Monday, November 22, 2010

MUD and MUSH integration wish

James Wagner Au appears to have differentiated MUD and MUSH as follows: mud is primarily about battles and exploration while mush is about collaborative building and socialization. This is currently the same difference between MMORPG and collaborative virtual worlds.

I wish these were integrated in a way that I can use the same appearance of my avatar; and my inventory in one world and another. Probably this would require a viewer that could translate the avatar and inventory files (scripts, meshes, animation etc.) from one game to another.

I wonder if the Ryzom-core's client and WorldForge's ember can be integrated this way? Ryzom is an mmorpg while WorldForge is moving toward's virtual worlds. And they are both free software (gpl).

This way educators can have the best of both worlds. A strong narrative-systems sim world MMO and a collaborative-social virtual world.


Au, J.W.(2008). The making of Second Life. Notes from the new world. Harper Collins.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Defining Game

Roel Cantada

The following post in an excerpt from my masters project proposal Exploratory Approaches to the Design and Development of a Game for a Distance Education Course in Philippine History (2010).

Katrin Becker asked a profound question about the definition of the term game: Is a game still a game when it is not being played, and can anything become a game if we play with it? (Becker, 2008) My answer to the first question is yes, but only in the sense that the playing of it could be imagined or abstracted as a general human activity. People do not have to actually play it right now, right here; as long as it is conceived of as an activity of people (players) who identify such activity as a game in their culture, then it is a game. My answer to the second question is no. The thing being played with is an artefact, a toy, not a game. In this sense a video game in the form of a CD-ROM on a store shelf is not a game but a game artefact or toy. If we rephrase the question into, “Can any human activity that we play around with be considered a game?”, then my answer is yes. We can actually turn the most mundane activity into a game. For example, luto-lutuan (play cooking) is a role playing game.

Let me discuss the meaning of game and related concepts in the Tagalog language to make my operational definition of game clear. The Tagalog word for game is larô, a noun that is synonymous with libangan or gawain bilang pag-aaliw (amusement, pastime or leisure activity); and paligsahan (competition) (Diksiyunaryo ng Wikang Filipino, 1989; Almario, 2001; the English translation is mine.). It could also mean a combination of the two -- i.e. a leisurely competition. This definition seems to resonate with Siitonen's distinction between casual playing and competitive playing (2007). Both meanings are in the English definition of the word game. But the word larô does not carry the meaning “animal hunted for food or sport” or “the game equipment needed to play a game” (Zheng, 2005). The last will fall under the word laruán, which means “anumang bagay na ginagamit sa paglalaro... (Almario, 2001). In English this refers to anything used to play a game. In this way the Tagalog larô is more discriminating than the word game. It is also more consistent as the Tagalog word for play is maglarô. So when I talk about a game, I am thinking about larô.

However, I think the dimension of leisure activity in the term ‘laro’ needs to be narrowed down. Walking in a park can be considered a leisure activity or pastime but it is not a game. A leisure activity that is a game would require something (laruán) or someone (larô) to play with. The toy could be something that is culturally reserved as a toy or something turned into a toy (pinaglaruan). What I mean by being culturally reserved is that a thing has no other function in society except to be played with like commercial dolls or action figures. In addition, games seem to be activities with specific rules. These rules may be written, unwritten, fixed, negotiated, or even emergent. Rules are negotiated and they are emergent when the rules change as the game is being played.

Two games for children will give us an example of games as leisure activity and games as competition. Bahay-bahayan (playing house) is a non-competitive game. Players usually use toys like cooking utensils and a doll representing a baby. It may also be played (and preferably) with others. No one wins in bahay-bahayan. One can think of it as a children’s simulation of family life. The simulation will depend on what family the child is aware of. If the child's model is an extended family, then the game could include a role for grandparents. The rules for playing house are unwritten, negotiated and emergent. In this way we can also look at bahay-bahayan as storytelling. The players create imaginary events about a fictional family. A series of kunwari (pretend) statements about the roles are negotiated as rules while the performances of the roles are done at the same time. For example, when someone says “Kunwari may sakit si baby (Let's pretend the baby is sick.)” and the other player responds “Kunwari ako ay doktor (Let's pretend I'm a doctor.)”, this means that the other player accepts the proposition of the first player, accedes to this rule by playing a role, and moves the story forward accordingly. The other players could have also said “Hindi...kunwari ... (No, let's pretend instead...)”, followed by an alternative proposition, which could be considered a new and contrary rule of role playing. It appears to me that in this type of game, fantasy is a stronger motivator than game mechanics.

A common example of a competitive game among children is Jack-and-Poy (rocks-papers-scissors). The rule is that rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. No artefact is used. There are no real rocks, papers, or scissors. A fist represents a rock, two fingers extended for scissors, and an open hand for paper. Usually players will make a fist and move the fist up and down to rhyme “Jack and Poy, halehalehoy, sinong matalo mukhang unggoy” (Jack and Poy, halehalehoy, whoever loses looks like a monkey.) At the last syllable the hand is revealed. When the hands are the same, then it is a draw. In this game there is a win. There could even be scores, like best out of three, etc. Let me emphasize the fact that this is a game we play with others rather than with objects. Here the game mechanics dominate, as the rocks, paper and scissors could be replaced by lighting, rain, sun or something else.

In the educational game literature there is a debate as to whether games and simulations should be classified together or apart. Becker believes that games are simulations (Becker & Parker, 2009), to which I agree. I define a game as a leisure activity that may or may not involve competition, and is played with a toy or/and with others. Playing a video game involves the use of a digital toy. I would like to emphasize the video game as activity, not the artefact or equipment needed to play this activity. The term digital toy will include digital games (artefact), simulations, and virtual worlds (contrary to Klopfer, et. al., 2009) in computer, console, or mobile phones. Embedded in this definition is the interaction between an agent or player and the environment, in terms of learning between the learner and the learning environment which is covered by affordance theory.


Almario, V.S. (Ed.). (2001). UP diksiyonaryong Filipino. Philippines: Sentro ng Wikang Filipino; Anvil.

Becker, K. (2008, January). The invention of good games: Understanding learning design in commercial video games. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Retrieved May 19, 2010, from

Becker, K. & Parker, J.R. (2009). A Simulation Primer. In Gibson, D., & Baek, Y., Digital simulations for improving education: Learning through artificial teaching environments (pp.1-24).  Hershey & New York: Information Science Reference.

Diksiyunaryo ng wikang Filipino. (1989). Linangan ng Wika sa Pilipinas.

Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., & Salen, K.  (2009). Moving learning games forward. Obstacles, opportunities & openness.  The Education Arcade, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from

Siitonen, M. (2007). Social interaction in online multiplayer communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Retrieved May 10, 2010, from; Available at

Zheng, H. (2005). WordNet dictionary for StarDict version 2.4.2 [Software]. Available at

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lessons from Adventure Quest Worlds

I don't really have first hand experience on MMOGs. My knowledge of it as a learning environment comes from reading the dissertations of Constance Steinkuehler (2005) and Marko Siitonen (2007). And reading "The Noob" online comics by Gianna Masetti.

Recently my 7 year old nephew taught me how to play an online MMOG called Adventure Quest Worlds (AQW). He wanted me to help him with bosses so he could unlock other areas to explore.

AQW is a 2D Flash MMOG. My initial impression of it is that it's a child's game because of the anime like graphics. I realized later on as I played the game that it did have some of the characteristics of MMORPGs and probably have learning potential.

Going back to our game play. I started with a healer character and simply followed my nephew around, taking instructions from him on what to click here and there. He certainly knew his way around. I also served as an oral reader for the big words in the quest's text.

Economy of Clicks

What I liked about AQW is its simplicity. It's easy to train characters, you go out and do your thing. There is no need to train in chopping wood, or doing crafts ... It's interface is pretty basic, an hp and xp bar. And a set of icons for special moves or powers. But more importantly is that there is what I call an economy of clicks in the interface. A few  clicks of the mouse and you're character moves here and there. The distances of findable items in a room is very small. This efficiency of interaction is the same with LMS course pages, wherein the findable items are on a compressed list of text.

In 3D Virtual Worlds finding items require more clicks or involvement on the part of the player. You have to press your arrow keys for so long just to go from here to there. Virtual Worlds inherit the geographical characteristics of the real world. Very few items in RL is just a click away, except for the tv, boom box ....wait...where did I put that remote again?

Game Play

I noticed some differences in how I and my nephew play. He was basically an explorer and role player. He was currently into knights theme and he was role playing as a knight. I turned out to be a collector. While my nephew was interested in getting the right look on his character regardless of enhancements or item levels, I wanted better weapons and armor. He wanted form, I wanted functionality. He was interested in aesthetics, I was interested in increasing my hp,xp, and reputation level. In my case it means having to finish quest or grinding in bosses rooms to secure a prized drop. Which usually means killing the mob 20 times or so. We ended up playing in different areas of the MMOG and only occasionally summoning each other for help.

Another difference is that the child doesn't know strategy. He can't manage his mana, e.g. healing only when his hp reaches 75% to conserve mana. He doesn't know how to optimize the sequence of his special moves so that he will continue to strike while the other powers are charging. He would not withdraw from the boss room and rest outside while I keep the boss occupied. He would just stand his ground, hack...hack...until his character or the boss is defeated. There are bosses with pets (not always looking like an animal) that are needed to be defeated first before the boss will lose some of its hp. The pets regenerate so there is a need to assign some players to simply defeating the pets and not attacking the boss. Some players would have to take damage from the boss during this stage as well. But the child and including a lot of the players just attack the boss, ending in defeat for the entire crew. These weaknesses have the potential of being teacheable moments.

Teacheable Moments

Strategic thinking is one possible learning experience from AQW. I gradually gravitated towards PVP when my character is rank 10, level 25. It's interesting to observe and learn from the other players in the chat allowed areas (where the big kids probably are; my nephew was left in the canned-chat areas). They taught me how to sequence attacks (hit the restorers first). One group taught me how to steal a win when the opponents are ahead i.e. attack the other team when they're in the captains room and their hp is weakest. Of course this only works when the point difference is small. Another player taught me how to hide behind the captain or bosses to prevent the opponent from double clicking my character. Unfortunately I learned this only through observation as the setup of the PVP room doesn't allow for strategic conference. After spawning in the room you are already allowed to rush out and kill mobs. I don't know if holding the combatants in the safe zone for let's say a minute before allowing them to come out will encourage discussions on strategy. It's really difficult to chat and brawl at the same time. Most of the chats are single words, yes, nooo, kk, brb and the occasional wtf?

Winning in the PVP area is more of luck though. Since players are not allowed to select teams, the win will depend on when you're assigned to a more experienced team. Imho that's about 50%.

Socialization is not a big draw for AQW. The groups are temporary and you're not allowed to form clans or guilds (at least for free players, I don't know about member players).

Finally, I think AQW can be used to teach micro-economics :-). Players work to acquire gold, rank, reputation; and unlock items. The gold has value because it can be exchanged with digital items offered by the game, such as armor, helmet, potions etc. The rank raises hp and ability to enhace some digital items. Reputation unlock shops. The game makes some item more precious by making it cost more, or scarce (because you can't buy it, it has to be dropped by a powerful monster). AQW does not seem to allow exchange, selling, or giving inventory items to each other. But still this could be a hook (prior knowledge) that economics teachers can use.

What I've learned from this experience is that I've confirmed some of what Steinkuehler is saying about MMOG as a learning environment. I also feel that adults (parents in particular) should play with their children and use that opportunity as learning moments. It's also a good way to connect and use the game as a conversation piece of sorts.


Masetti, G. The Noob. Available at

Siitonen, M. (2007). Social interaction in online multiplayer communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Available at; Also at

Steinkuehler, C.A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Available at
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