A (D)iscourse for Be(com)ing a Gamer

Photo Credit: Nordic Game Bits
Photo Credit: Nordic Game Bits


Discourse has been my educational quandary of the month. I find the concept particularly difficult to grasp when it comes to immaterial things such as online communities or video games. Even in hosting the annotation of Gamestar Mechanic: Reflections on the Design & Research of a Game About Game Design, I struggled with why discourse is important and how it plays out. In the following Hypothes.is conversation, I was asking for clarification from my professor, Remi:

In the above conversation, I learned GameStar Mechanic was able to teach learners how to be game makers by immersing learners in digestible pockets of discourse. By acting as game makers, learners become game makers. They are learning the Discourse, which includes the actions, language, and mannerisms of game makers in order to one day become full blown Game Makers.


Relationship between Games and Learning

This month’s group game, Exploding Kittens continued to teach me the larger discourse of gaming to learn. Not being a gamer prior to this course, group play allowed me to learn the discourse of gaming. I have learned that our discourse is supportive and curious about the design. So much so that the game can stop and hands can be revealed in order to better understand potential outcomes. We dissect the game design together and my peers are essential to my learning. 


Changed Preconceptions about Games

I have always been very competitive, but find my new gaming discourse to favor curiosity over winning. With competition off the table, I have found a new appreciation for gaming. In fact, gaming to learn can build community and teach communication. In fact, my gaming to learn experience is making me ask the questions:

  • “How can I incorporate more games into my life?”

  • “How can I become a (G)amer?”


My Affinity Network


My classmates and colleagues continued to help me decide upon my chosen game discourse, but it took a couple tries. My first suggestion on financial awareness was a dud because I focused on a boring topic that had no educational pull for me. However, my classmate, Lisa Dise, was incredibly helpful in finding a great affinity space for this topic. When I got permission to switch gears, I relied upon guidance from my boss, Brad Hinson heeding the importance of understanding the fundamentals of code. Then I continued to ask questions of my peers, Kirk Lindsford and Lisa Dise around which coding language, game, and affinity space would be best. As experienced in group play, they were incredibly helpful. 

Playing an online game and joining an affinity space allows me to step out of game theory and step into game experience. This is the only way for me to truly understand such a challenging and intangible topic. I am be(com)ing a gamer through immersion and (d)iscourse at its best.  





Challenging Myself to Something New: The Code Combat Discourse Community

The synergistic effect of joining an affinity space in my Game Theory class and trying something new in my Social Media class led to my bold exploration of coding. To some, this is not a big deal, but to me, it’s a massive challenge. This endeavor has made me feel really vulnerable mostly due to an untrue belief that coding is an elite language that only especially smart people learn. Plus, it didn’t help that I hated every minute of my coding class in high school.

Photo Credit: Code Combat
Photo Credit: Code Combat

In my state of feeling very awkward as an adult learner of code, I decided to join a coding game and affinity space geared towards middle and high schoolers. Code Combat has been surprisingly easy to play right out of the gate. As a lurker on the affinity/discourse space I figured out how to change my coding language to JavaScript. The discourse space allowed me to search for key words, which allowed me to find my answer from a previous conversation. As my confidence grows, I excel to higher levels, and I cannot find simple answers on the discourse space, I will branch out and ask questions of the community.

The discourse community for Code Combat has what James Paul Gee and Elisabeth Hayes would term a nurturing affiinity space. All newbies are welcome and it is made clear that respect is key as seen below.

Photo Credit: Discourse Code Combat Although I haven’t joined a clan yet, I appreciate the fact that clan comparisons, insults, and anything forbidden by the rules are clearly stated. The boundaries are clear and everyone knows what is expected.   It took me a while to decide upon which game and affinity space to join, but I feel quite good about my decision. I am actually excited to dig into the game, create an image in code, and learn what the community has to offer. Code Combat’s onboarding and design have shifted my gaming perspective from, “I think I can,” to “I know I can.”
Photo Credit: Discourse Code Combat Although I haven’t joined a clan yet, I appreciate the fact that clan comparisons, insults, and anything forbidden by the rules are clearly stated. The boundaries are clear and everyone knows what is expected.   It took me a while to decide upon which game and affinity space to join, but I feel quite good about my decision. I am actually excited to dig into the game, create an image in code, and learn what the community has to offer. Code Combat’s onboarding and design have shifted my gaming perspective from, “I think I can,” to “I know I can.”

Equity & Coding for All Children

Educational equity for all children, privileged or not, was urged by James Paul Gee in their preparation for today’s increasingly high tech world (2004). Though his message is over a decade old, it is still relevant. Not all children have the same access to a computer, a smartphone, the internet, or food for that matter. The article Fixing the Bugs: Teaching Kids to Code on a Zero-Dollar Budget by Mary Jo Madda highlights Google’s grassroots effort to make coding classes available to underprivileged children. The Google program, named CS First means Computer Science First and “provides free, easy-to-use computer science enrichment materials that target and engage a diverse student population,” (CS-First.com).
In my CU Denver master’s level games and learning course, we are dissecting game theory. One major lesson I’ve learned is that opportunity is key. All children can easily learn specialist varieties of language, or code, as part of assimilating popular culture (Gee, 2004, p. 11).  CS First is providing such an opportunity for students to learn coding who otherwise would not have access to the technology or guidance.

Madda demonstrates how CS First is a great example of clever scaffolding versus reinventing the wheel. CS First’s Program Manager, Kate Berrio said, ““We didn’t just want to create [a new program], we wanted to look at what’s out there and what we could piggyback off of or scaffold around,” (Madda, 2014). SC First piggybacked off three key program components: a quality coding program, themed curriculum, and community mentors. As a supplement program, SC First’s target markets include after-school program, summer camps, and community outreach.  

CS First scaffolded curriculum around the free online coding program, Scratch. With Scratch as the coding foundation, Berrio then took special care to integrate other subjects or interests into learning Scratch, such as fashion or music. Classes offer inviting names like “Scratch Music & Sound” or “Scratch Game Design.” Softening the term computer science proved to recruit more students.

Mentors of the program are called Gurus and, from my perspective, I find them to be the most pivotal component of the program. CS First says interested volunteers can learn alongside the students and offers a easy, well-planned lesson plans for each class. This is also assuming the hosting program has the “minimum requirements:

  1. Access to a computer lab or laptops
  2. Reliable internet/wifi connnection
  3. Access to students” (cs-first.com).

What’s even more exciting is CS First gathered data from all their pilot programs in Charleston, South Carolina, the third lowest state for wifi connectivity in homes. These are the exact children who more than likely, don’t have access to technology outside of school. Google collected pre and post club survey data to capture 1200+ students reactions to coding in their pilot programs from August 2014 to April 2014. Students responses included the following:

  1. “‘I can create things with Computer Science’ increased by 25%.
  2. ‘Yes, I do like programming’ increased by 29%.
  3. ‘If I get stuck on a computer problem, I might know how to fix it’ increased by 22%.
  4. ‘Yes, I think computer science is cool’ increased by 26%.
  5. ‘I don’t really understand computer science’ decreased by 34%,’” (sc-first.com).

I am most excited that Gee’s wisdom is being heeded at the very core of CS First mission to make computer science accessible to underprivileged children. Way to fight for equity Google!

Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.

Madda, M. J. (2014). Fixing the Bugs: Teaching Kids to Code on a Zero Dollar Budget (EdSurge News). Retrieved February 23, 2016, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2014-07-21-fixing-the-bugs-teaching-kids-to-code-on-a-zero-dollar-budget

Photo Credit: http://www.moultrienews.com/article/20150611/MN01/150619924/1036

The Science Behind Serious Games

Taking Serious Games Seriously in Education [Research] by Dr. Kristen DiCerbo offers the unique perspective of how the industry leader, Pearson, designs and builds games as learning tools. As she shares her experience in research and game innovation, DiCerbo also demonstrates how well-designed games can address multiple curriculum needs, enable pain free assessments, and offer immediate feedback for students. Such games can enhance not only the learning experience for the students, but the teachers as well.
Her scientific stance to games offers hope in comparison to Blake Montgomery’s article, Is the Education Industry Falling Into the Same Trap It Did 20 Years Ago? He talks about the previous collapse of the edutainment industry due to poorly designed games and to the misuse of the word “educational”.  Conversely, DiCerbo’s explanation of design decisions and careful use of language around today’s serious games exemplifies what all learning games should strive to become.

DiCerbo (2015) highlights new benefits of serious games in her words, “As learning scientists have engaged with them, games have become stronger learning tools because of:

    1. Tighter ties to research-based learning progressions,
    2. Better links to elements of professionalization, and
    3. Better design for assessment,” (2015).

These principles lay the foundation for exemplar games such as Mars Generations One: Argubot Academy EDU.

Mars Generation One was a collaborative effort by GlassLab, the Educational Testing Service, and Pearson. This futuristic game teaches middle schoolers skills in reasoning, persuasion, and decision making. In order for the students to influence the construction of a new civilization, they must arm their robots, also called argubots, with arguments for battle. The best argument wins. As students build their arguments, learning progressions, introductions to professionalization, and assessments are being seamlessly built upon and tracked.

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A key feature of Mars Generation One is that it relied upon research to set the predefined learning progression. This means the game assesses what level each student is at and how s/he is improving. DiCerbo provides the example that students begin their learning journey with a single reason in their argubot, next progress to multiple arguments in an argubot, then continue to multiple arguments with supporting evidence, and so on as they learn to more effectively argue their points.

Another clever feature of Mars Generation One is that there is a component of role play and/or identity. The games touches on the professions of astronauts, politicians, lawyers, engineers, and writers. These early beginnings of identity formation are similar to identities taken on in commercial games such as a wizard, but have a more applicable stance in the real world (DiCerbo, 2015).

The coolest aspect of Mars Generation One is the use of invisible assessment. Rather than employing the old method of quiz making, taking, and grading, students are assessed as they play the game. Teachers and students have immediate feedback on progress as well as how a student solves problems. This is a huge benefit since old testing methods are time consuming and do not show the student’s thought process.

DiCerbo’s article illuminates game making as a science. I have learned it is critical to implement high standards of learning progressions, professionalization cues, and invisible assessments for both a positive and credible learning experience for all involved. May all educational games and their marketing efforts strive to keep serious games seriously credible.



DiCerbo, K. (2015). Taking Serious Games Seriously in Education. Retrieved February 14, 2016 from http://www.pearsoned.com/education-blog/taking-serious-games-seriously-in-education-research/

Montgomery, B. (2016). Is the Educational Games Industry Falling Into the Same Trap It Did 20 Years Ago? (EdSurge News). Retrieved February 14, 2016, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-02-07-is-the-educational-games-industry-falling-into-the-same-trap-it-did-20-years-ago

Can Chess Make or Break a Relationship?

Set Up

I opted to play chess with my boyfriend, Ben, for the sake of game reflection, dissection, and journalling in my Games and Learning course at CU Denver. When we began to play at a quaint coffeehouse, I felt quite confident that I could showcase a couple interesting moves, but Ben did not mention that he was quite skilled at the game. What began as fun, turned into a fierce competition and ended in checkmate, Ben’s favor.

Key Questions

I asked myself the following questions while playing the game:

  • What is Ben’s skill level?
  • Are we comparable?
  • What is is Ben’s strategy?
  • How many moves ahead is Ben planning?
  • How long does he take to decide his next move?
  • How should my strategy change to combat Ben’s strategy?


Difficulties & Surprises

As we played, I realized Ben was much better than he let on. I quickly saw by his third move, he was playing the long game. He wasn’t interested in my pawns, but more about setting the board up to his advantage. This posed as both a surprise and increased difficulty for me. I gathered that he was planning more than three moves out, which was beyond my mental capabilities. His moves began to put me on the defense rather than the offense. Not long after that, I was begrudgingly obliterated.


Game’s Design

Chess is the perfect game that requires strategy, planning, composure, and skill. I was constrained by my lower skill level and inability to hide my emotions. I kept telling Ben to play his game and not let me win. Ben kept asking if I was sure about that, indicating that his constraints were to not upset me. I might go so far as to say the game was a reflection of our relationship. We both can play the game, but I want a partner who will challenge me. Ben certainly does just that!


Scholarly Connections

Ben and I achieved the first question of Will Wright’s litmus test for a game’s engagement and success, “Can we try?” (Salen, 2008, p. 11). There was also a critical moment for Ben when he decided to fully play his best even though he knew he had the advantage. As the game progressed and I began losing, I asked the second important game question, “Can I save it?” (Salen, 2008, p. 11). I played my best until I realized I couldn’t save the game. After my ego healed, I felt I needed to learn from Ben’s superior chess playing abilities.


We have not yet played again, but our next game’s goal is to employ Gee’s theory, “learning should be a collaborative dance between the teacher’s guidance and the learner’s actions and interpretations,” (2004, p. 68). I see Ben as the teacher since he has a better grasp of chess. If we slow the game down and talk through moves, then I have a greater opportunity to learn. Our last game was not necessarily fun for either of us because we came from a place of competition rather than curiosity. True, I learned a bit, but I would benefit much more by learning Ben’s skills than acting like I can play at his level.



My experience of playing chess seemed like inception. Chess is complex even without the added challenge of playing one’s significant other. I learned about the dynamics of our relationship through play. One major realization being that I sometimes ask for what I cannot handle. It would be wise to remember this experience and apply it in my daily life. I should ask myself, “Am I really capable of challenging Ben now or would this be a better opportunity to slow down, communicate, and learn from Ben?”


Photo Credit: http://www.motaen.com/wallpapers/source/id/38025