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Currents 2010 Roundtable Themes

We would most like for you to speak to your own work and how your work uses “gaming” as a form of “pedagogy” – that is, your goals and motivations in designing the game, your process, its results, and how what you’ve developed teaches its user. We’ve also isolated a few larger, general themes, which you might find helpful in developing your comments; please find them following. These are by no means exhaustive: should some ideas interest you more than others, please feel free to skip questions, counter or disagree with them, or speak about gaming and learning in terms beyond those we’ve isolated here.

>  The theme of this issue of Currents is “Gaming Across the Curriculum: Playing as a Way of Learning.” How do you conceptualize the term “serious gaming,” and the relationship between “play” and “learning”? What are some ways to understand gaming as a pedagogical tool? How does “serious gaming” differ from unserious gaming? Is the difference a function of the game or the gamer?

ACADEMIA>  “Serious gaming” has become a hot topic of late within the academic community. Do you perceive a gap between gaming within and outside of academia? If so, how might this gap be bridged? What do serious non-academic gamers think of the academy’s new interest in gaming? And how does the potential for learning change when it takes place beyond the walls of the classroom?

TEACHING>  What are the most serious drawbacks to using gaming for institutionalized academic instruction? Does serious gaming mean, for students, stuffy gaming? In other words, by deploying gaming for critical learning, do teachers “take the edge off,” making gameplay somehow less risky and less interesting? How can we avoid straight-lacing the games we study or theorize?

NARRATIVE>  The relationship (if any!) between gaming and narrative has inspired a good deal of debate in the academic community. Do games tell stories? If so, how? What kinds of stories can or do games tell? And how can games tell them in a way other forms or media cannot?

STRUCTURE>  “Fun” can only happen with a particular degree of freedom; it requires a certain lack of structure, while “learning,” or the straightforward provision of information, instead necessitates structure and direction. How must games simultaneously appeal to players and teach them? In what ways can and do developers negotiate a tension between structured learning and unstructured play?

RULES>  Related to the idea of structure, part of the joy of games lies in our outsmarting them: in learning a “cheat,” discovering a hack, or altering a structured system in ways not necessarily intended by its developer. Is using a given structure in new ways (e.g., “Gone Gitmo” in the space of Second Life) at all similar to testing the limits of a game? Can the phenomenon of "game-breaking" be taken into account within game design, or channeled on the behalf of learning? How do players use games to learn in ways beyond the provided structure of the game itself? And can the developer-gamer relationship be one of two-way learning?

CULTURE>  Games reflect culture as they make it, and games both channel unspoken cultural norms and reinforce, restructure, and/or challenge them. What kinds of potential do games offer for shaping the ideologies of users? Can such applications have unintended results? What, on the other hand, are the limitations of games in cultural re/shaping?

FUNDING>  Classroom computing often struggles with challenges related to commercialism (e.g., whether securing corporate funding alters the purpose and function of learning itself), just as academic gaming is thought to suffer from a dearth of funds (the assumption being that good, effective games take money, and funding is more difficult to secure in a not-for-profit context). How does the issue of funding affect your own work and your own games? How does the commercial market impact the potential of games? Is the divide between so-called “serious games” and (presumably) “unserious games” parallel to the one dividing not-for-profit and mainstream, “big market” gaming?

FEELING>  Games work because they affect us; they make us feel. How does tapping in to the player experience also mean connecting to the gamers’ emotions, and providing (as one submitter’s article puts it) “a particular mediated emotional skill-set”? Are there limits to this, or potential risks? How might the kinds of feelings evoked in online or gaming environments effect other life situations? What productive benefits can such pedagogy encourage? And conversely, do you see any dangers or potentially negative effects in these kinds of learning communities?

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