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.




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 , 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.




Week 2 Workshop Report: What should the game teach? (part 2)

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

Another goal for the second week was to talk about different kinds of privacy – especially aspects of privacy that are perhaps not thought of as connected with online privacy. In my own research with 20-somethings and that of others (such as Zeynep Tufekci and ) that young people (college/university-age students) conceive of privacy in a different way than traditional legal conceptions which are based on the “ right to be left alone ” or total withdrawal. This sort of privacy usually revolves around protecting and managing information gathered about individuals by institutions, such as banks or law enforcement.  ”Institutional” privacy, as it can be called, had traditionally been what the world’s data protection and privacy commissioners have been concerned with. On the other hand, things like identity, reputation and context management (or “social” privacy) seems to be more of a pressing concern to 20-something social media users. This sort of disconnection of terms has probably what lead to misunderstandings that youth don’t know or don’t care about privacy at all . We wanted to explore this distinction with our younger co-designers. How did they conceive of privacy? What did they know about online privacy issues? Where they more concerned with institutional or social privacy, or something else? Through a number of exercises, our goal was to explore these questions and, co-construct a shared idea of what we (both adults and children) meant when we talked about privacy. To that end, and to avoid skewing results, we didn’t use actually the word “privacy” until later in the workshop. What we found was partially unexpected.

The first exercise was a drawing exercise where the children each picked one of the following and drew a picture about it:

  • Not being watched
  • Keeping secrets
  • Other people thinking true things about you
  • Being left alone
  • Knowing what is said about you

At the end, we asked “are any of these things connected to privacy?” Three said yes, three said no and one said maybe. What was also interesting was that the two pictures of “being left alone” described sad situations. Overall, it seemed that there is some confusion about what privacy actually means.

The final privacy exercise of the day was bringing together what we had talked about to get some ideas of what the privacy game we’re creating together should actually teach. Based on the advice of Sara Grimes , I told stories about different online privacy situations and then we discussed them. As Sara suggested, stories about other people would make it easier for everyone to feel comfortable sharing since it would be less personal. Coming out of this discussion was the somewhat unexpected part. All the children but one said that adults had told them to be concerned about their online privacy. And what they were usually told about (especially the girls) was worrying about strangers — a threat that has been shown time and time again as . While this wasn’t surprising, what was surprising is that that they hadn’t been told about institutional privacy issues, such as how to make choices about when/if to trust websites or online games and the consequences of those choices. Despite this, they were all quite savvy that online games were “greedy” and that the agreements they were asked to sign when they joined weren’t there to protect children, rather they were there to protect the companies “from being sued.” Despite this knowledge, there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between this knowledge and actual action — a problem adults have as well. I suspect, though, that the emphasis on “stranger danger” rather than institutional privacy and trust combined with a lack of education in that area underscores that disconnect. Making good privacy choices with respect to how companies might use your data is just not being framed as important.

Based on this, our co-creators wanted the game to help children make good choices around who to trust online, beyond strangers. One of them wanted to know how to figure out if someone else really was another kid or not. Another wanted to know more about viruses, spying and hacking. They were also curious about how to determine of an online game company would be “greedy” or not, and thus if they could be trusted.

The research supports this focus as well. Valerie Steeves, Trevor Milford and Ashley Butts notes in their best practices for educational initatives in their , that children and youth should be encouraged to critically reflect on “the role of advertising, marketing, and consumerism as drivers of children’s online experiences.” This is exactly what our co-creators want to to know more about!