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Project Update

As I plan my project, I’m trying to follow the concept first, technology second development process. In that context, I’m trying to hash out how gaming motivation works and how it doesn’t before diving in to a maelstrom of code. Here’s where I’m at so far

When devising a system that relies on game motivation it is essential to differentiate between the different forms motivation takes in a game context. If this system is destined for an educational context, (as is the case with my project), it is imperative to not only differentiate between different game motivation mechanisms, but understand how the behaviors produced from these forms of motivations translate outside of the system. (The observation should be applied to many classroom activities and methods of teaching)

For the purposes of my project, I have identified two broad forms of games with distinct types of motivation: abstract point games and emergent play games.

Abstract point games function by applying point values to a specific activity. The player accrues points by successfully completing the activity according to a pre-defined set of highly visible criteria. The following core features generally define point games:

  1. Gameplay is often centered on a simple action
  2. There are a limited set of strategies that can be applied for optimum success. Often there is one most advantageous strategy.
  3. The game will allow a player to accumulate additional points through increased repetition of this action
  4. The number of points a player has is displayed in a public context with other player’s point levels, giving the user, as well as the public, an impression of how they compare with the rest of the community.
  5. The points have no real world equivalent value. (This last element is changing, especially in the context of virtual economies that have a form of conversion to real world currency and social games in which point acquisition is connected to pre-existing social relationships)

Emergent play games are less easy to define than the latter because they represent a more recently emerging form of digital game play (though emergent play has existed for much longer in non digital formats) and because they are based on a philosophy of individualism and customization rather than structuralism and standardization. In an emergent system the following elements often exist:

  1. Players are presented with a choice of roles or behaviors to engage in. Choosing one role enables certain behaviors and discourages other behaviors
  2. The game has multiple paths to both success and failure.
  3. In game success is indicated by abstract values
  4. While there are in-game victories, often there is no absolute ending to the game. Games are a continual process rather than a linear progression.
  5. Community and player-to-player or player-to-character relationships often emerge through gameplay.

Elements of both of these forms may overlap or exist simultaneously in a single game, and in practice often do. Most often emergent games are significantly more complex and more difficult to design and construct than abstract point games. Arguably emergent games are growing in success in part because software and hardware design has advanced to a point that makes the incorporation of emergent features much more feasible, and more importantly, visual. As I move forward, a few observations have become apparent. First, because emergent games are still ultimately pieces of software however, they still rely on the same discreet and ultimately binary structures as point based games; they simply require a much more complex application of these structures.

More importantly, in comparing point based and emergent games to one another, another set of models is mirrored: that of the traditional test-centric grade based conventional educational model and the free school movement. This is a connection I plan to explore further in my next post.

Posted in Project Concepts.

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One Response

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  1. Noah Heller says

    Hey Jennifer,
    Those are interesting distinctions for game play, and bring me back to games like Metroid and Zelda, which I haven’t played in over 20 years, but seem to fall into the first category even though they were very ‘non-linear’ at the time. I am also interested in motivation, especially as it pertains to learning math and science through gaming. Have you looked at the white papers ( published by MIT’s Education Arcade. They’re pretty super for framing a dialogue around ed games.

    I’ve been thinking similarly in regards to concept preceding any technology. I think I’d like to try to develop a video game script for a basic math game. Let me know if you’re interested in working together.

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