BlogUpdates from the project

Apr

23

Presenting: The Watchers!

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

Exciting news! The Gaming Privacy project has wrapped, and we are pleased to announce the outcome of our efforts: an iPad + board game called The Watchers which will be launching as a public beta May 15, 2012. The game will be available in two versions: a freely downloadable DIY kit, or a fully assembled version, which will be sold at cost. In addition, the app component will be available both as an iPad app, and a web app for use on PCs and laptops. The web app version will be available for play on May 15th, with the iPad version to follow shortly after. All the game components are Creative Commons licensed for anyone to reuse and remix!

The Watchers takes place in an inter-dimensional town called Union City. Tasked with protecting the city is a secret arms-length government agency, made up of the top agents from each dimension. The team must investigate a number of mysterious events surrounding the town’s hat-based augmented reality network, known as Hatnet. Through these investigations, players learn a number of real-world privacy concepts as well as developing their critical thinking and risk assessment skills.

The game was created by David Fono and Kate Raynes-Goldie at Atmosphere Industries in collaboration with an amazing team of Canadian children: Chris, Jordan, Kiri, Mary, Mitchell, Peter, and Tinson. We would also like to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the research and logistical support of the EDGE Lab at Ryerson University.

We’re also excited to announce that we will be presenting the game at a number of events leading up to our official launch on May 15:

 

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Jan

13

Cutscene Montage

by David Fono

It’s a montage in one frame, but I think it sorta still qualifies as a montage.

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Jan

12

Time for some game art!

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

In week 5, we began creating the characters and concept art for the game. The game is set in Union City, which is located at the intersection of 7 zany universes, each inhabited by a unique species. Each child on our team first created their own dimensional species: the XYZs, the Puffballs, the Elvrin, the Milkzombies, the Hockeys, the Fliers and the Alphawolves. From there, they created each created a playable character. Together, these characters make up the secret crack team called “The Watchers” who are tasked with protecting the city from chaos and other badness. Most recently, they’ve been working on a lot of weird cases related to Hatnet — the interdimensional inter-network that connects to everyone’s brains through their hats!

Using their concept art and backstories, Dara Gold (our resident artist) worked with the children to create polished final versions of each character. Check them out! (and if you haven’t seen it already, Kiri — who made the Alphawolves — created this totally awesome trailer for us on her DS!)

101 the XYZ, by Tinson

The XYZs (pronounced zwiz) are monkeys who have a symbiotic relationship with blobs who live on their heads. They have evolved together over a very long time. The blobs do everything for the monkeys and together they live in what is basically a utopia.

 

Petor the Puffball, by Peter

The puffballs are adorable creatures who are always hungry. They live in simple cottages. They are coloured differently depending on their talents, and enjoy snoozing.

 

Starling Maverick the Elvrin, by Mary

The Elvrin are an intelligent and secretive people, who live close to nature. They hail from a forest planet, where they enjoy hunting, playing strategy games, and crafting.

 

Zombo the Milkzombie, by Chris

Milkzombies love milk and have pigs for feet! The live in lava houses, and travel via milk-powered trains.

 

Bob the Hockey, by Mitchell

The Hockeys love to play hockey, but sometimes they can be emotional. They live in a stadium, and eat goop / candy / strawberry milk.

 

Dr. Evil (not evil!) the Flyer, by Jordan

Fliers are flying houses. They love to EXPLODE things, and give people mean looks. They will eat anything but worms.

 

Kara the Alphawolf, by Kiri

The Alphawolves live in the forest, and behave very much like normal wolves, but are much more intelligent (moreso than humans, even.) Loyalty to the pack is the foremost value amongst them.

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Jan

10

A Trailer!

by David Fono

One of our young co-creators, Kiri, made this trailer for our game. She did it in 1 day, on a DS. Outstanding!

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Dec

22

Inspiration!

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

Time for a quick update!

David and I have been madly working away on the latest prototype and building out the basis we’ve co-created with the children. I wanted to take a moment to share what we’ve been thinking about.

We love the wacky, playful and silly characters and world the children have created (a post with all the latest game art is coming soon, I promise). It reminds us of some of our favourite games — a few of which we played when we were younger ourselves. Since they are in line with the zany and fun tone set by the children, we’ve been drawing on the following for inspiration:

  • Glitch – a new collaborative, non-violent MMO by the creators of Flickr in collaboration with artists from around the world, including Keita Takahashi who created…
  • Katamari Damacy – a revolutionary and beautiful video game for the PS2, originally created as an art project
  • EarthBound – a quirky RPG for the SNES. Set in a world not unlike our own, the hero is a young boy uses everyday objects (frying pans, delicious snacks) to save the planet.
  • Paper Mario – another quirky RPG for SNES, staring the infamous Mario brothers.
What all these games have in common is beauty, whimsy and creativity. They’re all must plays for any aspiring game designer, especially if you’re making games for or with children.
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Dec

19

Week 5 Workshop Report: Creating the world

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

This workshop was all focused entirely on hands on game design.

We began by testing the third prototype, a mystery story in a world similar to the X-Files, where players — as top secret spies — are not even sure if they can trust their employer. We used a Wizard of OZ-style technique, with David as the computer. The game unfolded by David telling the story and results of actions, while writing the main points on a white board.

On their own, as we played, some children had trouble focusing on the game until they grabbed sheets of paper to draw the characters they were imagining in their heads or to make notes about the mystery. In previous play tests with cards or board games, those physical pieces had been the centre of focus that brought everyone together. This need for a physical shared game space further underscored the need to make the final game a board game (or something similar).

The second key learning from this third prototype was the need to better scaffold trust decisions within the game. In this version, players would be given different clues and leads to follow. At the end of each round, as a group, players had to make a decision about who to trust. The issue, we discovered, was that the game assumed a bit too much about players already having established frameworks for making trust decisions. In other words, the trust decisions needed more scaffolding, which in turn needed to be built into the game.

After the playtest and feedback session, we began creating the species, characters and locations that would fill out the world. We decided the game would take place in an interdimensional town, where 7 different dimensions connected. Each dimension would have its own species and backstory that shape the game narrative and world. In this way, each child would get to create their own piece of the game through their own unique world, character and species. We created simple sheets for everyone to fill out. For example, the character sheet asked for the characters’ name, where they lived, their favourite hobbies and so on. Each child also drew a few pictures of their characters and other members of their species. These concept drawings and descriptions will then be passed along to our artist – Dara Gold — who will turn them into finished pieces that will make up the game world.

Stayed tuned — in the next post, I’ll be sharing the concept and finalized drawings from the game!

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Dec

14

Guiding principles and design decisions

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

In between each weekend workshop session, David and I have been working on game prototypes that build on the direction the children have been giving us. Based on the feedback, discussions and play tests that occur during the workshops, we’ve been iterating on these designs and moving towards a final game. Part of this process has also been to decide on some guiding principles to structure or design decisions.

In designing our prototypes, we’ve been guided by the request of our child co-creation team to make a game that teaches trust and risk assessment skills which will facilitate autonomous privacy decision making. To this end, we are aiming to make a game that provides players with the experience of making these choices, with the appropriate scaffolding to guide that decision making process. In this way, players can learn, develop and practice the skills necessary to make autonomous privacy decisions online.

Drawing on the literature on decision making, learning theory and strategic planning (such as SWOT analysis and John Pijanowski’s framework for developing a moral decision making curriculum) we identified a simplified model of decision making built on information gathering; assessment of pros and cons; and critical reflection. We then looked at ways in which individuals can gather information about websites or other online services:

  • Asking friends about their experiences
  • Asking authorities
  • Checking the websites affiliation/certification with privacy/ecommerce associations
  • Reading news reports and blog posts
  • Reading the Terms of Service or privacy policy
The following questions can then be used to guide the evaluation of the gathered information:
  • What is the motivation or goal of websites? How might that impact you?
  • What is required of you?
  • What are the trade-offs?
To map these aspects into the gameplay of the second prototype (a multidimensional board game), we created player abilities: observation, conversation, research, intuition. Players used these skills by spending ability tokens. However, after a play test, we found these were a bit too “gamey” in that they were fun, but did not give the play the experience of actually practicing those skills. In the third prototype, which I will post about in an upcoming workshop report, we built in the experience of making trust decisions but did not include enough scaffolding to help guide those decisions. We’re now working on the fourth prototype to balance out all these issues.

 

And lastly, we’re happy to announce we’ve decided on the format of the game: it will be a video game/board game hybrid, with potentially some physical elements. This decision informed by play tests but also a desire to make the game playable as a group while remaining as accessible (in terms of technology) as possible. By using a computer and a downloadable set of cards and game board, the game can be played at homes with a computer, at school or at the library. A board game encourages more interaction and collaboration, as well as enabling a larger group to play with one another. We are also looking into manufacturing a professionally produced version of the game (with nice game pieces, a colour game board and so on) which we can sell at cost and/or distribute for free to schools and libraries.
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Dec

14

Week 4 Workshop Report: Fun and educational?

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

We began this week by playing the two board game prototypes that the children had created in the previous week (Escape from Bookingville Zoo and Wolves on Ice!). Each team played the other teams game, then, using the same fun/not fun/why? metric, we did a debrief after each to discuss what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved.

We then did a feedback and discussion session to check in about the game’s priorities. Based on previous workshop discussions and exercises, we had begun to create a prototype focusing on trust in terms of risk assessment and making appropriate judgements about when and who to trust. To make sure everyone was still on board with this direction, we used a spectrogram. A spectrogram is just what it sounds like - we put a line of tape on the floor with one end representing YES! and the other NO!, with the middle representing ambivalence. Everyone then stands along the line based on how much they agree or disagree with the question at hand.

Using this spectrogram, we asked what the focus of the game should be about, beginning with the high level concept of “trust.” Everyone agreed 100% that that’s what they wanted the game to teach and focus on. We then asked more specifically what that meant, including:

  • How to find out if people / things are really what they say they are
  • How to avoid being hacked / attacked by spyware
  • Determining if you can trust an online game company
The more specific we got, the less consensus we had. When I asked why, the reasons the children gave centred around approaches that were too heavy handed, literal or “boring.” They also told us they did not want to make an “edugame.” Instead, they wanted the game to teach and engage in a way that taught something, but not in a manner that got in the way of the game being fun.
I see this as a reflection of our approach which is to teach skills that can be autonomously and critically applied, rather than just asking children to memorize online safety tips or to behave in a certain way without any reflection on why such a behaviour might be good or bad. Such an approach is not only boring for children, it does not teach reusable, fundamental skills, such as the ability to make risk and trust assessments in all aspects of life — online or otherwise. It is an approach that is not unlike teaching someone how to cook by asking them to memorize recipes rather than teaching the basics of cooking. My my experience playing platformers as a child, part of the fun of games is learning new skills, practicing them and then experiencing the satisfaction of mastering them. I think this is an opportunity to make something that is both deeply educational and deeply fun.
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Nov

18

Storytelling and scaffolding

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

In earlier posts, I’ve touched on the importance scaffolding in our project. Scaffolding is a concept used in education whereby learners are provided support structures which are gradually removed as learning advances. Scaffolding is like training wheels, but with more levels. The concept has informed both what we are creating, but also how we are creating it. For example, in creating the game design workshops, our goal was to create appropriate scaffolding to enable the children to meaningfully engage with the game design process. At the same time, scaffolding is also an important element of game design. The level structure of many games can be seen as scaffolding that gradually gets removed as the player advances in their skills. In the tutorial stage, most of the activities are scaffolded and the player is guided through learning the necessary basic skills. As the levels advance, players are are given access to more skills and more challenges. In this way, the structure of many games actually mimic the way people learn, which could potentially make this element of games quite useful as a teaching tool. This is something we are exploring.

What we’ve also been discovering is the usefulness of narrative as a learning scaffold. In Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, he details how the world of Harry Potter is used by children and young adults to teach themselves media and conventional literacy skills (thanks to Melanie McBride for putting me on to this). According to Jenkins, young fanfic writers use the pre-created worlds and characters as scaffolds to help them practice their own creative skills. Writers also help each other to improve through fanfic communities. They read each other’s work, provide feedback and generally encouraging one another. After honing their writing and editing skills, young writers can eventually remove the scaffolding and begin creating their own worlds. In a sense, Harry Potter fanfic communities provide the tutorial level for creative writing.

Most of all, Harry Potter fanfic communities make learning to write fun. Part of this fun comes from the enjoyment of reading and writing about the Harry Potter universe. Part of the scaffolding that the narrative provides, then, is fun and motivation to get and stay engaged. In the two privacy game prototypes we’ve tested so far (one with a strong narrative component, the other without) the feedback from everyone has been how much they liked the story, or missed it when there wasn’t one. In our prototype that required trust evaluation skills to uncover the overarching narrative, Mary (one of our young co-creators) observed that the game helped her to reflect on trust and privacy but did it in a way that was fun and engaging. As she put it, she did not feel like she was learning, even though she was, which she liked.

Mary’s comments are interesting in the context of what we’ve been hearing from the group. The children have told us that they turn off when they feel they are being engaged in a disrespectful or heavy-handed way, for example when they are asked to memorize privacy skills or threats, rather than being given broader skills to make their own decisions. Narrative can be used to not only make things fun and engaging, it can create a space where these broader skills are learned.

Narrative can also create opportunities for experiential learning through empathy and critical distance. As Jenkins described with Harry Potter fanfic, writers could use the pre-created characters to write about their own experiences from a less personal, more critical distance. Jenkins gives examples where young authors would practice writing from other people’s perspectives, such as the adult characters. In the same way, games can the experience of being someone else, for example through roleplaying or being asked to carry out certain quests. In this way, players and readers can experience being someone else, thereby gaining insight into other people’s motivations, concerns or fears. Such insight into other people is critical for making good trust evaluations which ultimately enable good privacy protection skills.

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Nov

10

Week 3 Workshop Report: Let’s make some games!

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

We had another great workshop this week, with everyone jumping head first into game design. The overarching theme for this week was prototyping and board games, two things which go hand in hand. Usually when we talk about games we automatically think of video games. However board games are fun (obviously), inherently social and, they often inspire video game designers (and other kinds of designers too – when David and I created the pervasive game Gentrification: The Game we drew on the board game China Town). But most importantly, board games provide a great model for creating rapid paper prototypes for any kind of game you can imagine.

But before we got into board games, the first order of the day was playing a game created by Peter, one of our young co-creators. On his own, Peter had designed a game called Air Raiders and had written down the rules with Noah and Jaime so he could teach us all to play this week. It was similar to Gargoyles, but used more props which everyone liked. Peter was gracious enough to let us use our new game evaluation metric of “fun/not fun” to do a debrief on his game. Building on last week, we also added the question of “why” — why was something fun or not fun? So far, we’ve found this to be an accessible (and fun!) way to encourage critical reflection on games.

After a discussion of our favourite board games and how they can be used to quickly create and test new games, we played a board game called Hey, That’s My Fish (a wonderful game for all ages recommended to us by Stewart Woods, thanks Stew!) After playing, we had another debrief using the fun/not fun metric, this time dividing answers into aesthetics and gameplay. Next, we playtested a paper prototype of a privacy game that David and I worked on during the week. The prototype – called Popularity — was based around a fake online social game where the goal was to get the most popularity points. There were costs and benefits to various actions in the game — such as putting lots of info on your profile now would give you more popularity points, but if the site was hacked later and the information was stolen, you would lose points, and might have to do something embarrassing, like sing a silly song or wear a sticky note on your forehead. Overall, we wanted to test some game mechanics (such as actually having to be embarrassed if embarrassing personal info gets leaked) and get feedback from the group. It was also a good exercise in seeing how aesthetics can play a key part in a good game, since our prototype was still pretty barebones and simple looking.

The feedback was varied — some really liked the game, while others were bored. The main comments where that there needed to be a stronger story element as well as stronger characters. The aesthetics were, of course, also lacking since this was a paper prototype. We also noted how quickly the game became about collecting the most points because this was the most fun, rather than engaging with the educational aspect. As I discuss in the next post, this reaffirmed for us that the use of narrative can keep players entertained and engaged while still actively reflecting on the game’s content.

We ended the day by breaking into two teams of children to design and create two different “race-to-the-end” style board games, both of which we are all looking forward to playing next week.

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