two, however, is where I want to be.

Rebellion underway?

I’ve been tweeting a bit about my current and future plans lately. Things are (as always) a bit exploratory and not completely decided.

Kinda how I like it.

It’s just that I’ve been feeling a bit stuck, and somewhat low on energy, and that, I don’t like. Not one bit.

Luckily, such situations always makes me come up with fresh new ideas and approaches, and I’m already well underway in exploring several exciting possibilities.

Whenever I find myself in a situation like this, I try to boil it all down to the bare essentials.

What do I like to do? How do I want to work in the future?

I’m identifying some basic guiding principles right now, and I’ll be writing about some of these in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll just say, that this (also) inspired me:

I like to see myself as a rebel (at least to a degree).

I’m not too good with accepting status quo if I see better solutions, and I like challenging established schools of thought. I don’t care about arguments build on tradition – “we do this, because we’ve been doing this for years…”.

If that’s an argument for anything, it’s an argument for contemplating change.

I think we need more people in education (and in general) to be or become rebels.

Don’t accept bad solutions founded in tradition. Don’t neglect what’s important (e.g. creativity, passion, innovation) because rigid structures seem to prohibit such pursuit by focusing narrowly on things that are less important (e.g. testing & control).

We need change, and we need a large group of people willing to instigate such change.

In short, we need rebels.