In the beginning of the course, we were assigned numerous readings about alternate reality games. This was to give the class an idea of what we were going to create during the first part of the term. Then we started to read and review some theories about learning and different types of games. Before this class, I didn’t have a clear explanation in my head of genres. We studied different types of genres and that made it easier for me to point them out. I learned about some genres I never even knew existed. Three basic questions to ask when pointing out a type of genre are, “Are you writing to entertain? to inform? to persuade? Setting the purpose for writing is just as important as setting the purpose for reading, because purpose influences decisions students make about form” (Tompkins).
Most of the theories I found to be interesting and ones that I was able to connect with the work we created were the ones we discussed about in class. We mostly studied James Paul Gees’ theories. We also examined theories that Paulo Freire explained in the readings. In the beginning, it was hard to discover and point out theories without really noticing that the information could just be plain informational. Once I got a better understanding of the definition of theories, it became easier.
The first theory that caught my eye was the Skills as Strategies theory. According to James Paul Gee, “There is a paradox involving skills: people don’t like practicing skills out of context over and over again, since they find such skill practice meaningless, but, without lots of skill practice, they cannot really get any good at what they are trying to learn. People learn and practice skills best when they see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals they want to accomplish." This theory stood out to me because the very first thing we had to do in the alternate reality game was create a puzzle. Coming up with ideas with my group members and actually creating the puzzle made me realize all the different types of skills that players would need to solve these puzzles. The skills that are needed are best learned as strategies for understanding significant functions that the players need to understand. I don’t believe that all the players in the game will have all the skills to solve the puzzles but in some point of the game, they should learn how the skills will eventually transform into strategies for playing the game. This theory does prove a segment of the work we completed for the game. In real word situations, we try to figure out how we can use the skills we have and turn them into strategies that we could use to solve problems.
Another theory that is important is the Fish Tanks theory. According to James Paul Gee, “Using the term metaphorically, fish tanks are good for learning: if we create simplified systems, stressing a few key variables and their interactions, learners who otherwise be overwhelmed by a complex system get to see some basic relationships at work and take the first steps towards their eventual mastery of the real system”. This theory proves the work we did because throughout the creation of the alternate reality game, we tried to give players different levels (hard and easy) in order to reach the goal. This means that if we created a complex mini-game or a puzzle to advance in the game, we would have some sort of a backup for the players to take in case they don’t figure it out. We don’t just throw out complicated missions without making sure the players are going to get further into the game. This theory explains that if you start with something simple enough for the learners to grasp the idea and letting the learner observe some of the basic ideas and how they relate, then it can be a good way into facing up to more difficult missions of the game later on. This can be related to real life situations in the way that we wouldn’t be able to understand certain things if we all we had to go on was complex concepts. Making concepts simple will make it easier to learn and understand more complex concepts in life.
Similar to the fish tanks are sandboxes. James Paul Gee explains this theory as, “Sandboxes in the real world are safe havens for children that still look and feel like the real world. Using the term metaphorically, sandboxes are good for learning: if learners are put into a situation that feels like the real thing, but with risks and dangers greatly mitigated, they can learn well and still feel a sense of authenticity and accomplishment”. I believe our alternate reality game served as a sandbox because we made the game seem like it was an unlimited world to interact with. The players felt that way even though it wasn’t really an unlimited world for them. That is because it wasn’t real. It also had assignments attached to it; there was a safety net and sense of some boundaries. In addition to that, the players and learners should realize that failure is not the end of the road. They need to always understand and view failure as the informative part of the game. This is what we were trying to accomplish when we combined the parts of the game from each group. The last part of our chapter includes a dead body that has clues attached to it. We have set up multiple ways to actually get to that body. If the players fail to advance to the body from the first route, they should not feel like they failed. They should feel like they can figure out other ways and solve other mini-games to advance further into the game another way. A learning outcome should come out of the game whether they failed to advance in it or not. This relates to real world situations because we are human beings and making mistakes should make us less than that. Instead, we should learn from them to not make the same mistake again.
Personally, I can’t learn something easily without real interaction with what I am trying to learn. This is similar to James Paul Gees’ Co-design theory; “Good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers). In a video game, players make things happen. They don’t just consume what the author (game designer) has placed before them. Video games are interactive. The player does something and the game does something back that encourages the player to act again”. This plays a huge role in alternate reality games. We are letting the players feel like their own decisions play a role in outcomes of their experiences, not just the creators of the game (us). I believe this is what motivates the players to keep engaged throughout the game. For example, one of my group members created a riddle that leads the players to the library. When they get to the library they will be able to pick out a specific book that has coordinates that I placed in the book. They will need to figure out where those coordinates lead and they will find what we placed for them. The fact that the players are getting back results from everything they do, motivates them to keep going. Motivation and interaction is something that is significant to have in any alternate reality game (Rees). In real life situations, co-designing is important because if we don’t see results from what we’re trying to do, we might just quit. We wouldn’t have the motivation to keep going.
It makes it easier for me to play a role of something or someone that I am trying to explore or in this case learn about. James Paul Gee calls this Identity. He explained it as, “Deep learning requires an extended commitment and such a commitment is powerfully recruited when people take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested”. Gee used the example of a child being a scientist doing science or an adult taking on a new role at work. The first thing that I thought of after coming across this theory was the players acting as detectives. This came to mind because of the dead body that we created in our chapter. When we were playing Seth’s mini-game with the body during class, the first thing I thought about was detective work. How would detectives solve this case or in this situation this mini-game? What would they do first? What procedures would they go through to pick up on all the clues left behind? The players may not realize how they are thinking and the fact that they might be playing roles as detectives, but in reality they are. I believe this part of the game, among other similar situations, proves this theory very well. In real life situations, identity is important because we will almost always have to play some kind of role just to get through life – whether it’s when we’re teaching someone or when we’re trying to solve different kinds of problems.
This specific alternate reality game doesn’t prove James Paul Gees Cycles of Expertise theory. He explains this theory as, “Expertise is formed in any area repeated cycles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew. Then they practice this new skill set to an automatic level of mastery only to see it, too, eventually be challenged”. I believe this theory may work in a classroom where the same topic is learned over and over again but I don’t believe it works in our game. This is because we might now have similar challenges as previous chapters. This makes it difficult for the players to learn from doing it over and over again. Some puzzles might have the same concepts in different chapters but that doesn’t mean the important mini-games of each chapter will have the same concepts as well. The players may get through the first couple of chapters and not really become skilled at how to actually get through our chapter just because of the concepts they had to go through in the previous chapters. Even though this game disproves this theory, we can use it in real life situations. If we want to get better at something, let’s say a sport for example, then we will practice every day to improve how we play.
Paolo Freires’ Banking Concept of Education is about how the teacher-student relationship is an important concept when overcoming oppression. Paolo Freire believes teachers and students must always work together to expand the knowledge that is necessary to overcome oppression. This occurs throughout the alternate reality game. The entire game includes the players being interactive and social and because of that, it proves his theory.
I think our work on the alternate reality game and these theories may be applicable in situations beyond the game and the classroom. Thinking about it, the theories I mentioned above are all used in reality. We use skills as strategies, fish tanks, sandboxes, co-design, identity, cycles of expertise, and the banking concept without even thinking about it. Although it may be different for each individual, all the theories, except for the banking concept, may be used in this particular game.
I believe the work we did helped me achieve some specific course learning outcomes. Some of these outcomes include rhetorical knowledge, critical thinking, reading, and writing, knowledge of processes, knowledge of conventions, and finally composing in electronic environments. These are the official outcomes for this course.
Let me start off with rhetorical knowledge. This essay and our class reading and discussions have a lot to do with the specific rhetorical knowledge for this course. Using this ARG, and the theories I have mentioned about connections between games learning, helped me explore many of the rhetorical concepts. While creating the game, I have explored multiple discourse communities and how to communicate as part of those communities. Many of the readings and class discussions we did also helped me achieve critical thinking, reading, and writing. Writing this essay and seeing how the use of games addresses issues relating to education and writing also helps me achieve this goal. When I created my part of the ARG, I had to create texts for a variety of real audiences. Even though the story is not real, I wrote out to students and to the public. Doing this, I had to think critically and come up with different ways to write to different readers. I had to use different technologies with the research and then posting up my work. I also had to work with my teammates to choose what kind of writing will work best for the specific situations we were in. Learning about different types of genres helped me achieve knowledge of conventions. For our artifacts, we had to explore different types of genres and create an artifact with a genre of our choice. This made sure that we had the chance to understand the rules that govern different types of writing and make good decisions about how to write them. The ARG played a huge role in composing in electronic environments. Everything I created, I had to post online. At first, we had to just post onto blackboard but then we had an online wiki and we needed to post all the activities that are included in our chapter. Also, as a group, we had to communicate through electronic email. These were some of the outcome that I achieved through the creation of the ARG.
Freire, Paulo.Pedagogy Of The Oppressed. New York City: Continuum International Publishing