Category Archives: Play

Gender in Comp Sci & Computer Games

A few things have had me thinking about gender stereotyping and role enforcement recently… not normally a topic I’d tackle, but as ‘blog o the month’ at ISTE Island I guess I’d better try and be erudite and wise… ;-)

It started pre-Christmas, reading in the Grauniad about how pink is being used more than ever in marketing and packaging for toys for girls. Becky Francis, an educational researcher at Roehampton reviews the gender divide in toys and notes:

“The very clear message seems to be that boys should be making things, using their hands and solving problems, and girls should be caring and nurturing,” she says. “It is likely that many of the boys in the study sleep with a teddy, but this was not noted by parents as a favourite toy.”

A similar article appeared a few days ago in the Torygraph bemoaning the ‘Pink Plague’.

I recall a genuine feeling when I was an undergraduate that the strictly defined gender roles were being eroded and greater equality between the genders was being reached, so its a bit of a shock to realise that in the world of toys the differences are more entrenched than ever. For example, buying what I considered a very gender neutral toy a few years ago – a basic Lego set – I noticed that the store had decided it was a ‘boys toy’ and it had been stickered as such.

JeongMee Yoon has been making a pictorial archive of the blue/pink divide, and it makes interesting viewing here. There is some scientific work trying to determine the origin of this preference, although I think this has some way to go and is open to criticism currently – such as for studying the colour preferences of adults who are presumably already affected by cultural factors (Hurlbert & Ying, 2007) or for failing to take account of the history of colour/gender ties. As JeongMee notes:

Pink was once a color associated with masculinity, considered to be a watered down red and held the power associated with that color. In 1914, The Sunday Sentinel, an American newspaper, advised mothers to “use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.” The change to pink for girls and blue for boys happened in America and elsewhere only after World War II.

Indeed, had pink always had the same associations it now holds, perhaps Fenton Tower in the Scottish Borders might not have seemed particularly fearsome because of its girlish hue…

But what has this got to do with computer games and computer science? More below…

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You play World of Warcraft? You're NOT hired!

You play World of Warcraft? You’re hired! is a pretty famous piece explaining how having WoW on the CV helped one applicant land the job of his dreams. I’ve quoted this in some of my own presentations in the past – but always with a pinch of salt, noting that the article does point out that the applicant had other reasons for landing the plum role.

Now reports just in (from forums, via Raph Koster’s blog) of recruiters being told to AVOID applicants that mention WoW on their CV’s:

…employers specifically instruct him not to send them World of Warcraft players. He said there is a belief that WoW players cannot give 100% because their focus is elsewhere, their sleeping patterns are often not great, etc. …  He has been specifically asked to avoid WoW players.

It's all about the FUN… or is it?

It is a commonly cited flaw of Edutainment titles that they often fail simply because they are no fun to play. “Don’t suck the fun out!” is one oft heard message for game based learning designers – and it is an important one for sure. If it isn’t fun, then who will play it?

So, game-based learning without fun is game-based learning gone wrong.

Consider then the contrary opinion… that video games themselves went wrong when they got too focussed on fun. And this isn’t my claim, it comes from a legendary and hugely influential game designer!


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CfP: Virtual Worlds: play or education?

ITALICS Call for Papers: “Virtual Worlds: play or education?”

Mon 1st Dec, 2008 FROM HEA ICS

The third issue of ITALICS for 2009 will be a special issue on Second Life and other Virtual Worlds in use in higher education.  The editors are seeking case studies and research papers discussing integrating virtual worlds with social media, VLEs and traditional teaching methods. More below…

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Tales from ReLIVE08

On way home from ReLIVE08 as I start this post…

It was a fantasticly enjoyable event, great to catch up with so many people I know and meet some new people involved in a range of exciting projects. Some of the sessions were broadcast online – and the first days broadcast sessions are now available here. My own session from the first day is here, where I talk about some of the issues we had in engaging the SLOODLE community with our research activity – time differences and other things making life a little complicated. OK, not the most exciting topic I’ll admit, but great powerpoint if I say so myself… see the virtual world as you’ve never seen it before.

Highlights were many, but I’ll briefly mention Kieron Sheehey’s presentation. A man who loves technology, but is obviously hated by technology. Sadly not available online. Day two I demo’ed SLOODLE again, which went surprisingly well for the larger group size.

In the afternoon I shared a panel with Paul Hollins & Anna Peachey, chaired by Sarah Robbins-Bell, on ‘Crossing the Digital Divide’ where we discussed a range of issues relating to virtual worlds and accessibility. Recognizing that there were many in the audience with more expertise than ourselves in many of the issues we wanted to discuss (Hello Simon & Rob!) we wisely made this an open discussion sessions with only a brief presentation to raise some issues. A Twitter feed for ‘backchat’ during the session worked very well. This was shown on-screen during the session and shared with the audience joining us online – partly inspired by Paul’s earlier observation that conference participants not on twitter were being excluded from many dialogues occuring in the background.

From where I sat it seemed that this use of Twitter helped keep the flow of conversation going and genuinely helped bring in more points of view and observations from the audience than otherwise would have been likely – so a point or question in Twitter made during someone elses question could be addressed later.

At the end of the session a straw poll revealed that most (not all!) of the audience thought it had added to the session. You can see the whole session here, and see the stream of twitters from the session here. At some point, the ‘Crossing the Digital Divide’ wiki page should be updated with a load more links, resources and notes. If you have anything you would like to add or insert, please do!

Some more notes later…

Remember the orange Tango man?

Anyone remember the orange Tango man adverts? The ones which had to be re-shot so that the Tango drinker didn’t get slapped at the end – so as to bring an end to playground imitations which had apparently caused many a burst eardrum. You could read about it here, or just watch it below.

Anyway, having establised that to some extent media can influence behaviour, Gamasutra reports on Craig A. Anderson’s latest study into games and violence, here. You can get the whole paper here. The conclusions?

These longitudinal results confirm earlier experimental and cross­sectional studies that had suggested that playing violent video games is a significant risk factor for later physically aggressive behavior, and that this violent video game effect on youth generalizes across very
different cultures. As a whole, the research strongly suggests reducing the exposure of youths to this risk factor.

Naturally, there are already dissenting voices identifying weaknesses in the study as related on GamePolitics, in a post which has the most amazing and often random comments thread I’ve seen in a while.

And the winner is…

NAPPA, the American National Parenting Publications Awards, have announced their 2008 award winners in a range of categories. One category covers computer games and web-sites. Winners this year include a number of virtual worlds: Club Penguin; Moshi Monsters (which Derek Robertson introduced me to) and Whyville amongst them. Other winners include the likes of BoomBlox – an explosive form of Jenga for the Wii – and ArtRage which is a nice little digital paint application that uses a range of effects to bring computer illustration much closer to traditional paints and pastels.

Full set of category winners here.

Imagine Teacher

Has anyone out there reviewed Imagine Teacher yet?

This is a new game from Ubisoft which puts players in the role of a new teacher at school – so naturally, I’m wondering a little on its potential for game-based learning.

In Imagine: Teacher, you play a new teacher who has just taken over a class in a brand new school. Teach and recruit new students as you develop and eventually manage the school! But be careful of those who want to stand in the way of your success

The game is based round a number of mini-games – and I guess the question is going to be the extent to which playing a mini-game in this title to teach your virtual pupils about science (or whatever) actually helps introduce scientific knowledge or supports the learning of same.

Children on Virtual Worlds – an EU review

ENISA “Children on Virtual Worlds”

“The EU Agency ENISA, the European Network and Information Security Network Agency, launches a report on virtual worlds with 25 safety tips for parents on how to make their children behave safely in online virtual worlds.”

Some commensense guidelines and rules for parents to help support their children play safely and happily in online virtual worlds. Overall a positive review that doesn’t seek to demonise virtual worlds. Instead it argues that:

Parents should be educated, empowered and engaged to ensure truly positive and valuable experiences for their children, while reinforcing safety online habits in these three-dimensional environments.

Links for today

Who plays, how much and why?

Dmitri Williams, Nick Yee and colleagues have published the first results from a Sony Online supported study into Everquest 2 players. With a rare item gift in-game for participants, the survey had a very large response – and the team also have been looking at a huge range of in-game data.

North  Carolina High Schools to Pilot Game Development Based Learning for Science

“Ideally, our goal is that students will create educational games that appeal to their counterparts so that teachers can then integrate those games into their classrooms,”