User Testing Blog

User Testing is a vitally important part of the creation of any usable digital creation. Throughout the development of my application, I have been conducting informal user testing with the younger members of my family and their friends and I have recently conducted formal user testing at Holy Name R.C Primary School.

The user testing at the school was an extremely productive undertaking but before I start evaluating and explaining my findings, I want to take a little look at the value and processes of user testing.

User testing helps test the usability of a designed artefact, the Nielsen Norman Group define usability as:

Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use”. The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

Usability is defined by 5 quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?”
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

Nielson (2012) http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/

It is often hard to know when and how many usability tests are needed within the design process, usability expert Steve Krug says “Timing is everything

Most companies can only afford to pay for one round of usability testing, which they’ll do near the end of the development cycle, when the thing’s almost finished,” Krug continues.  “Unfortunately, that’s the worst possible time to do a test. Yes, you’re going to find problems but you’re not going to be able to do anything about them any more. Some of them are going to be deep-seated problems. If you start testing at the very beginning of your design, though, you can pretty quickly uncover those problems.”

Krug (2011) http://m.netmagazine.com/interviews/steve-krug-diy-usability-testing

According to the Nielsen Norman Group “The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.” Nielson (2000) http://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/

This is good news for me, as it means that my smaller informal tests that I had previously conducted were a step in the right direction of this little and often approach and it means that my more formal school based testing, can be conducted with a smaller impact to the everyday business of the school.

User testing with children has its own challenges; Tom Stewart offers advice for usability testing with children in his article ‘Tips for Usability Testing with Children’.  Stewart starts by explaining that clinical user testing labs can be counterproductive to the task when dealing with children, a friendly, familiar environment can often yield better results.  A familiar face can also be helpful, as described by Stewart:

When testing with younger children it is important to have a parent or familiar adult around to provide reassurance. The adult may or may not participate directly in the session depending on what we are trying to achieve and what sort of feedback we need.” Stewart (2010) http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children

Jamie Sands is a Usability Consultant at User Vision, he also agrees that the comfort of the user is very important:

Usability testing is most effective when the respondents being tested are comfortable and therefore happy to think and discuss what they are interacting with. If children are not at ease, they are unlikely to respond in a natural manner and less likely to give their attention to the tasks at hand.” Sands (2010) http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/

The pressure of a “test” can be scary for all people especially children, so you should also try and make the research less daunting:

The experiment should be welcoming and not intimidating. All usability testing can potentially feel like a test that the user can pass or fail.  To avoid this, the moderator needs to be comforting and reassuring to the respondent to ensure they do not feel as if they themselves are being tested.” Sands (2010) http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/

When assigning tasks during testing, it is also import to consider their appropriateness in relation to the child’s ability.  Stewart (2010) says “Make sure the length of the session and the difficulty of task is appropriate to the children’s age and development.”   Children are also more prone to boredom and distraction which can also be a problem during user testing with children, Stewart explains:

The facilitator has to keep a close watch for boredom, fatigue or children becoming too engrossed in one task and have a range of options ready to move the session on to more productive areas.

We always try to aim for sessions which are fun and tasks which are engaging with lots of different activities, games and breaks for snacks and drinks.” Stewart (2010) http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children

In order to get an accurate result from user testing, it is important to understand that children communicate differently to adults, and understanding this can make the interpretation of the experiment easier, as explained by Stewart:

It is important to recognise that children communicate in different ways, many of them non-verbal. Facilitators need to be flexible and use appropriate communication techniques.  Very young children (under 6) are often not able to express themselves verbally, so behavioural observations can be as important as verbal feedback (e.g. smiling, fidgeting, sighing, groaning).” Stewart (2010) http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children

Sands also discusses interpreting responses during user testing:

Children are often less vocal, or less able to verbalise their opinions about issues they experience. An uncomfortable child may be too shy or uneasy in giving responses if they feel they are being tested and are concerned that they may say the wrong thing. Whereas adults will express their feelings vocally, children are more likely to offer clues non-verbally, by fidgeting, smiling and their body language etc. The experimenter should be aware of these cues and note these in conjunction with potential problems experienced with the site. Look for the child’s lack of engagement with the site. Yawning and fidgeting can be clear signs that the site is no longer capturing the child’s attention.” Sands (2010) http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/

I structured my tests in a way that I hope will allow me to get the greatest amount of information from the testing experience.

IMG_0034 IMG_0033

I arranged for a school governor, who regularly visits the school to help with reading to accompany me, as I believed this would help the children to feel more at ease.  I firstly introduce myself and explain that this is not a test for them but it’s a test for me, so there is no need for them to be nervous.  The next step is to let the children have free roam of the application, while I make notes based my observations of their choices, usage and general behaviour.  I then ask the children to complete a small amount of tests, followed by 4 questions about the experience.

Recording user testing is important, in order to review and document the events as they happen, for evaluation at a later date.  This recording can be done in a number of ways, including video recordings, audio dictation and written accounting based upon observation.  Due to the age of the testers and the setting in which the testing is taking place, the most appropriate method of documentation and the one I have employed is written accounting based upon observation.  Video and audio recording of young children raises too many problems, that could jeopardise my opportunity to conduct testing.

The results

I was originally planning to produce some form of visual reference to demonstrate how the testing went, i.e. a chart but in some ways the testing went too well.

The users also completed the tasks I set them successfully, showing a good understanding of how to navigate within the application and how to operate all of the interactive features that they encountered.  This could be interpreted as evidence that the design is effective and that no changes are needed but I feel another round of user testing, time permitting may be needed in order to reinforce these initial findings.

The most interesting results in my opinion, came from my observation during the free roaming time at the start of the test.  During this stage I noticed that the children were drawn towards the highlighted interactive elements within the app and they sometimes missed elements that had been left un-highlighted.  This was exactly the reason why I left some interactive content without highlights, so that I could establish whether the highlighting technique was effective; see the difference between the two below:

Without Glow

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 17.06.24

With Glow

IMG_0032

I did noticed that the hit recognition area on a couple of buttons needed increasing and the text on one of the buttons needed changing.  I also realised that I needed to add arrows to the Viking house interior.

As a result of my testing, I have changed the elements indicated above which will hopefully improve the usability of my application.

All users tested said they liked the application and expressed a desire to use applications like this within their normal classroom lessons and indications to back up these statements were given during the testing by the children, in comments such as “cool” and “that’s class

All of the children indicated that their favourite elements of the application were the interactives and in particular the students enjoyed seeing themselves wearing a Viking helmet.  This was what I was hoping for but I do hope that the interactives do not divert attention from the other elements, as my application needs to work on all levels.  I did however notice that all students read the text and some gave answers based on illustration and animations, which is a good indication that all elements are communicating information.

Prior to the user testing my main concern was that the user’s would struggle with the amount and level of the text within the application but to my delight all of the users tested managed very well with the text, although the head teacher did point out that the younger age users may struggle with the amount of text.

The school’s Headteacher raised the question of audio within the application; previously I have been encouraged by some people within my education establishment to include background noises to some of the scenes within my application.  This was something I have resisted, as I believe it would not be appropriate if the application was been used within an education setting such as a classroom; can you imagine 30 children using the application at the same time but all at different parts of the app, each with differing sounds blurring out, mixing to make an unorganised hum of pure noise?

This would be counterproductive to the learning environment and process, and although the volume could be simply turned down, the time it would take to ensure each student had turned the sound off could be better used by actually teaching or exploring with the application.  The head teacher agreed that sounds of that nature would not be appropriate for an application of this type but she did suggest that maybe some audible Viking words within the Viking Language section would be a good addition to the application, this was a good re-enforcement to previously stated intentions to add such a feature within the Viking language section of my application.

Overall my testing has been a great success; my application appears to be easy to use, whilst communicating information to and entertaining the user.  I would like to leave this post with a quote from one of the children tested: “that’s class”.

Bibliography

DuVerneay, J. (2013) When to Test: Incorporating User Testing into Product Design,

[online] Available at: http://www.usertesting.com/blog/2013/03/04/when-to-test-incorporating-usability-testing-into-product-design/, [accessed 29th May 2013]

Krug, S. (2011) DIY Usability Testing, [online] Available at:

http://m.netmagazine.com/interviews/steve-krug-diy-usability-testing, [accessed 30th May 2013]

 Nielsen Norman Group, no publication date, Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox Articles, [online] Available at: http://www.nngroup.com/topic/user-testing/, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Nielson, J. (2000) Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users, [online] Available at: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Nielson, J. (2012) Usability 101: Introduction to Usability, [online] Available at: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Sands, J. (2010) Usability Testing with Young Audiences, [online] Available at: http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/, [accessed 29th May 2013]

Stewart, T. (2010) Tips for Usability Testing with Children, [online] Available at:

http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children, [accessed 30th May 2013]

Gamification

Gamification, what is it?  The definition of the term Gamification provided by the website Gamification Wiki is “Gamification is the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” Gamification Wiki, (2010), http://gamification.org/

The assistant director of Bloomsburg University’s acclaimed Institute for Interactive Technologies, Professor Karl M. Kapp (2012: p66) also provides a similar definition, he says “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”

Basically Gamification is the gamefying or application of game design theories in differing fields.  To understand Gamification we need to understand what games are.

Roger Caillois a French theorist saw many of the structures in society as elaborate forms of games and much behaviour as forms of play.

Caillois proposed a useful system of classifying different types of experiences that are present in games in his book “Man, Play and Games”. A game can include just one or all of these different types of experiences.

Agon

This could be a contest or competition, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Alea

This describes games of chance such as roulette or a lottery. Games of chance throughout time have often been the subject of gambling.

Mimicry

This can be described as copying, simulation or make believe.

Illinix

This describes games in which there may be a momentary disorientation in a physical sense, for example vertigo or dizziness.

Caillois’s taxonomy of game play experiences helps us understand about types of games but why do we play games in the first place?

In 2010 I wrote a piece during my B.A Interactive Multimedia at Hull School of Art and Design, in which I describe my theory on why people play games based upon Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs:

“Why do we want to play games?  Why do people get addicted to games and what makes a game addictive?  It is possible to get completely immersed in a game, to the point where we are entirely focused on playing and all other things become irrelevant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big part of why we feel the need to participate in games can be understood by examining a psychological theory by an American psychologist named “Abraham Harold Maslow”, considered the founder of humanistic psychology he conceptualised the theory a “hierarchy of human needs”, this is often condensed and displayed for visual representation as “Maslow’s Pyramid Of Needs”.

maslow pyramid of needs

Deficiency Needs

Maslow called the lower four layers of the Pyramid “deficiency needs”.  Within the deficiency needs each lower need must be met before moving on to the higher needs.  If at a later time a lower need is detected, the person will take steps to fulfil that need before resuming focus on their higher needs.

Physiological Needs

These are the literal requirements for human survival; breathing, drinking, eating, sleeping, sexual activity etc.  Without air or food one would die, without sexual activity as a species it would mean the extinction of humanity, this explains the strength of these instincts within individuals.  This does not seem relevant to game play at first, until you consider that the whole purpose of a lot of computer games is survival, for example any game were you have a health bar that depletes is a game of survival.  There are some games like ‘Resident Evil’ that directly deal with the survival of the human race as part of its storyline.

Safety Needs

Wanting that feeling of safety and security is part of a need for control; people yearn for a predictable, orderly world without injustice and inconsistency.  This can be found in any game were you control a hero or fight against a villain.

In the modern world our options in most situations are so abundant that boundaries between right and wrong are not always obvious and it is increasingly hard to judge your own actions and results in comparison to those of others.  This inconsistency means that it can be complicated when deciding what we should be doing and this confusion makes it hard to gain the pleasure of knowing that we have done something well.

Games can help with these fulfilment needs, as games can be played against other people, against yourself, against a computer or perhaps even against magical forces unbeknownst to man.  All games have one thing in common in that they have goals and rules to follow in order to play, so providing us with the consistency that we crave in the real world.

Social Needs

Social needs are the emotional needs that are fulfilled by relationships between people.  Families, friendships and communities often feature within games. In some games you have a companion i.e. “Super Mario Brothers”, Mario and Luigi are both family and companions.  In other games you have the ability to act as part of a team  i.e. in “Marvel Ultimate Alliance” you work as part of a four man team to defend the planet.  Some games require you to have social interactions within everyday family life i.e. “The Sims”.

Computer games in particular have addressed social needs in an altogether different way by creating a community in which people have found common ground with each other through a common interest.

Esteem Needs

The need for self-esteem and self-respect is also known as the belonging need, it is the human desire to be accepted and valued by others.

People need to engage themselves to get recognition as a sense of contribution; this gives the person a sense of personal value.  Without this people can suffer from low self-esteem, people with low self-esteem want or need respect from others.

Game play can provide an outlet for these needs by giving people a platform that they can show off their talents through, i.e. escapism.

By playing games people can become the focus of the virtual environment, it gives them a platform on which they can get attention, status, and power.

Success in the virtual world of computer games can aid people to be competent and to achieve recognition.   

Self Actualization

The motivation to discover one’s own maximum potential and possibilities is considered to be the master motive or the only real motive in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The need for self-actualization is the final need that manifests when the lower level needs have been satisfied, this is why it sits above all other needs at the top of the pyramid.

This is possibly the easiest human need to explain why games are so popular, the need to better oneself by rising to the challenge that games present.  To conquer a game or raise ones performance through practice, constantly looking to go further, faster raising confidence and fulfilling the needs of self actualization.

In a way, everything we do in our daily lives is in either a direct or an indirect way related to these needs.

The human body recognises needs and rewards, its fulfilment is often associated with feelings of pleasure to encourage repeat behaviour, i.e. when we are thirsty we drink and after doing so we feel better.

The reward process for our psychological needs is slightly different, as different people have different requirements.  The person in question sets personal targets that they want to accomplish, it does not really matter what we do, how we do it, or why?  As long as we feel that we are doing the right thing, for the right reasons and getting the results that we want, we will get that feeling of fulfilment.

This explains the feeling of pleasure felt by people during game play, some people may say “It’s only a game” but that depends on your psychological needs.

The ultimate goal for all our activities is the fulfilment of needs.” (Shakesby, 2010)

When you understand why people want to play games, you can identify with the level of engagement shown by people during game play, this engagement often causes people to lose their temporal concerns; they don’t eat, drink, sleep or even go to the toilet because they are truly immersed in the task at hand.

Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the hypothesis of Flow (psychology).

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory was that people get a great sense of deep happiness, satisfaction, or fulfilment when they are in a state of great concentration or complete absorption with the activity that they are immersed in and it is this feeling that he calls “flow”, popular culture often describes the psychological state as “being in the zone”.  The flow state causes game players to be utterly engrossed in the undertaking or challenge at hand, this happens when there is a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill of the player, if the task is too easy or difficult the flow state cannot occur.

It is this deep sense of interest or engagement with undertakings that people hope to re-appropriate for their own interests, in other words people interested in Gamification want to create that same level of engagement and interest exhibited in tasks found in game play, into other areas through the use of game theory.

Education is one area that has exhibited an interest in Gamification, Cohen (2011: p15) explains that there is a growing movement of education professionals that would like to see the Gamification of education “The world has entered a bright new technology-driven era, yet the education system remains rooted in a gray industrial past. At least, this is the argument that a growing number of education professionals are making.

Cohen discusses a potential idea for the restructuring of the educational system, that would see online gaming and learning replacing the traditional class room text books and he believes that this idea is gaining in popularity.  I personally from my research would never advocate such a radical step but I would argue for a greater increase in interactive digital media within learning environments.

Cohen (2011: p15) explains that “While traditional education proponents may be quick to dismiss computer games as inconsequential, others argue that a strong precedent for independently motivated online game-based learning has already been established”.

One thing that we do know is that everybody is different, we all look different, sound different and learn differently, we have different needs and these needs change depending on a number of varying factors including age, experience, mood, fatigue, etc.  Gamification may very well be an effective way of providing learning to some people at some times but to base an entire educational system around one theory or medium would surely be a mistake?

The paper based education system that I grew up with did not meet all my educational needs but it works for a great number of people, our education system should be able to offer learning through various mediums based upon a multitude of theories, as a broader approach that does not expect the learner to conform to its methods but actually offers the learner choices, choices that make learning easier for the individual.

It is import to point out that Gamification is not a purely digital idea; you can add game dynamics to a wide range of situations, for example if students were asked to find objects in a classroom and each object found is given a point value, the game would be a game based upon Caillois’s description of Agon, a competition.  This is of course not the only way you can augment situations with game theory, Kapp (2012: p 66) says:

A well-designed game is a system in which players engage in an abstract challenge, defined by rules, interactivity, and feedback that result in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional reaction. Games can be designed and delivered in an online environment with multimedia graphics, interactive characters, and automated scorekeeping, or they can be face-to-face and conducted in a classroom with simple interactions and engagement.”

Below is an interesting info-graphic about the Gamification of education:

This info-graphic shows a large amount of information about the positive effects of Gamification but one thing that I find particularly worrying is the Agon element of competition, the will to succeed and win is a powerful motivational factor but should education be a competition?

The motivation of winning makes certain individuals become Olympic gold medallists or sees others accomplish things faster than anybody else has done before but it is also the thing that makes other cry in despair when they fail.  A gamifyed system could unintentionally create de-motivated players through fear of failure, rather than motivated players striving for success and I believe it will probably create a number of players in each camp.  Surely education should be available to all, not just winners!

Kapp discusses an area of Gamification that he calls “Freedom to fail” he explains

In most instructional environments, failure is not a valid option. Learners are objectively scored, and they either get it right the first time or fail and do not pass. Few people enjoy failing in traditional learning environments, and most will do everything they can to avoid failing. This means that most learning environments do not encourage exploration or trial-and-error learning.” (Kapp, 2012, p66)

Kapp goes on to describe how games can turn the negative effects of failure in a positive outcome:

Games, however, encourage failure. Players will purposely fail to see what happens or to get a sense of the gamespace in which they are playing. Failing is allowed, it’s acceptable, and it’s part of the game. Games accommodate failure with multiple lives, second chances, and alternative methods of success. Games overcome the “sting of failure” by allowing, as part of their design, multiple opportunities to perform a task until mastery.” (Kapp, 2012, p66)

Kapp (2012: p66) also says that Gamification “involves encouraging learners to explore the content, take chances with their decision making, and be exposed to realistic consequences for making a wrong or poor decision”.

I am not sure that I am entirely in agreement with Kapp at this point, games can be designed to encourage failure, and multiple chances at task completion can help player’s master tasks, helping increase self esteem and putting the player on a path towards self actualisation but if the level of that task required is placed well beyond the capabilities of the play, frustration can occur leading to a lowering of self esteem and usually disinterest in the completion of the task at hand.

If the player is exposed to realistic consequences for making wrong or poor decisions it is not always a positive thing. This is why we often see kids crying when they cannot complete parts of video games, it could be argued that this is character building or is it just delivering life’s harsh message that you cannot be good at everything?  This frustration can lead to emotional breakdown and user/player frustration can lead to disengagement with tasks or some players may simply choose to quit rather than repeat a task until completion.

Eliminating the risk of failure would solve this problem but there is another way, designers of games and Gamification need to be realistic when assessing task difficulty and potential player proficiency.  Games need to be designed to be easy enough to accomplish tasks, whilst also being challenging enough to prevent potential boredom but the possibility of failure when used correctly can be a great tool in player engagement, Kapp (2012: p66) says:

The risk of failure without punishment is engaging. Learners will explore and examine causes and effects if they know it’s OK to fail. In many cases, they will learn as much from seeing the consequences of their failure as they will from a correct answer.”

Gamifying a learning application would be a great way to engage the user, hopefully making it easier to effectively communicate information whilst they are engaged, it also would make the application more appealing to users, Kapp (2012, p66) explains:

Games are incredibly appealing. They engage players because they provide an environment and a context in which actions provide direct feedback and lead to direct consequences. They can provide a realistic context in which actions and tasks can be practiced. Games create a surrogate for actual experiences that provide rich learning opportunities.”

But a gamifyed application does not need to be a game; it just needs to re-appropriate the elements from game design theory to engage the user in an interesting, informative and entertaining way.

Kapp (2012, p67) says that Gamification:

provides the learner with an engaging, relevant learning experience without the heavy time commitment necessary to play most games. Through the careful application of game elements—such as the freedom to fail, interest curve, storytelling, and feedback—in learning programs, ordinary content can be made more engaging without the development of a full-fledged learning game

Within my application I have a number of interactive elements that I have been describing thus far as relevant interactions, these include:

Barter (Trade) a Viking Comb

In this section the user chooses the amount of coins needed to trade for a Viking comb, the user has the freedom to fail by choosing the wrong amount of coins but they are able to make another choice until the correct choice is made.  Using Caillois classifications it is fair to say this is a game that shows Mimicry, it is a virtual representation of a historic process, a simulation from which the user will hopefully learn the process and the tools involved in a Viking trade transaction.

Archaeologist Game

This interactive features an archaeologist who invites the user to help him find a Viking ship, the user has to choose from one of four archaeological dig sites, they then rub away an onscreen layer of virtual soil, to unearth an artefact in the hope that it is the Viking ship they have been tasked with finding.  If the user does not find the ship they can go back and choose another dig site until they complete their task.

It is possible to argue that this is a game that exhibits elements of Alea, as the choice is a bit like a lottery, it is a game of chance but it is also once again Mimicry as it is a very basic simulation of an archaeological process.

Decorate a Viking Shield

This part of my application allows the user to paint a Viking Shield, as a digital recreation of a process that many Vikings undertook.  Again Caillois classifications would place this interactive in the category of Mimicry.

Control a Viking boat

This interactive element is an Easter egg within the game. a hidden piece of fun that can be played when inquisitive users find it.

The task for the user within this part of my application is to control a Viking ship, manoeuvring it from one point to another whilst avoiding the sea serpents. Caillois classifications make this game an example of Agon, as the user is the protagonist trying to successfully navigate a course without interaction with the sea serpent antagonists.

Some may argue that there is a lack of reward system within these interactive elements, for them to be considered as games or examples of Gamification whether it is a points system, levelling up or some other prize.  In fact it has been said directly to me by my external examiner that my application is not an example of Gamification and I agree that my application is not a game, it is in my opinion an interactive learning application that features elements of game theory amongst others.  My application does however definitely fit into a broader category that encompasses Gamification, as described below:

Firstly, “Gamification” relates to games, not play (or playfulness), where “play” can be conceived of as the broader, looser category, containing but different from “games”” Deterding,et al (2011: p3)

Play is essential in child development, family counsellor and parent educator Helen R Williams explains:

Children boost self esteem through play.  While they play, children are developing an understanding of themselves and others, increasing their mastery and knowledge of their physical world and learning to communicate with others. Play is essential to children’s development by contributing to their physical, social, cognitive and emotional well being.” Williams, H. R. no publication date, http://ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Boost-Self-Esteem-Through-Play&id=1028608

Caillois described the difference between games – ludus (or “gaming”) and play – paidia (or “playing”) Deterding,et al (2011: p3) says:

“In game studies, this distinction between games and play is usually tied back to Caillois’ concept of paidia and ludus as two poles of play activities [12]. Whereas paidia (or “playing”) denotes a more freeform, expressive, improvisational, even “tumultuous” recombination of behaviors and meanings, ludus (or “gaming”) captures playing structured by rules and competitive strife toward goals.”

According to this definition the majority of my interactive elements do not qualify as games, although I could argue that the Archaeologist game and the Control a Viking boat could be classified as games.

The distinction between games and play is there but it is ambiguous to the uninitiated.  Korhonen, Montola and Arrasvuori tried to define playfulness by creating the PLEX framework, Deterding,et al (2011: p2) describes:

“Korhonen, Montola and Arrasvuori have made the most systematic attempt in this regard [43,44]. Combining the “pleasurable experience” framework of Costello and Edmonds [20] with further theoretical work and user studies on video game play, they developed a Playful Experience Framework (PLEX) that categorizes 22 (originally 20) playful experiences.”

Deterding,et al also tells that recently others have investigated and found evidence to support the clear differences between “playing” and “gaming” :

Recent theoretical and empirical studies have provided further support for the distinctness of “playing” and “gaming” as two modes, foci, or “values” of behavior and mindset2 encountered during video game play [4,41]. This distinction also appears in HCI research on playfulness. The aforementioned PLEX framework acknowledges Caillois’ distinction of paidia and ludus in that it explicitly sets out to capture all experiences between these two poles [43].” Deterding,et al (2011: p3)

My application definitely features elements of playfulness, the Barter (Trade) a Viking Comb and Decorate a Viking Shield interactives are playful elements.  I do not consider my application to be an example of Gamification but it does exhibit some of the qualities of Gamification, it also exhibits elements of playful design, Deterding,et al (2011: p3) describe why my application cannot be considered as an example of Gamification:

In terms of defining “gamification”, this means that it too has to be analytically distinguished from playfulness or playful design – indeed, this marks the novelty of “gamified” applications. In practice, it can be assumed that they often can and will give rise to playful behaviors and mindsets as well, just as video game players often switch between playful and gameful behaviors and mindsets during play [4].”

The quote above explains that users can switch between the behaviours and mind sets that define games and play during these activities, which is good for my application, as I believe it exhibits elements of both Gamification and playfulness and hopefully these elements that feature within my application will help engage the users of my application.  The evidence above suggests that Gamification and playfulness are different but both essential to child engagement and development, and by adopting elements of these theories alongside other theories of information communication, I hope to be able to develop an application that is engaging, entertaining and informative.

Bibliography

Caillois, R. (2001) Man, Play and Games, USA: University of Illinois Press

Cohen, AM 2011, The Gamification of Education, Futurist, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp. 16-17, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 March 2013.

Kapp, K M. (2012), GAMES, GAMIFICATION, AND THE QUEST FOR LEARNER ENGAGEMENT, T+D, Vol 66, Issue 6, pp. 64-68, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 March 2013.

About.com Psychology, no publication date, Abraham Maslow, [online] Available at: http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/ig/Pictures-of-Psychologists/Abraham-Maslow-Picture.htm [accessed 09th March 2013]

Deterding, S. Dixon,D. Khaled, R. & Nacke, L. (2011) From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification” [online] Available at: http://85.214.46.140/niklas/bach/MindTrek_Gamification_PrinterReady_110806_SDE_accepted_LEN_changes_1.pdf, [accessed 10th March 2013]

Edudemic, (2012), The 100 Second Guide to Gamification In Education, [online] Available at: http://edudemic.com/2012/09/the-100-second-guide-to-gamification-in-education/, [accessed 09th March 2013]

Gamification Corp. (2012) [online] Available at: http://www.gamification.co/. [accessed 10th March 2013]

Gamification Wiki, (2010), [online] Available at:  http://gamification.org/, [accessed 10th March 2013]

Williams, H. R. no publication date, How to Boost Self Esteem Through Play, [online] Available at: http://ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Boost-Self-Esteem-Through-Play&id=1028608, [accessed 11th March 2013]

Hull Digital Live 2012

http://2012.hd-live.co.uk/

Hull Digital Live is a digital conference based in Hull which features talks by professionals from within the worldwide digital industry, having been unable to attend last year’s event I was really looking forward to attending this year’s event especially when recently I recently read the bio for one of this year’s guest speakers Fraser Speirs

http://2012.hd-live.co.uk/

So who is Fraser Speirs? And what will he be speaking about at HD Live 2012? (see below)

Fraser Speirs is an Apple Distinguished Educator and if you don’t know what that means neither did I until I investigated further. The Apple Distinguished Educator program is

“The Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) program was created to recognize K-12 and higher education pioneers who are using a variety of Apple products to transform teaching and learning. Today it has grown into a worldwide community of visionary educators and innovative leaders who are doing amazing things with technology in and out of the classroom. That includes working together — and with Apple — to help bring the freshest, most innovative ideas to students everywhere.”

http://www.apple.com/education/apple-distinguished-educator/

I intend to post a blog in the near future with a more in depth look at Apples Programme but for time being let’s get back to the matter at hand. Buoyed by this fact there was a guest speaker that would be speaking on a subject directly related to my M.A research I proceeded to try and book my ticket for the event only to find out that this year there are no student priced tickets available and I cannot afford a full priced ticket but undeterred I contacted John Moss Hull Digital Lives’ founder to enquire about student priced tickets for this year’s event and he explained that student tickets are available but only to institutions and he told me Hull School of Art and Design have purchased a number of places, so he advised me to ask at Hull School of Art and Design, I know these tickets are usually reserved for new media degree students but I intend to enquire if there are any spare places available as I feel this event would be of great benefit to my M.A research.

Links

http://www.apple.com/education/apple-distinguished-educator/

http://2012.hd-live.co.uk/

‘Technology Gives Boost To Children’s Reading’

This is an interesting story that I came across today whilst reading the news on ‘Sky Text’ and immediately looked for further information, the article can be found via the link below:

http://news.sky.com/story/959465/technology-gives-boost-to-childrens-reading
In the article, ‘The Reading Agency’ whose mission is to “inspire more people to read more” claims that “The ages-old problem of getting children to pick up a book is being helped by the increase in electronic devices.”
According to the survey one in four (26%) said they have bought their children electronic reading aids, such as Kindles, Sony Readers and iPads

A further 16% of parents say that they have either paid for, or let their youngsters use their e-readers and tablet computers.

These findings are interesting and I believe that they represent an evolution in the way people consume written media.

The digital generation mentioned in a previous blog (see here), expect easy access to information due to them been immersed in digital technology since birth, and now through the availability of theses mobile reading technologies, it is my belief that this current generation of reader, are going to grow up frequently reading written texts such as books, newspapers, comics and magazines digitally.

In a different press release regarding the Launch of a ‘Digital Skills Sharing Programme’ featured on The Reading Agency’s website, Miranda McKearney, Director of The Reading Agency says:

“Libraries and publishers are living through a period of change which can be exhilarating or terrifying. The people involved in this programme are those who relish the challenge of the change, and are determined to harness the power of the digital explosion to reach new reading audiences.”

(McKearney, 2012, http://readingagency.org.uk/media/press-releases/The%20Reading%20Agency%20-%20Reading%20Partners%20Digital%20Skills%20Sharing%20Project%20-%20FINAL%2030%204%2012.pdf)

We are in a period of change that is for sure but is it a change for the better?  That is a question that causes great debate, in the above quote McKearney acknowledges that digital technology is a tool, that if harnessed properly can help take reading out to new audiences and this is positive.
In a previous blog (see here), I wrote about Author Johnathen Franzen, who claims that e-books are damaging society and serious readers but according to an article in the guardian newspaper Franzen is wrong, the article explains that in today’s busy world the book as a medium, has to compete with a wide range of other mediums i.e. television, internet, radio etc…

“So, the truth is that serious books such as Franzen’s Freedom or The Corrections have to compete for our time, whether in print or on a screen. But if a book is good, it will earn the effort and reflection that no doubt Franzen’s books deserve.”

(Porter, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/05/franzen-dickens-hockney-ebooks)

The idea that paper is for serious readers, is a romanticised notion that does not make any sense in the 21st century.  In my other career as a nightclub DJ, I often have people remarking to me that it is not the same now that DJ’s don’t use vinyl but my reply to that is if you are dancing in nightclub you are more often than not reacting to music and the atmosphere created by the DJ, without any knowledge of the medium that the DJ is using and for books I believe the same principle is true, if you are reading a book that is sufficiently interesting and written in an engaging way, the medium from which you are reading almost becomes irrelevant.

I am a self confessed advocate of digital technology but that does not mean I think it should replace traditional mediums such books and access to books through libraries (McKearney suggests that this time of change can be exhilarating or terrifying for libraries).  Jonathan Nowell, President of Nielsen Book says:

“We are in a hybrid world of reading content through printed books and digital devices. Consumers do one, or the other, or both.” (Nowell, 2012, http://readingagency.org.uk/media/press-releases/The%20Reading%20Agency%20-%20Reading%20Partners%20Digital%20Skills%20Sharing%20Project%20-%20FINAL%2030%204%2012.pdf)

I believe that the main thing we need to remember here, is that it is important for people to be able to read and any medium that supports this should hailed as useful, how, what, and where we read may change but it does not matter, as long as we read.

http://readingagency.org.uk/

Does Interactive Media Fit Into Academic Art School Education

Although I have more or less finished my practice in context essay, today we had a session in which we informally presented our current progress and feelings about this module so far. I wish I could say it was a pleasant experience but it was not, I sensed a lot of negativity with my choice of approach and subject matter, and to be honest this is not the first time during this course.  I simply do not fit in, if it’s not the difference in approach towards looking at and evaluating art and design, it’s the technical nature of my practice and lack of comparable 18th century painters or sculptors from which I obviously don’t draw comparisons.

This may becoming a bit of a rant but this feeling of struggling to fit in with the status quo of art school academia is very frustrating and I feel as though the heavily art biased approach of this course can very off putting.  I am trying immensely hard to fit in but this is becoming more of a struggle.  I do not blame the staff on my course for the way I am feeling because it is definitely not their fault; I am a victim of my own circumstance.  I am the least art influenced student in my group and the traditional art perspectives applicable to the other students are not always applicable to me or my practice but this may not be the main problem.

In my essay I discuss the misunderstanding surrounding my practice in a professional context and maybe there is a lack of understanding of my practice in art school academia, in the same way that there is a lack of understanding of my practice in the wider world.

My essay points out that my practice crosses boundaries between sectors and thus this causes confusion and not only misunderstanding but also misidentification.  In the same way that my practice does not fit neatly into a traditional bracket of employment, it does not seem to fit into a traditional bracket of academia.

This lack of understanding is something that can be very frustrating from my perspective but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a level of frustration being experienced by my lecturers, in trying to deliver relevant notions and ideas to me and also an annoyance levelled at me for being constantly perturbed.

I think there may be a deeper lying problem here and it is not an ‘art vs. design’ problem as I have written in the past.  I believe that the problem is the application of traditional art school educational principles, to a non traditional subject matter.

Art school teaching often looks to the past, for influences that pertain meaning in relation to current works, for example a female student photographer may draw comparisons or contrasts between her own work and the work of ‘Annie Liebovitz’ by comparing style, technique, technology and influences of a social, temporal,  psychological and philosophical nature.  The sources from which the student may find relevant information may include books, journals and interviews, all of which are recognised academic sources of information and the lines of enquiry are all traditional art school academic investigations.

In my practice there are lots of relevant lines of exploration, including most of the traditional investigative paths but there also seems to be a lot that don’t seem academically acceptable.

In my practice I cannot look back at famous pioneers in the same way, due to the fact that we are in the thick of the pioneering process right now.  My practice is not traditional its new, it is current and that is fact.  You may be reading my thoughts right now on my blog; I read the thoughts of my fellow interactive designers on their blogs or on their twitter feeds but these are not academically acceptable.  This makes one of the largest elements of my practice unavailable as a resource, but been part of a ground breaking profession as its breaking new ground, means we do not have the luxury of looking back with the same romanticised notions as artists or more traditional design practices.

My practice is based around the practical needs of users in today’s world and it seems as though the equation is Practical = Devaluation.

Professor Donald A Norman describes a situation in design that I believe creeps into art school academia, he says “Prizes tend to be given for some aspects of design, to the neglect of all others-usually including usability” (Norman, 1988: p151-152), in other wordsthe practical aspects are not appreciated as much as the visual aspects.  Folkmann also highlights this issue “when design artefacts are noticed and appreciated, it is more often for their aesthetic qualities than their practical or functional ability to solve more or less complex or well-defined problems.” (Folkmann, 2010).  It is my belief that the situation described by Norman and Folkmann, mirrors the situation in art school academia, I believe there can sometimes be an under valuation of the technical or practical design subjects, in comparison to their art or traditional counterparts.

This may be because of an understandable lack of understanding of the complex nature of the new experimental subjects and the theories and relevant literature available to the students of these subjects.  There are many books written about art that look back on pieces with a romanticised notion, that often contradicts the initial reaction to the work and this could possibly be what may happen to the writings of the new media practitioners of my generation, our practice is still evolving whilst also been extremely culturally relevant right now.

I am a victim of my own circumstance in the respect that I am a new media student and practitioner, a practice that is probably the most untraditional and furthest removed from all others within an art and design school environment.  A practice that is too new to write academic writings based upon the exploits of relevant pioneers and innovators, not because the pioneers don’t exist but because the majority of them are still pioneering and sharing their exploits in non academically suitable mediums such as blogs and twitter.

These pioneers do not purposely circumvent the traditional academic process (well some might), they simply uses the methods of their practice, is it hard to believe that new media practitioners may show their work and thoughts on new media platforms?

But here is the problem, academia has a set of rules regarding trusted sources, these are set in place to try and preserve the integrity of academic work and due to the misguided attempts of some new media platforms at providing information, new media generally is not a great resource for academic material.  In time, more academically appropriate, new media related information will become available but often as is the nature of new media practice, the pace of practical evolution often outdoes the pace of new media related academic enquiries.

At the moment, I do not have a solution to offer that may solve frustrations and I believe there may never be an answer but what I do know is that at the moment, as a new media student in an art school environment, I feel a bit like the proverbial elephant in the room that nobody wishes to discuss.  I am not trying to cause problems and I am not a maverick looking to upset the establishment, I just feel that there is a problem here worthy of further debate and discussion, and hopefully my view via the benefits of new media production, may be noticed by those with the power to look further and deeper into this quandary, to hopefully benefit the new media students of the future.

Folkmann, M. N. (2010) Evaluating Aesthetics in Design: A Phenonenological Approach, Design Issues, Vol. 26, Iss. 1, pp. 40-53

Norman, D, A, (1988) The Psychology Of Everyday Things, New York: Basic Books

Are E-books damaging society?

Author Jonathan Franzen has defended the printed book, warning that e-books are damaging for society.  Franzen believes consumers are being coerced into believing that they need the latest technological innovations and he believes that traditional paper is the best technology for books, he says “the technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. ”

Franzen also explains that printed books are permanent and there may be issues with the lifespan of today’s technological products, he also implies that those who read digitally are not serious readers, by saying “I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.”  I do not agree with Franken’s views and I would not claim that either medium is better or worse, they both have their distinct qualities.  What I do think is interesting, is that Franzen’s books are available to buy on digital devices, so his worries are obviously not effecting his desire to earn money.  The question I am left with is, if you are a reader who is reading a Jonathan Franzen novel on a digital reading device, you obviously according to Franzen are not a serious reader, so what does this imply about the quality of his work?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9047981/Jonathan-Franzen-e-books-are-damaging-society.html

The demand for interactive media ‘iSchool initiative’

As part of my essay, I am discussing the current demand for interactive media in the educational and heritage sectors.  I think the ‘iSchool initiative’ that I blogged about previously (see here), may be a good example of this demand.

Today I also found a great article By Namir Anani entitled ‘Sustainable engagement in digital heritage– The challenges of learning environments for heritage institutions’.

This Article focuses on the fact that the heritage industry faces the same demands from today’s digital society as other businesses and an evolution of the heritage industry through the use of interactive media is needed to maintain its duty of delivering information to society.