PBS has produced a mini-documentary titled, “The Creativity of Indie Video Games.” This seven-and-a-half minute exploration into the phenomenon of the independently-produced video game raises some interesting questions regarding the potential development of games specifically as education content tied directly to learning outcomes. While the mini-documentary itself does not address the education issue, watching the piece while keeping in mind education needs will trigger some pretty interesting “What if?” ideas. I invite you to have a look and post any thoughts you might have.
Category Archives: crowdsourcing
(Note: a version of this post is also on the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative blog.)
I was quite pleased when I was contacted by Emily Short about the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. For those of us engaged in authoring Interactive Fiction, attracting the attention of Emily is a very gratifying experience. Emily has won multiple IF competition awards for many of her games including Galatea, Savoir-Faire, and Floatpoint (just to name a few). As it turns out, Emily was interested in the concept of my Williamsburg project, and she offered me an opportunity for an interview which she would publish on her blog, Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling.
You can go directly to the interview by clicking on this link. I think the interview turned out well, but I’m biased regarding the topic. So be sure to read it yourself. Emily found the connection between my project and education to merit exploration, so several of her questions and my answers deal with topics such as learning objectives, assessment, and finding ways to make IF more accessible for teachers (an area that intersects with my doctoral research).
The project is well on its way to reaching the funding goal I set for it on Kickstarter. Ultimately, I would quite enjoy building a series of these historical IF games for use in the teaching and learning environment. However, first things first; I’ll see how it goes with this project and the funding needed to get off the ground. Please feel free to click here and go directly to the Kickstarter project page to see where it stands as the deadline approaches.
The development of course content, especially at higher levels where students are more sophisticated and discerning regarding their academic materials, has always been a challenge. It is important to be able to strike a balance between cost of development (both in resources and labor), instructor expertise, and turn-around time (or development time in response to current or recent events that might have an impact on the course learning objectives). Basically, it has been a question of what can the instructor build by him or herself, in time for the upcoming lessons, that isn’t going to involve a budget request from the department. Because of this dynamic, the “promise” of computer games transforming the education landscape has never really been realized, it if the prevailing thinking around this doesn’t change, neither will the landscape. What likely needs to occur is a shift in the expectation of games in education; designing a learning activity that plays like Modern Warfare–or even Angry Birds–is well out of reach of faculty skills and department budgets.
A possible pathway out of this impossible maze of twisty passages involves two strategies to be executed simultaneously:
- Utilize game formats and development tools that individual instructors can use effectively
- Be creative in finding methods of funding (and the funding should only need to cover relatively small amounts)
It is with both of these points in mind that I developed the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative Kickstarter project. To the first point, I selected an “old school” type of computer game that can be developed quite effectively by a single person; an instructor who wishes to build something small scale in time for the upcoming semester, for example. To the second point, I decided to fund my project through Kickstarter, a crowd sourced funding model in which backers make donations rather than investments (meaning that if the developer is able to raise the funding, there is no pressure that the project become profitable enough for repayment).
My idea is simple: if instructors can use a form of computer games such as Interactive Fiction (a form that the literature shows is effective even with reluctant readers), they would be able to develop smaller game exercises that can be integrated into their curriculum, and expanded upon over time. With Kickstarter funding covering some relatively minor miscellaneous costs, there would be no significant budgetary impact to take into consideration.
(In fact, we could go even further and consider the creation of an education-specific form of Kickstarter. Imagine institutions tapping into their alumni base for course material development or even program funding on a smaller scale.)
I invite you to review the Kickstarter project by clicking here. The funding window is open until early June on that project. You can find additional material on the project at the official project blog by clicking here. Please feel free to share your thoughts, and I’ll be sure to report back throughout the development process.
This morning I was on the Good Day morning show that airs on Fox 35 in Orlando, Florida. The topic of the segment was Kickstarter.com, and the funding of creative projects through the crowd-sourcing models. Kickstarter, of course, has gotten some fairly extensive media coverage so far this year. There may be more funding for the arts through Kickstarter than through the National Endowment for the Arts this year (more info), and Kickstarter has broken through to the foreground of the collective cultural psyche, even appearing on the IFC series Portlandia (more info).
Browsing through the individual projects, you can get a quick picture of the kinds of ideas people are hoping to fund. It is also possible to gain a sense of what types of projects gain funding, and what fails–although that’s not black and white. The idea needs to be well thought out, of course, but the presentation of the idea itself must be reasonably polished–enough so to inspire some measure of confidence in the potential donors. Perhaps most importantly, the person or people behind a particular project should have strong and extensive social networks that they can leverage for donation opportunities.
Kickstarter is not without criticisms and critics. One of the complaints is that so many of the projects on Kickstarter are, well, junk ideas. Tech blog Gizmodo.com recently ran this piece on why they are done with Kickstarter. It would seem that like so much of everything else on the Internet, it is exceedingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Yet, I don’t think that many people would deny the attractiveness of the model.
So I began giving some thought to the idea of more specific Kickstart-like sites, with tightly controlled review processes that adequately vet proposals before releasing them for donation requests (Kickstarter does have a light review process and a set of criteria for participation). Of course, I thought of the possibility of a higher-education version of Kickstarter, and then I saw this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Professor Hopes to Support Free Course With Kickstarter, the ‘Crowd Funding’ Site.” Certainly, there’s a potential market for the concept, and with a more rigorous review process, institutions of higher education could tap into their strong social networks of students, alumni, and community partners (referring back to my earlier point on what makes for successful funding). There are even arguments to be made why the crowd-sourced model could be used to supplement more traditional grant funding at institutions for a wide variety of projects.
I think the idea of a higher-education version of Kickstarter has some merit, and given my own professional network within the higher education environment, I’ll be exploring the idea to see if it might have wings. Keep watching this space for development on that front.
Gameindustry.biz online has a brief article stating that Brian Fargo, founder of Interplay, will fund a sequel to the RPG game Wasteland using Kickstarter, and over the past few days his Twitter feed has revealed his thinking around the crowdsourcing model, with implications for the level of freedom developers would have not having to take publisher money to get the job done. The potential for innovation (and not having to always go the “safe” route) is tremendous. To individuals and smaller game design companies, this is very appealing, and for those of us that have been developing computer games since the late 1970s, this really has the feel of “garage development.” I’m looking to jumping (back) into development with my Williamsburg Interactive Fiction game project. It’s a humble reboot for me, but it takes me back to the pre Infocom days, when Scott Adams games on cassette tapes were all the rage.
A little off the beaten path (though still in keeping with my blog’s thematic underpinnings of learning through play), I was pleased to find out recently that a project idea that I pitched to Kickstarter was accepted, and that I can now start raising funds through the Kickstarter.com website. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it is self-billed as “A New Way to Fund & Follow Creativity.” Basically, Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing website that allows a person with an idea to obtain funding in the form of contributions (not investment), with payback to the contributors taking the form of things produced by the project itself–like copies of a book, signed and numbered photographs, or free downloads of computer software. The projects themselves are creative endeavors such as photo books, board games, narrative films, musical performances, and so on.
The project I pitched is something I call the “Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative,” and my idea is to develop a work of Interactive Fiction that documents several aspects of historical Williamsburg. The Interactive Fiction framework will allow people to play the role of a character living in the time period leading to the independence of the original 13 colonies from England. The following is part of my pitch:
Imagine Interactive Fiction crafted around real places and people in history, where not only can a person read about settings and events, but the person can be a part of the unfolding story as an actual character. The intent of the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative project is to build the geography, culture, and characters from the years surrounding the birth of the United States in Williamsburg, Virginia, using the literary format of Interactive Fiction. This three-phase project will include the development of functional maps, the architecture of the historic buildings, and interaction with significant characters such as Patrick Henry and George Washington. Each phase is a project milestone, completion coming 150 days after start.
So now I’m on the hook to develop my Interactive Fiction program. Appropriately, this project also has a connection to my doctorate program and dissertation topic, so I will be killing multiple birds with a single (or at least a few) stone(s). Obviously, the success of my Kickstarter endeavor will be dependent upon my funding goal being met. For this, I will be relying heavily on my social media network, which includes the readers of this blog. Keep watching this space! Soon you’ll see the announcement opening up the funding window for the project. It is my sincere hope that many of you will see value in my project and decide to contribute!
UPDATE March 1, 2012: “Colonial Williamsburg” is a registered trademark of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. I have changed references from “Colonial Williamsburg” to “Historical Williamsburg” in this post.