GameLog: Supporting Reflective Gameplaying Practices in the Context of Learning Games

Jose Zagal

In many game classes, students are asked to use metacognitive abilities as they play and analyze games. Educational research suggests that these tasks are particularly challenging for students. Do students encounter these difficulties when asked to critically think and talk about games? By performing in-depth interviews with a variety of teachers actively involved in game studies classes we discovered that, despite years of experience playing games, students often have difficulties articulating and expressing ideas about games and gameplay, they lack models for what meaningful discourse about games can look like, and they lack the vocabulary to engage these issues. Also, they are unaccustomed to opening up emotionally and describing what they feel when playing games.

The results of our study guided the design of GameLog, an online blogging environment for supporting reflection of gameplaying experiences. By writing about the games they play, users can begin to identify gameplay features and design elements present in multiple games and how these features interact to provide particular experiences. GameLog also support users’ understanding of how a game, and the gameplay experience, can change over time.

GameLog differs from traditional blogging environments because each user maintains multiple parallel blogs, with each blog devoted to a single game. When a user starts playing a new game, he simply starts a GameLog for that game and can then write his thoughts and feelings about it. When done playing, for whatever reason, he can “close” the GameLog. All GameLogs, closed or open, are always available for reading. Users can comment on each other’s entries.

In Fall of 2006, GameLog was used in two games-related classes at a local university. The first was a lecture-style class where students explored and analyzed key developments in the history of digital media. The second was a discussion-based class where students debated and engaged in issues of game design and analysis as a cultural practice. In both classes, students were required to play and design games, read articles, and keep GameLogs for some of the games required for class.

Our analysis of the students’ GameLogs, together with in-depth interviews, show that the benefits of reflective journaling activities can transfer to new domains, like game design and critical analysis. We found that GameLog provided a space where students negotiated an understanding of what a critical analysis of a game could be and that the experience helped them critically approach the games they played. Students were able, many for the first time, to reflect on their experiences playing games and begin to understand how game design elements helped shape that experience. Most importantly, GameLogging helped students step back from their traditional role of “gamers” or “fans” and encouraged them to reason critically and analytically about the games they were studying.

The talk will describe the results of the studies in further detail, comment on some issues that make the study of games challenging, and describe the role students’ experience with videogames can play.

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