Last week I presented at the Games + Learning + Society (GLS) Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. I’d heard good things about the conference, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.
Can I just say, first off, that the food was amazing!! There was so much of it, and all of it was good, and they even had a freezer full of different kinds of frozen treats, which we dubbed the magic box after a stirring panel on the magic circle. Yeah I know conferences are supposed to be about research, and networking, and all that good stuff, but seriously, providing top-quality catering (provided you have the money to do it) really does help with those first two things. It keeps everyone happy, and talking, and most importantly, in the same room, and for me it led to a lot of interesting conversations that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The first two keynotes (I missed the third one unfortunately) were excellent and provided a lot of food for thought. Colleen Macklin, the director of PetLAB, had everyone participate in multiple iterations of her game OutLiars while she talked about the need to switch from cheerleading the potential of games for learning, to learning more about our object of study, aka learning for games. Reed Stevens followed up the next day with some interesting results from an ethnographic study on the informal learning arrangements that form when kids play video games together in their home, and suggested some ways that we could learn from these alternative forms of instruction. Overall it felt like there’s a definite shift towards a more situated approach to studying learning through games, which includes paying greater attention to the spaces we play in, how we experience games, and how games relate to other aspects of our lives.
I also saw some neat motion-capture games that have been made, or are being made, by folks involved with SMALLLab in New York, as well as an embodied physics game called MEteor made by a team at the University of Central Florida. The conference is a great place to check out the academic “cutting edge” in terms of educational game design and technology, and you can find everything from games about biology and climate change, to games about quitting smoking and legal awareness.
The two things I presented on included a literature review conducted by Salvador Garcia-Martinez and myself, and a pilot study I conducted last summer, both for the Digital Games for Learning and Training (DiGLT) project. The presentations were part of the embodied/motion games session and included a presentation by the makers of Picodroid, a “full body physics game” developed at Northern Illinois University. A lot of the designers who talked about games they’d made seemed to be focussed on the idea of marrying game objectives with learning objectives, probably with the aim of getting beyond the “chocolate-covered broccoli” that has given educational games as a whole a bad name.
Last but not least, Madison is a lovely little city, so if you get a chance and are at all interested in digital game-based learning or games for change, I’d highly recommend attending GLS 9.0.