Liveblogging from Science Museum Event on Games

I’m here at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre for an event entitled ‘What are games really teaching us?‘.  I’m liveblogging this event so keep refreshing the page for updates.  And follow #danacentre for tweets from the event.

It’s been a rather wet and miserable afternoon here so it’s nice to come in from the rain this evening.  The line-up for this event is being facilitated by the BBC’s Gareth Mitchell (Presenter, Digital Planet) and includes computer game consultant, John Kirriemuir, games designer, Sophie Blakemore, and play theorist, Pat Kane.  They tell us we’re going to get our hands dirty in this discussion, getting the chance to play some of the games. I suspect my hands will be too busy flying over this keyboard. But I will document the travels.

19:05 We’re getting started here. Gareth wants us to go play games first for 30 mins so I will document and return here properly at 7:40pm.    There are 7 Wiis here to get stuck in to!

19:40 Have been watching a bunc of people throwing themselves at their games and generally punching their devices.  Fun gig. :)

19:45 Gareth brings us back to start the panel.  He’s disappointed no-one has ever heckled him via twitter.  (He’s @garethm if you want to have a go.) All the panellists are going to speak for 5 minutes on the interaction between the real world and the gaming world.

19:50 Pat Kane says play, like gaming is like sleep – it’s a basic need of all humans.  One of the things games can teach us is that another world is possible.  A game has social economical and ethical biases and these can be experienced within the game world as a means of exploring new possibilities.  Games also teach us that it’s great to be in the West, in economies where education and games are possible.  Kane goes on to quote a series of statistics on the use of energy by digital platforms on which games are played.  He also notes that games provide a new literacy in visual cultures. And games teach us that war is banal.  There’s a long symbiosis between war and games, and increasingly there are explicit collaborations between military scenarios and games.  Games can also teach us about being successful in the real world – the employment game is still a game; we just fetishise it as somehow different from constructed narratives.  If you take reality lightly you might be better able to change it.

19:58 Sophie is up next. Sophie notes there are military games where Americans play as Afghanis against people in the West playing as Americans.  But she says that releasing the imagination and learning to cooperate is really important in childhood development.  Even in violent games. like Call of Duty, there is still the requirement to play cooperative roles.  Really from a very young age, games teach politics, ethics, decision-making at very high levels in a manner that you would never learn in traditional curriculum. Most games  teach users how to work within the rules of reality.  Not about escaping from reality – all games are based within our context of reality.

20:04 John is up next.  He says he has some particualr points he wants to pick up on – games and teaching.  He says that even though there is some acceptance of games.  There is still the question of whether something can be valuable if it is built on the notion of fun.  There’s less use fo games in schools in the uK than in the US, although brain training in kids in Scotland has actually improved concentration and learning.  He introduces the notion of geo-cache oriented treasure hunting as a new hybrid of real world and digital communications.  There are now over 1 million geo-cachers out there.  The basic Nintendo idea of find-collect-reward is replicated in this modern-day orienteering.  So we need to think of games and teaching as going beyond the technologies and the classroom.

John also notes as he walks around classrooms and even here at this event, it’s always women who are most enthusiastic about throwing their whole body (wii-style) into fighting and boxing games.  And often it’s poor people who get involved in pure capitalism.  Games are a chance to explore experiences that often fall outside their realm of understanding.

20:10 Gareth introduces the notion of asking questions.  He asks to begin with, what is the scenario mapping value of games.  Pat responds says this is play.  Games should be a great tool for that.  Pat’s concern is that there is not much creativity or avant-garde games out there.  Sophie responds saying that at the moment it’s not economically viable to develop avant-garde games, but that with iPhone and Android devices there is at least the opportunity to experiment in this space. John says that although 2nd Life isn’t a game, there are ‘places’ in 2nd life where you can go through a training environment.  He uses the example of water birthing simulations, where you can experience some of the issues associated with the experience.  There’s also a forklift accident training scenario in 2nd Life.  These are fantastic for testing the boundaries of what is possible.

20:17 Question from the floor is asking whether we are missing the point.  Yes we can use games to train people.  But perhaps it is also a form of wish fulfilment.  While genetically we have an urge to conquer and dominate, we don’t have the opportunity to express it.  Pat responds that this isn’t necessarily true – even among military games there is experience through growth.  Sophie adds that Eastern games are much more creative and generative.

20:21 Another question comes in asking what are people’s favourite games.  Sophie loves IKO and Counter Strike.  John’s favourite game is Zelda. Pat says his fave game now is Sim Society because it’s taught him that his daughter is a capitalist.

20:24 Gareth asks Sophie what she thinks about when she is designing games – does her background inform her decision making.  Sophie says there are some limitations on game design just in terms of the financial viability of the product.  But there is a great deal of R&D of history and contexts/environments in order to make the experinec as realistic as possible.  She invokes the film sector saying that research is necessary to ensure the world feels right.

20:27 Another question from the floor from an educator: what is so engaging about games? Why is it better/more fun than content in education curricula.  Need to figure out what it is that makes it compelling.  Pat says games are a complex system.  He uses the example of a school in New York which is trying to use games throughout the curriculum.  John added that fun and learning are not mutually exclusive.  If games are too easy then you lose interest.  If they are too hard you lose interest.  If they are just right they are involved.  Needs to be challenging but accessible.

20:34 Sophie notes an important point – that the language used in the US is different from elsewhere in the world.  Americans tend to say ‘I beat that game; I beat that level’.  Elsewhere in the world, people say ‘I passed that level’, or ‘I completed that level’.  This is interesting in terms of attitudes to games and experiences.

20:37 Gareth asks the panellists to speculate about the future of games.  Pat says he’d like to see games and play change the way we deal with institutions and to enrich the polity.  Sophie says she would like to see games becoming more integrated with learning but unless we invest in games for educational contexts there is a way to go.  John observes that location based games is an area for huge growth.  John also asks the audience to have a try on games you wouldn’t otherwise play just for a change.  He also asks us to try a game we haven’t played for a long time.

We are wrapping up now and heading back to the bar.  Have a great night folks.  Thanks for joining us.

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