Still Mulling Playing with History

I was at the Playing with History unconference last week – my first unconference. Twitter’d comments findable at #pastplay

What a neat way to spend a couple of days! I’m still mulling it over, my fever’d brain brimming with possibilities, avenues to explore…  For excellent summaries of what went on, see Rob MacDougall and Geoffrey Rockwell‘s separate evaluations of the day. My discussion pieces on The NetherNet and ‘Rolling your own‘ went over well (though I could’ve made things a whole lot clearer with the latter by reminding everyone that my experience there – my glorious failure, I calls it – was in terms of an online class; no matter!)

Rob finishes his summary with,

I have some qualms about the “digital humanities” label, currently having its Elvis moment. (Not the label, I guess, just the way it’s exploded in the last year or so. The inevitable anti-DH backlash is currently scheduled for Spring 2011; watch this space.) But I have nothing but love for the people who do this kind of work. Historians powered up with coding chops and tech fu; geeks leavened with humanist soul. What could be better?

This reminded me of this week’s Escapist, where Jason Della Roca writes,

There will come a day in the near future when there will be no more gamers. Not because they’ll have killed each other in some Grand Theft Auto-induced mass rampage, but rather because the term “gamer” will be irrelevant. Much like how we do not call people who view TV shows “watchers,” or those that enjoy music as “listeners,” playing games will become similarly as pervasive and commonplace as to render the “gamer” distinction archaic.

Some day, in the same way, maybe we’ll all be digital humanists…

Frischer on Rome Reborn

Podcast featuring Bernard Frischer on the Rome Reborn project

The audio is here.

Frischer mentions some problems he’s had getting materials into Second Life, so he’s been using something called Open Simulator instead. I recall a ruby-powered tool for pushing autocad or sketchup models into Second Life (it’s on this blog somewhere ;) and of course there’s all sorts of work done using commercial game engines to ‘virtualize’ models. With the obvious resources he has, I wonder why those avenues weren’t explored. Anyway, I think it was Troels who once mentioned it – but whatever tool we use for these simulations, we need to be including the ‘shit’ – the horse droppings, the garbage, the people too. Right now, all of these always feel like Pompeii after the tourists go home… In fairness, Frischer notes that that is something they are working on for their virtual Hadrian’s Villa.

Kinda ironic, in a way – Hadrian’s villa being a virtual world when it was built in the first place. A virtual virtual world? We’re getting all recursive… As I’ve argued before, virtual worlds are nothing new in human experience. It’s just the delivery method & fidelity that keeps changing.

The NetherNet Returns! Also, Hoovernotes

I was browsing the Jetpack for Learning Design competition on Mozilla, looking for interesting browser-based enhancements for my online teaching, I came across the following:

HooverNotes is a concept for a platform whose goal is to combine book-like annotations with collaborative processing. It shall be realized as a Firefox add-on integrated into the browser allowing to highlight, leave comments about and collect bits of important information related to a topic and several Web pages or a single Web page. These annotations shall take the form of text, hyperlinks, and multimedia content such as videos, images or maps. In this way, the actual Web content shall be augmented and enriched by the users – be it for learning or other purposes.

Annotations may be personal or shared with others, hence enabling knowledge exchange in a classroom setting.

Hoovernotes looks like it’ll be quite a useful little tool – more on that later in the week. It sparked a thought – it reminded me a bit of the NetherNet, ne Pmog. So I googled it, and lo! It’s back online:

GameLayers is very pleased to announce the return of The Nethernet! Now compatible Firefox browsers can play a lively game across the sites of the web. Will you encourage order or wage chaos? Install The Nethernet Firefox Toolbar Game to find the play hidden on the web around you.

The Nethernet was taken down from August to December 2009 while GameLayers worked to find a solid business model to support the game studio. We launched two Facebook games, Dictator Wars and Super Cute Zoo, which are not currently online. Many talented folks from GameLayers are now available, if you’re looking for hard-working people with online social game experience.

While The Nethernet was offline, the players formed a refugee community, and even built another browser game Nova Initia.

As of December 2009, GameLayers is hosting The Nethernet as a community-supported online game. Soon we will have a facility for donations to improve server speed.

Thank you to everyone for your support of GameLayers. We shall see what 2010 brings for The Nethernet!

My account was still active – I’m a level 8 seer, apparently. My mission that I created to experiment with this browser based game for learning still exists, and may be taken here. Yah! Although things don’t sound like they’re going overly well for GameLayers…

Historiographical issues & computer games

I punched that title into Google to see what would come up. Thought I’d share the more interesting results (in no particular order):

Jonathan Kinkley
Jonathan Kinkley (art historian), 1240 N. Wood Street, #2, Chicago, IL 60622, U.S.A. E-mail: kinkley@gmail.com.

ABSTRACT

Cognitive research has revealed learning techniques more effective than those utilized by the traditional art history lecture survey course. Informed by these insights, the author and fellow graduate researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago designed a “serious” computer game demo, Art Thief, as a potential model for a learning tool that incorporates content from art history. The game design implements constructed learning, simulated cooperation and problem solving in a first-person, immersive, goal-oriented mystery set within a virtual art museum.

  • From Slideshare, a ‘Literature Review on the use of video games in humanities education”:

Niall Ferguson on Counterfactuals and Playing Games

An oldish article in Wired on Niall Ferguson:

What if the great events in history had turned out differently? How would the world today be changed?

Niall Ferguson wonders about this a lot. He’s a well-known economic historian at Harvard, and a champion of “counterfactual thinking,” or the re-imagining of major historical events, with the variables slightly tweaked. In a 1999 book Virtual Histories, Ferguson edited a collection of delightfully weird counterfactual hypotheses. One essay argued that if Mikhail Gorbachev had never existed, the USSR would still exist today. Another posited an alternative 18th century in which Britain allows its colonies to develop their own parliaments — so the Americans never revolt, and the USA never exists.

The essays were fun, but Ferguson really craved a more holodeck-like experience. He wanted to have a computer simulation that would let him set up historical counterfactuals — based on real-world facts — and then sit back to see what happens. “I was always thinking that one day the right technology would come into my life,” he told me.

Last year, it finally did. Ferguson was approached by Muzzy Lane, a game company that had created Making History — a game where players run World War II scenarios based on exhaustively researched economic realities of the period.

Ferguson’s own thoughts on the game were published in the New York Magazine:
To say that I’m interested in World War II would be an understatement. For the past few years, I have been toiling to write its history, skulking in my study and neglecting my children in the process. In theory, games like Medal of Honor ought to have helped our family to reconnect when I finally emerged from my books. But no. Unfortunately—and to the disappointment of my sons—I hate them. And that’s despite the fact that I sincerely believe computer games have a potentially revolutionary role to play in the teaching of history.
I’ll go further. There’s never been a more important time for people to play World War II games. For the last five years, politicians from the president down have been recycling the rhetoric of that conflict. September 11 was “a day of infamy.” Saddam/Ahmadinejad/Kim Jong Il is the new Hitler. And yet few of these politicians seem to have any real understanding of the strategic risks involved in global conflict

It’s not fashionable to claim to learn lessons from history, but….?
I think I’ve posted on this article before, but maybe not. With my upcoming talk, it seemed appropriate to post it again if I did.

The Game’s the Thing

I’m headed of to the Niagara peninsula next month, for Playing With Technology in History.

Here’s what I thought I’d talk about :

Shawn Graham, “Rolling your own: On Modding Commercial Games for Educational Goals”

Making modifications to existing commercial games is a strong and vibrant sub-culture in modern video gaming. Many publishers now provide tools to make this easier, as part of their marketing strategy. In this paper, I look at the nature and quality of the discussions that occur on the fan mod sites as a form of participatory history. I also reflect on some of my own forays into modding commercial games in my teaching of ancient history: what works, what hasn’t, and where I want to take things next.

I’m looking at a lot of the literature on online learning right now, about how to assess the educational value of formal discussion fora (usually in the context of learning management systems), but I’m thinking it’s equally applicable to the fansites. Hmmm. Kevin’s also asked me to take everyone through the process of developing a mod or scenario in Civilization, ideally having something built at the end of the day. Again I say, hmmm. It’ll be fun, but I need to think how best to do that in a useful way that says something interesting and intelligent about history. Here’s Rob’s thoughts about the same conference and the idea that the ‘funnest’ narrative is going to be the one that wins. Civilization as a game is certainly about crafting narratives through play.

I need to dust off my copy of Civ. With one thing or another (including a small fire in the power supply of my computer yesterday!) I haven’t had a solid block of time to play/craft in what feels like ages.

Virtual Worlds: and the most powerful graphics engine there is

Virtual worlds are not all about stunning immersive 3d graphics. No, to riff on the old Infocom advertisement, it’s your brain that matters most.  That’s right folks, the text adventure. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have experimented with this kind of immersive virtual world building for archaeological and historical purposes. But, with one thing and another, that all got put on a back shelf.

Today, I discover via Jeremiah McCall’s Historical Simulations / Serious Games in the Classroom site Interactive Fiction (text adventure) games about Viking Sagas – part of Christopher Fee’s English 401 course at Gettysburg College.

Yes, complete interactive fictions about various parts of the Viking world! (see the list below). I’m downloading these to my netbook to play on my next plane journey.

Now, interactive fiction can be quite complex, with interactions and artificial intelligence as compelling as anything generated in 3d – see the work of Emily Short. And while creating immersive 3d can be quite complex and costly in hardware/software, Inform 7 allows its generation quite easily (AND as a bonus teaches a lot about effective world building!)

Explore the Sites and Sagas of the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic through one of Settings of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom IF Adventure Game:The earliest version of the Otter’s Ransom game was designed to be extremely simple, and to illustrate the pedagogical aims of the project as well as the ease of composing with Inform 7 software: In this iteration the game contains no graphics or links, utilizes very little in the way of software functions, tricks, or “bells and whistles,” and contains a number of rooms in each of sixteen different game settings; as the project progresses, more rooms, objects and situations will be added by the students and instructor of English 401, as well as appropriate “bells and whistles” and relevant links to pertinent multimedia objects from the Medieval North Atlantic project.

Using simple, plain English commands such as “go east,” “take spear-head,” “look at sign” and “open door” to navigate, the player may move through each game setting; moreover, as a by-product of playing the game successfully, a player concurrently may learn a great deal about a number of specific historical sites, as well as about such overarching themes as the history of Viking raids on monasteries, the character of several of the main Norse gods, and the volatile mix of paganism and Christianity in Viking Britain. The earliest form of the game is open-ended in each of the sixteen settings, but eventually the complete “meta-game” of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom will end when the player gathers the necessary magical knowledge to break an ancient curse, which concurrently will require that player to piece together enough historical and cultural information to pass an exit quiz.

Play all-text versions of the site games from The Secret of Otter’s Ransom using the Frotz game-playing software.

Play versions of the site games which include relevant images using the Windows Glulxe game-playing software.

In order to view images the player must “take” them, as in “take inscription;” very large images may come up as “[MORE]” which indicates that text will scroll off the screen when the image is displayed. Simply hit the return key once or twice and the image will be displayed.

We hope that you will enjoy engaging in adventure-style exploration of Viking sites and objects from the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic!

Start by saving one of the following modules onto your desktop; next click the above game-playing software. When you try to open the Frotz software (you may have to click “Run” twice) your computer will ask you to select which game you’d like to play; simply select the module on your desktop to begin your adventure; you may have to search for “All Files.” Each game setting includes a short paragraph describing tips, traps, and techniques of playing:

Andreas Ragnarok Cross

Balladoole Ship Burial

Braaid Farmstead

Broch of Gurness

Brough of Birsay Settlement

Brussels Cross

Chesters Roman Fort

Cronk ny Merriu Fortlet

Cunningsburgh Quarry

Helgafell Settlement

Hvamm Settlement

Hadrian’s Wall

Jarlshof Settlement

Knock y Doonee Ship Burial

Laugar Hot Spring

Lindisfarne Priory

Maes Howe Chambered Cairn

Maughold – Go for a Wild Ride

Maughold- Look for the Sign of the Boar’s Head

Maughold – The Secret of the Otter Stone

Mousa Broch

Ring of Brodgar

Rushen Abbey Christian Lady

Ruthwell Cross

Shetland Magical Adventure

Skara Brae

Stones of Stenness

Sullom Voe Portage

Tap O’Noth Hillfort

Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh

Ting Wall Holm Assembly Place

Tynwald Assembly Place

Yell Boat Burial

Second Life as an Archaeological Tool: Ruth Tringham

A podcast with Ruth Tringham on her work on Okapi Island: listen here ; transcript at http://www.ncptt.nps.gov/second-life-as-an-archaeological-tool/

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast. I am Kevin Ammons. Today I am visiting with Ruth Tringham, one of the founders of the University of California Berkley the People in Multimedia Authoring Center for Teaching in Anthropology at Berkley (MACTiA). As a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkley Ruth uses an online virtual environment called Second Life in her teaching.Kevin Ammons: Welcome Ruth! How did you find yourself at Berkley exploring the notion of Second Life as an archeological tool?

ÇatalhöyükÇatalhöyük (image courtesy of catalhoyuk.com)

Ruth Tringham: Well it sort of developed out of my work with digital forms of visualization things like multimedia 3D modeling and of neolithic archaeological sites in southeast Europe and in Anatolian more recently with Çatalhöyük. I actually did know anything about Second Life. It must of been in the early 2000’s because I had been doing this visualization multimedia stuff for – all through the 90’s – at least the last part of the 90’s. But then I was working with this digital technologist I suppose is not really that he is somebody who worked with museums and digital technology called Noah Whitman. He started working with us on a project called Remixing Çatalhöyük and I can tell you about that a little later but while we were working on that, which was really a method of sharing our Çatalhöyük media database with the public, he introduced me to Second Life. He said, “Have you seen this? You might be interested in this.”

[…]

Civilization on the iPod – chronicle of inclass use

Just came across what seems to be an experiment in a classroom using Civ Revolution on the iPod for history teaching… will be interesting to see what happens. http://ipodgamesforlearning.pbworks.com/Civilization-Revolution

If I’ve divined the twitter feeds that led me to this, it would seem to be a project of Lucas Gillespie on whose website there appears to be an interesting World of Warcraft experiment going on…

The primary focus of this project is to develop a curriculum for an after school program or “club” for at-risk students at the middle and/or high school level.  This program would use the game, World of Warcraft, as a focal point for exploring Writing/Literacy, Mathematics, Digital Citizenship, Online Safety, and would have numerous projects/lessons intended to develop 21st-Century skills.

Bravo, and well done! One that I will follow with interest…

FRONTLINE Interview with James Paul Gee, on games for learning

From PBS Frontline: Digital Nation Life on the Virtual Frontier

3:19Interview Highlights

Video Games 101

Can video games like Grand Theft Auto actually be educational?

4:30Interview Highlights

Don’t Game Alone

Why rich kids learn more from video games than poor kids.

1:42Interview Highlights

The Supreme Court…Video Game?

Sandra Day O’Connor commissioned a game for engaging kids with our legal system.

3:59Interview Highlights

Games That Teach

An argument for video games as the future of learning.

2:06Interview Highlights

Educational Games Already at Play

Schools have been using different kinds of games for years. Video gaming is the obvious next step.

:38Interview Highlights

Gaming in School

Kids love games, so why not use them to teach?

Rebuilding Catalhoyuk

On my reading list:

Colleen Morgan, Rebuilding Catalhoyuk (full text)

Building virtual models of archaeological sites has been seen as a legitimate mode of representing the past, yet these models are too often the end product of a process in which archaeologists have relatively limited engagement. Instead of building static, isolated, uncanny, and authorless reconstructions, I argue for a more active role for archaeologists in virtual reconstruction and address issues of representational accuracy, personal expression in avatars and peopling the virtual past. Interactive virtual worlds such as Second Life provide tools and an environment that archaeologists can use to challenge static modes of representation and increases access to non-expert participants and audiences. The virtual model of Catalhoyuk in Second Life is discussed as an ongoing, multivocal experiment in building, re- building, and representing the past and present realities of the physical site.