My Code Combat Affinity Space Experience

One of the final Games and Learning projects is a presentation of my Code Combat affinity space. Through this game designed for young students, I was able to learn the basics of javascript code. My Camtasia video details why I think the following three Gee and Haye’s affinity space features apply to the Code Combat discourse:

  1. The development of both specialist and broad, general knowledge are encourage and specialized knowledge is pooled.

  2. There are many different forms and routes to participation.

  3. A view of learning that is individually proactive, but does not exclude help, it’s encouraged.



Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2011). Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Game-Based Learning. Learning and Meaning in the Digital Age Games, Learning, and Society, 129-153. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139031127.015



Online Privacy Is a Big Deal

I did not have much of an online presence before I began my Information and Learning Technology masters at CU Denver. Yes, I had a Facebook account that I would use sporadically and I did not use any other social media applications. This means I had none of the following accounts:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Flickr
  • SoundCloud
  • Blog
  • Website (or Basecamp)

I have found it refreshing to enter the social media world from the instructional designer perspective. Most of my content has been for school and to build my portfolio, which means the content is safe. With social media aside, I understand the need for privacy and appreciate David Howell’s how-to article, How to protect your privacy and remove data from online services shared in my Social Media class. Perhaps I will take the time to decrease my online footprint when the Spring semester ends.

Here is my to do list according to Howell:

  1. Check all your privacy settings
  2. Remove old accounts
  3. Unsubscribe from mailing lists
  4. Register with a different email address
  5. Use stealth mode when browsing
  6. Think before you post
  7. Consider Tor browsing
  8. Use anti-tracking tools

As I write all the protective steps needed for privacy I start to feel a bit freaked-out. I am sure that if my information was in the wrong hands or taken out of context, it could lead to repercussions. Then again, I imagine that everyone who gets on the internet regularly feels the same way as I do. We are human and we make mistakes. I don’t always use my best judgement and certainly forget that my every move is being tracked.

Making privacy a priority would take new habits and perhaps, the investment in anti-tracking tools. Welcome to the internet age.

The “Pedagogical Trifecta” of Game Making

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All semester, I have been studying how game playing fosters learning. I never considered making the leap to game making as an exceptional learning opportunity, until I noticed a retweet in my Games and Learning course’s #ILT5320 Twitter feed. The article Why Making Your Own Video Games Leads to Quality Learning by Jordan Shapiro completely shifted my games and learning paradigm. Why didn’t I make that connection sooner? The discourse of gamers becoming game makers is an obvious progression.

  • gamers (be)come) Gamers
  • Gamers (be)come game makers
  • game makers (be)come Game Makers

Shapiro explained that applications like Gamestar Mechanic, Unity, GameMaker, and Scratch have been “video game changers” that removed the necessity to master coding in order to create a game. Now, children who have been playing video games all their life are better able to analyze and interpret what the game design, mechanics, and aesthetic means to their experience. They are reflecting upon their game playing observations, which makes sense for any sort of enthusiast. 

In creating a game, there is an intentional shift from simply interacting with a game to interpreting and analyzing how to create a game. This requires the application of STEM skills in order to envision how the game will play for others. For this reason, the National STEM Video Game Challenge was founded and created to motivate youth to transform their game playing skills into game making skills. Last year, almost 4000 middle and high schoolers competed in the 2014-2015 National STEM Video Game Challenge for cash and software prizes. This year’s competition is underway and students have until August 15th to submit an entry.

Not only is game making valuable for developing STEM skills, Shapiro describes game making as the “pedagogical trifecta” of quality learning. (For us elearning geeks, it doesn’t get much better than pedagogical trifecta, unless of course, it’s a pedagogical superfecta.)  Game creation combines content, affective/experiential, and metacognitive learning. A great example would be my assignment to play and reflect upon the board game Pandemic in my Games and Learning course:

  • Content – Studying how games foster learning
  • Affective/Experiential – Playing the game, Pandemic
  • Metacognitive – Reflecting upon the cooperative mechanics of Pandemic

Shapiro explained that making a game forces intentional thought and design decisions. If I were to take all that I’ve learned from the above Pandemic example and create a game, my learning would compound with interest. On a side note, I am certain, given my experience and study, if I were to create a game, it would be cooperative. However, deciding that my game would be cooperative is only one decision and there are millions more to make. For example:

  • Do I have characters in my game?
  • What will they look like?
  • Do I even need characters?
  • What’s my storyline?
  • What is the goal of my game?
  • How to I make a cooperative goal that’s appealing to others?..and the list goes on.

The evolution of game playing into game making is a huge deal. It means that students are able to metacognitively connect the dots and step outside the role of player into the role of creator. With the 2015-2016 National STEM Video Game Challenge underway, perhaps participation will reach new heights of more than 4000 game makers this year. (I know it’s cheesy, but I have to say it.) To all of this year’s National STEM Video Game Challenge participants, “You’re all winners!”

My Board Game Antidote to Overt Competition: Pandemic


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Due to poor planning on my part, I purchased Pandemic yesterday and asked my boyfriend and guinea pig, Ben, to play the brand new board game at 9pm last night. I cannot confirm or deny that our rushed game play was an effort to complete my play journal assignment today.

Pandemic is a cooperative, strategy game that has a large learning curve. The goal is to work as a team to travel the globe eradicating deadly viruses by continent. Each player has special talents that the team needs to use wisely. For example, a quarantine specialist can stop outbreaks by their mere presence, while a scientist can discover a cure faster than other players. Given the cooperative nature of the game all players are racing against the clock or deck of cards to rid the world of the outbreaks before they conglomerate into a pandemic. Players are all in it together.

As we were struggling through the game last night, Ben said, “Why didn’t you pick an easy game like Parcheesi?” I explained that my choice was based upon our past, not-so-fun experience with Chess. I thought Pandemic might be a good solution to our overly competitive natures, while appeasing our love of strategy.

Although my timely execution of the game was not on point, my long-term planning was. Per Pandemic’s online reviews, I could see it as was a well-designed game that aligned with Gee’s (2004) games and learning principles to “create motivation for extending engagement and preparing for future learning,” (p. 67). Additionally, the clerk at the Wizard’s Chest where I bought the game said the game “left him wanting to play more.” I decided Pandemic was a game Ben and I could grow into.

In a quest to “up my game” I not only purchased the game, but I also aspired to pick a game worthy of my experience with the Games and Learning course at CU Denver. I have seen my peers and classmates really savoring their gaming experience and I wanted to adopt this discourse for myself. My observed benefits of gaming includes the following:

  • Mental Stimulation
  • Developing Playfulness
  • Social Interactivity
  • Affordable Entertainment
  • Community Building

In regards to playful learning, Pandemic as a learning tool in the schools reminds me of the game/study To Pave or Not to Pave as published in the book Mobile Media Learning: Amazing Uses of Mobile Devices for Learning. This place-based design for civic participation was a study executed by James Mathews and Jeremiah Holden. It required students to create a learning experience around a civic issue of whether or not to pave a public path (Dikkers et. al, 2012). Playing Pandemic and the creation of To Pave or Not to Pave directed participants to achieve a common goal. In Pandemic the goal was to prevent a worldwide epidemic, while To Pave or Not to Pave’s goal was to engage participants civically. In both games, working together forces participants to see multiple perspectives and ways to skin a cat. In fact, playing Pandemic allowed me to glimpse into Ben’s brain and see his strategic thinking. His preferred method was to travel and diffuse the problem in each hot city together, while I suggested we divide and conquer. I was pleasantly surprised that one, I was able to let him take the lead, and two, when we stuck together, we were more effective.

This was my first experience with a board game focused on collaboration over obliteration. A perfect example of obliteration was our course’s first group game, Small World. The goal was to completely destroy a culture of people/creatures in order to win their land and resources. I know Small World is just a game, but is it really? When I think about the reality of ruined cultures and such things as the resource curse, I have a hard time playing out an age-old struggle of the haves and the have nots. (Yes, I should probably calm down.) In playing Pandemic, it was refreshing to step outside of obliteration and my competitive self. I enjoyed the gaming perspective of cooperating with my partner in a playful, save the planet sort of setting. Thanks to Pandemic,  I now have found an unexpected antidote for the overt competition that many other games promote.


Dikkers, S., Martin, J., & Coulter, B. (2012). Mobile media leanring: Amazing uses of mobile devices for learning.

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

Ask for Help or Stay Stuck?

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Photo Credit: Code Combat

The last time I wrote about my affinity space I spoke from a place of fear of group participation, while wanting to complete as many levels as possible. Isn’t that exactly what affinity spaces are created for? To accelerate one’s understanding and identification of a chosen discourse? As fate would have it, I have reached a level where I cannot pass without asking for help. I tried for three days to solve the code problem on my own with no luck.

I posted my code and question to the board. With no response after a full day, I’m starting to wonder a few things. Did I categorize my question properly in order to be seen by the right people as quickly as possible? What if that level has a bug? Who am I to tell Code Combat there must be a bug in one of their levels?

In all truth, I could post my question to every category and, although that is probably poor form, it shows that I really want to learn. I truly am sick of this level and want to keep moving. However, I suspect my case is exactly the point the discourse hopes players will land. A place of needing help and the motivation to solve the problem outweighs the desire to stay below the radar.

I’m stuck in the Backwood Forrest  on an If/Else loop that requires me to kill the never-ending supply of munchkins. Here’s my code:

loop {
var enemy = this.findNearestEnemy();
if (this.isReady(“cleave”));

Whether my code isn’t correct or there truly in a bug in the level, I’m grateful for this point of pressure. It is forcing me to engage and this extra little push is exactly what I needed.

It’s about the community, stupid.

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Between my affinity space, open annotations, and scholarly critiques required of my Games and Learning class at CU Denver, I keep coming back to the importance of community. Each of these aspects revolves around curating new connections and deepening my understanding of applying play skillfully. I feel like I’m beginning to think in a completely new way: the community I form now will sustain me in my new career after school.

Affinity Space

Although I have never posted on the Code Combat discourse board, I have been able to find most any answer I need when stumped by the game. Even simple problems are openly discussed on the board for the world to see. All my needs are being met through lurking, but if I were to build community, active participation is warranted.  

Open Annotations & Scholarly Critiques

Annotating the course readings through has led to new streams of curiosity. Often times a conversation over a reading would lead to my next article to critique. I have become quite picky about my articles because I’m not simply completing the assignment, I’m carving my own unique, educational pathway. More specifically, here are a couple conversations that led me down the path of critiquing articles on serious play and playful assessment: 

Games Taken Seriously = Serious Play Learning

I previously wrote The Science Behind Serious Games around the game, Mars Generations One: Argubot Academy EDU, which was a collaboration between GlassLab, The Educational Testing Service, and Pearson Education. I was amazed by the idea of learning scientists developing learning progressions to create superior learning experiences. I thought, “Wow, learning scientists must be really smart people. They have the secrets to how to make a learning progression.” My professor, Remi Holden, point blank asked if I could describe what learning progressions they used or what research they shared to back it up. I could not answer his question. I think I got enamored by the flashy words and big name companies. This was a reminder to always dig a bit deeper.

Below is a snippet of our conversation where Remi suggests I look into the research behind the serious game, Place Out of Time (POOT).  

He directed me to his the article, It Matters Because It’s a Game: Serious Games and Serious Players by Jeff Kupperman and team. I devoured this article and realized the game they created wasn’t some high-tech video game. It was a very thoughtful, imaginative opportunity for students to act out their characters roles in a safe, online setting. Then I thought, “Hey, I could do that!” it was a nice perspective shift to see that I am fully capable of being a part of the serious game scene. 

Assess(ment) as Play?

My next tip-off stemmed from a conversation with Remi about the article, Questing as learning: iterative course design using game inspired elements by Seann M. Dikkers. In the margins of this readings, Remi respectfully disagree with Dikker’s belief that time is best spent playing the games online and not in the classroom. This statement intrigued me, so I asked for specific examples about how playing games in Remi’s classroom proved to be valuable learning experiences.

Our conversation pointed to my next article of study, which happened to be written by Remi himself: Playful Possibilities for Assessment: Fluffy Ducks and The Queen’s Gambit  I was beginning to see that playful teaching and learning were not just a technique to use, but rather a pedagogical way of being. True, playful learning requires more of the students, but it also requires more of the teacher. Playful teachers need to be just as interested and invested in the students’ learning as the students themselves.

The scholarly critiques have proven the most enlightening part of this cycle’s activities. The articles about serious play in POOT and Playful Possibilities for Assessment opened me up to the larger playful learning movement. These articles, along with my conversations are influencing and shaping my educational path. So much so, that I found a way, which is very well hidden might I add, to develop my own independent study this summer to further explore playful learning, open source education, and instructional design and technology.  

Changed Preconceptions

My biggest realization has been that a game doesn’t have to be complex or full of rich video game graphics to be engaging. In the context of POOT, I love the element of imagination tempered with serious role play. The students get to chose their character, but they are also expected to convincingly play this person through their discussions and word choice. The game maker has captured the student’s  imagination, which means that even I, without any video game creation experience, could create a playful and meaningful learning experience. 

Growing Network

My annotations and work as a CU Tech TA have been creating a critical mass in me on the topic of open educational technology. I’m starting to know the key players and have begun to connect the dots tracing back from my first class this past summer, Digital Storytelling. There are so many wonderful avenues to explore and connections to make. I’ve listed a few of the connections below:  

  • Medium
  • DS106
  • Jim Groom
  • Digital Pedagogy Lab
  • Quest 2 Learn
  • LTMedia.lab
  • Domain of One’s Own

What I’m left with is how to ensure that I truly become a part of the community. It seems that there so much to do in order to stay current within the realm of educational, technology.

  • Do I tweet enough?
  • Do I read enough?
  • Do I tinker enough?

Right now I’m simply trying to catch all the information as it comes at me. Luckily, I learned about Google+ Communities in another class and am using it as a warehouse for information. Who knows, maybe it’ll grow into something, but right now, I’m happy to have found a good system for tracking all the information flying at me.

I’m creating a personal learning network in order to ensure, sustain, and grow my career in education technology. 


Why am I Afraid to Sound Dumb in my Nurturing Affinity Space?

I have been playing Code Combat for about a month now and still haven’t broken out of lurker mode in the affinity space. How is this happening?


  • I’m experiencing adult onset shyness syndrome (AOSS is a real thing)
  • I secretly fear middles schoolers (we ALL should)
  • I don’t understand the game well enough yet (coding is SO easy)
  • I don’t want to ask a dumb question (they really DO exist)

As much as I joke about not diving into questions on my affinity space, I am excited about one of the discourse discussions. There is a challenge called the Flower Grove and I’m not sure what level contains it. However, it is fueling my progression because I really want to participate in the flower design discussion. Here are some of the designs:

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As I was snapping images of the designs I actually made a baby step towards participation.

I started liking people’s images – Success!

As a general overview of my progress, I am plugging along in the second world. If you look below that means I’m in the Backwoods Forest. There are six more worlds after that. 

Photo Credit: Code Combat
Photo Credit: Code Combat

I am trying to make coding a practice in my daily life. When I’m tired of working on school work, I take a break and play Code Combat. One a planning note, if I were to complete Cloudrip Mountain by the April 24th (before final project is due), I would have to complete approximately five challenges a day. This seems like a really tall order given that the coding is getting harder and it takes a great deal of concentration on my part.

But I’m up for the challenge.

Cultivating an Online Tribe is Hard!

Photo Credit: Dendrite Park
Photo Credit: Dendrite Park

Okay, so my Soul Stories community is thriving as an in-person tribe, but engaging participation for our new networked learning space is a completely different ball game. The challenges I anticipate include the following:

  • People attend purely for the in-person connection and don’t want to participate online
  • Key players need to buy-in to the online conversation
  • It needs to be accessible by all member, some are not tech savvy

Soul Stories as a Modern Day Tribe

I’m a member of a Denver-based community called Soul Stories. We gather every other week to share genuine experiences and support each other on such topics as habits, vulnerability, and transformation. The group has more than doubled since it began in 2015.

I am creating a Soul Stories networked learning space (NLS) in the hope of extending our in-person discussions to a Google+ community. Expert Jeff Goin (2014) suggests: 

When you make your platform about other people, they’ll make it about you.

To heed Jeff’s advice, I decided to incorporate members’ input for designing the Soul Stories NLS. I created a poll and posted it to our Facebook community page. 

Photo Credit:
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So far, five people have participated in the poll and I’m hoping more will contribute within the week. The more I can engage members in the creation of our NLS, the more buy-in we will have for on-going group participation in the long run. 



Goins, J. (2014). Three Important Steps to Building a Killer Tribe. Retrieved March 16, 2016, from 

Games Taken Seriously = Serious Players Learning

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Alhambra Palace
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Alhambra Palace

Building Upon Past Critiques

In my last scholarly critique of Taking Serious Games Seriously in EducationI leaned that such a thing a research-based learning progressions existed. My professor, Remi Holden, asked if the learning progression was spelled out in detail. It was not. He then suggested that I look into other serious game research and read an article that his mentor, Jeff Kupperman, coauthored.

It Matters Because It’s a Game: Serious Games and Serious Players was a collaboration of Jeff Kupperman, Michael Fahy, Fred Goodman, Susanna Hapgood, Jeff Stanzler, and Gary Weisserman. This serious research pulled from such academic institutions as University of Michigan-Flint, University of Michigan Interactive Communications and Simulations, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Toledo. The researchers concluded that serious games can miss the mark by focusing on end results rather than creating an opportunity for learners to completely immerse themselves in play that is taken seriously.

The Stage

Players Out Of Time (POOT) is a prime example of developing serious players and for this reason was used as the game of study for Kupperman and team. POOT is an online simulation of a diplomatic trial set in Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

This hallowed space sets the stage for students to play the roles of a wide variety of historic characters such as Martin Luther King, Jr, Edgar Allen Poe, King Henry VIII, or Madame Curie. Students asynchronously communicate with other characters through guided discussions that occur in the “Great Hall” or “Courtroom”. They may also write a speech in the “Foyer”, offer  “presentations of evidence,” or blog individually. Most importantly, students are challenged to fully embody their character’s mindset and tone voice in all their interactions.

Photo Credit: Place Out of Time
Photo Credit: Place Out of Time

The Power of Anonymity

With students getting to play a character, they are free to say things that might otherwise be critically judged if said outside of character. For example, when a discussion question asked if violence is necessary, Ptolemy I Sofer responded,


Of course violence is necessary! What should I do? Sit there like a duck and fall through the hierarchy like a knife through papyrus? No! I claimed king ship like a alpha wolf claims his title: he has to fight for it, and as a reward, he is feared, respected, noticed for being strong, for having the strength to be a leader, the leader of the pack. And as a reward he is first in line for food, first in line for hunting. So I have to be like a wolf: I have to fight for the right to be king,” (Kupperman et. al, 2011, p. 25).


The student playing Ptolemy was able to take huge risks in acting out his character’s historical stance. He took his role seriously and this is where the real learning took place.


Emerging Leadership

Heated debates provoked impassioned students to go above and beyond the assignment. The host and mentors introduced benign intrusions of authority. In one instance, the character, Edgar Allan Poe worked to form a watchdog committee by the name of Alhambra Security Committee (ASC) in order to uphold order in the trial. Though Edgar’s character did not have the top dog mentality of Ptolemy, the student playing Edgar realized his ability to lead through organizing and fighting for justice in the serious game.



In the majority of today’s schools, many students do what is asked of their teachers in order to reach the end goal and earn their grades. Their work is not impacting anyone outside the classroom. Kupperman and team studied how to shift this dynamic to a position where students voluntarily attempt overcoming obstacles, and in fact, impact change beyond their classroom.  POOT harnesses this learning magic: students become serious players and embody the role of serious learner.




Kupperman, J., Fahy, M., Goodman, F., Hapgood, S., Stanzler, J., & Weisserman, G. (2010). It Matters Because It’s a Game: Serious Games and Serious Players. International Journal of Learning and Media, 2(4), 21-30. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from