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Faculty Research

Research done for my faculty position

Twenty Four Hours of #swineflu

I've been doing more research on Twitter recently, mostly looking at back channels from conferences (more on that to come). I wanted to post up a quick analysis, though, on a recent story that blew up big--the Swine Flu outbreak (found in twitter, in part, via the #swineflu hashtag.)

Who Failed With #amazonfail?

I just read two very interesting articles from two commentators I respect immensely: Clay Shirky's The Failure of #amazonfail and Mary Hodder's Why Amazon Didn’t Just Have a Glitch. I won't do their arguments justice here, but I'll try to summarize as best I can.

The Social Media of Protest

I had an interesting experience today watching the various media assembled, largely through twitter, of the protest in 65 5th Ave. While I don't have much to say one way or the other on the event itself, it was fascinating to see the raw news feed come together and to get a sense of the spread of and reaction to the news of a noteworthy event.

Wakatta! Lightpen prototyping

Here we see MFADT student Simeon Poulin playing with the whiteboard we cooked up for the first Wakatta test charrette.

Wavelength "Bucket" Game Prototype

Katie and Kyle haul a violet, orange, and blue color from one side of the space to the other. They have to very carefully match the wavelength of the color by keeping their glowballs the right distance apart as the move across the playing field.

This prototype will be expanded into a more complete game, put the core mechanic seems sound and should drive the learning. Even as the creators of the game, we learned a lot about the properties of light. This is, like the color matching game and the mirror playground part of Gaming SMALLab's Light and Optics curriculum.

New Version of Color Mixing Game

This is the latest version of our color mixing game. Here, Kyle and Michie are raising and lowering the red, green, and blue balls to match the color coming out from the center of the floor. The colors get faster as the game progresses--and mistakes shrink the amount of time you have to match!

Very fun and very physical--this will easily wear you out after a few rounds. This is part of the Light and Optics curriculum we are putting together for Katie Salen and David Birchfield's Gaming SMALLab project.

Fear of a Black Swan

Colleen Macklin forwarded Kyle Li and I this excellent post on Raph Koster's blog about the Ludic Fallacy. In essence, the ludic fallacy is when people "mistake the model for reality." Koster's take was that this can drive younger people, who have been raised on the lessons in games, to be too likely to assume that real world choices hew closely to those provided to them in games. Koster's view of the consequences:

Recently I had a discussion with a management and leadership consultant, and we were discussing the generational characteristics of Millenials versus Gen X in the workforce, and we were talking about how a gamer mentality may have affected the way Gen Y behaves in the workplace: more likely to follow the rules, more likely to work in teams, more needful of reassurance, less creative and risk-taking, less likely to see the full scope of irreversible consequences of a choice, and less likely to see things in shades of gray. In a way, these sound like thinking trained by games.

The ludic fallacy comes from the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb who also popularized the term "black swan". The Black Swan theory describes events that are highly improbable and have a large impact (and that we, retrospectively, try to assume were predictable). Black Swans are particularly dangerous for people who have been trained to think they don't exist (frankly, that's pretty much all of us.) As Taleb writes in his book:

...we can easily trigger Black Swans thanks to aggressive ignorance-like a child playing with a chemistry kit.

By assuming that we can predict outliers (we can't) and that these events they precipitate are of no great consequence (they are), we allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking that our lives are run in the same contained set of rules that might apply even in an advanced game simulation.

The cure? My read on Koster is that we should consider throwing Black Swans into educational games... or all games. By creating a set of circumstances where student players know that catastrophic events are possible (if unlikely), we will, hopefully, encourage kids (and adults) to think more conservatively and more long-term when making their choices. Having to plan for the 100-year flood (or the 500-year flood) makes the player prepare for eventualities that they may never experience themselves. The student players are therefore made to consider their game worlds as places where the rules apply only 99% (or more) of the time--enough that they can't totally rely on them as models for reality.

The catch? Randomness is not fun. Sort of. Nick Fortugno and others have taught me there are appropriate uses of randomness. For example, randomizing the terrain of the game tends to work. Players must then make their own choices on this playing field. But randomizing the choices themselves usually is a miserable failure. Try playing a game where all your moves are based solely on the roll of a die, like Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders. They're awful, unless you're a four year old.

It seems, then, that the Black Swans have to be carefully inserted into games in the form of "terrain" changes--the sudden appearance of ridiculously powerful enemies, the total elimination (or tripling) of one's resources, the widespread reformatting of a game's map. They effect the field on which the player makes choices, without inhibiting or supplementing the ability to make them in the first place. The resulting choices will be difficult and victories will be rare and hard won, but the core of gaming remains.

These events also need to be real outliers, going beyond the single super-powerful card in the deck (which savvy players would be able to predict). For example, the "Your Parents Never Met" card in Chrononauts is an okay example, but, I think, it'd have to be even more unlikely than it is now. You should be aware, in the back of your mind, that something truly awful can happen down the line, but you shouldn't be able to count cards or analyze models well enough to predict it.

Will this work? Will it cure the Gen Ys (or, as they're known in Taiwan, "strawberries") of their reliance on limited game rules in real life? Will it still leave them with their confidence, their tactical good sense, their teamwork--positive consequences of game training, according to Koster? I dunno. But it's worth a shot. And, who knows, we might even... WAAARGH! THREE-HEADED ALIENS ARE ATTACKING!

The Mirror Playground

Kyle and I are playing with our new mirror playground.

Students can use the playground to test their theories about how mirrors reflect light. We can move and rotate virtual mirrors that reflect a beam of light, as well as add in as many mirrors as we want.

More to come:

  • prisms
  • angle indicators
  • removing mirrors
  • obstacles
  • targets

Color Mixing Game in SMALLab

We created a quick color mixing game prototype using the glowballs and some stock render engines.

The idea is to teach middle-school physics students about how combinations of light can create new colors. Players raise their glowball high or low depending on how much red, green, or blue is needed to match the color sliding down across the floor. Frantic but fun--and only about 20 to 30 minutes worth of work to put together.

Kimono Colors and Ludic Data

Play the demo!

Kyle Li and I worked with Julia Wargaski to create an interaction prototype for ludic data display. The dataset is from a student of Julia's who cross referenced the colors in traditional kimonos with the ingredients used to make them.

Copyright Mike Edwards 2006-2009. All content available under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, unless otherwise noted.

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