Hello, gentle and neglected readers! After an incredibly busy winter/spring, and a recuperative summer,  I’m back at school, and taking part in a class that encourages blogging.

I’ve joined more than a dozen other hearty adventurers as participants in Scott Nicholson’s experimental course in Meaningful Gamification. This week, we’ve devoted ourselves to introductions: introducing ourselves (and our personas), studying introductory gamification concepts, considering our introduction to games and our experiences thereafter, and so on.  For me, this class is also a welcome re-introduction to the feeling of being gleefully obsessed with an idea. Our discussions about gaming, and my own thoughts and memories of it, have permeated and stimulated my thoughts all week.  At first, I worried that all-gamification-all-the-time would lead to a quick burnout, and then to apathy.  After a day or two, though, I realized how richly associational the idea of gaming is for me, and how many related avenues of thought I’ll thus be walking in the weeks to come. I’ll share the first four of those byways with y’all tonight; this may become a series as the semester goes on.

Learning: It’s fairly obvious that some parts of the learning process can be turned into games, and that games sometimes lead to accidental learning (we’re already talking about these ideas in our class). This week, I’ve also been thinking about what aspects of learning transcend the gamified scoring system of formal education, and about how much of traditional game-playing actually offers a present-moment, sometimes fleeting reward of “having learned something”. Even the “behind-the-flap” books that little kids like to read follow that pattern, don’t they? And there are few things I find more satisfying in a tabletop game than using my wiles, er, interrogation skills on that recalcitrant NPC until he finally spills a needed location. “Eureka!” is one of the best game feelings I know.

Ritual: Rhythm, and predictability, and ceremony, are deeply meaningful play components for me. I’ve been pondering the ways in which my personal gaming rituals resemble the other rituals I participate in (private, religious, musical, social), and how they differ. I’ve also been musing about the ways in which many games themselves depend on ritualized activity. Poker, in particular, comes to mind in this context; every action has to take place in a certain sequence, and every word or movement has a special significance, whether it be a fundamental part of the game, or an unwelcome tell.  Not every game is a ritual, not every ritual is a game – but often the difference seems to lie in how the participants perceive what they are doing, rather than in the sorts of things that they do.

Performance: For Scott’s class, we’ve developed characters that he can use to pseudonymously post our progress, without crossing any FERPA boundaries we don’t want crossed. He had us introduce those characters in an anonymous forum this week, and most of us eagerly seized on his suggestion that we could tell our characters’ stories, even though we had no obligation to do so. Inhabiting a role in this way is delightful, but performing with other people, particularly when we don’t even know who is who, is somehow even better.  In the other class I’m taking, Management for Information Professionals, our textbooks and readings have been using “performance” in the casual and narrow way that business jargon tends to use it: how well are employees or groups measuring up to preset standards and goals. It’s wonderful to be sharing a very different context for the word with my classmates here, thinking about what makes a character compelling, what aspects of story different individuals most want to convey, and so forth. It enriches my experience of that other class, too, to stop every so often and reinvest the word with all of its meanings.

Belief: Consciously suspending disbelief is a necessary part of many of my favorite games. I’ve often experienced a cross-over where the suspension stops being conciously chosen, where I just believe in the unfolding game narrative, for the hour or two that I am thinking about it.  Even once I stop playing, with my feet firmly on the ground, it’s a fuzzy line.  Obviously, those are just characters; obviously, there’s no such place; obviously, none of that could ever really happen.  Yet some of the characters I’ve played, or interacted with, are as clearly and richly depicted in my mind as any real-life acquaintance.  I don’t believe in them, but my imagination is quite convinced! Thinking about games always makes me think about how blurry reality can be, especially in an online class where we interact with each other’s online presence.

I could go on and on about any of these topics, but I think I’ll draw to a close for now.  Before I go, I want to give a shout out to my very dear friend Megan Macdonald, who recently graduated from a doctoral program, after many years of hard work and smart thinking. She studies the connections between belief and performance and ritual, most of the time; I’m sure that the scholarship she’s shared with me over the years has something to do with how I’ve talked about these concepts tonight.  How do you cite a lifelong friendship, and deep mutual understanding? If APA had a stylesheet for that, this post would have a “References” section.

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