Interactivity in Practice: Practicum 4/7

In our lifetimes, video games and play have become a fundamental piece of popular culture and, as a result, a powerful tool for learning. For this week’s practicum, I will be looking at examples of video games, game editors, and interactive applications, including the ARIS Editor, Smithsonian’s Will To Adorn, and the game Do I Have the Right?

ARIS Editor:

ARIS Editor is a game creation site that, rather than requiring a software download, can be used on any device with Flash. The Editor is a part of the larger ARIS project, an open-source software project with source code fully available to the public.

There are three sections to the ARIS project: the Editor, the Server, and the Client. Essentially these are the places you create your game, the place your game “lives,” and the app through which users can play your game. The login and initial game creation (which simply requires a name) is easy. However, for users not used to the interface, the setup might be a little confusing.

The interface opens on a blank screen with a set of tabs at the top listing: Scenes, Locations, Quests, Conversations, Media, AR Targets, Notebook and Game Settings. In each tab there is a sidebar with “Game Objects.”

https://manual.arisgames.org/tutorials/getting-started

To start, you have to create a scene. While you can create multiple scenes, it is easiest to learn ARIS within a single scene. From here, the creator can add objects and triggers.

Objects are the items you want players to see and interact with inside the game, while Triggers are the avenue through which users access an object (i.e. most objects you create will require a trigger).

There are different trigger types that can be used in the ARIS editor: Location, QR Code, and Sequence. Two of these are rather obvious: location means when someone is at a certain location physically, and QR codes that require people to scan the codes to access the object (good for inside spaces or something more intricate, like a museum exhibit). Sequence triggers are triggers that allow an object to “appear” for a viewer once they have taken another specific action within the game that you choose as the catalyst for your object to appear. This type of trigger requires Locks (another type of game object).

https://manual.arisgames.org/tutorials/getting-started

Other objects include:

  • Plaques: a virtual plaque that offers information to the user
  • Locks: locks are “the logical glue you can use to give your games structure.” They allow any trigger or other items to be locked, giving your game a literal narrative and progression.
  • Conversations: Created conversations between your user and characters/places in the game
  • Items/Attributes: Objects your users can collect, or that you can give them after certain triggers.
  • Webpages: exactly what you would expect, webpages embedded into the game experience that open with a trigger

These objects can incorporate media, and a series of objects and triggers can be incorporated into different “quests” created in the editor.

While this editor certainly comes with a learning curve, it is a good entry point for people who have no experience creating a game or who have no coding skills. I do think that the website would pull in more users if they found a way to make the interface a little more tangible and user friendly. There is a lot of terminology that doesn’t explain itself within the interface at all, and it was difficult to visualize what something might look like in gameplay based on the interface experience.


The Will to Adorn:

Will to Adorn is a research and public presentation project created by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The project represents the work of scholars and cultural practitioners to explore the aesthetics of African American identities as represented through artistic expression of the body, dress, and adornment. While there have been various programs and papers associated with this project, the project primarily lives on the Will to Adorn website and app.

Unfortunately, the website itself has been stripped down to not include all of the items it previously held, including some of the Research Tools, Field Notes, Events, etc. However, it still offers some resources with their research guide and access to contacts users can reach out to for questions.

https://willtoadorn.si.edu/

The app is also still running, and functions in two ways:

  1. Users can tell their story. You offer the app basic information about your age, gender, etc. and then choose a question to answer. Once you have chosen a question, you create an audio recording of your answer that is submitted to the app.
  2. Users can listen to stories from other users and from fieldwork about dress and adornment.

The website and app are great examples of how digital tools can expand the reach and impact of a project, but it does also offer a lesson in terms of the longevity of the project. Perhaps upkeep on the site, for example, would allow for users to continue the project.

Do I Have A Right?

iCivics, a nonprofit organization created by Sandra Day O’Connor, works to promote civics education and encourage youth involvement in active citizenship. To do so, they create lesson plans and educational video games like “Do I Have A Right?”

The game allows students to run their own firm, focused specifically on constitutional law. The more cases won for each client, the more your law firm grows.

In the game, users have the option to play either the “Full Edition” or the “Bill of Rights Edition,” i.e. the cases you receive are only about the original 10 amendments. For this practicum, I decided to play the Bill of Rights Edition.

The game then takes you to create your avatar; I would say there was general success in using inclusive practices by iCivics, including avatars of multiple races and genders, as well as add on options of glasses or a wheelchair.

You then pick a partner and open your firm, with the aim to match cases with lawyers who specialize in the relevant amendment. Each potential client that walks in must be evaluated by the user, who decides whether or not the case is an infringement on the person’s rights. The game should ultimately help students gain a better understanding of their rights, and how they are protected by the judicial system. Overall, I found this game very engaging, while also remaining simple enough in design to allow for learning. However, some of the time constraints that make the game feel “high stakes” does prevent users from fully reading into each amendment.

Challenging traditional archival principles

Our readings this week covered description and arrangement in digital preservation and challenged the effectiveness of archival principles respect des fonds and provenance for new media, objects.

Database nature of new media objects

Lev Manovich details how new media objects are essentially databases. Digital objects are a layered collection of items. Users can interact with the same digital object in a variety of ways, meaning the objects lack a linear narrative.

Manovich introduces videogames as an exception. On the surface level, players interacting with the game follow a narrative and pursue defined goals. However, Manovich goes on to clarify that to create a digital object is to create “an interface to a database” and that the content of the work and its interface are actually separate. Even while playing a video game, which seems to follow a narrative, players are only going to points mapped out by the database creators. The database nature of new media objects contrasts the narratives often provided by analog objects, meaning new methods for describing and arranging digital objects are needed.

Describing New Media Objects

Professor Owens details Green and Meissner’s suggestion of More Product, Less Process (MPLP). Green and Meissner believe that organizations should avoid putting preservation concerns before access concerns. Collections should be minimally processed so that they can be accessed by researchers sooner. Item level description should be provided rarely. For arrangement and description, archivists should strive for the “golden minimum.”

Owens provides the 4Chan Archive at Stanford University as an example of using the MPLP approach for digital objects. The archive is available as a 4 GB download, an example of quick and easy access. Stanford opted to include limited but informative description, including the scope of the collection and metadata for the format, date range, and contributor.

Owens also states that digital objects are semi-self-describing due to containing machine-readable metadata. Owens uses tweets as an example. Underneath the surface, tweets contain a lot of informative metadata, such as the time and time zone.

In an effort to describe Web Archives, Christie Peterson tested Archivists’ ToolKit, Archive-It, DACS, and EAD. Peterson found that the “units of arrangement, description, and access typically used in web archives simply don’t map well onto traditional archival units of arrangement and description.” Discussing Archive-It, Peterson describes the break-down of the tool. Archive-It uses three categories: collections, seeds, and crawls. An accession of a collection of websites would be a crawl. Peterson found that there were no good options for describing a crawl. She could not say what the scope of the crawl was or explain why certain websites were left out. This means current tools and methods leave archivists unable to document their activity, creating a lack of transparency.

Challenging Archival Principles

Owens defines original order as “the sequence and structure of records as they were used in their original context.” Original order maintains context and saves time and effort from being spent reorganizing and arranging content, leading to faster access. However, maintaining original order can be difficult for digital objects.

Jefferson Bailey describes an issue with following traditional archival principles with digital objects. Since every interaction with a digital object leaves a trace of that interaction, there is no original order. Bailey explains that with new media objects, context can “be a part of the very media itself” since digital objects can be self-describing. Attempting to preserve original order is unnecessary as meaning can be found “through networks, inter-linkages, modeling, and content analysis.”

Bailey also gives a history of respect des fonds. This principle comes from an era of, and thus is designed for, analog materials. Respect des fonds made the organization of records focus on the creating agencies. Some critiques of the principle are that there is not always a single creator, those who structured the documents may not be the creators, and that original order “prioritizes unknown filing systems over use and accessibility.”

Jarrett Drake asserts that provenance is an “insufficient principle” for preserving born-digital and socially inclusive records due to its origins rooted in colonialism. The provenance principle asserts that records of different origins should not mix. The principle became popular in the United States in the early 20th century, when few were able to own and control their records.

When it comes to digital objects, Drake states “the fonds of one creator are increasingly less distinct from the fonds of other creators.” He provides the example of Google Drive, which allows multiple people to collaborate on document creation. Another change in the times that affects provenance is the rise in people who are able to create and own their records. Nowadays, people are able to name and describe themselves. According to Drake, archivists should support this and name creators in archival description according to their self-assertion.

According to Owens, using community-provided descriptions is becoming popular. To create the online exhibition The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture, Jason Eppink asked the Reddit community for canon GIFs and descriptions of them. Eppink wanted to mark what GIFs meant to those who used them and getting the description directly from the community enabled him to do that.

Our readings also assert that, when dealing with multiple copies, it’s easier to keep all of them. As Catherine Marshall states, “Our personal collections of digital media become rife with copies, exact, modified, and partial.” One copy may have better metadata, another better resolution, and so on. We have so many copies that the “archival original” is decentralized and not straightforward to determine. Marshall states that it is better to keep these copies than delete them. This is due to people having too many copies, storage being so cheap, and people not knowing which copy they’ll want in the future.

Discussion Questions

Our readings lately have been asserting the value in allowing communities to describe their records. In chapter 7, Owens points out that giving description over to the end user can “easily result in spotty and inconsistent data.” How can archives maintain a balance between empowering communities and keeping quality, consistent data?

What are your thoughts on permitting anonymity in archives? Do you think that it’ll lead to doubt over the validity of the record later on? How can archives demonstrate truthfulness in a record while protecting the creator’s identity?

Jamestown Adventure Game

For this week, I tested out the Jamestown Online Adventure brought to you by History Globe. The game overall is very simple and does not take long to get through, but I think it’s an extremely useful educational tool. The premise of the game is you are the Captain of the new Jamestown colony and need to make various decisions regarding the settlement. The choices/stages of settling are:

  • Where to Land
  • Relationship with Natives
  • What sort of town structure
  • Who will be required to work
  • What do you want to search for
  • What do you want to plant

    “Village” Sadly Is Not an Option

In each stage you  have what I’ll call “lifelines”. There is the “Consult Charter” which brings you to highlighted passages from the Instructions for Virginia Colony, 1606, and there is “Ask a Colonist” which is somewhat like phone a friend. This option though, represents the mindset of the typical seventeenth-century colonist and does not give you the benefit of hindsight. Also, for some stages, you can “Ask a Native” as well. The Native point of view is pretty moderate, but there are some parts where her answers are relatively useless. For example, when you’re trying to determine whether to build a town, wood fort, or stone castle, she answers her people live in a village, which does not really point you in any direction.

What is interesting is as you play different scenarios, you discover your “options” become more limited at times. For example, if you say only indentured servants have to work, not gentlemen, your labor force become cut in half and you can only search for one out of: gold, fishing, hunting. If you make the gentlemen work, you get two options. Same applies with where you choose to land. If you land on a river, bay, or ocean, you can choose to fish. If you land inland, your options are limited to searching for gold or hunting. This took me a few rounds to discover the different ways your choices change later stages, and I wish there was something included that would say earlier and overtly what the consequences were.

When you follow the choices the original colonists did, you wind up being promoted to Governor of Virginia. What is interesting though is even the “right choice” or “best choice” can lead to bad results for your settlement. For example, when choosing where to land, both the Charter and Colonist point you towards the Bay Marsh (which is where the original colony was). This is strategic because it allows you to fish, but also is not on an island or unprotected area where Spanish warships can attack. However, in the conclusion of the game, your health rating is poor because the marshy area led to an outbreak of malaria, and the wood fort hindered good sanitation.

Promotion Time

In one round, I chose the absolute worst decisions for my colony, and in the end I had a great wealth rating, but bad health one as all of my colonists were dead. Literally.

Jamestown: Donald Trump Style

At the end of the game, you’re brought to an evaluation of your choices (as seen above) and then can go to a “Now We Know” page that gives you the breakdown of what actually happened at Jamestown. You can also print out your results to “compare outcomes with other students in your classroom!”

Now We Know

Overall, what I like best about the game is that it gives you analysis of each choice you make, not just a pass/fail (or live/die) outcome. The game really gives you insight into the positives and negatives of each choice you could have made. The biggest contribution of this game is that there was no “right path” that Jamestown could have followed. On certain things they chose poorly, others pretty well, and yet there was no perfect solution.

Bridget Sullivan Digital Project Proposal

My digital project will address the abolition debates in the colony of Rhode Island in the period leading up to the American Revolution. While the state of institutionalized slavery in the South and the bloody fight of the American Civil War are well known in our collective public memory, slavery in the North is widely forgotten by the historical narrative. This project will help to fill a gap in public knowledge about the history of slavery in the United States.

 

I would like to present this information in an interactive format. Because we learn so much about slavery and the causes of the Civil War in the American educational system, I would like for this digital tool to stand out against other educational aids on similar topics. Further, I would like for this resource to be able to reflect the differences that were inherent between the state of slavery in the North and in the South.

 

In order to present this information, I will focus on the lives of two prominent Rhode Islanders, John Brown and Moses Brown. The Brown brothers entered the slave trade together. However, a horribly tragic end to their first slaving voyage caused them to follow different paths. John stuck with the slave trade and rose to wealth and prominence with his profits. Meanwhile, Moses’ eyes were opened to the questionable morality of the trade and he fought to outlaw both the trade and the institution from the colony.

 

I would like to create an interactive adventure game that allows players to follow the lives of John and Moses as a fictional younger sibling. As a sibling, players will be given the opportunity to join John and Moses at the critical junctures in their careers, both separately and especially at the places where they cross. Players will be familiarized with the historical progression of the move to abolition as well as the function of slavery and the place of the slave trade in Rhode Island during this time period.

 

My intended audience for this project is teachers and students. The game itself will be designed for an elementary aged child. I think that this type of interactive adventure is educational and exciting for this age group. It allows learning, while providing a contrast for the more traditional methods of addressing history in an educational setting. In order to reach this audience, I would like to market to teachers specifically at Rhode Island public schools. I would like to explore the possibility of it being connected to a more well-known organization in the state, such as the Rhode Island Historical Society, in order to reach more teachers.

 

Ideally, I would like to evaluate the project through teacher feedback. In the short run, I would like to explore the possibilities of doing a trial testing of the game with teachers in the local DC area.

Show & Tell: Chicago History Museum

I know that we haven’t gotten to the weeks on historical web games yet, but I was googling around just to see what kind of games might exist on the topic of my beloved hometown and I found a series of very simple games for kids presented by the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum). Using flash, these games create basic platforms for engaging children with familiar aspects of Chicago history and culture (the fire, the flag, the skyline, the World’s Fair, etc.). None of the “About Us” information provides a hard date for when it was created and the targeted age range of 6 to 12 years seems a little high given the simplicity of the games and the sophistication of digital natives today, but it does seem like a cute attempt to expose kids to history and artifacts related to the Swamp City. Then again, I played around with the games for longer than I care to admit. You’ll also see the familiar guidepost beckoning to teachers in the upper right hand corner that we have discussed so often in class.

Tangentially, it has been interesting to watch this organization evolve over the years. When I was in high school, annual participation in the History Fair was mandatory and local topics were king, so I spent many afternoons filling out resource request slips (how analog!), sheepishly pushing my school ID over the high counter to the authoritarian reference librarian (eerily similar, at least in my imagination, to how Santa looked in A Christmas Story), and being terrified to sneeze too loudly in their formal archive reading rooms. It seems they’ve finally turned a corner toward public history initiatives. With their new name and novel focus on more numerous curated exhibits, a film series, and even an on-site cafe, they present a much more welcoming face to general audiences interested in Chicago history.