Blog

The Hemingway App

I love to write.

Usually I end up experimenting with everything, including the language. Part of writing in English, for me, is improving, using and evaluating new words.

Why is that?

Well, I’m really curious, always striving to explore new approaches to writing.

I see writing as playing with words, exploring their relationships and meanings.

What happens when I use this word instead of that? How does it change the tone of my writing? The general meaning? How do I make my writing less serious, more playful, curious and fun?

Oftentimes, I’m wondering how I can become a better writer. I’m definitely not a native speaker, and while I write a lot in English, I have much to learn. In my few glimpses of realism, I know that I don’t have time to take a course, or otherwise engage in any kind of formal education.

This leads me to a place, where I hope I can improve simply by writing.

In a way this is my approach to most challenges these days – do stuff, reflect on stuff, learn stuff, change stuff.

That goes a long way, but it still leaves me with numerous questions. How to avoid the blind spots? How to see what I do wrong, when the nature of the problem is, that I don’t know it’s wrong? How to change the less appropriate habits and patterns?

Who knows – the Hemingway App might be (part of) what I need?

The Hemmingway App - my writing

It feels a bit like a game, with the constant feedback encouraging me to change words and sentences for more accessible writing. In doing so, I might become more reflective about the way I use the language.

More importantly, it feels playful.

CounterPlay – a playful journey

About a month ago, I wrote about my plans for creating a festival of play & games in Aarhus. In the meantime, I’ve been working on turning my plans and ideas, my dream, into reality. Lots of exciting things are happening, and a growing number of people are expressing their interest & willingness to contribute in various ways.

It feels like things are finally falling into place.

What is this?

CounterPlay is a recurring 2-day festival that aims to bring together anybody working with play and/or games:

  1. To expand our understanding of games & play

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

“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)

CounterPlay is a tribute to and an exploration of the many ways, in which a more playful approach can help us live better lives. Let’s 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.

I want to break down barriers, further insights and contribute to the slowly evolving and widening perceptions of what play & games is and can be. I want to establish a stronger foothold for informed conversations about play and games everywhere (from the long description

To focus and structure the event, I operate with these three categories:

  • Playful Learning
  • Playful Culture
  • Playful Business

Playful Learning covers the entire field related to play, games & learning, in & out of education. How can specific games be used as teaching tools? How are games catalysts of “interest-driven learning“? Why should students make their own games in school? Can games inspire us to think differently about learning?

Playful Culture is all about the many, many ways in which games and play are a large part of our culture. What are the relations between games and other media?  How can libraries become even better at working with games? What is the future of games journalism? Are we moving from a focus on “games” to a focus on “play”? Stories from the frontlines – what are the stories people bring back from the virtual adventures?

Playful Business explores how public & private organisations & companies can benefit from more playful approaches. Can games support better healthcare & public health? Is it possible to use games as a means of communication? Can games be used for teambuilding and other HR-purposes?

Furthermore, the notion of being playful is at the very core of CounterPlay. Playing is not just a means to an end – it is a very legitimate and attractive purpose in itself.

I will be juggling with many different formats, ranging from the structured, more formal talks over shorter pitches to open-space sessions and hands-on workshops. Oh, and there’ll be a playground, of course, where you can try a selection of games and engage in various playful activities.

I also want to make it as easy as possible for participants to meet up, to talk, to develop ideas & concepts, or simply to play.

I’m playing around with a possible schedule, which currently looks like this:

While this schedule is still subject to change, I think it is quite indicative as to how I expect the final version to look. Now I’m working to fill it with amazing people, and it seems an impressive part of my network are keen to embark on this adventure with me.

Who should come?

I have a strong belief, that all of us are in constant need of fresh perspectives, of talking to people with backgrounds different to our own, to see the world of play with new eyes. We need to allow other people and new experiences to challenge our more or less consolidated ideas and beliefs.

CounterPlay is literally for anybody who is already working or wants to work with games and playful activities. Basically, if you are interested in figuring out how you, your colleagues, your company or organization can become more playful, and how that can be fruitful and valuable, come play with us.

Being more specific, these are some of the groups I hope to see:

  • Pedagogues
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Journalists
  • Librarians
  • Game developers
  • HR & communication

When & where?

aarhus_gmapsAs mentioned, it’ll be in Aarhus. This is not (only) me being stubborn in arguing, that important things can take place in Aarhus. I think many cool projects are gaining momentum here, and I would love to support this. While embedded locally, the perspective is international. I’m thinking English as the primary language, and I’ve talked to several people around Northern Europe, who are keen to be part of this.

I’m collaborating with the main public library here, and they might also host the event (this is not confirmed, and we’re currently examining if it’s a feasible solution, if there’s enough space etc.).

I need to confirm the dates, but as I’m also planning an EdCamp in Aarhus in the spring, on April 5., I’m thinking about having the festival in the days leading up to this, April 3th and 4th. This might change, but I’m fairly certain it’ll be in April. More on this very soon.

Economy

bag_dollars (Medium)As this is something I’m building from scratch, I don’t have a huge pile of money to spend. I’ll strive to keep expenses at a minimum, while making sure that I cover the expenses of speakers, partners etc. The primary source of income for this first edition is, most likely, going to be what people pay to participate (which I, again, don’t want to be too much).

I don’t have any elaborate sponsor schemes up and running yet, but if you are interested in becoming a sponsor, get in touch and let’s talk about it.

In the longer run, I would like for this to evolve into a financially sustainable entity, but with a non-profit approach. I want to be able to pay people for the work they do, but I don’t want to accumulate a large surplus. Should it ever become relevant, such money will be spend on improving future conferences as well as supporting similar initiatives.

Who & how?

Me & a dinosaurSomebody might want to know who’s behind this, and what the agenda is. That’s more than fair, not least because I’m constantly advocating transparency as an ideal, and I try really hard to always go as far as possible in this direction.

I’ve been self-employed, working with games/learning/culture, for the past five years, and it’s been the most amazing adventure, that I dream of continuing…forever.

I’ve described elsewhere, why I think CounterPlay is a relevant initiative, that might make us more insightful on the characteristics and potentials of play and games, hopefully in playful ways.

My personal stake in this project is, that A) I’m uncontrollably curious and would like to broaden my professional scope, while merging my many different fields of interest, B) expand my network in a meaningful way and C) in the longer run, I would like CounterPlay to become a permanent & sustainable part of my work.

At this point, I’m the only person responsible for CounterPlay, which means, that if it ends up being a spectacular failure, it’s on me, and I’m fine with that (if it’s a success, I’ll happily share the spotlight with everybody involved).

I’ll try to keep everything as light and agile as possible, leaving as little administrative work for myself and anybody involved. So far, most of this has been done with Twitter, Skype & mail. If it doesn’t get more formal than that, it’s fine with me.

Do you want to play along?

I’m currently talking to a host of brilliant people, who are showing an interest in collaborating, in giving talks and in other ways contributing to making this happen. For that, I’m immensely grateful. I want this festival to be an open & inclusive one, one that embraces the diversity of these fields, and one that is continously shaped by participants. I want it to become whatever you need it to be, and any input is most welcome.

Do you want to give a talk? Host a workshop? Showcase/playtest a game? Do you have comments or questions?

Get in touch, in whichever way suits you!

Candy Crush Saga

I usually try to play all the games, that people talk about. The big AAA hits, the small indie gems, the hugely popular games for handheld devices and anything in between. I do this out of a mix of professional interest and my eternal personal curiosity. I have much to learn about games, and playing as many games as possible is one way to further my insight. Therefore it’s a bit odd, that I, without making any particularly conscious decision, haven’t paid much attention to the biggest free-2-play games recently. Games such as Clash of Clans, Hay Day and Candy Crush Saga (though I have played a fair amount of Subway Surfers). Regarding Candy Crush, the situation has changed recently.

The frustration embedded in that tweet is a nod to the amount of time, a game like this can easily consume. I don’t believe games are “addictive” the same way cocaine is addictive (this is not to say, that games can’t be part of, let’s say, “addictive-like issues”, but it’s a complicated matter, that I might talk about in another context. Not now). I also don’t think “addictive” is anything to strive for as game designers. BUT a game like CCS, it’ll devour hour upon hour.

Many people seem to experience this:

First impression? Yeah, as everybody has pointed out by now, the people at King has certainly played Popcap’s Bejeweled:

At the same time, CCS adds many new mechanics & challenges to the mix, and there’s a nice variation from level to level. Score a certain amount of points (sometimes within a certain time frame), clear some (increasingly tough) gel, move “ingredients” to the bottom of the screen, combinations of these etc.

Without knowing Bejeweled in detail, I definitely don’t see CCS as a rip-off. It’s clearly inspired, but that’s the case with any game.

Is it a deeply rewarding experience?

No, I don’t think so.

That, however, does not mean it isn’t satisfying to play. It very clearly appeals to the human fondness of identifying patterns, as described by Raph Koster:

Games are puzzles. they are about cognition and learning to analyze patterns. When you’re playing a game, you’ll only play it until you master the pattern. Once you’ve mastered it, the game becomes boring.

All the crazy visual & auditory feedback also adds to the pleasant feeling of accomplishment (though you can certainly argue, that the feedback doesn’t always feel meaningful or proportionate):

These elements make up a game, that brilliantly captures my attention, and even though it’s perfect for brief playing sessions, I often play for as long as I can with the lives I have.

candycrush_iapBeing a free-2-play game, it, unsurprisingly, makes numerous attempts to make me buy stuff (in-app purchases, IAP). I can buy “boosters” that helps me blow up the candy, and when I run out of lives, I can pay to continue playing. If I don’t, I’ll have to wait. Now, I don’t have any qualms with free-2-play as such. I don’t think it’s evil or unethical or that it’s killing gaming. It can be done in good ways, it can be done in bad ways.

But, as I suddenly remind myself, this is not an essay on free-2-play. I don’t think I’ll ever write any such thing. Other people are already doing that, and that much better than me.

Suffice it to say, that so far, I haven’t felt the urge to pay anything, yet I’m having a good time. This stance might be a self-induced challenge – how far can I get on the cheap? I have a feeling, that as levels are getting harder, it probably becomes increasingly difficult to maintain my approach (though this piece suggests, that “70% of the people on the last level haven’t paid anything”)

You get obvious advantages from paying, as the game becomes easier and playable for longer stretches of time, but the game is perfectly enjoyable without them.

Summing up, this video is not entirely fair, but it’s also funny, so I guess it all evens out:

GTA V

Initially, GTA V mostly just annoyed me. Annoying characters, annoying gameplay, just annyoing. I don’t care much for driving around, waiting for something to happen, and I had absolutely no interest in the characters. I found the light (yes, the actual light) in the game world to be awfully pretty, though.

GTAV_light

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point, I started to care. It’s not comparable to the way I cared about Walther White or Ellie or the entire cast from The Wire, but I do care. I want to know, what happens to them. I want to be there, when it happens (yes, I would also like to actually influence what happens to them, but I’m afraid that’s not an option, as someone decided most of that beforehand).

GTA is an unruly beast, a giant mess, trying to be so many things, all at once.

It’s a huge open world, where you, allegedly, can do more or less what you want to. Thinking about it, I don’t want to do all that much, really (though some of these stupid things are somewhat funny). I don’t care about the possibility of playing tennis, buying stocks, going to bars, doing a triathlon, or even chasing the infamous GTA easter eggs.

I am impressed by the scale and the attention to detail. I genuinely am. That excitement wears off ,though. Sometimes it’s just irritating, because everything is so far away (yeah, yeah, you can get a cab, I know) and driving does get old.

At times, the scale allows for a wondrous sense of exploration, and some of the missions use the world really well.

To an extent, it all feels alive. Like it’s all happening, with or without me.

GTA is pretty obviously satire, a caricature of society, of people, of technology, of popular culture. While often not particularly clever, but there are moments, where I just sit and laugh. Like this conversation between two (of the three) main characters, Michael and Trevor:

“Protohipster”. Yeah, I laughed.

The same goes for some of the in-game commercials, which are mostly experienced when listening to the radio while driving:

Lifeinvader

What GTA is, is a game for people who play games. It’s not a game I would readily recommend to anybody not familiar with games. It’s simply too unwieldy and overwhelming. Too much.

Just look at this “gameplay trailer”:

I’m convinced that only people playing games like GTA would care about most of what is promoted as “unique” about this game. The three characters. All the things to do. The scale. The technical prowess.

Oh, and I guess only people playing games like this could possibly accept or ignore the terrible ways, in which GTA depicts women. It’s a huge discussion, and many fine pieces have been written on this topic, so I’ll do nothing more than to quote Helen Lewis:

“Yes, it’s misogynistic and violent, but I still admire Grand Theft Auto”.

All this being said, I am happy that I care to spend this many hours with any one game. Even though both game, story and characters are terribly frustrating at times, and often just plain terrible. I like a lot about this game, but damn, there’s much that I don’t feel particularly excited about.

…but now I gotta see it through to the end (meaning the end of the story, not the end in any completionist “gotta-do-it-all” kind of way).

If you want to read more about GTA V, here are some of the articles I can recommend:

Johnny Kilhefner – Death by Los Santos

Tom Bissell – Poison Tree: A letter to Niko Bellic about Grand Theft Auto V

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?