Projects

VERUS: Virtual Environments Real User Study

verus

This will be the first study to access substantial groups of real-world users around the world and follow their play in virtual-world contexts using complementary quantitative and qualitative methods. The research will allow the team to meaningfully trace associations between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’, in order to predict real-world identities from online avatar characteristics, relations, and behaviours.
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Can a person’s real-world characteristics be inferred from their virtual-world behaviour? Specifically, can individual characteristics, group dynamics, and cultural differences be identified from virtual-world identities and behaviours? There is currently little research on how individual’s real identities are related to their virtual identities, but this information is foundational to cyberspace studies, from education to engineering to economics. Existing research suffers from poor internal and external validity, as it is impeded by small sample sizes and by ethical issues around legitimate access to and uses of ‘virtual world’ identities, information, relations and activities.

In a series of laboratory experiments conducted in North America, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, data will be collected on gamers’ real- and virtual-world characteristics and activities. Behavioural and neurophysiological data will be collected (e.g., gamer characteristics, group interactions, eye movements, currency-handling behaviour) in several virtual worlds; this experimental data will be closely integrated with a range of complementary studies, including structured, videotaped interviews with gamers and observational sessions. The results will be examined using actor network theory, a detailed and powerful sociological framework that will allow the researchers to carefully and rigorously map the complex relationships between users’ real-world characteristics, their virtual world practices, and the, affordances and constraints of the virtual worlds they engage in.

Project Lead:
John Murray

Investigators:
Jen Jenson
Suzanne de Castell

Post-Doctoral Fellow:
Nick Taylor

Research Assistants:
Kelly Bergstrom
Florence Chee
Christine Ferguson
Stephanie Fisher
Glenn Gray
Megan Humphrey
Vicky McArthur
Felan Parker
Tamara Peyton

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Play in Computer Environments Studio (Play:CES)

playCES

Since 2003, Jen Jenson’s Play:CES lab has served as an educational game design, development and play-testing studio.
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How can we best use digital play for educational ends? What does it take for a learning resource to be both educational and playable? And how can we tell when, and what, students are actually learning from play?

The best way to understand the educational benefits of digital games is to make them — and to test them out with target learners. We have provided extensive work experience and peer mentoring for numerous Seneca College and York University students, and we have worked with summer camps and local schools in hosting play-testing and usability sessions, giving students invaluable ‘on the ground’ involvement in small-scale, independent and innovative educational game design projects.

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Fem­i­nists in Games (FIG)

http://www.feministsingames.com/
FIG
Feminists in Games is funded by a Cana­dian SSHRC Partnership Grant and is an endeavour created with the purpose of assume­bling an inter­national research association of digital media researchers from a full range of salient disciplines to begin build­ing ‘connective tis­sue’ between and among them, so as to (a) better under­stand the origins and con­sequences of this gendered digital divide, and (b) intervene in its reproduction.
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The activ­i­ties and goals of FiG include:
1) 2, 3-day Gen­der and Dig­i­tal Games Research Symposia (Toronto/Vancouver)
2) Using the col­lec­tive crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion and feed­back from the afore­men­tioned meet­ings to build an asso­ci­a­tion in which aca­d­e­mic part­ners will engage indus­try part­ners in the sub­se­quent con­duct of the research, includ­ing an industry-side imple­men­ta­tion and eval­u­a­tion of the research findings. See Dames Making Games (Toronto), Pixelles (Montreal) and XX game jam (Bristol, UK).
3) Cre­at­ing knowl­edge trans­fer between acad­emy and indus­try in the form of a web 2.0 inter­ac­tive data­base for gender-focused research for the games industry.

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Compareware

(Free/Available in the iTunes app store for iPad)
compareware
Compareware is an iPad game targeted at ages 5-8, both readers and non-readers (there is voiceover support for those who can’t read), and is meant to scaffold and support players as they analyze two object for similarities and differences.
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Compareware asks its players to choose from a list of choices the similarities and differences between two objects. For example, how is a picture of a tiger and the picture of a zebra different and how are they the same? Our intent in designing the game was to create an iPad game/”app” that could be used in an elementary classroom, that was first and foremost design with educational purposes in mind and that supported a fundamental attribute associated with higher order thinking skills in both adults and children, that is the ability to ascertain how two objects are similar (and by implication how they are different).
AMD/York University Kids Game Development Camp 2011-2013
In the areas surrounding York University, low income and recently-immigrated students continue to radically underachieve in schools. These students are labelled as at-risk by their teachers, who anticipate that they may not graduate secondary school if left to their own devices. At-risk students are typically disengagd and disenfranchised from school and find little support in community efforts. The Play:CES lab at York University (run by Dr. Jennifer Jenson, Faculty of Education), is committed to advancing educational technology knowledge and best practices, with a focus on providing opportunities for marginalized youth to literally get their hands on the technologies that are typically taken-for-granted as being ubiquitously available to 21st century students.

Using funds generously provided by AMD Inc. and AMD Changing the Game Foundation, the AMD-York U Kids Game Development Camp (hereby referred to as KGDC) gave kids the opportunity to create their own digital games in a safe, supportive environment and access a variety technologies, for free. KGDC assists in re-engaging students with learning by having them develop a myriad of “real world” skills through game development, including:

·      basic computing and technical skills (e.g. using hot-keys, transferring files,);
·      creativity through generating art and level design (e.g. drawing sprites, modding);
·      critical and systems thinking (e.g. relations and interactions between objects)
·      STEM skills (e.g. math, physics, programming concepts);
·      problem solving and persistence (e.g. iterative design process, troubleshooting).

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Prove it to me

This study seeks to contribute to knowledge about the ways in which, and the processes by which, digital games do (and can further) support educationally worthwhile forms of learning, identifying and explaining the epistemic affordances of a range of ludic forms—for of course these are not all the same. There are three parts of the study: playing with educational games, playing with popular digital games, and creating digital games. Teachers and students can select which parts of the study they wish to participate in.
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The research questions for the digital game play portion of the study focus on transfer of training from the gaming environment to the real world:
·       How do knowledge and skills transfer from one situation to the other?
·       What best supports that transference?
·       How might we measure that? And does such measured change identify deep learning that is sustained over time, rather than just temporary effects?
The research questions for the digital game design and development part of the study focus on the ways in which students use digital games to communicate and demonstrate their knowledge:
·       How, and in what ways, does school-based knowledge change when delivered through a game in comparison to traditional, text-based forms of communication?
·       How might this knowledge be evaluated/assessed?
·       How does game development impact students’ orientations towards and skills in science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM)?

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Smarter Than She Looks (STSL) 2009-2012

STSL
As more and more digital technologies are brought into classrooms and homes and recruited as educational resources with curricular relevance, the widely-recognized gender gap in access to and mastery of these digital tools threatens to become an increasingly significant barrier to educational equity both in and outside the classroom.
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This 3 year SSHRC-funded program of research directly intervenes into the ongoing construction of boys’ privilege with regards to digital technologies by inviting novice users ˆ both girls and boys ˆ to engage with a range of new digital technologies, in the context of a club that runs after school. Specifically, the project asks self-selected students to participate in two activities: a “game club” that features a new generation of embodied, music-based and health-based games, and a “production club” that will involve students in the creation of online, mixed- and multi-media stories (digital games, stop-motion animations, videos, and comic strips) created on Apple laptops.

‘Smarter Than She Looks’ allows students the opportunity to “seriously play,” and provides equitable opportunities to girls as well as boys to “skill up” in the kinds of digital technology-based literacies that are becoming increasingly important to a globalized, digitally-mediated society (Kellner, 2004; Kress, 2003; Lotherington, 2005; New London Group, 1996). As well, by providing as level a playing field as possible (albeit in a localized and small-scale way) for the cultivation of digitally-mediated literacies and skills, this study attempts to shake loose the widely-accepted assumption that boys are “naturally” more disposed, more interested, and better at games, and at digital technologies in general, than girls.

Principal Investigators:
Jen Jenson
Suzanne de Castell

Research Assistants:
Steph Fisher
Nick Taylor
Negin Dahya
Justin
Sam
Emma

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Education Gender and Gaming (EGG) 2005-2008

This SSHRC-funded program of research on Education, Gaming and Gender draws on and weaves together market-based play style research into what “girls like best” with recent feminist theorizations of both gender and play.
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EGG is further informed by interviews with girls about their play styles and preferences, and observations of their game development, collaboration and play in a girls-only “play studio” at York University, “Play:CES” (Play in Computer Environments Studio). Recognizing that boys early participation in computer-supported game plat has represented for them a “head start” in educational and vocational opportunities in a technological world, we ask whether and how providing a sustained supportive, collaborative, computer- game environment might similarly support girls’ increasing technical expertise and competence.

Principal Investigators:
Jen Jenson
Suzanne de Castell

Research Assistants:
Steph Fisher
Nick Taylor
Jeff Zweifel
Sheryl Vasser
Lorna Boschman

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Ethical and Legal Studies in Education (ELSE)

ELSE
Ethics and Legal Studies in Education (ELSE) is an online tutorial.
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Ethics and Legal Studies in Education (ELSE) is designed to help student teachers recognize if and when a legal situation arises in their daily practice, and to have some understanding of the legal and ethical issues involved. The tutorial, now in use by over 2,000 students and faculty at York University, features animated and interactive “case stories”; depicting ethical and legal dilemmas in the classroom, in a way that is at once playful and serious.

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Contagion

contagion
Contagion is a Flash-based adventure game.
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Contagion is set in a futuristic city on the brink of medical disaster. Assuming control over a number of playable characters – from a public health enforcer to an Avian Flu-infected wild turkey – players must navigate Pyramidea’s environments, hierarchies and history in order to uncover the sources of contagion and save the city from chaos and ignorance.

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Epidemic (2009)

epidemic
Epidemic is an online resource that challenges players to protect themselves in the face of virulent diseases.
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Learning goes viral… Epidemic invites players to make their own contagious disease profiles – including customizable viruses – and collaborate with other players in learning about contagious diseases. Players can create, publish and edit posters, comic strips, and stop-motion animations as they rehearse how to protect themselves in the face of virulent diseases from HIV/AIDS to H1N1.

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Tafelmusik: The Quest for Arundo Donax (2009)

music
This Flash-based online adventure game is set in Europe in 1704.
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At a time of political intrigue, squabbling monarchs, and exquisite music. Players must help young Frances and Edward, who have been commanded by England’s Queen Anne to obtain a supply of precious Arundo Donax, a plant used to make reeds for instruments, that grows only in France. The two must learn to disguise themselves as French musicians in order to enter the court of Louis XIV, and gain an audience with the Sun King himself.

Relying on an international community of musicians, players travel with Frances and Edward to Italy, where Antonio Vivaldi instructs them in the elements of the Baroque orchestra; to Germany, where they must learn Baroque musical notation from J.S. Bach; and finally, to the French court, where they must dance their way into the Sun King’s favor. Along the way, players have the opportunity to discover Baroque instruments, learn more about famous Baroque composers and monarchs, and enjoy music played by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.