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Playful Play with Games: Linking Level Editing to Learning in Art and Design

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Author: Engeli, Maia
There are different ways how meaning is creating in and around games. What I am presenting here as "Playful Play with Games" is about creative involvement with games mainly game modding and re-appropriating of games. Playful play means to become a creator or writer in addition to a reader and player, but nonetheless with a playful attitude and a good understanding of the game at hand. Three levels of meaning produced in and around games can be distinguished: Meaningful play, meaning beyond play, and creatively added meaning. Meaningful play in "Rules of Play" [Salen, Zimmermann 2004] is described as "The meaning of an action in a game resides in the relationship between action and outcome." Meaningful play regards the fact that a game must have a meaning in itself to allow for gameplay. This meaning develops when the player or players enter the magic circle of gameplay and it disappears when the gameplay ends. Meaning beyond play is about the experience gained during play that continues to exist and unfold outside of the magic circle in the daily routine of professional or private life. The understanding of meaning beyond play is important with regard to questions of how games influence our daily lifes, i.e. the question of how games may or may not lead to violent behaviour or how game-like features for can actually be re-appropriated for learning environments. In both areas false assumptions about the effect of games are made. In the case of learning environments game-like systems where implemented that can lead to very motivated and concentrated play, but comparingly little learning. In other words: Environments that produce little meaning that continues beyond the playing of the game. But, as Malone points out, "experimental studies of what makes computer games fun identified design features that not only sustained focussed attention but also facilitated learning, including self-directed learning." [Malone, Lepper, 1987]. In the case of violence it can seem obvious that the violence of the game automatically gets transported into daily life. There is even some evidence for this assumption as well as counter examples. To understand better how games can have a negative effect it is necessary to take a closer look at how and when meaning is transported out of the magic circle of gameplay. Creatively adding meaning happens when the player becomes a creator or editor of the game and is generally referred to as modding. Examples are the editing of levels of first-person shooter games, creating environments and new characters for the Sims, giving new names to the pawns of chess, or changing the rules of monopoly. These alterations require a creative process, which is a meaning generating action in itself. The player-creator’s attitude is a playful one when exploiting the system, fighting with the constraints, modifying the meaning, searching for a new sense, and repurposing the media. Modding includes the need to understand the game at hand and make conscious decisions about the way to alter it. The essence of the game has to be understood as well as the implications of any changes to it. Regarding the content or message there are different attitudes possible for modifying a game, like: Subversion of the original game, combination with features new to the game, overlay of information or specific messages, or the abstraction of the game to enhance specific features. In the art world we can find interesting examples: Robert Nideffer subverts Tomb Raider with his Lara patch by adding a moustache and a beard to the overly female figurine of Lara Croft. "This patch questions whether Lara is a lesbian butch Mona Lisa or a drag queen who forgot to shave." [Schleiner 2004]. Jodi’s Untitled Game [Jodi 2004] is a collection of modifications of Quake reducing the graphics beyond the minimum. The game becomes almost unplayable, letting features like the spatialized sound or shifts in the visual patterns gain importance for the perception of what may possibly be going on. Jahrmann/Moswitzer take a contrary approach in the Nybble Engine project. They increase the complexity of the overall behaviour in Unreal Tournament by replacing objects with programs. "The methodological framework of orientation for the Nybble Engine project is a radical/reconstructivist meta-art. ... This kind of art marks the end of the aesthetic era of the self-description of the art system." [Climax Team 2003]. In the conference presentation I will show examples of learning environments in which we successfully integrated game-like features on the one hand and examples from a series of workshops about creatively adding new meaning to games on the other. The discussion will focus on the features and the reason for their relevance towards the aim of the courses and workshops. The examples include: "digital territory" a course on presence in the virtual world of communication networks. game-like aspects were added to emphasize the functioning of the digital realm. "p(x)" an environment for learning and creative collaboration where the rules guide the collective creative process. "outside-inside-out" a course for architecture students focussing on the design of spaces and virtual spaces in particular. "Mediated Discourse" where level editing served a s a means to think and communicate. And the "Alice" workshop on remediation, recreation and recombination of games. References Climax Team, (2003). Nybble-Engine-Project, in Nybble Engine, Climax Team Eds., CLIMAX, Vienna, Austria, p. 47 Jodi, (visited 11/30/2004). untitled game, Malone, T. W., and Lepper, M. R., (1987). "Making Learning Fun: A Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivations for Learning", in Aptitude, Learning and Instruction: Vol 3. Connotative and Affective Process Analyses, R. E. Snow and M. J. Farr, Eds. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale N.J. USA, pp. 223-253. Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E., (2004). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004. Schleiner, A.-M., (visited 11/30/2004). Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons,
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