Game Draft 2

The second draft version of the game has some new additions based on the helpful feedback we received about our game.

Some of the additions include:

  • Option for the female player to join a literacy class
  • More stats added and call for action page
  • More visuals

Designing a narrative game

First, moment of silence and appreciation for all the game designers out there. You people are heroes.

Here’s the link to Mine and Manar’s digital narrative game.

Few points worth mentioning:

  • It took us a a lot of time to come up with the scenarios. It took us a whole lot more to put the idea of the symbols to use. Google Forms is not made for this, so it was an added hassle. (No offense to Google)
  • The name of the game is undecided yet.
  • We wanted to have different conclusions for the different scenarios but we ran out of time. We put a general final conclusion page but I suppose we will be refining that further
  • I can already spot some weak points after I’ve previewed the game a few times, but I’ll hold my judgement till I receive feedback from others.
  • Some slides which were supposed to have statistics and information are empty, we will still add the data to them, but we know for a fact that this section will have info
  • We’re still working on visuals. I do realize that the game lacks colors.
  • Some scenarios have a conclusion which is kind of abrupt, need help with that as well.
  • Also the call for action links weren’t placed yet, although we plan to have them somewhere in the conclusion

Narrative Game Prototype

I’ve decided to split this post into several parts so that it can be clear to me if and when I use them while implementing my game. Serious games are in my view harder to implement than regular style games because they have two main aspects: the game aspect and the information aspect. Both must be structured in a way that contribute to a seamless experience. The game I’m hoping to design is about illiteracy and illiterate people (mainly in Egypt).

The main audience for this game will be my friends in class and generally people who received a good education. The obvious reason is that people who can’t read/write won’t really benefit from the game, and also because the aim targets educated people in telling them more about the aspects of illiteracy.

The game will have a few main goals including:

  • Raising awareness about the daily struggles that people who can’t read/write face
  • Highlight the importance of receiving an education that promotes reading for all age groups
  • Provide statistics and information about literacy rate in Egypt and to emphasize the impacts of illiteracy on the small and large scale
  • Have people think about their role and how the channels of contribution that they can be part of to help eradicate illiteracy

I want to collect information in a variety of methods. My hope is to be able to talk with a person who is at least semi literate (meaning that they know the alphabet but can’t exactly read fluently). I’ve managed to catch some statistics from here , here and here.
There’s an interesting story/article that I read over here and here. Examples of literacy campaigns around Egypt here, here and  here.

The game structure could be divided into 3 parts: the first having some scenarios that demonstrate the daily challenges that illiterate people face, from not being able to read basic signs to other things .. This could be done by presenting the gamer with unknown symbols and asking them to respond to them with in the context of the scenario(Scenarios can include, needing to read a road sign, a grocery list, price tags/product labels etc). The information presented in this section would include statistics and information about the struggles of illiterate people to go about their daily life.

The second part could be focused on the game character facing serious consequences due to their illiteracy and deciding to join a literacy class (although the gamer has the ability to choose not to). Some scenarios could come in here to demonstrate that these classes are usually full and then the information about illiteracy rates.

The third part would revolve around the fact that the illiterate person might have received some sort of assistance with reading and writing but still might not be able to fluently read things, or acknowledge information quickly. Here, information will presented to highlight the importance of reading-based education. Then towards the end, something about how the gamer can help with the issue of illiteracy in general.

It might be a challenge to have a scoring system for such a game, but feedback on the choices that the gamer is making could be provided after each choice or after the game is played til the end.

Creating sophisticated scenarios and well rounded choices will depend on the depth of my research and if I can manage to get hold of a person who can tell me their story, and I believe this is the hardest part. I also made a note to start looking for images and gifs because I know I will need to incorporate those into my prototype.

Digital Narrative Games

I think people who design games are absolute geniuses. It takes a lot of understanding and creativity to be able to create a game. (I know because I’ve tried) And ever since I realized the complexity of games, I’ve come to appreciate them as I play.

I played 2 games during class and 3 at home and there are a few thoughts on these games starting with the game “Spent”. The game allows the player to make choices with a tight budget in order to experience what life could be like in poverty. With each choice comes a trade off and this was sometimes frustrating while playing. The statistics and information given in between each question was for me, compact and useful and conveyed the purpose of the game well. I’ve noted down a few observations throughout the game and I’ll share them in order.

First, like being given a choice between the offered jobs, it would have been better to be able to choose the house as well. However, by the end of the game I realized that many poor people don’t have that option or might just have to go for whatever housing is available. The types of choices I was making was also changing as I progressed through the game, for example, there were many times that I chose to ignore my illness and depression and even stay hungry in order to not to miss any days at work, and not to spend too much money. Another scenario involved me picking up a $10 bill on the floor and keeping it. These kinds of scenarios and responses never occurred to me. I was frustrated at my own choices too: I refused to go to a friend’s wedding, and let my pet suffer. These were choices I didn’t exactly want to make but had to, because of the limited money and the bills, insurance and other things I was paying.

Not only that, but to secure my job, I had to avoid any other commitments within the working hours, and had to avoid all sorts of conflicts, and that felt kind of humiliating. For example to apply for a scholarship for my gifted kid, I had to miss a day at work, and to avoid problems I had to be silent about overhearing people talking in a mean way behind my back. This led me to think about people who tolerate horrid working conditions (like not being able to have a sick leave for example) and are mistreated at work, and still go because of their need for the money. This is especially true in case there’s a family too. Which brings me to a very interesting observation I’ve made about myself in this game: whenever a question came up that involved paying something for my kid, I ALWAYS paid. This was funny because I never thought of myself as a person who will be that kind of parent later on. It could be due to the fact that I wanted any character in the game to experience a better life than the one I was having.

I played this game 3 times, and in the last time I did, I almost got the hang of the game and ended the month with $387. The idea of the remaining money at the end of the game/month is smart in the sense that it gives the player some kind of score to compare with others and to keep track of achievements. I would suggest that this game becomes a series of interlinked events rather than independent choices of questions, in the sense that it would become more of a story than a series of circumstances.

I then moved on to play the BBC Syrian Refugees game. The refugee issue was something that I had just read about last week in Lina Mounzer’s article and had read about it in an academic way in a sociology course that I took a few semesters ago. Reading about a topic whether an article or a social media post, is entirely different than being in these people shoes and having to make life changing decisions as them.
The information written before every choice is written well, but the language is not very intimate, so as I make the choices I’m not completely indulged in the character, as opposed to the Depression Quest game that I will be discussing in just a bit. Maybe because it’s a BBC sponsored game, and the BBC being a formal news entity would keep things professional? Not sure, but I would suggest bringing some more realistic images and using the words of the people who contributed with their stories to help improve this game.
At some point in the game, I had to choose between buying supplies at the moment or waiting for a bit in order not to be caught. I had earlier chosen to go to Egypt in order to go through Libya. Being known and deported is not something I hear of here in Egypt for Syrians, at least not when you’re casually buying supplies, so knowing the nature of Egypt, made me choose to buy the supplies then and there, as there is no fear of getting caught.
The common concerns about making any choice in this game is the risk of being caught and deported, the risk of drowning, and the risk of paying money to a person who isn’t trustworthy, so every time I’d decide on the trade off based on the context and I had to keep in mind that risk.

I played this game also 3 times, and overall it’s not very long (I’ve tried to vary my responses each time). It could have been made longer to incorporate more details of their life, but generally speaking, it was a game that had me thinking about how I was making such choices at my home in front of the computer while there are real people who are making such decisions on the spot and are pressured to act upon these decisions even if it will cost them their life.

When I went home I played 3 other games. The first being the sleep deprived mom game. This was less intense than the ones I had played before. (Disclaimer: I don’t like kids and I think if I ever have children I’m going to be so rude to them) So it was easy to empathize with moms in this game because I’m not a kids person. I’m also a person who can’t function without a good sleep, so that was more of a reason to feel for all the mommas out there. The game structure was easy and comfortable and at the same time informative because the feedback at the end was in my opinion very useful. A lot of times I was unsure how to respond. The first couple of questions, my priority was only to sleep, and I found that it wasn’t exactly working and I was wasting hours of sleep anyway. When I chose to read the book or Skype with my friend, I felt that these options were good and rewarding even though I lost some sleep doing them. I also played this 3 times to experience all the possible results and realized on the second and third time that my choices on the first round might not have been the wisest.

The Depression Quest game was my favorite. I didn’t get the chance, however, to play it more than once as it is a very long game. The game involves a lot of details about a person battling depression. The good thing was that I managed to reach the end of the game with a better mental and emotional health (the game character was getting treatment and improving). There are a lot of aspects about the game that make it very similar to a real life experience. First, a lot of what was written was relatable to me(And no, I don’t have depression, I just have days that are similar to what was written on there). So the fact that I found what was written relevant was an interesting start. However, the options and responses for each question was at times irrelevant to me or not very relatable. The good thing: there were many options to choose from. The hard thing: the more the character was depressed, the less options I had to choose from. This got me thinking about the kinds of thoughts that depression brings to one’s mind, and how it affects their attitude, in the sense that a lot of time I refused social hangouts and was unable to get out of bed to go to work in the morning.

Hesitating and overthinking about all the details is not something I (as Ayah) usually do, but playing the game brought my attention to these kinds of things, while thinking about getting the cat from Sam, or going to see the therapist or even talking to certain people (Alex, Attic, mom, Amanda) about my mental state, and the extent of the information I was providing to the people around me. It was interesting also to discover that the game character was a male, because I was playing thinking it was a female in the beginning. (I’m sorry this is going to sound sweeping, but I never pictured or associated a guy with depression – weird) The very good thing about the story line of the game is that it was laid out to highlight the good people who are understanding of mental illnesses like Alex and Attic and Amanda, these people helped in getting me (the game character) through many things and making me feel welcomed and heard. The game portrays the typical fears and horrors of a depressed person and hints at elements that can push them into feeling better.

At the bottom of the page there were boxes that showed the status of the character and what they were feeling, and this ranged from depressed, to very depressed and towards the end, when they were seeing a therapist and getting medication it was getting milder and milder. I honestly felt achieved by the end of the game because I realized that I can play a role in the life of a depressed person and that I can at least help pull them out by doing the things that Alex, Attic and Amanda did in the game, and they wouldn’t have done that if it weren’t for the choices I made in the first place, to see them, to talk and share with these people and so on. But at least I know that I can provide a warm platform for my depressed friends so that they can consider talking and seeking help. I would suggest adding more visuals to the game to balance out the amount of text that is written within each page.

The third game I played is a game about teen violence and abuse. The game’s idea is interesting but the implementation could have been more sophisticated. It shows a girl who goes to her significant other’s house and during the time (there’s a timer that counts down to when he is done so all the searching has to be done within that time) he is in the kitchen preparing dinner, the user searches for clues inside the house that could hint to his personality. For example, I found some speeding tickets and court summons in a drawer, too many bottles of alcohol on the desk where he works and so on. What was interesting is that the beginning of the game, the givens about the guy make him seemingly harmless, but later on in the game, the clues only indicate that he is a violent figure. The game could have been made more complex by making the clues more subtle or adding elements that are more realistic. But as an idea, I liked it and I think it’s important to be able to spot signs of abusive people early on. I played the game 3 times as well, and each time the name and scenario changed. One of the times the guy turned out to be a good guy- haha.

I did search a lot for empathy-related games but many of them weren’t as interesting as the ones I played earlier. There was a game about LGBTQ people but I didn’t understand how to play it and found myself closing it midway because I got too confused.

There was a game that I really wanted to play but couldn’t because I had to play it on Explorer and when I did install it to play the game, I had to install more plugins and it didn’t work at the end for some reason. The game is called “Auti-Sim”  which is game to help people empathize with and understand Autistic children. Basically the game involves a character that moves around a playground with other children, and whenever they are close to others, the screen blurs and the audio becomes distorted, illustrating what the child feels in the presence of other people. (that’s what I read)

Overall, I think the common thing between all the games was that they wanted to place the person playing the game in the shoes of someone who is experiencing a suffering of some sort. They all lack the presence of the visual element, but are interactive in different ways. Spent has the best game interface of the ones I played, the other ones were more concerned with the content/information presented rather than how it is presented. The amount and quality of information in the Depression Quest was the best and really put me in the zone of the game. Also it had more options to choose from than the rest of the games, and the options were realistic. The last game about violence wasn’t text based, and so I was moving the game character and pressing on tables/drawers to see what was on/inside them. This element gave it more of a game style, and the text at the end and beginning of the game served the informative part of the game. The sleep deprived mom had the most constructive feedback after each answer, and I think this is important to know if the decisions being made are contributing positively to the user’s knowledge and empathy or not. This element could have been incorporated in the BBC refugee game and Spent for example. Maybe there could be a metric to measure that the game outcomes/purposes have been fulfilled or not. But then again, judging a game as a gamer, is much easier than sitting to design the game; a task that we will be working on for a while..

CLT 15th anniversary: P2

This post is a continuation (hence P2) of reflecting on CLT’s 15th anniversary, although I must say that I lost my notepad where I wrote notes for the event, and have been trying to look for it for the past few days. So I’ll be resorting to memory, unfortunately.

I attended Dr. Nagla Rizk’s talk in her area of research and its relation with teaching. She works with a team in order to amend the rules to serve the people’s intellectual property in the creative industry. She goes on to mention her participation in the Doha debates under the title “Education is worthless without freedom of speech/expression.” And I really liked the way she turned the argument around, when she said that education might be worth less without freedom of speech, but it is never worthless in sense that it a lot of times fosters curiosity and makes us question.

The emphasis on learning is important because of the fact that there are so many sources of knowledge now, and so the exposure to this knowledge is important, and so is the importance of identifying the reliability of this knowledge before taking it in. And I think this is why a lot of professors assign textbooks. (She mentions that she doesn’t like that) But I feel sometimes that without a textbook, information can be overwhelming. And even though digital technologies, has enabled the availability and accessibility of so much information, and also being able to utilize this information outside the class, using it must include a critical thinking aspect.

In her courses, Dr. Rizk incorporates the digital aspect of the curriculum in her Digital Economy course and also allows the students to research on topics relevant to them within the scope of the course, and applying community based learning within the course in the sense that they write about things related to the course but with different social lenses. (gender for example) (Question: Is this applicable on all courses? Also: Can this be applied in a way that doesn’t add to the course’s difficulty level?)

This type of engagement is in my opinion crucial because it does many things. It brings classmates together if they are researching about a topic that is interesting to them, it allows engagement with technology in the context of the course, and at the same time allows students to explore beyond the horizon of the textbook and classic context.

She also talks about how students can engage with and contribute to the pool of knowledge, and not be passive receivers, and this reminds me a lot of net neutrality. That ownership of information entails power, and this is why search engines a lot of times control what we see of search results; and when we are more engaged with online content we have more control over this part of the information. (Can’t really put it in any other way)

Speaking of power, she mentions that sometimes metrics for innovation are set by people who might be biased, and this should be questioned and analysed.

I was also around when the idea of AUC diaries was presented, in which students would talk about their daily life through podcasts. I think this idea is fast and accessible for people who don’t prefer writing for example. It would be nice to have this idea sustaining for a while to see how different events happening around are talked about and perceived through different eyes. Keeping such kind of documentation though will eventually require a large amount of space, whether on the cloud or through memory storage. So I’m wondering what kind of platform is being used here to maintain all these archives.

Tara Keenan from John Cabot University also gave a small talk about student directed improvement, where she let students fill in a blank rubric and later on evaluate themselves and/or each other’s writing work. The involvement of students in activities like this, in my opinion, builds empathy and lets students in on how grading is sometimes a grey area rather than a yes/no/right/wrong thing.

There are other things that I attended but I was relying on my notes to be able to recall a lot of things. Hopefully if I stumble across that writing pad anywhere I should get going. However, I think the event overall exposed me to a lot of learning and teaching techniques, the way professors think and respond to different types of students, and how the use of technology can be the common and recurring theme despite the presence of different cultures and educational backgrounds and can be utilized in so many different contexts and subjects. This gives me hope that maybe someday, more faculty from different *hint hint* majors can join and benefit from such experiences.

CLT 15th Anniversary: P1

Last week the Center for Learning and Teaching at AUC was celebrating their 15th anniversary in a 3 day event where a lot of teaching and pedagogy was discussed and talked about through different lenses.  The ironic thing is, I attended almost all the event because I was also STA-ing, yet only managed to sit and take notes in a few of the talks. This post will mainly cover the co-design activity I was involved in, while the following posts will cover the other things that I attended.

The co-design activity, was a session where students and faculty sat on a table and discussed their motivations and demotivations. We had professors from different fields (As far as I remember: Chemistry and MICT? – need to verify) and Dr. Maha, who was also doing a lot of facilitation along with voicing her opinion. There were two other students apart from myself (memory struggles to remember their major but I think one was accounting and the other was CS)

The activity started with answering questions individually, about ourselves and about the other side.(meaning: we, as students answered questions about ourselves and put ourselves in faculty’s shoes to answer the parts about them from our perspective)
The questions tackled what makes students motivated/demotivated to do well in a class, and what motivates/demotivates faculty also in class. We had to also rank our answers in order of importance.

After that, a discussion was started about the students perspective, and we shared everything we wrote on our motivations to do well in a class. These included, making family and parents happy/proud, earning respect, and being appreciated, long term learning, and to declare the major of our choice. Other factors mentioned were constructive feedback that would be tailored to student performance, availability of the professor on campus or through email, and when the professor cares for students’ learning. From here, the professors around the table started asking us questions to understand more of what we meant. For example I had said earlier that it would be nice for a professor to constantly check if the students are understanding, and I later on clarified that this might not only be in asking “Did everyone understand?” but rather by asking a question about what was taught.

Since professors thought the main reason was grades, they were surprised to hear that none of our motivations said ‘grades’ in the direct sense. However, when for example one of us said that she wants to make her parents happy, then that indirectly entailed doing well on courses in general. So I think what was interesting here was that professors realized that we have reasons behind wanting to get good grades, it’s just not for the sake of it, whether these reasons are family related, or to feel achieved and respected. There was an agreement from both sides that engagement inside the classroom and walking home with added knowledge are factors that influence student motivation. One of us suggested trying ice breaking games at the beginning of each class to refresh the students and make them feel comfortable inside the class. To me, this suggestion linked in with the fact that Dr. Maha wrote about having fun as one of student motivations and also linked in with what Sherri Spelic did with us at the beginning of the class we spent together. They were basic stretching/dance moves that were so much fun to do, and she gave us the freedom to do them however we wanted, but I believe that left a positive vibe for the rest of the class time. This part of the discussion was useful because it shed light on things that students would like to have more in class to become more engaged and hence motivated; and also on the fact that the learning part of a course might play a stronger role than the need for grades at certain times, and so we defied the cliche reasons here. (Yay us)

The second part involved discussing what demotivates students, and there were a variety of aspects considered here. From our side, the demotivators included having too much workload and little appreciation, too high expectations, when the material is not interesting or not conveyed in an engaging way. I personally experienced an issue last semester that I also shared which was cheating, when students cheat, it becomes unfair to the people who do study, and this might not be exactly related to the faculty, but sometimes the professor puts too much trust in the students and doesn’t take any measures to ensure that students aren’t cheating. Another point I raised, is having too much focus on the math or the algorithm rather than what it does, in a big picture format. If I don’t see or know what the outcome of what I’m learning is, then I lose purpose. Here, someone brought my attention that at times the professor gives the outcome later on in the course, rather than then and there, and this makes sense sometimes: that you need to holistically learn something to know how it contributes to the grand scheme of events. Another pretty obvious one was advanced exams and little time, and we talked in detail about how one hard exam question can lead a student to do bad overall in the exam even if the rest is easy. I think this issue stems from the type of atmosphere the professor creates in class and the kind of emphasis they place on exams. A professor who often tries to calm students and put them in a confident state of mind might have students respond better even if the exam was challenging. An interesting point raised during this discussion is the element of fear that is sometimes prevailing in class: that sometimes professors enforce rules that are too strict, or they themselves are intimidating and unapproachable. This in turn, might create a barrier between the student and the learning material since the person  conveying the information is now a source of negative energy rather than information. Faculty also added a few good points in their responses to this: they mentioned reading monotonously from slides, being uninterested, treating students unequally or having bias in terms of grading (and it’s funny that this point wasn’t exactly mentioned from the students’ side) and having no flexibility within the course to make any changes or pursue interesting topics to the student (and I think Dr. Maha was the one who raised this point since I don’t think any professor would allow the students to make changes to material but her- haha)

We then moved on to discuss things from faculty perspective, and I found these questions challenging as I was answering them individually. Mainly because – and I’m extremely apologetic for saying this – I didn’t ever put my shoes in a professor’s shoes. In fact I’ve never given much thought to the fact that they might be motivated or not to come and teach. (Drs reading this, please don’t kill me). To me, (before doing this activity) teaching was their job, and sometimes their lives revolved around it and that was pretty much it. Sometimes I felt sorry for professors who had so much energy which wasn’t reciprocated, but I mean, that’s as far as it went. Having to sit and write this down made them much more human and real to me. (okay I think I’ve made the point… moooving onn) Faculty motivations from students perspective was mainly, having students who engage in class and and when faculty feel that their efforts are paying off and the students are learning and benefiting from what is being taught. On the other hand, it was nice to know that professors like to be asked questions in class and that they are motivated by this as it shows students’ interest and responsiveness. Other interesting point raised too (which I was unexpecting to hear) was laughter in class and having students feel comfortable to participate, laughter/fun, and talking with others about topics of interest. All the points covered and discussed in this aspect broadened my understanding on the fact that the student plays an influential role in helping the professor become motivated, and hence when professors are motivated, they can create a better learning environment, and are actually willing to support and help students in many more ways. The funny part though here was their liking that students come to their office hours, maybe because it makes them feel that they are needed beyond the scope of the classroom and that students care enough to come outside the class time. As students we  added here that it is well known about some professors that they like this, and so some students just go to office hours without having anything to say or do ‘just to show themselves” to the professor.

This led to a a bit of a sidetrack as we told the professors about students who go to their raise their grades and actually manage to do so through a series of lame arguments like “I want to graduate with honors..” or other equally awful things. The faculty seemed appalled at this, but I nodded in my head at the number of times I’ve seen this happen within my major. We also got into the fact that a lot of students at AUC get pricey tutoring privately and this also was news to them. We also talked about segregation and microaggression inside the classroom and how this affects students in the most basic ways like willingness to attend class.

We then moved to faculty demotivations, and here there were quite a few overlaps between what we wrote and what they mentioned. They mentioned talkative students, use of cellphones, coming in late to class and students who miss classes and don’t care to catch up. I would also add to this part that at the time of student evaluations, if a professor had a low score without enough reasoning, this would probably demotivate them. Although at this part we were starting to run out of time and had to wrap up.

Overall, what was new to me was the professor’s liking for curious students, their wanting of office hour visits, that they care about the class being engaging and interactive and that they do, don’t like monotonous reading from slides – haha. This session was beneficial on many levels. First it exposed me to other students’ opinions and what motivates them, and it gave a new dimension for faculty in my eyes, and made them feel more approachable and accepting of suggestions (if they are voiced in a tactful way of course). It would be really great if CLT manages to bring more faculty from SSE majors and have them involved in these discussions and also on the other hand try to reach other types of students who may be learning in different ways than the ones who were at the table on Monday.