Hello from AERA!
Today I presented Playing History, the research project on tabletop role-playing games and historical literacy that I did with the historian Kaitlin Heller. It was part of a Teachers College symposium on how game design decisions impact learning – including Seung-Oh Paek on touch versus mouse interfaces, Dan Hoffman on choice and feedback, and Aaron Hung on the material conditions of players’ lives.
I thought it was an unusually good panel. As our discussant put it, the papers challenged each other. For example, I looked deeply at players’ in-game activities, complementing Aaron’s focus on how games intersect with players’ day-to-day lives. It made me realize that as I continue to work on role-playing games, I need to think about how players deploy their real-world resources in order to play successfully, or even in order to be able to play at all. That insight alone was worth the trip!
Slides from the talk are here, though be aware: I’m a Powerpoint minimalist, so the slides don’t tell the whole story on their own.
If you check out the slides, you’ll notice I’ve got one slide hidden at the end, after the obvious closing slide. I wanted to be prepared to talk about how I’m connecting the work to two sets of standards: Jenkins’ 21st century skills and Seixas’s benchmarks of historical thinking. These are the two frameworks we’re using to analyze the data we collected. Our first paper was on Ars Magica and 21st century skills*, and I’m just starting to think about the second paper on evaluating the game through the lens of historical assessment.
I’ve been strategically choosing what sessions to attend with this new paper in mind. It turns out that it’s a really useful way to navigate a huge conference like this one. It pushes me to go to sessions given by people I don’t know, instead of staying in my comfortable games-and-technology world. But it also gives me an immediate, concrete, and specific context for applying the big ideas I’m encountering. I’m not left floundering in a sea of abstraction, because as soon as I hear people talk, I’m asking myself how I can use what they’re saying in my own work.
The moral of the story? I should have a cool new project at every AERA. That way I’ll keep having intellectual adventures!
* I keep wanting to make a joke about 21st century skills in the 13th century, but I can’t quite come up with a good punchline. Can you?