Reading List

I’ve found it helpful to main a reading list of useful books related or complimentary to my discipline. I’ve felt that maintaining a professional library at home is not only helpful as it lets me quickly refer to relevant material, but also helps guide me towards considering myself a true professional. In no particular order, here is my current list of books I either have and are ready to be consumed, or are on my wish list:

An architectural approach to level design by Christopher Totten

Quests by Jeff Howard

The art of game design by Jesse Schell

The gamers brain by Celia Hodent

Game design workshop by Fullerton, Swain and Hoffman

and Games, Design and Play by Macklin and Sharp

Week 9 – Communities of Practice

The content for week nine of the module has drawn my attention to communities of practice, specifically; communities with which I’d like to engage in on from a professional or vocational level.

Several communities come to mind. Foremost, I’m interested in the academic world of game theory. Much practice, originating from computer science has branched out over time and now my particular field, game design draws heavily on architechture, art, history, culture, anthropology, psychology and many more.

I’m starting to steer my thinking towards further academic opportunities, as outlined in my blog post here: https://journal.falmouth.ac.uk/rf233694/2020/11/25/doctoral-studentship-opportunities/

The life of an academic appeals. I would relish the opportunity to explore a deeper understanding of current academics work in my field, perhaps collaborate on interesting research questions and I hope that my contribution may eventually similarly inspire the next generation of academics. This group would be a ripe prospect for ethnographic study.

I’m also interested in immersive theatre groups, such as Punchdrunk, who specialise in ‘boardwalk’ or ‘interactive’ theatre. Participants can enjoy cinematic levels of detail in props and scenery as they follow one or multiple intertwined stories in an authentic narrative environment. I would particularly enjoy to add some gameplay elements to a production.

Lastly, I’m interested in developing my study in serious and applied games and turning this theory into practically applied projects.

Doctoral studentship opportunities

I would say that if there was one question driving my curiosity in research it would be the question; “Why do we play games?”. This is obviously too broad for the topic of a doctoral thesis, but I at least hope it indicates a direction of travel.
I’ve yet to arrive at a thesis question, but I’m particularly interested in the behavioral, motivational, and cognitive factors affect our decision to play any​ kind of game and in particular, the extent to which our decision meets that real, or perceived need and I hope I can refine this further throughout my research. I anticipate any research in this field will not only draw upon game theory, but also psychology, sociology, and anthropology, but regardless, the primary focus will likely be towards digital and analogue digital and games and other creative media.
I have a broad range of interests within the Game Development field, including, but not limited to:
Serious Games
Applied Game Theory
Social Gamification
Behavioural, Motivational and Cognitive factors in Gameplay
Social Engineering through Gameplay
Epistemic motivation and interaction
I am particularly interested in the IGGI program: https://iggi.org.uk/apply, as I feel I would be a good fit as a candidate and the program is fully funded (fees and stipend). I am not able to self-fund a PhD.
I have identified several potential supervising academics, several of whom are at York University.
My shortlist is currently:
Prof David Beer – https://davidbeer.net/

Prof Sebastian Deterding – https://www.york.ac.uk/tfti/staff/research/sebastian-deterding/ (https://twitter.com/dingstweets/status/1323272896475762688)

Prof Anders Drachen – https://www.cs.york.ac.uk/people/?group=Academic%20and%20Teaching%20Staff&username=adrachen

My goal is to compile Expressions of Interest by the end of the month and pursue the application process to begin a PhD.

Week 8 – Ethical user research

The two main topics for this week has been user research and ethics. Both are very interesting and indeed, huge topics and the asynchronous material has been extremely useful in helping me understand important and indeed in many cases, critical considerations when undertaking any kind of human testing and research.

This post will mostly be a list of things to consider when undertaking both, as a point of reference. I will however attempt to offer a few thoughts on how they might impact my future practice in conclusion.

The core principles seem to ring true when I reflect on my previous study in psychology, with several key points:

  • There is frequently a clear distinction between relativist and absolutist ethical frameworks. In some ways, an absolutist approach is the easiest to follow as there is a clear line between conformity and non-conformity.
  • Data must be anonymous, or if this is not possible, at least confidential.
  • Any dissemination of the data at a later stage should have the explicit permission of the participant and it seems logical to ask for this up front.
  • Deception is a tricky issue and my preference would be to entirely avoid research which involves deception, but I recognize that in order to get valid, or at least meaningful data, sometimes some or all of the research must be kept from the participant. I don’t hold with the notion that revealing deception at the end of a piece of research is necessarily ethical, but it obviously does less harm than not revealing it at all.
  • Sometimes the sponsor of research may want to remain anonymous. My feeling is that sometimes this is justified, particularly if the participant knows who the sponsor is, it may bias their input/responses. That said, I strongly feel that the onus should be on protecting the participant first and foremost and I’d be reluctant to undertake research with an anonymous sponsor.
  • Any research which presents at least some significant risk must be subject to adequate risk assessment. My understanding of a good benchmark for risks might be as follows:
    • low risk = day to day norms
    • medium risk = animals, groups or individuals, or identifiable subjects
    • high risk = everything else, including sensitive topics, anything which might be considered unlawful. extreme experiences, mental health or physical health, psychological stress, vigorous exercise, participants reveal information which might be harmful to them later, research involving human tissue.
  • Vulnerability of the subject is a consideration. Can they offer meaningful consent and will participation be exploitative?
  • Privacy. Can the data be stored anonymously? Can the user be contacted for future dissemination or safeguarding purposes, without undermining their anonymity?
  • Ability to withdraw consent, based on information.

In order to capture meaningful data, I must choose which of the following two data types I wish to collect:

  • qualitative research methods:
    • Interview (structured/semi-structured)
    • Cognitive Walkthrough/Thinking Aloud)
    • Group Interview
    • Focus Group
    • Diary of User
    • Observations
    • Researcher Self Reflections
  • quantitative research methods:
    • normally produces statistical outcomes
    • questionnaires is a useful, but difficult skill to utilise
    • physiological measurements
    • Technology logs/usage of app/product
    • Observations
    • Psycho-Physical Testing
    • galvanic skin response – Arduino kits are normally suitable for this type of data
    • EEG for heart rate

One of the main, regular tasks I anticipate undertaking as a designer, is play-testing. Under the risk assessment benchmarks I have outlined above, they would be considered medium risk. I will familiarize myself with the Universities Ethical and Research Code of Conduct and associated policies as a result.

Several controversial experiments have been offered as part of the material this week. The Stanford prison experiment is one infamous example, but I’m also aware of other ethically grey experiments, which have had a direct effect on the video games industry. I am off course citing the work on Operant conditioning undertaken by B F Skinner (1938).

The economic pressures facing the video games industry, ably explained on the extra credits youtube channel here go some way to explain why productions costs are escalating, but the appetite for consumer spending on an individual game has largely remained unchanged for over a decade. Nevertheless, some game studios and even publishers have enthusiastically embraced the concept of ‘loot boxes’ which award random cosmetic skins for characters and weapons as a means of generating additional revenue and extending their product life cycle. Some have even experienced huge controversy and fallout from their customers as a result. There are huge ethical questions over whether such practices are gambling or not, but some countries have begun to legislate against their use and outlaw them.

So with the above in mind, where do I stand on these issues? As I reflect on the topics and material presented in this module, week by week, it is clear to me that my focus is to develop as a User Centred Designer. My principle concern is the experience I want to deliver or problem I want to solve for the user. There are certainly valid research questions which might be asked and answered when investigating whether a practice may be bad or not, but I’ve come to the conclusion that such questions must remain in the domain of academia as theoretical investigations and not be unleashed within industry or wider society, wherever possible.

 

 

Provocation

I experienced quite a challenging lecture in week 8. In fact, it was so provocative, that I found the material to be offensive and I left the seminar. I’d like to explain what I mean by that statement and outline my thinking.

I accept and embrace the fact that there is a diverse range of relevant, even critical material which is presented to challenge my thinking as a student and provoke debate as a discursive pedagogy. Although there are many pedagogic approaches in teaching, this method is entirely valid and I offer no further comment on the approach.

I have found much of the material in this course to be deeply challenging and it has led me to question its usefulness in my approach to my discipline. I’m sure this is entirely by design, but I have frequently felt frustrated that pieces of ‘art’ are presented as ‘games’, when I would in fact argue that they lack many of the classical traits or qualities one might associate with a game, outlined for example in the MDA framework (Hunicke, RobinLeBlanc, MarcZubek, Robert, 2004).

The prime example I’d like to use is a series of gunshots, by Pippin Barr. It is interesting that this particular week’s theme is about players with empathy and my reaction to the piece was that a) it wasn’t a game and b) every time I interacted with the game, I perceived that someone died and because I interacted with the game, I was responsible or culpable. My emotional response was anger and frustration with the material. The most insidious factor however, is that you don’t know whether someone has died, you only see a vague scene with no detail. The gunshot occurs and the participant/audience infers their own meaning on the piece. This vagueness I feel was even more provocative, as the more widely accepted human feelings one might experience after being party to such a horrific act (guilt, shock, shame, fear, anger, et al.) are left open, exposed and crucially unresolved. You can’t come to terms with those feelings when you don’t know what happened.

I chose not to participate further, as I felt the subject material was inappropriate. My estimate is that this was the artist’s intent and although clearly a very striking, powerful piece of art, I fundamentally disagree that this constitutes a game. I’d classify it as a piece of artistic media which has been composed to draw the audience’s attention to something the artist was deeply motivated about – gun violence in the US.

I left the seminar because the subject matter gave me a distinctly uncomfortable feeling about the feelings such products evoke, that I didn’t volunteer to experience such feelings and I felt they were much more representative of an artists agenda, than something which I could directly drawn on and apply to my craft – making games.

That said, there are beneficial effects to being exposed to such material. If nothing else, it has given me a more crystallized definition of material which I like or more importantly do not like to influence my creative practice. Whilst it has helped me clarify the importance of adversarial composition, I have also been able to clarify in my own mind that I favor games which have an epistemic motivation and experience. Its also provided me with a very clear example of a piece of work which I can cite when I would like to reference something as being high risk and measuring them against the ethics framework used in the University and beyond. I will expand upon this further in later blog posts.

Week 7 lecture and challenges

I found the week 7 lecture on systems quite provocative and thought it would be helpful to collect some thoughts in the form of a blog post. It seems like a worthwhile process to respond to weekly lectures with a blog post summarizing my thoughts and response to the material, for later evaluation.

In no particular order:

I am interested in the concept of synthesis – that games and indeed any digital product can synthesize a virtual artifact and through multiple iterations of machine learning, overcome the uncanny valley effect.

The inclusion of taxonomy trees was interesting. I’m particularly interested in the lexicon of game development vocabulary, given that the field is relatively young in comparison to other more established disciplines, such as law, medicine, history and philosophy.

The lecture asserted that systems are structures to define and organize multiplicities and this rings true with me, but I do wonder what the antithesis of a system might be – an aesthetic? It also asserts that games offer a liminal space between real systems and a fantastic version. But not all digital products have to be fantastical to be virtual. In fact, simulations are a valid tool for projecting both real and virtual problems.

Real world systems often provide a good reference for a virtual system and I am curious to explore how such systems might be subverted. Systems can also be visual – akin to a particular art style in a game or other digital product.

Delueze was a helpful point of entry to the discussion, but he was a product of his time – it would be a mistake to classify philosophical insights of the industrial age as up to date thinking in the digital 21st century – for e.g. he saw human beings as machines. Machines have a prescriptive purpose. The human experience is in many ways distinct from the automated or machine world.

Ways in which the human experience differs can be looked at in terms of decision making. Dan Gilbert offers an insightful talk about how bad humans are at remembering and estimating Here:

One maxim commonly encountered in game design is that fundamentally, by engaging with a game the designer has created, the player submits to the will of the designer. But design is much more prosaic and indeed, it is completely valid for designers to create systems which can be subverted via emergent gameplay. Many sandbox games such as Minecraft, Factorio, Satisfactory et al. allow the player to create fantastic artifacts in a virtual space, which far extend beyond the scope of the likely design extent. Here is an example of a calculator created within Minecraft game and here is a visual rendering of a popular music video within Factorio.

This leads me on to my challenge for the week:

Prepare material for a Cultural or Societal system as a theme.

I’m interested in the notion of player motivation. Nick Yee has outlined a helpful taxonomy of player typology here and has recently been exploring player motivation with player segmentation here , and I will likely explore this subject in future academic research. Although clearly very good, there are a number of flaws in his thinking, principally it doesn’t take into account decision making as outlined above and also tries to fit players into one category. Human experience is much more fluid and changeable with a huge number of factors swaying our thinking on even a moment by moment basis.

Prepare material for a Technical or Aesthetic system of production.

I’m quite interested in the idea of synthesis and machine learning, particularly in trying to understand whether machines can synthesize human decision making, to the point where human and AI decision making can become indistinguishable.

Sprint 2 preparation

I had a very productive meeting today and had my first discussion with my team for sprint 2. I was particularly pleased that myself, Ben and Billy are all very proactive and we have begun our initial discussions on what kind of digital artifact we’d like to make.

I’ve made sure that we have covered some of the technical requirements in order to deliver something, namely getting a repository set up on bitbucket and setting up a gitkraken glo board and whiteboard space for our initial brainstorming and ideation.

The group has decided to take on board the material presented in week 8 and has planned to use the studio space as a group all afternoon on Wednesday. We’ve all booked space to that effect. Overall I’m really pleased that we’ve come together with quite a ‘can-do’ attitude and I certainly find it helpful to work within a motivated team.

Sprint 1 post mortem

For my first sprint, I was assigned to a group with another designer and artist. The brief was to produce a text game. My group took a while to get together, but eventually brainstormed some ideas around a choose your own adventure style narrative game.

We felt that some sort of pathos and horror would be an appropriate experience and eventually settled on a recently captured modern day piracy story, off the cost of Yemen. The story inevitably led to an assortment of horrible endings, most of which involved encountering the lurking horror in the seas.

One particularly interesting aspect of development, was the decision to add game variables to the game – notably sanity points and ammunition for your gun. Jake did the majority of the back end and story, joe did the artwork and I supplied music and sound effects. Sadly, I only discovered late into the project that most modern browsers don’t support a play on load and so we couldn’t implement the 20+ sound files I’d managed to source.

The main takeaway I’ve learned from this sprint was to always assess the technical limitations of the tool we are using to produce a product and to start early.