The following appeared on my ‘discussion’ page this morning:
We would like you and your readers to consider applying for and to help get out the word about our second (2008 HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition. It’s a $2 Million Competition. Focus: Participatory Learning
Application Deadline: October 15, 2008
Full information at: http://www.dmlcompetition.net
Awards will be made in two categories:
Innovation in Participatory Learning Awards support large-scale digital learning projects
Young Innovator Awards are targeted at 18-25 year olds
Full information at: http://www.dmlcompetition.net
I would be interested in putting in an application for myself, but the thought occurs: there are a lot of digital media/archaeology types out there, with great ideas and motivation, but not so much funding perhaps. Why don’t we put together a collaborative proposal?
I’ve watched various people do the whole weight-watchers routine over the years. Hadn’t really put much thought into how it works and so on, but Clive Thompson at Wired has:
A friend of mine recently slimmed down on Weight Watchers. She joined two months ago, and in just a couple of weeks, she’d shed 10 pounds. She’d been trying for a year to lose weight, but nothing worked — until now.
Why did Weight Watchers work so well? For a really fascinating reason: because it isn’t a normal diet. It’s something more. Something fun.
It’s an RPG.
The Weight Watchers program is designed precisely like a role-playing dungeon crawler. That’s why people love it, stick to it and have success with it. And it points to the way that we could use game design to make life’s drudgery more bearable.
The full article is here. Thompson explains a bit more:
As I watched her poke around on the screen, managing inventory, calculating points, staying within her range, it hit me:
Weight Watchers is an RPG.
Think about it. As with an RPG, you roll a virtual character, manage your inventory and resources, and try to achieve a goal. Weight Watchers’ points function precisely like hit points; each bite of food does damage until you’ve used up your daily amount, so you sleep and start all over again. Play well and you level up — by losing weight!
It’s a fascinating idea. Thompson cites Jane McGonigal’s recent presentation at SXSW, on using game design to make the drudgery of many every day activities into fun challenges. A Q & A with McGonigal is here, and a synopsis of her presentation is here.
The connection with archaeology: well, clearly, there are many tasks in day-to-day archaeology that could benefit from being made more game like. Cataloging stamped bricks, for instance… actually, to be a bit less flip, I’m thinking of public archaeology, and programmes like the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Thompson quotes McGonigal:
“Games are an incredible language and system. They should be everywhere,” she said. “Why are we making games only for the bound pages for a computer screen or console? Why aren’t we doing that to help people navigate and understand the world around us?”
She couldn’t be more right. As McGonigal points out, there are already some witty attempts — like Chore Wars, Wii Fit or Seriosity’s system that tries to limit corporate e-mail overload by forcing people to “spend” virtual totems to send a message. I can think of tons of things I’d love to see turned into a game: doing my taxes, dealing with my inbox backlog, being stuck in traffic.
And this stuff is clearly possible, because if Weight Watchers can turn something as unpleasant as dieting into a playful activity, the sky’s the limit.
What would an RPG – alternate reality archaeology game look like? What would the goals be? Well, we might want the public to understand the importance of cultural heritage, and to treat it appropriately when they encounter it in the landscape. We might want people who discover sites on their land, or in national parks, to report it to the authorities, to conserve it. We might want to create a knowledgeable public who can read the past out of the landscape. We might want to fight looting, or the wanton destruction of heritage sites or buildings. We’ve got all sorts of goals; I can imagine creating a game-like system to reward people who meet these goals. But games have to include sticks as well as carrots… what might the sticks be?
Perhaps the game should be web-based, played via PMOG or something similar, ‘recovering’ good archae websites, and ‘destroying’ pseudo-archae sites, or political uses/abuses of archae… thoughts?
For an illustration of the power of a computer game to teach – or reveal deficiencies in – historical knowledge, check out a recent posting over at the Escapist Magazine, concerning Sid Meier’s Colonization.
The recently announced Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization has raised some eyebrows at Variety’s Cut Scene blog, where writer Ben Fritz calls the game mind-boggling and “morally disturbing.”
“Goddammit, am I the only one who thinks it’s morally disturbing to make a game that celebrates COLONIZATION?” Fritz said in the article. Describing information he was given about the original Sid Meier’s Colonization, released in 1994, Fritz says at first he took it for a joke. “But sure enough, it was real,” he said. “However, I dismissed it as a relic from a time when neither developers nor players took videogames seriously as media with moral implications.”
“But the idea that 2K and Firaxis and Sid Meier himself would make and release a game in the year 2008 that is not only about colonization, but celebrates it by having the player control the people doing the colonizing is truly mind boggling,” he continued.
Fritz compared the situation to the uproar surrounding a Resident Evil 5 promotional trailer which showed African zombies being cut down by the game’s white protagonist. Quoting Newsweek journalist N’Gai Croal, who said the imagery in the trailer was “messed up,” Fritz said a game about colonization is 100 times more messed up. “Throughout history, colonization regularly involved stealing, killing, abuse, deceit, and the exploitation or decimation of native people,” he added. “Anybody with a shred of moral conscience who studies the history will be appalled. Whether it was British rule in India or slavery in Africa or Aboriginal children kidnapped and taken to Christian schools in Australia or the dislocation of Native Americans in the U.S., there were no positive colonization experiences.”
By this reckoning, one would not be allowed to make a movie or write a book about the colonial period, either. Moreover, this fellow seemingly hasn’t played the game, or he’d know that the mechanics of the game – its procedural rhetorics – penalize for destroying native settlements: so clearly, racism isn’t being celebrated.
Moreover, he assumes that players play blindly, lapping up whatever is fed to them. But as the discussion on the Escapist forum demonstrates, it is possible to play the game precisely to challenge the assumptions of the game.
This is why computer games matter for history education. By embodying their rhetorics, their arguments, about the past in code, it becomes possible for players to see the practical outcomes of those arguments through play. Being a critical thinker consists of two parts: understanding the arguments made to you, and responding appropriately. Playing a game is not a one-way flow of information: the player’s actions matter. Players are not empty vessels, nor are they stupid: playing a game focuses the attention on the rules of play, and players respond to those rules and challenge them through metagaming, mod making, community forums, story writing, and so on.
If your average everyday undergraduate responded to a set text the way the player communities respond to a witless post like the one from Cut Scene, we as educators would be in heaven…
…doesn’t actually exist. At least, not for me. I’ve had to move from my little strip-mall office, and its cable broadband internet. No problem, thought I: I’ll just put a wee office upstairs in the family cider mill, save some monthly cash.
Turns out, the three wireless internet towers within a mile of my new location cannot be reached from my location, because of trees. What sort of radio waves can’t penetrate a bit of foliage, I ask you. I’ve tried Bell mobility’s wireless access card – a ‘speedy’ 200 kb/s does not let you get into Second Life; it barely lets you check your bank account or check your email (and it cost me over $60 for one day’s test drive!). It certainly doesn’t let you do anything remotely ‘web 2.0′-ish. Why’s that? ‘Cause nobody designs sites anymore that are light. Everything must have bells, whistles, tweeters and woofers.
Satellite seems to be my only option, if it’ll work. Otherwise, it’s dial-up for me. That’d pretty much kill my digital life; it’d certainly make the things I do, chronicled on this blog, pretty near impossible.
Ah, fine print on Second Life’s page: no satellite internet. Swell.