Apr 072011

[Note: For those of you getting this link because of your “(baby)alexis” notifications, I couldn’t help not including you. :)] Osy (“Osy Osmosis”), a game cooperatively developed by myself and members of a research team at the University of Georgia hit the App Store late last night. Osy’s development has spanned just about two years now, though actual development time was about three months to vertical slice, which was the deployed widely for preliminary testing throughout schools in Georgia. It is this version of the game featured in the documentary piece found on the Osy website. Little happened with the game after that point until April of 2010, when the UGA OVPR provided a VentureLab seed grant for our freshly created company IS3D, LLC. A portion of this money was used to port Osy to iOS and move the game into full production. It paid for bringing in wonderful folks like Ben Throop in to tell us what we’re doing right and wrong.

What makes Osy special, for me, is that it is my stab at thinking about making games… that just happen to contain concepts that educators are interested in teaching to students. I often say very deliberately that Osy is not “edutainment.” Put more academically, the procedural rhetoric of Osy is the story of osmosis. Too often, educational games ignore the procedural rhetoric and only thinly layer educational images/concepts on top of game mechanics that have nothing to do with the message they hope to deliver. In far too many cases it is actually worse, “gamelike” visuals are layered on top of quiz/test systems and it is referred to as a “game.” In part, this is because testing/quizzing is the primary procedural rhetoric (or game mechanic) of schools. I recall one day during the design of Osy where I said something to the effect, “If you put a quiz in my game, I’m done with it.” This is an approach, that I think is conscientious of the kinds of critiques that some are leveling at the Game-ification of Education.

I’ve also been somewhat worried about many people researching games and education becoming too focused on only the importation of off-the-shelf standard game industry games into the classroom. Isn’t that the equivalent of giving up the ghost? Why not create high quality games with education sitting in the back of your head? Clearly, game developers draw on scientific concepts for the systems within games (physics, evolution, …) though it comes secondary to the overall game. Why not have it as an equal on the field of idea-battles that occur during the development of a game? That I want a player to understand/feel/know X where X includes some scientific knowledge becomes part of the design process.

Go Osy go!

Jun 152010

For the most part anymore, when I submit to conferences I assume that, more than likely, the paper will be accepted. The primary exception of course is GDC (the Game Developers Conference), which I submit one or two ideas to every year. I’ve managed acceptance twice, which I tally as success, but year over year that average goes down (I’d still make a good baseball player with those numbers). My assumption isn’t based on bravado or ego, simply that by the time I take the the time to submit something to a conference, I’ve attended the conference or one very similar to it, and have in many cases reviewed for those conferences. In short, I have a good sense of what the conference is about, who the audience is, and what I should say and how I should say it.

GLS (Games, Learning, and Society) was a surprise to me this year, as “The Curious Case of Osy Osmosis: The Uncomfortable Balance Between Game Design and Education,” was not accepted. These things happen, but I was quite curious what went wrong in the process. I have been extremely excited about talking about Osy, which has since begun the commercialization process and extensive visual overhauls (revised visuals can be seen in this blog’s background). It was a chance to talk about the kind of collaboration and structure that has lead to the kind of success we’ve had in creating games (that happen to be educational) and the success of these in the classroom.

What was frustrating for me, and I believe a serious issue for conferences like GLS,  was that despite none of the comments from reviewers coming back negative, reviewers rated the submission low enough (via the radio buttons) that it was knocked out of the running. In once case a reviewer wondered about the innovativeness of the project. To which I wonder, how does one anonymously demonstrate innovation? It has built into it the idea of uniqueness. If I post a link to a video, I compromise anonymity. If I provide information on what we are doing and how we are doing it, I compromise anonymity. If I talk about the company and what it is doing, I compromise anonymity.

So what results is a non-opportunity to talk about pricesely what Mark talks about in his blog:

What’s new is this huge cultural shift and ppl in academia and k12 who not only take games seriously (and not just serious games) but also are starting to welcome participation from games and fan culture. Participatory culture (Jenkins) allows new kinds of stakeholders. Reform isn’t just griefing (cf Dibbell) anymore.

We have a group with successful funding, teacher support, commercialization support (for sustainability) to bring these areas together. But, I didn’t get to talk about it. Because it, “isn’t innovative enough”. Or I didn’t know how to talk about that innovation anonymously. What it teaches me, is that anonymity in this case hurt both the review process and the broader academic community. Or I hurt the community by abiding by rules that likely I didn’t need to. Perhaps I should have provided Vimeo links regardless of their linkage to me. Perhaps the UGA branded video with students and researchers working together would have demonstrated more clearly what we’ve done. But, it wouldn’t have been anonymous, but it would have demonstrated the importance and innovation of the project.

The abstract of the non-talk is below:

This presentation draws on two years of ethnographic fieldwork gathered during the design and development of Osy Osmosis, a game developed developed cooperatively between game developers, scientists, educators, and funded by a $1.3 Million dollar National Institute of Health (NIH) grant. “Osy” was the first game developed as part of a project, which had already developed several immersive 3D simulations. The presentation discusses the role that game mechanics came to play as interdisciplinary boundary objects (Leigh Star and Griesemer 1989) facilitating discussions between content experts and game designers. The presentation also posits a new possible space for game development that brings together designers and scientists to create games that are simultaneously fun/engaging and educational. Often times these provide new opportunities to experiment with designs and technologies that might otherwise be set aside for more tried and true methods. Osy Osmosis began with the questions: “Is there a game in osmosis?” “Can we make a core mechanic out of that?” Osy occupies this strange new space and the presentation discusses its design and development as well as the “faultlines” (Traweek 2000) encountered during the development process. The case of Osy is particularly compelling, given the success the project has had in engaging students and bridging disciplinary divides. Game developers have the opportunity to make a difference in the classroom by designing games that are fun to play, but have educational content hidden away at their core. At the same time, difficulties are encountered at the interface between teachers and standards based learning, which creates particular difficulties for designers and developers hoping to address these new educational possibilities.

Jun 042010

In a recurring trend, in which I spend time doing things that I find interesting, but are not precisely those things I SHOULD be doing… The blog has a new look. I took the Suffusion theme and modified it based on some of the ongoing work that I’ve been doing on a game, Osy. It actually appears that as long as UGA doesn’t pull the VentureLab funding out from underneath us, Osy will appear in the iTunes App Store for both the iPod/iPhone and iPad in November. Depending on how that goes, perhaps she’ll make her way to the Android Market as well. You’ll also notice a bit of a difference in the visuals between Osy last year and Osy now. I’ve also been investigating new means for torturing my NMI Capstone Students and theme development is something that they’re always doing, but I try not to throw them into the fire without doing something myself. Hence, the new theme.

I could likely pretend that I learned something today that would advance the book manuscript (since the book needs a website, right?!?), but that would be a lie. So, back to work with me! Oh… And we recently pitched another game to the NIH based on a game using neural physiology to inspire its underlying game mechanics… And I wrote another little Apple Script. Apparently I’m working on too many machines and I’ve found myself using rsync to synchronize sets of working files. GEEK!

-- Sync Folder for Mac OS X
-- Casey O'Donnell
-- http://www.caseyodonnell.org/
-- This script takes a dropped file (or several) and syncs it with another location
-- using the rsync command
-- The source and the application are released under the wxWidgets Licence, which
-- can be found here: http://www.wxwidgets.org/about/newlicen.htm
on open fileList
	set szPathName to ""
	set szPathDest to ""
	set szRsyncCommand to "rsync -E -r "
	repeat with i in fileList
		set szPathSource to quoted form of POSIX path of (i as text)
		set iLength to length of szPathSource
		set szLastChars to get characters (iLength - 1) thru (iLength - 1) of szPathSource
		if (szLastChars contains "/") then
			set szPathSource to get characters 1 thru (iLength - 2) of szPathSource
			set szPathSource to szPathSource & "'"
		end if
		set szPathDest to quoted form of POSIX path of (choose folder with prompt "Select a folder or volume to sync to:")
		tell application "Terminal"
			do script szRsyncCommand & szPathSource & " " & szPathDest & "; exit"
		end tell
	end repeat
end open
May 212009
Osy Osmosis

Osy Osmosis

Well, it looks like I’ll be headed to the Game Education Summit this year, thanks to the NIH SEPA grant that I’m doing game design work for this summer. I’ll be bringing the latest build of Osy Osmosis [an early prototype build to the left] along with me. We should have our vertical slice completed by then and with any luck a build working on the iPhone and iPod Touch. It is my hope to submit an NSF grant this summer to support my ongoing work on the project.

Work on the project is progressing well thus far thanks in large part to the artist and part time engineer working on the project. I’ve had to put my money where my mouth is as far as design goes, so we’ll see how that goes over the next couple of weeks and months. I think our vertical slice represents a pretty good sample of everything we’re attempting to put together for this game that happens to contain educational elements. I think it is a good example of what games with educational content could be. I shy away from calling it an educational game, because so often those games aren’t all that much fun. What I’ve attempted to do with this project is make the underlying game mechanics match up with real-world scientific processes. Instead of quizzing students though, we design the game such that “winning” requires that the player find and recognize that underlying model. We should be rolling this out to some teachers and students very soon as things move forward.

I suspect that in the end this particular component of the SEPA grant will hit a kind of 1St Playable state and remain there, as going into production and producing several levels for the game may not make sense. Perhaps it is an economic opportunity to take these kinds of 1st Playable pieces and flush them out, though I’m not sure who has time for that. 😉