Project Updates June, July, August 2007

Notes from our project meeting, August 28th

We closed the first quarter of our project with a discussion and clarification of the next quarter’s work.

Specifically, we looked at how we will link, test and examine the learning and cultural factors we’ve discussed thus far (including SL specific expertise, community, credibility and hostility, drama and role-play, creativity, ‘learning curves’ and the ‘SL pain barrier) in relation to pedagogy, and the taught sessions to come.

Andrew has summarised these discussions and his proposals relating to sessions 1 and 2, and his notes are below.

Martin, meanwhile, has devised a way to investigate the topics we’ve been pondering (from community to hostility, expertise, etc.) in relation to learning in online worlds. The method itself has a pedagogic aspect. Martin’s summary of the proposed exercise is pasted below.

The first two sessions we had planned are associated with a module we teach called Computer games, gaming cultures and education, on the MA Media, Culture and Communication. The later two sessions are associated with a module on MA in ICT and Education, on the topic of Computer mediated communication.

We are very conscious of the accessibility issues associated with Second Life. We already teach these modules by a mixture of face-to-face and distance learning, but we can’t assume that all of our students can access Second Life. This will be taken into account when we plan the relationship between these sessions and the rest of the respective course.

Sessions 1 and 2


This part of the project will involve two activities. The first uses Second Life both as the learning environment and as the object of study. The second uses Second Life only as the learning environment – the object of study is something distinct. In relation to media education and media literacy discourses, this distinction is simply summed up as ‘learning about the media’ and ‘learning through the media’ (cf Buckingham, 2003).

The distinction is important in relation to how new media (like old media) have been differently constructed in education generally and in media education specifically, whether at school or HE level. Learning through the media has a historical trajectory from the use of audiovisual aids to the current elaborate theories of e-learning, which promise to transform learning. Learning about the media has its roots in media education and media studies, moving from models intended to encourage critical awareness through analytical study of the media to contemporary models which encourage critical study through forms of creative production, not least with new media authoring tools.

This project, in the context of a media studies course about computer games delivered mainly online, is of considerable interest in both senses of learning with new media, and in particular online immersive worlds. The rationale for both activities begins with theories of drama and learning, and addresses the strand of the project concerned with identity and roleplay. The interest for the researchers is in exploring what kind of learning experience is possible with avatar-based identities. On the one hand, this rationale can be traced back to the theory and practice of educational drama, which has espoused drama, both as simulation and roleplay, as a learning tool across the school curriculum. On the other hand, it is based in theories of roleplay and the agency made possible through dramatic intervention by player-as-avatar in contemporary game studies (Frasca; Cameron and Carroll). (note – there’s a list of relevant ref’s at the end of the Game Diary that’s on the blog)

Session 1: cultures of second life

A small group (approximately 4) will spend time during the second section of the course (3 weeks) exploring the theme of ‘user cultures’ within Second Life. This ties to the work on ‘fan cultures and games’ that we usually do during this part of the course. They will work as apprentice researchers, exploring in role issues such as:

• Different community formations
• Systems and practices of regulation
• Identity, play and pleasure
• Creativity, making and building
• Economic regimes
• Space, topographies, navigation

These students will be asked to keep diaries of time spent in Second Life, and their written assignment for this section of the course will form part of the data for the project. In addition, they will be interviewed.

note: Students will also consider the ethical implications of research within online community settings.

Session 2: the virtual seminar

This activity takes place within the final third of the course (3 weeks), which is generally devoted to Games and Education. Usually, students read a selection of articles on aspects of games in education, responding online to structured questions through message-boards in a VLE. In this case, we plan that at least one group will meet with either a member of the project team or if possible an author of one of the set readings in Second Life to debate and discuss a particular paper. If possible, we will involve two authors/teachers, to debate their respective positions, with student interventions. The aim (in terms of the course) will be to engage with the theory proposed by the author; the project’s interest will be in how (or indeed if) avatar-based debate in a virtual environment contributes to the nature and quality of learning.

The data collected for this activity will be:
• Video capture of the debates
• Interviews with the students
• Interview with the author

Mapping learning in Second Life

We discussed what kind of thing the project might produce, and how this might count as evidence that we have tested an approach to teaching based on the learner we observed.

In a related piece of work I used a table to map data analysis, drawing on activity theory; the left column mapped strategic aims, the next, how these were turned into actions, and the next, the detail of how these actions were carried out. Strategies might map over several “action” cells, and each “action” cell might map over several “operation” cells, creating a nested hierarchy in the table.

I suggested an analogy might work here: that we map theories (leftmost), through the markers of these 
theories, to examples of these processes being enacted in an immersive virtual environment.

So, for example, if a theoretical concern was power or community (either could be an example of a cell in the leftmost column), this might map to a number of markers that might include (for example) “exclusion and inclusion”, and these could be instantiated by things such as “accepting group membership applications”, “ridiculing others”, etc.

These instantiations might differ depending on who a particular user bumped into, or which environment they explored (it needn’t be second life, for example), which should lead to some interesting variety in terms of what’s produced.

A teaching intervention based on this might involve fieldwork, with students being sent out into an environment to create a case study that demonstrated how these theoretical ideas played out. From this experience, they might learn about

(a) the theoretical idea,
(b) the environment and its inhabitants, and
(c) how to connect these.

This work would offer outcomes at two levels.

The most tangible would be examples of this kind of framework/table, for issues that we have selected and taught with in our own modules. The less tangible, but more important, would be a description of the 
process of producing these.

This documented process would be useful to guide (and a potential tool) to other teachers-as-researchers who want to support students as they go off and experience things in immersive virtual worlds.


The in-game recording function in SL has been kaput since the voice roll-out (for me anyway!) so Fraps would seem the logical option for PC users. For Mac users, this is the suggested application, SnapzPro X, which I’ve not used…(I think both of these retail at around £30).

We discussed the recent data collection for (as planned at the meeting on the 16th of July) our inquiry into the SL ‘learning curve’ and ‘pain-barrier’. The method was user-narrative/letter. It did not go as planned, but it was educational. In the course of this exercise, the question of ‘defining Second Life’ and the methodological/ethical ramifications of such definitions has been raised. DC is writing about this at the moment.

We are continuing to think about conventions/rhetorics of expertise and associated ideas, including issues of communities of practice, power, reputation and hostility. Both DC and MO are interested and continue to discuss questions of hostility but MO relishes the idea of investigating it, whereas DC wants to hide behind the sofa (aside: I play PvP in World of Warcraft, and the squabbles in wow about loot, tanking, healing and twinking, etc, don’t bother me…the ganking does not bother me, but hostility in SL…brrrr) so we might divide the labour on this.

AB has been experimenting with building, and playing music in SL, and he’s also pressing ahead sorting out the logistics of access (firewalls, servers…) for our teaching sessions in Autumn.

We scheduled the next ‘couples’ interview for World of Warcraft.


In the garden

I checked various forums today…scouting places to look for respondents, etc.
Maybe we should all just interview each other…
At SL Forums under the category of Your Second Life (General Chat/Comments/Questions) there were 29 entries on the first page, and 4 of these related to finding volunteers for surveys and studies by social/academic/student researchers.

At today’s meeting we talked about the introduction of voice briefly, and then focused on the pilot ‘couples’ interview from Sunday night.

We discussed ‘next steps’ while referring to the chatlog of the interview, and the list of questions (please see the earlier post ‘pilot interview’ for more information)

The questions (and the answers) can be bundled into a set of themes pertaining to management (of real life relationship, real space, game space and game structures) that would include phenomena associated with:

Mode: Asking the players about Battlefields or bickering, to map when it is that they switch from ‘in world’ to ‘real world’ chat, and what will trigger such a switch – these are a couple who play sitting in the same room.

Time: Time spent in world, duration, ‘time together’/quality of time), ‘policies’ about time playing (agreements, negotiations about ‘reasonable amounts of play’)

Space: Sitting together in real space, playing in shared space or playing on different areas/servers.

Role in relation to each other
Role in relation to (shared or contested) notions of expertise
Role and the scope for negotiation/renogotiation of role
Role in terms of pragmatic/facilitating roles (and implied, relative expertise)
For instance, we talked about this last role in the interview by asking about the ‘follow’ mode, which is when one character temporarily takes a driver/navigator role, and the other takes a passenger role.

We also looked at the interviewees’ management of ‘alt characters’ as a distributed system, where each ‘alt as node’ carries/affords/enables a particular kind of engagement for that user.

We are interested in the management of each of these (mode, time, space, role) in relation to the games’ structures, and in terms of the contexts of play (a domestic, shared space). For us, this involves (again – see also the game diary, and the posts on accessibility, for example) the idea of conventions, and the establishing and exercising of conventions.

The advantage of the notion of conventions is that it is clear that we are talking about something constructed, emergent, contextual, where there is a degree of agency, and where coherence or legitimacy is socially/peer determined.

We then discussed running a parallel inquiry into how these issues are managed within guilds. We are not necessarily considering a review of ‘what people do’ so much as an investigation into the manner in which guild members’ self-invent/self-represent, distribute and manage conventions relating to:

Role (spectrum of roles, from noob to leader to mentor, flexibility or role, promotion/demotion)
Obligation, duty and status
Duty (vocation, commitment)
Resource management
Social responsibility (answerability, kinship)

Because we are interested in the contextual construction of these conventions, we are thinking that forum analysis would be more appropriate than interviews.

We are also working on a draft of a letter inviting ‘resident narratives’ – asking people who have become regular users to describe the journal/milestones/significant events on the journey from noob to resident. This follows on from our discussion about the SL pain barrier – see the last project meeting, and the long game diary page for more background.

Meeting timetable:
(Wednesdays at 11)

Project meeting notes

We have been invited to give a seminar at the OU on the 23rd of November 2007 as part of a series organised by CALRG and Anne Jelfs (more information is at the CALRG website).

In this seminar, the project team will adopt a work-in-progress stance, to report on various aspects of learning in Second Life, and in the online multiplayer game, World of Warcraft. We will describe our experiences in each of these social, virtual worlds, and discuss how these experiences inform our research. We will focus on particular themes, including drama, role-play and pedagogy, and the performance and the perceptions of in-world expertise. We will also discuss the rhetorics that surround both Second Life and World of Warcraft, in relation to our work as teachers, and as manifest in the expectation of new users.

Last night we had a ‘test run’ or pilot interview.
We made a new alt (i.e. a second or alternative) character on WoW’s Moonglade server and interviewed a ‘real life’ couple who play together (the couple are known to the team in RL) while sitting in a desert outpost in Alliance territory. They are both lvl 47 (though they both have alts).
We recorded the interview as a chatlog.
The project team will look at the chatlog at our fortnightly meeting, and discuss if we should take this forward, and, if so, how we might refine the interviews or change our approach, etc. This exercise is not about ‘couples’ – it’s about different things the game offers, different expectations and perceptions of expertise (learning, authority, credibility) and the different ways that these factors might be managed (and the idea that this management involves crossing the lines between RL and in-game repeatedly, which makes it interesting, because it is this ‘crossing’ that is methodologically difficult) – in a more dispersed sense, we’re thinking about the dynamics between the management of play (where play might take lots of forms) and a relationship in a particular context, where there might be lots of relationships (fictional/casual/RL friends…etc.)
Using a semi-structured interview, the following questions were posed:
(General theme) moving between in-game/real-world factors (managing the game/managing play)
Approach through:
Differences in play-style (establishing/articulating and managing these differences)
Time (spent in the game)
Time (in relation to domestic context)
– in ‘role’ (fictional, or in the team)
– in previous experience
– in expertise, in relation to the ‘better player’
Did you start playing at the same time?
Do you have a similar background in terms of gaming?
Do you play together?
Do you duel?
Do you do battlefields?
Do you ‘care more’ about different aspects of the game?
Who is ‘in role’
Depth and consistency of role
Gender (against/aligned/character/RL)
RL relationship / ‘in character’ relationship
Relationships in terms of guild/team/party/temp. or casual party. Are you in the same room (RL conversation/chat/’say’/’role’)?
Alts and mains: distributed roles.
What are the ratios between these alts/mains and which are the ones you play together? (ratio in terms of game-time, levels, commitment).
When are you most likely to talk (in real space) while playing (to squabble about something? to complain? to ‘gang up’ on somebody?)
Do you argue during play – if so, do you ‘play this out’ in role (or at least in-game) or take it to real space?


Next Page »