Our readings this week focus on the design of instructional media (including games) in both formal and informal settings. In my response this time around, I want to move away from questions that I think need discussion to a really linking two of our readings. To get to where I’m eventually heading here, I want to talk a little bit about the design guide in the Takeuchi and Stevens (2011) reading and how their idea of productive joint media engagement (JME) fits into the reading on Futura (Antle, Bevans, Tanenbaum, Seaborn, & Wang, 2010).
Productive Joint Media Engagement in Futura
The Takeuchi and Stevens (2011) report is actually a very fun read, and they do a great job of setting out their design principles. Underlying their whole argument (and design guide) is an argument that I think we can all take to heart: it’s not the tool, but how we use it that determines “goodness.” Similarly, no research finding or new development inherently has any morality or “effectiveness,” it is entirely down to our use. Now that my high horse has been moved out of the way, we can move on.
What I really want to focus on here is how the guidelines Takeuchi and Stevens put forth apply to the Futura game (discussed in Antle, Bevans, Tanenbaum, Seaborn, & Wang, 2010). Futura is, based on the authors’ description, a great foray into environmental science gaming. Using the design guide, we can get a better of idea of how it fits into the JME paradigm. Personally, I prefer the six conditions presented, rather than the seven principles, particularly since Futura does not need to focus on children. Those six are: mutual engagement, dialogic inquiry, co-creation, boundary crossing, intention to develop, and a focus on content instead of control.
Futura clearly meets the first two conditions, as players must work together and communicate about problems they are facing in the game. Communication was especially strong with friend or family groups, which is encouraging for home-based learning especially. The game does not involve producing artifacts, but players do develop common understandings of group functioning and game dynamics as they work together. Although there is no discussion of boundary crossing per se, we do see discussion of replay value. Presumably, learners would be engaged over time with this game, playing it with friends when they could. An online version could include long-distance multiplayer, adding in a new dynamic and an even greater need for strong communication. The intention to develop skills and understanding is definitely available in the game, and could be incorporated in a class through “experts” collaborating with new players. Finally, the focus on content instead of control. This is the one area where I really saw a flaw in Futura (rather than just an area that wasn’t discussed). In the article describing its implementation, the authors noted that a number of players struggled with the touch screen functionality. In fact, players occasionally were distracted from the game by the difficulty they were having performing an action. This is an area that could use work, and one option is to use a mouse-based (or other external controller) system rather than touch. Another possible solution (based on the authors’ description) could simply be ensuring the game is played inside, away from bright sunlight. Overall, though, Futura seems solid based on the productive JME criteria presented by Takeuchi and Stevens (2011).
Going forward, I would certainly hope for a setup that would allow external inputs other than touch, particularly when the display could be on the move. An expansion to include distant players would also be a great option, and would allow for more large-scale collaboration and even a strong online community (not that such communities require a game to be online). In the classroom (or other formal learning environment) it might also be useful to bring in “experts” to help novices. These could be experts in environmental management, or simply in the gameplay. Another change I would make (again, based on the authors’ description of the game) is including more in the way of instruction for players. Many players seemed unsure of how the game worked (much as the tablet-based group was when we played Pandemic), and some sort of introduction to the rules (especially an active-play tutorial like in Plants vs. Zombies) would be helpful.