Connected gaming: what making video games can teach us about learning and literacy 9780262035378, 0262035375

Introduction -- The serious side : making games for learning -- The social side : making games together beats making the

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Connected gaming: what making video games can teach us about learning and literacy
 9780262035378, 0262035375

Table of contents :
Introduction --
The serious side : making games for learning --
The social side : making games together beats making them alone --
The cultural side : rethinking access and participation in gaming --
The tangible side : merging old materials with new interfaces for gaming --
The creative side : tools for modding and making games --
Connected gaming for all.

Citation preview

Connected Gaming

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth, edited by W. Lance Bennett Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility, edited by Miriam J. Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected, edited by Tara McPherson The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, edited by Katie Salen Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media, edited by Anna Everett Youth, Identity, and Digital Media, edited by David Buckingham Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software, by Mizuko Ito Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, by Mizuko Ito et al. The Civic Web: Young People, the Internet, and Civic Participation, by Shakuntala Banaji and David Buckingham Connected Play: Tweens in a Virtual World, by Yasmin B. Kafai and Deborah A. Fields The Digital Youth Network: Cultivating Digital Media Citizenship in Urban Communities, edited by Brigid Barron, Kimberley Gomez, Nichole Pinkard, and Caitlin K. Martin

The Interconnections Collection developed by Kylie Peppler, Melissa Gresalfi, Katie Salen Tekinbaş, and Rafi Santo Gaming the System: Designing with Gamestar Mechanic, by Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Melissa Gresalfi, Kylie Peppler, and Rafi Santo Script Changers: Digital Storytelling with Scratch, by Kylie Peppler, Rafi Santo, Melissa Gresalfi, and Katie Salen Tekinbaş Short Circuits: Crafting E-Puppets with DIY Electronics, by Kylie Peppler, Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Melissa Gresalfi, and Rafi Santo

Soft Circuits: Crafting E-Fashion with DIY Electronics, by Kylie Peppler, Melissa Gresalfi, Katie Salen Tekinbaş, and Rafi Santo

Connected Code: Children as the Programmers, Designers, and Makers for the 21st Century, by Yasmin B. Kafai and Quinn Burke Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap, by Carrie James Education and Social Media: Toward a Digital Future, edited by Christine Greenhow, Julia Sonnevend, and Colin Agur Framing Internet Safety: The Governance of Youth Online, by Nathan W. Fisk Connected Gaming: What Making Video Games Can Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, by Yasmin B. Kafai and Quinn Burke

Connected Gaming What Making Video Games Can Teach Us about Learning and Literacy

Yasmin B. Kafai and Quinn Burke

The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England

© 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher. This book was set in Stone Serif and Stone Sans by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Kafai, Yasmin B., author. | Burke, Quinn, 1976- author. Title: Connected gaming : what making video games can teach us about learning and literacy / Yasmin B. Kafai and Quinn Burke ; foreword by Constance Steinkuehler. Description: Cambridge, MA : The MIT Press, 2016. | Series: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2016016500 | ISBN 9780262035378 (hardcover : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Video games in education. | Computers and children. | Computer programming--Study and teaching. | Video games--Design. | Constructivism (Education) | Learning, Psychology of. Classification: LCC LB1028.75 .K34 2016 | DDC 371.33/46696--dc23 LC record available at 10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

To our parents, who played and made the first games with us.


Series Foreword  ix Foreword, by Constance Steinkuehler  xi Preface to 1995 Minds in Play: Games to Be Played, Games to Be Made, by Seymour Papert  xv 1 Introduction  1 2 The Serious Side: Making Games for Learning  19 3 The Social Side: Making Games Together Beats Making Them Alone  39 4 The Cultural Side: Rethinking Access and Participation in Gaming  63 5 The Tangible Side: Connecting Old Materials with New Interfaces in Games  83 6 The Creative Side: Tools for Modding and Making Games  101 7 Connected Gaming for All  123 Coda  139 Acknowledgments  141 Notes  145 References  169 Index  195

Series Foreword Series Series

Foreword Foreword

In recent years, digital media and networks have become embedded in our everyday lives, and are part of broad-based changes to how we engage in knowledge production, communication, and creative expression. Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are now commonplace and pervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development. Now, diverse populations and noninstitutionalized practices, including the peer activities of youth, have embraced them. Although specific forms of technology uptake are highly diverse, a generation is growing up in an era when digital media are part of the taken-for-granted social and cultural fabric of learning, play, and social communication. This book series is founded on the working hypothesis that those immersed in new digital tools and networks are engaged in an unprecedented exploration of language, games, social interaction, problem solving, and self-directed activity that leads to diverse forms of learning. These diverse forms of learning are reflected in expressions of identity, in how individuals express independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically. The defining frame for this series is not a particular theoretical or disciplinary approach, nor is it a fixed set of topics. Rather, the series revolves around a constellation of topics investigated from multiple disciplinary and practical frames. The series as a whole looks at the relation between youth, learning, and digital media, but each contribution might deal with only a subset of this constellation. Erecting strict topical boundaries would exclude some of the most important work in the field. For example, restricting the


Series Foreword

content of the series only to people of a certain age would mean artificially reifying an age boundary when the phenomenon demands otherwise. This would become especially problematic with new forms of online participation where one important outcome is the mixing of participants of different ages. The same goes for digital media, which are increasingly inseparable from analog and earlier media forms. The series responds to certain changes in our media ecology that have important implications for learning. Specifically, these changes involve new forms of media literacy and developments in the modes of media participation. Digital media are part of a convergence between interactive media (most notably gaming), online networks, and existing media forms. Navigating this media ecology involves a palette of literacies that are being defined through practice yet require more scholarly scrutiny before they can be fully incorporated pervasively into educational initiatives. Media literacy involves not only ways of understanding, interpreting, and critiquing media but also the means for creative and social expression, online search and navigation, and a host of new technical skills. The potential gap in literacies and participation skills creates new challenges for educators who struggle to bridge media engagement inside and outside the classroom. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, published by the MIT Press, aims to close these gaps and provide innovative ways of thinking about and using new forms of knowledge production, communication, and creative expression.

Foreword Constance Steinkuehler

When Jim Gee first published What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy in 2003, it spawned a generation of research and development on educational and commercial games (and game communities) that capitalized on the capacity of the medium to engage learners in complex forms of thinking and problem solving. This book is not just a natural sequel to that text. It marks an unforeseen evolution in the field—one that reflects both a deep through line of inquiry and design in the learning sciences as well as an unexpected moment in history. A fundamental tenet of the learning sciences has long been that learners construct knowledge and understanding through active engagement in their world, and models—whether mental models or constructed physical ones—play a crucial role in that understanding. In a sense, they are that understanding. From this point of view, the study of making games is a natural continuation or extension of this deep thread in research—albeit one that is much more focused on communication, designed for an intended audience, than most of our traditional models. From this perspective, too, to make a game is to make a model of a system, to understand that system. Deeply. From another vantage point, this book is entirely revolutionary. I first met Yasmin Kafai at a private reception for the National Academy of Education, the veritable “Skull and Crossbones” of education. The gathering was in a grand hall one warm spring evening, with scholars milling about and talking in pairs and small groups over clinking glasses of wine and rich hors d’oeuvres balanced precariously on small porcelain plates. Conversation across the hall was animated and swirling, an ebb and flow of faces whose names I certainly recognized, but whose topics were serious and obscure, punctuated by polite laughter here and there from time to time.


Constance Steinkuehler

I was a graduate student on a fellowship with the organization, feeling out of my league as only a doctoral student and utterly out of my element as someone trying to study learning through video games rather than through classrooms. Having had my fill of wandering about awkwardly alone with a glass in my hand, trying to pretend I belonged there, I started making my way toward the door when Yasmin, iconic, one of the defining leaders in the field, entered, walked straight to me, and asked, “I understand you study video games. If playing games is so useful, have you considered what happens when students make them?” Our resulting conversation continued long into the evening. I have been following Yasmin’s work ever since. As a former graduate student of Gee’s, I have spent my career researching commercial games in order to better understand how it is that forms of play, so denigrated and feared by school-affiliated folks, can elicit such complex, and sometimes even grueling, forms of cognition and learning from those who play them. Examples are never in short supply. But it wasn’t until I started working with game designers that I really understood Yasmin’s provocation more than a decade ago. Games are a communicative medium. To make a game is not only to decompose a system, understand its structure and parts, but then also reassemble a model of that system using algorithms (code). It also means to express an idea intentionally for others, to create for them a first-person experience that one believes is worth having. It is to share a viewpoint from the inside. Thus, game creation is emancipatory. Like all art mediums, game making fosters individual autonomy by forcing designers to examine how technical, material, and social systems work, take a position or stance on their operation, and express that outlook for others as a first-person experience. Critical reflection and self-expression are fundamental to democracy. They are the very purpose of the educational system. From this perspective, then, is not outside the purview of what classrooms should include but instead essential to them. Or at least it ought to be. Twenty-first-century classrooms are failing if they do not engage young people in critical examination of the complex systems around them, decomposition of how they work, and effective communication of one’s own position in relation to them. Such systems include capitalism, free markets, social welfare systems, health care, mass transit, carbon cycles, information exchange from cells to societies, online social networks, and



the human brain. There is a reason that world-renown game designers like Will Wright hang out in the hallways of the Santa Fe Institute, the mothership of complexity theory. It is in this sense that this book is revolutionary. The expression of ideas through games is hard intellectual work, requiring a conceptual understanding of the system or idea, authorial intent and communicative skill, and technical skills in the medium of code. We fetishize the latter under the rubric of “high-wage tech jobs” and “the importance of STEM.” But the actual magic sauce in this equation isn’t the code; it’s the communication. What I have learned from following Yasmin Kafai and Quinn Burke’s research over the last decade is that computational participation must be the defining goal of any educational system for the twenty-first century, in which so many of our most complex problems are global—complex systems that span more than one nation, demographic, or discipline. Obviously I am a slow learner. Let this book help you to get there in less time.   Professor of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison President, Higher Education Video Game Alliance

Preface to 1995 Minds in Play: Games to Be Played, Games to Be Made Seymour Papert

In the wake of the advent of inexpensive microcomputers in the late 1970s came the first wave of nonprofessional programmers. Children, older students, teachers, and computer hobbyists took to the keyboard to find an experience that nobody had been able to have in previous generations. And in the wake of the interest in programming came a search for programmable project areas—you can’t program without programming something. By the early 1980s, habits had set in. In the schools, the presence of the Logo turtle favored projects involving graphics. Teachers learning to program often looked for topics that would have an instructional function. Adult hobbyists implemented on their little computers simple forms of “system programs” that existed on the big machines but had not yet permeated down as they have today. Across the board a scattering of these new programmers embarked on projects to create another kind of entity that had come into being with the microchip. In popular parlance the video game was almost becoming synonymous with the idea of a home computer and the challenge of making one’s own had an obvious appeal. It is interesting to reflect on why making video games did not become a more important part of the school computer culture. The superficial answer is technical. Think back ten years to the situation in a typical school computer lab. The machines are Apple II computers. The programming language is Apple Logo. With this combination it is possible to make a playable game, but the threshold of skill and effort needed is very high and the final result needs a stretch of imagination to be classed as a “real game.” No wonder making a game was something that would be undertaken mostly by the exceptionally bold students and was seldom promoted by teachers as the thing to do.


Seymour Papert

This technical explanation certainly tells a part of the story, and is reinforced by noting that an increase in game-making is coming about simply as a result of improvements in hardware and software. I have observed many students and teachers in computer labs or workshops taking advantage of the fact that MicroWorlds Logo running on the newest Mac or IBM makes games as easy to program as the static graphics that became identified with the use of Logo ten years ago. But there is much more to the story of video games in educational than technological evolution. Indeed, something that will more powerfully, and more deeply, facilitate a more massive entry of video game programming into schools is Yasmin Kafai’s initiative in bringing this activity into the arena of central concerns of contemporary education theory. As a background to this remark, it is instructive to note an oversimplification inherent in using the evolution of the technology as an explanation of what happens in schools. There is a two-way street: the evolution of the technology has, to a significant degree, been influenced by (as well as influencing) the culture of educational computing. To see an example, let me recall that in the very early 1980s computers with names like Atari and TI 99/4 were at least as well represented in schools as the Apple II; and because these computers were designed to serve also as game machines, they had hardware features that facilitated programming dynamic actions needed by games but also by other kinds of animation that open to children the opportunity to manipulate and understand many key concepts in science and mathematics. The Apple II was a wonderful workhorse that we all came to love for what it could do. But there was so much these other machines did better that the development of educational computing was significantly retarded by Apple’s market victory. Clearly the world of education (which includes research communities and the Washington, DC, bureaucracies as well as schools) did not value what these machines could do enough to fight for them. What I value most in Kafai’s work is its contribution to valuing the activity of making a game. I don’t mean this merely quantitatively. Articles about computers vie with one another in telling their audience how very exciting such and such an activity is for the students—or even how important it is for society that children should be engaged in this or that. Kafai also does some of that; but what differentiates her writing from the general “run” is paying serious attention, not only to the detail of what exactly

Preface to 1995 Minds in Play 


these students are doing, but especially to the categories of theoretical inquiry that should be brought to bear on understanding these details. And by doing this well she also makes a contribution in the other sense: in the end her writing will serve to show education theorists a new domain from which to enrich their ideas. Game-making emerges not only as important to the children (and others) who do it, but also to theorists who want to understand the process of intellectual doing, thinking, and learning. Perhaps the most important way in which game-making is a theoretically important domain is the emphasis it lays on importance as a category in thinking about what situations are good for learning. Literature on school improvement is full of exhortations to make the content of instruction “relevant.” In this theoretical perspective Kafai’s work highlights the need for more discussion about what constitutes relevance for a ten-year old. Certainly not connecting school arithmetic with the supermarket! Connecting school science with environmental activism is a much better way to invest learning with importance. But if one does belong to a culture in which video games are important, transforming oneself from a consumer to a producer of games may well be an even more powerful way for some children to find importance in what they are doing. My point here is not to argue about which source of a sense of importance is best but to note how reflection on game-making is an excellent medium for exploring multiple dimensions—psychological, cultural, mathetic—of this aspect of the learning environment. It is also an excellent medium for highlighting the issues raised by posing an opposition in educational thinking between instructionism and constructionism. Every educator must have felt some envy watching children playing video games: if only that energy could be mobilized in the service of learning something that the educator values. But the envy can take very different forms. Instructionists show their orientation by concretizing the wish as a desire for games that will teach math or spelling or geography or whatever. The Constructionist mind is revealed when the wish leads to imagining children making the games instead of just playing them. Rather than wanting games to instruct children they yearn to see children construct games. Accepting the honor of writing a preface carries the obligation offering some advice to readers. These two examples of connections made by this book between games and fundamental theoretical issues will suffice to give meaning to mine which I’ll state as an appeal to read this work on


Seymour Papert

the multiple levels given it by the richness of its author’s mind. The book offers a very practicable model from which teachers can draw inspiration in their work with computers. It should embolden them to see importance in what some might dismiss as mere games. The book also offers a model to researchers (and I say this without presuming that teachers and even students should not be included here) in developing thick descriptions of the process of doing a project. Finally to theorists (and again the term is inclusive) it offers not only its author’s theoretical insights but also a rich field in which to grow their own.

1  Introduction Chapter I n










1 n

June 1991. It’s demo time for parents at Project Headlight. Students are milling around the circles of computers with advertisements and packages designed for fraction software games. “He will ask you a fraction question. If you don’t get it right, you will become mentally deformed,” we hear a parent reading from the computer screen with some bemusement. After months of work, the students are at last showing off their fraction games that they have created using the introductory programming language Logo. Even the principal is here to give the games a try. Instead of using purchased software for gaming, students have designed their own games, and in the design process, they have become novice programmers. They draw images, manipulate shapes, and build in surprises to their games of fraction quizzes. These are no run-of-the-mill video games either; they are designed to teach mathematics. Fourth grader Abigail has chosen to design her fraction game around the Greek myths: “You want to go to the home of Zeus, but the map has been ripped up by the Greek god Hades. All the Greek gods and goddesses have a fraction of the map. You are to go to the gods and goddesses one at a time, and they will ask you a fraction problem. If you get it right, you will get a fraction of the map.” Abigail’s toughest challenge making her game involves allowing the user to choose an answer from the quiz. She had to learn the hows and whys of conditional statements—the “if” and “then” statements that determine output based on user input. Abigail carefully explains how she had to program the choices for each question’s potential answers. “The hardest thing about this,” she concludes,“is making your program for what your answer is for the fraction problem. If you push A, then you do this, and if you push B, then this happens,” she explains. “So it’s really hard.” Yet despite the considerable challenge of learning the fundamentals of computer programming, all sixteen students in the threemonth game design project learned how to program to create their own unique fraction video games.1  


Chapter 1

More than twenty years ago, the first constructionist gaming project took place in an elementary school in Boston. It was an atypical endeavor given that at that time, most school computers were tucked away inside computer labs that were only visited by students once a week for a single class period. Placing computers in core curricula classrooms was largely unheard of, and developing an entire curriculum around making and sharing digital games was even less common. But here was a class of fourth graders and their teacher who entered math class every day to develop their own video games to teach fractions to younger students at their own school (see  figure 1.1). Besides programming and game design, they also learned about writing advertisements and stories along with product design to “market” their respective games to their younger counterparts. Equally important, they learned about adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions throughout the process. It was still a math class after all. The project was an unprecedented success with the students and teacher alike, all of whom expressed enthusiasm for this integrated way to learn about content, coding, collaboration, and creativity at once. Yet despite such success and popularity, making games never became part of the school’s curricula. Nor did it enter into the scope of digital games for learning some ten years later with the emergence of the serious gaming movement. It was playing games for learning—the instructionist approach—that garnered the attention of educators and researchers.2 The launch of the serious games movement in the early 2000s realized this desire for instructionist games—those games that are specifically designed to teach academic content and skills to students. To date, thousands of educational games and simulations have been designed to support learning in various domains. Surge: Classic is a prime example, in which student players explore Newtonian mechanics by applying acceleration to a simulated spaceship in real time; Nightmare: Malaria is another popular game, in which the mission is on the ground saving cuddly teddy bears from malaria-ridden mosquitoes, and in the process, learning about the spread of infectious disease. Perhaps the most consistently popular serious game includes the various iterations of America’s Army, which simulates warfare to recruit young people to the US military. Regardless of the game, accompanying all these instructionist efforts came significant funding from research initiatives, the launch of numerous conferences and journals around such initiatives, and even the first placement of a senior policy adviser on digital games in the White



Figure 1.1 Joanne Ronkin, the teacher, with students from the Fraction Game Design Project at the computers in Project Headlight, Boston 1991. Photo: Stephen Sherman.


Chapter 1

House.3 It is clear that games for learning have not only arrived but also have been institutionalized. And yet there is a persistent and notable absence in all these efforts to promote games and learning: the inclusion of constructionist gaming— namely, those approaches in which games are designed by the students rather than the professionals.4 As evident with the classroom activities of Project Headlight, students make their own digital games in constructionist gaming, and often these games are focused on academic content such as mathematics or science. Student designers, like the ones in the introductory vignette, can learn not only about academic content by writing explanations and creating visual representations and simulations but also about technical skills such as programming and digital interface designs. Given the successes of constructionist gaming in those documented instances where it has been implemented in classrooms, clubs, and communities, it is therefore surprising that so little attention has centered on the constructionist approach in the considerable rhetoric around video games for learning. The instructionist approach of games for playing has nearly entirely overshadowed the constructionist approach of games for making and playing. It is worth reflecting for a moment on what might have caused this omission. The first and most obvious reason stems back to what Seymour Papert aptly described in his preface to the 1995 book Minds in Play as the instructionist desire of having a finished, downloadable, teaching product (that is, the game itself) as the party responsible (rather than the instructor) for teaching the child.5 A second and less inimical reason for constructionist gaming’s unpopularity may simply stem from the fact that educators have long viewed the endeavor of making games as far too technical given its association with learning programming. And a third reason may be that until recently, the gaming industry really did not want players to engage in any design or modification of the games they produced for the marketplace. These were, after all, their products, and the threat of piracy and copyright infringement was real in the early days of video games. Yet whatever the reasons—educational, technical, or cultural—the situation is clearly changing, and changing for the better. In Connected Gaming, we point toward several developments in favor of this new direction. The changes in industry’s approach that have blurred the lines between playing and making games, growth of a maker movement



that values designing one’s own game, and shift in educational thinking to include computational thinking and participation in K–12 curriculum are core causes for advancing constructionist gaming. We highlight how coding, collaboration, and creativity capture the various learning benefits of constructionist gaming. But we also don’t want to tilt the boat too much in one direction by arguing that instructionist gaming needs to be dismissed in favor of constructionist gaming. Instead, we want to adopt a more comprehensive stance that views both making and gaming as part of a larger umbrella for connected gaming. Connected gaming, as we will contend, sees learning to play and make games as part of a larger gaming ecology in which the traditional roles of game player and game designer are no longer treated as distinct entities but rather as overlapping, mutually informing processes for learning. This change toward connected gaming has been a long time in the making. Blurring the Line between Playing and Making Games Arguably, the central impetus for a shift toward constructionist gaming comes from the industry itself. After all, some of the most popular games on the market today include level and character making—also called modding in this context—as a central feature of gameplay. Commercial game makers now encourage such modding until the next version becomes available. Game mods or modding (short for “modifications” and “modifying,” respectively) refer to player-made alterations and additions to a game. Game modders are part of the larger fan culture that has emerged around cultural media in which fans are no longer content just to watch and play as consumers but instead want to take an active part in the development of such content.6 By most accounts, the first video game mod occurred in 1983 with the creation of Castle Smurfenstein.7 A combination of two classic games of the early 1980s, the World War II shooter game titled Castle Wolfenstein (in which a player combats Nazis), and the distinctly more mild Smurf video game (in which players must rescue one of the tiny blue cartoon characters), Castle Smurfenstein was an altogether-macabre mod in which the cuddly blue cartoons replace the Nazis as the victims of the shooter’s bullets. Created by hacking the software on the Commodore 64 game console, Castle Smurfenstein was a minor phenomenon among the select few gamers who


Chapter 1

traded the mod among themselves in the decidedly “underground” network of gaming clubs. Certainly the dark humor underlying its creation was part of Castle Smurfenstein’s appeal. But its real subversive nature actually laid within the rogue possibilities it introduced for the future alterations of existing video games. And accordingly, hundreds—if not thousands—of mods followed in the wake of Castle Smurfenstein, though such creations ultimately trafficked in a relatively small network of coders, hackers, and die-hard gaming enthusiasts. Still, shooting blue Smurfs in a gothic German castle did not tickle the fancy of the software company behind Castle Wolfenstein nor, in particular, the makers of the family-oriented Smurf video game. So while small networks of modders played and shared their alterations, throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s, game companies by and large considered any modification of their software or hardware to be a violation of the end user license agreement that players have to abide by when they purchase software and gaming consoles. This changed in 1997, however, when the company id Software, creators of the popular first-person shooter game Doom, released the source code for the game in a set of files apart from the game itself.8 Game enthusiasts jumped at this essentially unheard-of invitation from the gaming industry, and thousands of mods followed over the coming years, especially as the popularity of the Internet continued to soar.9 The industry had “entered the game,” so to speak. Rather than see its classic game diminished, id Software found that it had achieved a nearcultlike status among gamers and hackers, which the company promptly cashed in over subsequent years with Doom’s also-modifiable sequels Quake and Quake II. Media scholar Henry Jenkins (2006) put forward the term “convergence culture” to capture this emerging phenomenon where consumers become producers. In the context of video game modding, such convergence can take on many forms, some of which (but not all) require technical skills like programming. While the modifications Doom allowed for included adding entirely new game levels and changing the actual landscape of the game’s surrounding, not all mods are so considerable. Even prior to Doom’s arrival, software companies allowed for modest adjustments in gameplay through interface modifications such as changing the attire of a character, accessorizing a character in the game, or even simply customizing the framing borders of their display or dashboard. Such modifications obviously



only allow for limited end user input, but even the original Nintendo Entertainment System’s giving players the opportunity to design their own racecourse in the 1984 Excitebike or pick their own avatar in the 1988 Super Mario Brothers 2 stand as modest yet significant instances of the industry allowing the player to take a greater role in the overall look and feel of the game. Modding along with its various incarnations is just one illustration of where playing games is no longer enough and players have moved into making games. But while modding is a particularly good example of this growing desire to simultaneously make and play, a closer examination of gaming cultures reveals that many other, technically equally rich activities have long occurred in the surrounding contexts of gaming. Gaming scholar James Paul Gee refers to such activities as “metagaming.” Here play extends beyond the game, and includes participating in online discussion forums as well as even accessing and designing cheat sites to help players more effectively navigate the game.10 The history of metagaming extends as far back as the games themselves, with early publications like the magazine Atari Age (1982–1984) and Nintendo Power (1988–2012) helping give gamers tips on best play since the early 1980s. But of course metagaming reached entirely new levels with the networks opened up by the Internet in the late 1990s. The release of the modifiable Doom in 1997 was an early boon to these online metagaming networks as a considerable number of how-to guides and even videos were created to teach the unacquainted the fundamental coding need to add to or alter gameplay. Today, the remarkable popularity and complexity of the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft has taken metagaming to entirely new levels. Discussion forums for World of Warcraft players are more just a series of fan posts; these boards are filled with posts that entail multiple scientific best practices, including defining the game’s changing ecology, players’ roles within such an ecology, and how to develop and test hypotheses about overall game design and mechanics. Younger players engaged in LittleBigPlanet2 have also been found to engage in a variety of game modding practices. For Civilization III, players develop discussion forums and resource guides for others to improve their game modding.11 Such forms of metagaming are in many ways precursors and companions to the modding activities described above.


Chapter 1

Whether it is modding or metagaming, these developments make it quite apparent that making and playing are no longer distinct activities but rather interrelated, mutually informing processes. Perhaps the clearest indicator to the industry that connected gaming indeed has arrived is signaled by the remarkable popularity of Minecraft, an indie game that breaks down the fences industry and academia have historically built between game playing and making by offering both simultaneously—a play and creative mode.12 In the creative mode, players use square building blocks to construct their own environments, be it houses, gardens, or entire cities— which collectively, in some instances, have led to re-creating the whole state of Denmark. In the play mode, the environment switches into a world itself, driven by a clock that brings out night monsters. As a player, one can choose the play mode. The interface for programming the blocks is an interesting throwback to the computer and gaming interfaces of the 1970s, when grainy green pixels populated black screens and commands like “Forward 200” were used to navigate objects on the screen. Minecraft is a virtual sandbox whose tremendous popularity has garnered millions of paying designers and even served as the topic of a recent South Park episode—a cultural icon in its own right—emblematic of the maker and coder movements from which it sprang. Growing Communities of “Game Makers” The emergence of the DIY or maker movement, with its focus on making and sharing artifacts of highly personal and social significance, has been another contributing factor to this shift toward connected gaming.13 The artifacts of DIY and maker cultures range from robotics to 3-D printed objects, from high-tech fashion to rustic textile crafts, from hydroponic gardens to culinary oddities—in short, nearly anything that can be home made and widely shared. This DIY mentality is not just limited to tangible designs but now has swapped over to online game designs. Making your own video game is among the most popular activities in today’s youth programming communities, with nonprofits Scratch and Alice as well as forprofit businesses such as GameMaker and Microsoft’s Kodu (among many others) ably accommodating these young designers. As evident in the previous section, this development is fueled in large part by the growing number of tools and technologies for making and sharing video games, but the



industry’s progress here ties directly to a wider culture of digital makers who have long bonded over interest-driven learning and engaging the world through design and sharing with others.14 While the maker movement is a fairly recent development, this DIY mentality has always been part of video game culture, starting with the first generation of microcomputers that frequently arrived as kits requiring assembly by its user. As Melanie Swalwell, a New Zealand researcher of the cultural histories of gaming, observed in her review of specialist computer and gaming magazines from the 1970s and 1980s, players have long programmed versions of games, hacked their controllers, and shared these results with other like-minded gamers.15 Such modding was not necessarily easy, though. Early users often had to modify the source code or type in commands to load and run the software and games. Swalwell notes the unique challenge of modifying early video games resulted in de facto tutorials in computer programming for children, with a “number of industrious teenagers who were making money this way, writing programs,” because computers were usually released before they had software ready. So even then, making games as well as tinkering with both the hardware and software had been part of the player gaming culture, although the culture was far more “underground,” based on the erudite coding entailed along with the lack of the substantial networks subsequently generated and supported by the Internet. This longtime engagement not only attests to a wide culture of makers but also illustrates the importance of video games as, according to social scientist Sherry Turkle “evocative objects.” As Turkle (1984) explains, these artifacts at once allow for personal expression even as they evoke larger cultural relevance by capturing contemporary discussions of core issues. Video games serve as an evocative object to the extent that they capture the growing emergence of digital technologies in our lives and shift toward greater interactivity with personal digital devices. Whereas computers started in laboratories and were largely inaccessible to end users, video games were always destined for popular consumption. Video games were the first personal use of digital technologies, and were widely available in video arcades and home gaming consoles long before home computers and mobile technologies became household items. Of course in the 1970s and 1980s, the market for such video games was largely children, but these same children have now grown into the designers and programmers of the digital devices


Chapter 1

that surround us. As a recent Pew Research study demonstrates, it is no longer just children playing video games; well over half of all US adults and over 80 percent of young adults, ages eighteen to twenty-nine, play video games.16 Such a culture has flourished perhaps because making and sharing one’s own self-generated content proves to be a significantly more substantial way to connect with others online in comparison to the weak ties of social media Web sites, where users amass thousands of “friends,” many of whom they have never even met. This sentiment that “making is connecting” is also part of the new culture of exchange at the heart of the maker movement. As media scholar David Gauntlett astutely observed in his book with the same title, games are not just evocative objects but also have become a currency in the new maker economy. They become “objects-to-think-with” and “objects-to-share-with” that have real value among youths.17 It is here that we see the largest cultural shift in serious gaming, away from the topdown teachable product of instructionist gaming to the ground-up shareable product made by members of the community. The Educational Opportunity (and Imperative) for Constructionist Gaming Around the same time as the serious gaming and maker movements were gathering momentum in educational and business circles, a related effort to promote computational thinking gained traction in Silicon Valley. This push to teach code in and around K–12 schools is best described as the coder movement.18 Supported by two workshop reports by the National Research Council, these technologists drew on then Carnegie Mellon professor Jeannette Wing’s definition of computational thinking as all “aspects of designing systems, solving problems, and understanding human behaviors.”19 Wing argued that understanding the world computationally supplies a particular lens to understanding problems and contributing to their solutions. Computational thinking—while often strictly associated with computer science—actually is better understood as extending computer science principles to other disciplines in order to help break down the elements of any problem, determine their relationship to each other and the greater whole, and then devise algorithms to arrive at an automated solution. Computational thinking isn’t limited to mathematics and the sciences but also applies to the humanities in fields such as journalism and



literature. Thinking like a computer scientist has the potential to better articulate and advance other academic disciplines. While learning how to think like a computer scientist is an admirable goal, thinking alone represents a limited conception of what digital literacies afford young learners. Designing, programming, and modding digital artifacts cannot be promoted to schools solely as a more effective way to develop children’s thinking but instead must be likewise recognized as an effective way to develop children’s capacity to communicate logically and creatively. In our view, expanding on Wing’s definition of computational thinking, we see computational participation as “problem solving, designing systems, and understanding human behavior in the context of computing not just as an individualistic act but also as a communal practice that allows for participation in networked communities.”20 As evident in the growing youth culture around making games and the gaming industry’s own embrace of modding as “good play,” video games clearly represent one of the most socially and culturally relevant “objects” for youths today. Making these objects means creating and then solving problems with others who play one’s game, designing intuitive systems in the form of interfaces, stories, and animations, and learning about the cultural and social nature of human behavior through dealing with the social ramifications of actions like cheating as well as the critical issues about virtual representation through the concepts, practices, and perspectives of computer science. It is here that the premises of the maker movement connect with the ideas of the coder movement to promote programming in schools and converge in promoting a new vision for serious gaming: constructionist gaming. We’re not alone in embracing a vision of constructionist gaming—one that sees making games for learning as an educational opportunity for broadening the prospects of serious gaming. Of course this was the vision of early efforts such as Project Headlight. But this vision has been renewed, driven by developments on the national policy level that see serious gaming as a viable instructional effort to promote computational thinking and participation. In each instance, however, we find the evidence suggests that these national efforts need to encompass a broader perspective in order to be successful in schools, especially given the past successes of constructionist gaming for not only learning programming but also instilling academic content and other skills.21


Chapter 1

Such success is particularly evident in a recent experimental study involving over two hundred elementary school children in the Netherlands.22 While half the students participating in the study created their own memory game using a basic drag-and-drop game application, the other half played a preassembled memory game using the same platform. On postworkshop activity sheets gauging students’ retention of the content as well as postworkshop surveys, the constructionist (game-making) group outperformed the instructionist (game-playing) group in terms of both motivation and their capacity to apply a range of learning strategies. While this study is certainly not a critique of using instructionist games within the classroom, it does suggest that students take greater ownership of their learning as well as a dual sense of being both player and maker under the constructionist approach. This certainly supports the conclusions from early efforts of the game-making project that took place in Project Headlight in the early 1990s. But the findings from this study also reinforce the larger point of other recent studies illustrating that for children in the twenty-first century, encountering video games is no longer a novel experience in and of itself.23 More important, though, they indicate that if educators want to engage young learners with serious gaming, there needs to be an increased focus on making and playing together rather than playing games alone. Our educational imperative draws on the idea that one cannot make something without playing it, and vice versa, one does not really play games without making something—by all accounts, the two are inextricably linked in the gaming culture. Efforts to bring serious gaming into education have been inspired by people’s engagement with the gaming culture at large as an example of a rich context for learning, and not just with the game itself. Gee saw video games as an inspiration to “teach us about learning and literacy,” to quote the title of his seminal book, pointing to the need for a broader vision of serious gaming. We are developing such a vision in connected gaming, informed by constructionist learning and computational participation that addresses perennial equity issues in designing more comprehensive learning environments and activities. The Need for Connected Gaming Our goal is to develop an inclusive and informed vision for connected gaming that gives young learners a greater hand in the design and production



of video games. This also means that educators need to turn serious gaming activities in schools into places for sharing and collaboration, both formally and informally. Whether these gaming communities center around making and sharing graphic art, developing and debugging video games, or composing interactive multimedia montages, these online spaces offer children the potential to create their own digital content and then share their creations online with hundreds of thousands of other fellow enthusiasts. It is here within these digitally based game maker communities that we see a new vision that connects game making and playing. Because of their cultural relevance and prominence, games provide a promising context allowing computational thinking and participation to leverage the social connectivity inherent in the digital world of the twenty-first century. Connected gaming realizes computational participation, and illustrates what it means to socialize and produce in the twenty-first century, resulting in better learning opportunities and, by extension, better teaching opportunities. Building on constructionist theory, the personal engagement in making and playing games does not happen in a vacuum but rather very much in a social context. By designing a game (or on a more granular level, its procedures, algorithms, or data structures to define rules, structure interactions, and create graphics), the personal knowledge becomes public and can then be shared with others; to use an expanded notion of constructionist theory, it becomes both an object-to-think-with for the designer and an object-to-share-with.24 This idea of made games as personal and shareable artifacts signals the importance of affinity cultures that develop and grow around shared interests, and in which learning is a communal experience. These mutual interests and the focus on the whole group reflect values, even as they also provide a context for players and makers alike to connect and engage with each other and the larger community. It is a move away from an overly individualistic perspective in serious gaming to one that views playing and making games as a community of practice.25 This shift has significant and pressing implications for schools, where the success of the single learner has long been deemed to be more important than effective and meaningful group work among students. Indeed, students’ success in schools often has been considered a matter of knowing how “to play the game.” Yet schools’ inured adherence to pedagogies and curricula championing individual performance over group dynamics not only neglects the rich history of progressive education in this country but


Chapter 1

also fails to look ahead to a job market that increasingly calls for flexible workers who can adjust to both a variety of circumstances and range of personalities. The game has, in fact, changed. In terms of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content, schools’ inculcation of individual achievement over group dynamic has helped deprive the US workforce of whole populations of students from jobs within the tech industry—namely, women as well as ethnic and racial minorities. A 2010 analysis by the San Jose Mercury News reveals that the number of African Americans, Latinos, and women working in Silicon Valley tech industries has actually decreased since 2000. This decrease is particularly startling given the growing role in digital technology in all facets of public life. Despite the proliferation of technologies into all aspects of our life, persistently few women and minorities are participating in the design of software and hardware technologies. Likewise, while we have seen a proliferation of gaming into all demographic groups of all ages (not just young boys and men), few women and minorities are participating in the design of games. Finally, while the maker activities are gaining prominence in changing business, few women and minorities are represented in making.26 A number of tech companies in Silicon Valley as well as nationwide have publicly acknowledged this issue, and thus vowed to make greater effort in terms of recruitment, but the industry is far from the only party responsible here. After all, there need to be actual graduates to recruit. And while having students make and share video games is far from the sole answer, the concept of connected gaming entails real and productive redirection for schools. It not only centers on content that genuinely appeals to youth but also returns schools to places where actual making and sharing occur. Making (rather than just memorizing) content and sharing with peers (versus solely reporting to teachers) mark fundamental—and inherently difficult— changes in the way we conceive of and practice schooling. But as we will outline in subsequent chapters, the wider DIY culture of makers, historical role of Progressivism in US education, and ongoing initiatives such as New York and Chicago’s Quest to Learn (Q2L) schools offer numerous insightful precedents on which to enact connected gaming on a larger scale. Ultimately, connected gaming makes serious gaming altogether more accessible (you can play, make, and learn everywhere—in and out of school), more inclusive (everyone can play, make, and learn with a wide variety of materials), and more comprehensive (it’s not just on-screen but also offscreen in the crafts characteristic of the maker movement).



Book Overview We have organized the book into seven chapters, each of which focuses on a particular element of constructionist learning and connected gaming. Illustrations of programs and activities are included in each chapter so that readers can better grasp the practical application of game making for learning in classrooms, after-school clubs, and other educational spaces. A key premise of our book is that connected gaming has always been part of the larger digital media landscape. But it has largely been dismissed by schools and the entertainment industry as impractical or irrelevant due to a lack of familiarity and/or resources. This historical precedence very much needs to be taken into account if we are to make serious games movement a success within K–12 schools. Following the introduction, chapters 2–5 deal with the main premises of constructionist learning and a four-part framework as to why educators need to know more about the approach. In chapter 2, we examine the personal side of connected gaming, and how making games provides a rich context for learning coding using examples from studies inside and outside of school as well as from a range of introductory programming languages, including Scratch and Alice. As mentioned earlier, introductory computer programming represents one of the most salient issues facing schools and technology in the twenty-first century, with numerous educators, researchers, and policy makers citing coding as the literacy of today. Game making figures prominently here as a vehicle by which to introduce children to computational concepts, practices, and perspectives, learning about learning, to support them as creators (and not just consumers) of digital technology. In chapter 3, we turn to the social aspects in constructionist gaming using studies that have examined collaborative efforts in having children make games with and for each other, concentrating especially on the popular pair programming approach in designing games. We look at constructionist gaming as fostering alternative learning environments, and explore how both making and playing games has worked and not worked for developing new learning environments. In this context we specifically look to schools as social learning environment, examining New York City’s Q2L as well as statewide efforts using the Globaloria program to teach game making. We will also turn our attention to the ever-growing online communities of


Chapter 1

game makers through informal education sites such as Scratch and Newgrounds, and consider what these informal networks of gamers and game makers may have to offer classrooms pedagogically in terms of rethinking how we integrate technology in schools. In chapter 4, we explore cultural aspects of constructionist learning, and review how this approach can become a reality given gaming culture’s relatively dismal record in representing and welcoming a diverse population of gamers and game designers. In particular, we focus on the use of game design as a means to bring girls into computing and STEM learning, and the use of game testing as a means to engage young African American males in computing. We evaluate the merits of these approaches, but also examine their shortcomings and how we can rethink constructionist gaming to be a more inclusive approach going forward. In chapter 5, we highlight tangible aspects of connected gaming, and look at recent developments in constructionist gaming that include traditional game boards and wearable gaming interfaces, some of which have been augmented with digital features. Here we illustrate how game design can go through reflective iterations of making and playing games as well as provide transparency to technological designs. These hybrid designs also expand learners’ ideas about computing, and encourage broader participation in gaming by providing a wider range of aesthetic applications and employing a broader range of materials. Just as the divide between making and playing video games has blurred over recent years, so has the traditional division between “video” and “board” games, opening up entirely new possibilities for venturing off the screen and creating hybrid, connected learning environments that exist both on the screen and within the room. We conclude our review in chapter 6 with a focus on the tools for connected gaming, contending that now more than ever a plethora of free and for-pay programs exist that allow kids to make and share their own homemade video games. We describe these various tools as well as evaluate what criteria these programs ought to aspire to as they bring game making to children. Central to our argument here is just as playing and making video games are no longer mutually exclusive activities, neither are the tools for making games and the online repositories where children share them in different places. As the revamped Scratch Web site—now Scratch 2.0—  demonstrates, where children make their games and share them are one and the same, suggesting that the most valuable tool for making “good”



games is accessing enthusiastic audiences to play them and readily offer feedback. Finally, the book concludes with chapter 7, which pulls together the previous chapters on connected gaming in light of what we are currently witnessing with the success of Minecraft—a site that offers an excellent “case study” as to just how much gaming has changed in the past five years. Minecraft illustrates just how closely making and playing games can be integrated within one platform. In this last chapter, we outline an agenda for action in practice and research to broaden as well as deepen participation in connected gaming, and realize the full potential of serious gaming for schools and other educational spaces.

2  The Serious Side: Making Games for Learning Chapter The


2 Side

In 1993, Rosemary, a ten-year-old student at Project Headlight, the MIT Media Lab’s experimental school site, wrote up this review of her game final design: “I made a game. It’s called Mixed Up Planets. It started out very slowly at first. It is very hard to put together your own game. You may think it is easy to do because of all the video games people play. They look so simple, but try making your own game and it’s a totally different story! Well, I started out with very high expectations thinking that I could make a great game in [a] very short time. The point of the game is to teach kids the order of the planets. … When you see the screen it will have the sun and Mercury on it (this is what I’m planning). Then you will see a message that says, please take whatever the planet may be to its right place. Then there is a beep in a high tone. If you have it wrong, there is a beep in a low tone. …I can, however, tell you what I learned. I not only learned more about the solar system. I learned about the different kinds of stars. I learned a lot about computer programming. It’s amazing how much computers and science can combine with each other. It was great to write all my thoughts down on paper. Truthfully, I hope [the] next time you play a computer or video game you will think about its maker!”1   Rosemary was like the other Project Headlight students in previous years who had designed and programmed digital games to teach younger students in their school about fractions. She had spent several weeks working on her game, as she was simultaneously learning about astronomy, planets, galaxies, and stars in her science class. For an hour per day, she went to work at computers that were arranged in circles outside her classroom, designing and programming her game and graphics, planning her game packaging and accompanying marketing commercial, and even writing a software release for the course’s online newsletter. The release of Rosemary’s


Chapter 2

Figure 2.1 Rosemary’s cover design for Mixed Up Planets game box.

video game Mixed Up Planets was the result of many hours of hard work across many different domains. And what is apparent from her final exhortation to the Project Headlight team is a new appreciation of not just the product but also the long process that invariably precedes the final package. In this project Rosemary became the producer of, not just the player for, an educational software game. Rather than using commercial educational software to learn about astronomy, she was tasked with designing her own game. The concept was hers. She came up with the idea of having players arrange planets in the right order as a way of learning the basic structure of the solar system. Like many other students, she was taught the strategy of remembering the order of planets by singing a song or making up a silly sentence like “My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Names” utilizing the first letter of each word to indicate the planet’s ever-growing distance from the sun. She kept her peers playing Mixed Up Planets and eventually led them to being able to arrive at the correct sequence. Clearly, Rosemary’s

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success with her game goes beyond the substance of an astronomy 101 lesson and delves into deeper, if more nebulous, realms that concern not just good gaming but also good learning. That’s not at all bad for a ten-year-old elementary school student. As if this was not enough, Rosemary learned the basics of computer programming in the process. Using the 256K IBM PCjr, Rosemary made her ideas and images come alive on its screen through Logo, the programming language that Seymour Papert promoted in LEGO’s Mindstorms.2 For her game, Rosemary learned the commands that made the digital turtle on the screen draw and animate the graphics of colorful planets step by step as well as print accompanying instructions on the screen for the player. She also learned how to program the computer’s sound card to produce high- and low-toned feedback, and conditionally synchronize feedback based on the placement of the individual planets. From beginning to end, Rosemary’s Mixed Up Planets educational game had all the features that one could find in the commercially available educational software packages at the time. But again, there was the crucial distinction that she, and not a professional, had become the designer of the software and package. Learning programming and designing content was hard work. Rosemary found this out firsthand as she reflected in her newsletter announcement, as quoted above, that “they [the games] look so simple, but try making your own game and it’s a totally different story.” By making a game that would teach younger students in her school about astronomy, she also learned about her own learning, adjusting her early ambitions, which (like many of her peers) were initially to emulate the Nintendo and Sega games she knew so well from playing on her home television set.3 But this of course was a lesson she could only learn by actually diving in to make her own video game. For while video game playing was remarkably popular with millions of kids at that time, there were quite literally no possibilities for young children to make their own video game. Rosemary’s closing reminder to “think about its maker” is a prescient commentary considering the remarkable rise of the maker and coder movements that would follow suit two decades later. Most important, she saw the connections between gaming, computing, and making with her own words, observing, “It’s amazing how much computers and science can combine with each other.” For her, the learning of science and programming were not stand-alone subjects but rather invariably connected with the making of her game.


Chapter 2

This chapter, and those that follow it, are about the potential of learning and literacy while making (and playing) video games. Rosemary’s case, like many other studies involving children learning to code, offers a compelling example of what individual students can learn when learning to make with a computer. Yet to what degree is Rosemary an outlier? To what extent do such findings of individual cases level up to be inclusive of whole classes of students? What about connections to other academic subjects? Can every child, in fact, learn programming this way? And what else can or should students learn in the process? More than two decades have gone by since the first game design project took place with Project Headlight. While the initiative was a resounding success, its timing was also unfortunate; it arrived on the tail end of the first attempt to bring programming into K–12 schools where attitudes toward do-it-yourself coding were already shifting toward the preassembled software packages that characterized computers in schools in the 1990s and early 2000s. The arrival of multimedia CD-ROMs and Internet browsers seemingly negated the need to learn the language of computers; mouse clicks, not code, were thought to be all that was required to take command of the machine.4 Despite the waning enthusiasm for Logo and coding, though, in general at this time the thrill of game making persisted. Even with the absence of programming in most schools, making your own game inspired not only students but also educational researchers in unexpected ways, and has generated the substantial body of research that we will review and discuss in this chapter. Putting Programming into Context Before we examine the dozens of studies that have researched making games for learning, it is worthwhile to review the premises of the instructional approach that launched the first game-making design project and its follow-up studies. The idea of making a game for learning is not a new one. Teachers have used games, both those made and those played, in their classrooms for years in order to motivate their students’ learning.5 Likewise, children have played and made games long before computers came around. In the history of digital technologies, games have played an instrumental role. As noted in the previous chapter, video game consoles proved to be the first computers that many children had access to prior to the emergence of personal computers. This remains the case even today.6

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The arrival and success of video game play captured the imagination of children and adults alike, but for different reasons. For children, it was the possibility to engage and persevere in solving challenging problems, as game researcher James Paul Gee illustrated with his own gaming experiences and observations of others. And it provided an entry into a new world, as media researcher Henry Jenkins so persuasively argued when examining the movement of freedom afforded by virtual play for children whose playgrounds had shifted from the streets in their neighborhoods to the confines of their rooms.7 For adults, motivating play in this way provoked something else. As Papert postulated in his preface to Minds in Play, Every educator must have felt some envy watching children playing video games: If only that energy could be mobilized in the service of learning something that the educator values. … The Constructionist mind is revealed when the wish leads to imagining children making the games instead of just playing them. Rather than wanting games to instruct children they yearn to see children construct games.8

Papert paints an indelible picture of children mesmerized by the game console. Video games taught everyone something important about harnessing the desire to learn Yet what initially drew such educators (later deemed constructionists) to see children making—rather than just playing—games as a crucial endeavor? A key reason is that the educational theory of constructionism inherently values the making of objects as a core intellectual activity. Papert and Harel (1991, 1) wrote that “it then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe that can be shared with others.” They argued that objects-to-think-with such as the Logo turtle are particularly effective at supporting appropriation because they facilitate the learner’s personal identification with the object, and help to construct, examine, and revise connections between old and new knowledge. Programming the Logo turtle in the context of a game very much makes the construct an object-to-think-with linking together artifacts in the physical world (in this case, a turtle) with those representations (in this instance, the rules and objects) in the mind. But making games is also harking back to Jean Piaget’s work that examined the developmental function of gameplay as a venue for children to develop and exercise their understanding of rules. Equally significant although not as well known are games of construction, which


Chapter 2

were considered by Piaget to be the most sophisticated form of play given that they require children to build representations of the world according to their understanding.9 By designing a game (or on a more granular level, its procedures, algorithms, and data structures), the personal knowledge becomes public and can then be shared with others. Of course, thinking about game programs as personal objects that can be shared widely as public entities, or objectsto-share-with, then articulates a phenomenon entirely akin to the growth of Internet culture, where photos, stories, and designs become the new currency of public and private interactions. By extension, making games is a prime example of constructionist activities, particularly in the age of digital play. The key idea here is that knowledge about the rules, worlds, and interactions is represented in a public entity—the game—and that game playing and making highlights the personal, social, and cultural dimensions of constructionist learning. These social and cultural dimensions of constructionist learning will be discussed further in chapters 3 and 4. Programming your own game then engages learners in multiple ways, introducing students to critical computational concepts and practices. In this context, students learn about various programming concepts, data structures, and algorithms in addition to various software design practices, such as debugging and remixing code. Taken together, these concepts and practices capture Jeanette Wing’s notion of “computational thinking.”10 While computational thinking is not just coding, code represents one of the main avenues to engage youths in an early understanding about how effective systems are designed and maintained—a skill set that can be applied to fields as diverse as industrial mechanics, computational biology, and marketing analytics. Understanding game design is a promising early incubator for grasping computational thinking as the would-be designers not only have to create a series of novel user interfaces but also need to ensure that these interfaces scale in complexity and even adjust to the player’s capacity to accomplish digitally designed tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to learn coding on its own and forget about making a game? As it turns out, learning programming for the sake of programming is not all that interesting, and more important, also not that effective, especially for beginners. In an extensive review of the research on K–12 programming instruction, education researcher David Palumbo concluded that students’ effective learning of programming corresponded

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to the extent that such instruction was integrated into regular class work and within other subject matters, as a context to facilitate explanations and ground meaning.11 In fact, the criticisms related to applicability directed toward coding could well be leveled against many other subjects in school, not just programming. What and how students were learning in school, and how it connected to their learning outside school, emerged as pivotal. The question of “transfer” was one that did not solely challenge computer programming but education in general, too, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and still today.12 What was clear, though, was that giving students the opportunity to design games rather than learning code through rote programming exercises responded to these sweeping criticisms of programming research at large. Making Games to Learn How to Code: Concepts, Practices,   and Perspectives The pedagogical premises of making games for learning were compelling enough to initiate nearly a hundred studies over the last twenty years. Thousands of students have engaged in making games not solely for learning programming but also for raising their interest in and changing their perceptions of STEM and computing, and connecting to content.13 How can we sum up their learning? A helpful way to understand the learning of programming is a framework developed by computer science educators Karen Brennan and Mitchel Resnick that distinguishes between computational concepts, practices, and perspectives.14 “Computational concepts” refer to elements such as sequences, loops, parallelism, events, conditionals, operators, and data structures that are present in many programming languages. Take the introductory vignette in chapter 1 where Abigail learned to use conditionals to program the different answer choices that the player could give in response to a fraction quiz, or for that matter, the looped sound effects that Rosemary synchronized based on whether the player correctly placed the planets in order. Regardless of the particular programming language, these are fundamental concepts that run across multiple coding languages, and understanding them incrementally helps the learner better grasp the purpose of the language itself. To grasp and employ such concepts, student designers had to engage in “computational practices.” These are activities related to implementation, such as being incremental,


Chapter 2

reusing and remixing code, testing and debugging lines, and modularizing and abstracting scripts. Indeed, testing and debugging are staple practices that all beginning fraction game designers had to use to get their programs working. But they also learned to reuse and remix code segments to make them fit their specific needs. Finally, “computational perspectives” such as expressing, connecting, and questioning refer to worldviews that designers develop as they engage with digital media. When researchers ask about students’ perceptions of computing, they often hear an assortment of statements such as “being boring or tedious,” “only for smart students,” “antisocial,” or “lacking creativity.”15 Thus these computational perspectives connect to a core concern in broadening participation that focuses on learners’ perceptions of computing, where they see applications for computing, and how they see themselves within the field and future careers. There is now a substantial body of research that has examined learning programming in the context of game-making activities. Leading the way are those studies in which students have designed educational software games connected to curriculum in their schools. In the original game-making project referenced at the outset of this chapter, a class of fourth grade students who programmed fraction games for younger students in their school learned about key computational concepts such as loops, conditionals, and even tail recursion. They also improved significantly in computational practices such as writing and debugging programs when compared to students who were learning Logo programming solely in the context of smaller independent projects unrelated to gaming.16 Such comparative evaluations to assess and evaluate students’ learning when making games are still rare, but they helped to tease out the effects of context (games versus unrelated smaller programs) and time (weekly versus daily programming) spent on programming activities. This study also confirmed the findings of an earlier review that context, complexity, and time commitment matter when beginners learn programming.17 Making games happens to be a rich learning environment to engage students in learning technical skills, much in the same way that playing games engages players in complex and sustained learning while leveling up. Learning Computational Concepts through Game Making Further research has built on the successes of the initial game-making project and confirmed our findings of students’ learning of computational

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concepts.18 For instance, a study of the 221 programs created by 325 middle school students using Storytelling Alice in classes or after-school clubs revealed not only students’ use of simple programming constructs but also more complex constructs such as student-created abstraction, concurrent execution, and event handling. Likewise, a study of 108 games developed with Stagecast Creator by middle school girls showed use of key computational concepts such as loops, variables, and conditionals, but moderate usability and low levels of code organization and documentation. Seventeen thousand students designed video games as part of curricular activities in their schools or clubs using the Globaloria online platform, and in this way demonstrated the learning of critical programming concepts using Flash. Or the scalable game approach had over 10,000 students design a sequence of games and simulations in AgentSheets to learn about programming and creativity. Two of the main challenges in pulling together findings from all these studies are that students use different tools to program the games and students of different ages engage in these projects over vastly different time periods, ranging from a few hours to several weeks. Consequently, what children actually make in terms of games and what they learn is quite different. Not only do the conditions of game making differ, but what researchers define and count as programming varies from study to study, too.19 But learning computational concepts doesn’t just happen in school classrooms where students have access to computers and teacher support. In fact, many game-making projects have taken place in after-school clubs or community centers because programming was not part of the standard school curriculum. A two-year study in a Los Angeles Computer Clubhouse, part of a worldwide network of community technology centers that encourage creative uses of technology, found that use of computational concepts significantly increased from year one to year two as youths developed and remixed video games for themselves as well as each other. In examining an archive of over 500 Scratch gaming programming projects generated and saved during this time, the study also revealed that some concepts such as variables and random did not appear frequently in Computer Clubhouse members’ projects—an important indicator that some concepts are more easily introduced to beginners while others require more instructional support. Another study conducted in the Imaginary Worlds summer outreach camps compared gaming projects with music and story projects


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programmed by 322 youths using Alice or Scratch found that youths making games used the most variables, loops, and if-statements in their programs. These findings of game design inviting the use of particular computational concepts have also been observed in other studies and led some researchers to design programming tools for story games that overcome this shortcoming while still appealing to girls.20 Learning Computational Practices through Game Making We also have compelling evidence that youths engage in various computational practices as they are making games. From the fraction game design project, case studies illustrate how students debugged, revised, and tested their games over and over again, especially after the periodical user evaluation sessions they conducted with younger students. Moreover, posttests revealed game design students’ significantly higher performances in designing and debugging Logo code when compared to students in control classes. Over 10,000 students have used AgentSheets to make simulation games. Based on 268 games made by 30 college students in a semester-long course and 73 games made by 33 middle schoolers in a eight-week-long class, an analysis of the comprehensive skill score of computational thinking patterns showed that over time (in this case, a sequence of different game designs that students were asked to make in the course), both groups improved in their performance. As expected, the improvement was more substantial for the college undergraduates than for the middle school students since they not only came with more experience but also spent more time on designing their games.21 While school-based programs provide more scaffolded introductions to computational thinking practices in outlining a sequence of game designs or offering instructional support, we also found evidence of learning these computational practices in community centers and after-school programs. For instance, the case study of fifteen-year-old Jorge well captures the potential for young game designers to not only employ sophisticated computational concepts and reach the high ceiling of effective programming but also use remixing to meticulously re-create popular media through seamless imitation. Jorge, a regular visitor to the Computer Clubhouse over the eight months of the ethnographic study, created a video game titled Metal Slug Hell Zone X, a play on the popular “run-and-gun” video game series Metal Slug. His most significant challenges were revising his code in order to make

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Figure 2.2 Game design in AgentSheets.

it more efficient so to re-create the intuitiveness and fluidity of movement and feedback characteristic of the original game. While Jorge’s case was clearly the exception within the larger Computer Clubhouse youth population that we examined over two years, a four-year study of an urban informal education program in which over 400 youths participated in designing 2-D games demonstrated the widespread use of computational practices.22 Learning Computational Perspectives through Game Making Finally, young game designers not only developed their competencies in computational concepts and practices but also expanded their computational perspectives. Two recent studies around game design specifically focus on how such active, productive engagement with digital media actually shifts students’ attitudes toward computing and opens up the possibility of computing as a viable career. Likewise, participants in the urban


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after-school game design program, nearly all of them African American males, had increased awareness of higher education and career pathways. Making games for learning not only has demonstrated increased motivation for learning; equally important, it has been shown to change students’ attitudes toward the underlying goals of learning, allowing children to better grasp the long-term benefits of computing and digital design in terms of a potential career pathway.23 These findings also reinforce the wider body of research that collectively points to the commonsense (but nonetheless routinely ignored) precept that students’ sense of confidence with digital technology is inextricably tied to the actual activities in which they are engaged, with children at lower-income and predominantly minority schools receiving considerably less access to and engagement with computing activities that focus on the actual creation of digital content.24 It might be one of the reasons, too, why so few researchers have examined motivation beyond classroom learning and instead explored career aspirations as a result of making games for learning. Making Games for Learning Academic Content Like its instructionist counterpart, constructionist gaming integrates learning academic content such as mathematics, science, and the language arts from the K–12 curriculum. One could consider the computational concepts, practices, and perceptions reviewed in the previous section to be part of computer science that is now in the process of again joining the standard curriculum. In fact, in the original conception of constructionist gaming, the learning of coding and other content were seen as mutually beneficial to each other, engaging not only in personal expression but also knowledge transformation. In the early 1980s, no small part of Papert’s success in introducing the then-foreign concept of computer programming to K–12 schools came from his use of the grounded or practical approach to explain code as a way to make mathematics more tangible and real to students. “In this book, the Mathland metaphor will be used to question deeply engrained assumptions about human abilities,” Papert (1980, 6–7) writes, going on to explain that Logo acts as a land in which children can immerse themselves in practical math such that learning geometry becomes eminently more possible for even elementary school children. And such a connection is entirely sensible

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given the long-standing relationship between computer programming and mathematical proofs in which logical precision and sequence were of paramount importance, especially in the early development of computer science as a field. Papert’s metaphor of grounded math influenced the work of other leading computer scientists and educators at that time, and they likewise employed the metaphor to explain code as mathematical proofs and “made math.”25 There is now a series of studies that have examined content-related learning in the context of game-making activities.26 Leading the way are studies where students have designed educational software games or simulations that are connected or even integrated into the curriculum in their schools. Returning for a moment to the original game-making project, fourth grade students not only programmed games but also explicitly focused them on teaching fractions to younger students in their school—a topic that they covered in their math class at the same time. Again, the posttests revealed that students not only became significantly more proficient in programming Logo when compared to students in the same school who learned Logo in a confined computer lab but also became significantly better at understanding and representing fractions measured in pre- and posttests. More recent studies of making math games in Scratch confirmed these findings, and also showed that students activated their everyday mathematical experiences and understanding. Further research has centered on integrating coding with other STEM topics such as astronomy, which was the focus of games designed by Rosemary and her elementary classmates at Project Headlight from the chapter’s introductory vignette, or biology, which proved to be a significant boost to twenty-two seventh grade students’ content understanding and critical thinking when compared to a control class of students who did not design games.27 Moving beyond traditional STEM content, game-making activities have connected to literacy studies, the arts, and language arts.28 In a comparative game-making study, researchers found that fourth grade students in an experimental group demonstrated significantly better logical sentence construction skills in addition to showcasing better content retention, an ability to compare and contrast information resources, and better integration of digital resources. An analysis of over five hundred games designed in Scratch found that projects indeed spotlighted the kind of idea generation and appreciation connected to the arts. There are also many examples that


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connect game making to language arts, but the most extensive research to date conducted by education researcher Judy Robertson has implemented game design with over nine hundred students in dozens of primary and secondary schools across the United Kingdom. She found that students using Adventure Author for making their games improved their understanding of coding, but that the game design did not inspire girls’ interest in STEM careers—an aspect that we will discuss in more detail in chapter 4. This focus on storytelling has always been found a bonus with girls, and while previous studies suggest that the storytelling motif does not lead to as complex programing, a recent study indicates that given the right tools, even storytelling can become a fruitful context for designing more complex code that relies on the end user’s regular interaction with the story line.29 These connections of content learning to game making also illustrate the potential of curriculum integration. Rather than conceptualizing gamemaking activities solely as a context for learning programming and software design skills (as discussed in the sections above), here learning coding is understood within the broader context of application development. After all, applications design can focus on content design, in which case designers need to learn not only about the content and skills to be included but also about coding at the same time. Some studies have observed that when student game designers are charged with this dual focus of learning content and coding, the game world and story crafting takes precedence over engagement with content. Such are the not-unexpected challenges that can be addressed by providing instructional scaffolds that better integrate content and game.30 These challenges and gaps between game mechanics and content are not new; in fact, they can be found in many instructional games that only showcase the superficial or extrinsic integration of game and content.31 Making Games for Learning about Learning Finally, there is another important benefit in game making that goes beyond learning coding and content. It’s the idea of children learning about their own thinking and learning—also called reflection or metacognition. Papert (1993, 23) saw this a direct corollary to programming, and claimed that children learn to articulate procedures, recognize repetition, and “debug” their own thinking when programs don’t run as expected: “But thinking

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about learning by analogy with developing a program is a powerful and accessible way to get started on becoming more articulate about one’s debugging strategies and more deliberate about improving them.” One reason why programming is particularly well suited for this type of learning is that making a game is a problem with an open end rather than just one correct solution; some might even refer to game making as a “wicked” problem since there is no right solution but instead an approximation of the end.32 This makes game making a particularly rich domain, and one that is rarely found in school curriculum, where many problems require just one correct solution. Indeed, one of the few comparative studies that pitched playing versus making games found that students who engaged in making a game that the other group of student just played demonstrated significantly deeper engagement in their learning and strategy use, which involved system analysis, decision making, and troubleshooting. Likewise, studies comparing two summer camp groups indicated that the group involved in game making produced measurable improvements in problem solving.33 These metadimensions of game making have also garnered the attention of other education researchers who are interested in games as learning environments. While coding and content capture the more easily recognized knowledge and skills addressed with making games, game designer and researcher Katie Salen (2007, 305) writes that “game design as a domain of professional practice involves a rich array of knowledge and skills. Knowing how to put together a successful game involves system-based thinking, iterative critical problem solving, art, and aesthetics, writing and storytelling, interactive design, game logic and rules, and programming skills.” Technically, these design, problem-solving, or systems-thinking skills could be part of either coding or content, but assessment wise they fall into a broader overarching category that we call “learning about learning.” Making games requires designers to think about a metastructure in which the game mechanics, interactions, and content are to be embedded. Designing and implementing such metastructures is both an artifact and process at the same time, and for that reason, researchers like Donald Schön (1983) often refer to design as iterative or reflection in action. In particular, the notion of systems thinking has received much attention, perhaps because of the growing interest in using complex system thinking as a framework to approach science learning and the notion of computational thinking as


Chapter 2

designing a system. In order to capture this synthetic and analytic nature of design or systems thinking, some research has also referred to these skills as what game researcher Alex Games (2010) calls the “designer mindset.” Numerous studies have investigated these design skills in the context of game making.34 These design skills are also present in contexts where students do not use a programming language but rather a scripting situation or design tool. Most prominent here is the work on Gamestar Mechanic, an environment that was specifically developed for kids to make and share game designs that can be fixed by others. While we can argue about the extent to which Gamestar Mechanic engages makers in some form of programming, it is clear that Gamestar Mechanic involves students in explicit design and systems thinking. It is with Gamestar Mechanic that the distinction between programming and systems thinking perhaps becomes most apparent. For while programming engages learners in generating a system, Gamestar Mechanic is largely focused on getting its players to recognize and repair a system. Notwithstanding such internal debates, the design/ systems-thinking category highlights that in making games, students also develop representational or structural competencies not tied directly to code alone. And they point to possibilities pursued in chapter 6, too, where design and computational thinking are combined in a tool that classically has been considered a staple of constructionist theory: the development of microworlds within the context of game design. From this review of existing research on game making and learning, we get a good sense that no matter which programming tool—whether Adventure Author, AgentSheets, Alice 3D, Flash, Kodu, Logo, Scratch, or Storytelling Alice, to name a few—no matter which context—school, after-school club, or community technology center—and no matter which age group— from elementary to high school and college students—making games proved to be a compelling context for learning computational concepts and practices as well as broadening students’ overall perspectives on computing and careers. These outcomes are perhaps what most distinguish making games from playing games for learning.35 While there are players who venture into scripting their own fan sites, building complex spreadsheets to understand system designs, and even making their own level extensions and games, these activities are fairly limited to a small percentage of the huge player population. They also mostly happen outside the game and in the category of “metagaming,” which is indeed an important part of

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player culture, but more of a corollary activity.36 So what is the relationship between game playing and making for learning and literacy? Learning and Literacy in Playing and Making Games When Gee argued that playing video games could teach us about learning and literacy, he made the point that games embody many of the features that we should search out in good educational designs, whether online or “in person.” He also pointed out that while games embodied many of these aspects, this was not meant as an invitation to educators and learning designers to turn everything into a game. But too often this is what the serious gaming movement has devolved into: the search for the perfect instructional game that will solve all children’s learning problems. As education journalist Greg Toppo (2015) showcased in his recent travels to different design labs and research initiatives, this search for “lightning in a bottle” is still one of the prevailing myths pursued by the various video game–based educational programs that have sprouted up all over the country. If the findings from our review reveal anything, though, it is that we need to move beyond the single-minded focus of creating the perfect instructional game in order to realize the potential of serious gaming. In fact, making games embodies many of the same learning features that Gee saw in playing games—namely, providing highly responsive contexts for complex problem solving that motivate a learner’s engagement with the game, content, and others.37 In what ways is game making doing this? For one, learning in game making is situated in designing a public and shareable artifact. Learners do not learn coding for the sake of coding but instead do so with the goal of creating applications—in this case, games—that can then be used and played by others. The focus on game design supplies a context for their learning and the possible integration of other content that they need to master for their designs. Having authentic contexts has been recognized as a critical element to support students’ learning. Second, programming games offers direct and immediate feedback on whether ideas work or not. Like in game playing, the computer plays a pivotal role in providing speedy responses to the design features that students implement in their code. Writing the program for a game frequently doesn’t work; in fact, it rarely does the first time. Translating one’s ideas into the language of computers is a difficult task. Much like writing a paper,


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the author must match intention with reception, and like good writing, efficient coding requires many revisions before getting it right. Similar to game playing, there usually are different ways to approach and solve problems as well as generate design ideas. Achieving an effect in gameplay typically can be accomplished by multiple coding sequences. While externally the effect plays the same way, the underlying coding sequences can vary to a great deal. Here is where the distinction from traditional schoolwork becomes clearest, as schools usually prize one right answer. A key aspect of game making is that there isn’t one right answer but rather many possible solutions. The hard part is finding an optimal one. This of course has serious implications for teaching pedagogy and assessment, in which students are rewarded not for finding a single best answer but rather the range of potential solutions. As discussed in the next chapter, this lack of a single best answer is also one of the larger obstacles in bringing such game making into classrooms. Third, making games requires time and practice, just like playing games. This motivating nature of gameplay has always fascinated many educators and parents; sometimes it is even called addictive. But it is also a powerful motivator for learning. Game makers spend extensive time figuring out how they want to make things work and look on the screen, as do game players as they are learning how to play a game. Perseverance in solving problems is a necessary skill set precisely because achieving competencies of any kind nearly always require considerable time commitment, and overcoming initial setbacks and persistent constraints, both technical and personal. Yet it is not just the repeated practice of skills that is important here; it is also the completion of a project—a final artifact—that requires perseverance. Contextualizing motivation is key for playing a game toward an end goal just as it is for making a game toward the ultimate completion of a project. Finally, game making like game playing is a social activity. With the rise of massive multiplayer online role-playing games, game playing took on a whole new level of socialization. But game making has this element of socialization inherently by the very nature of creating content for others to experience in a meaningful way. Developing communities, online and off-line, to share one’s work is of paramount importance. Gee and others have stressed again and again the crucial role that affinity groups play in gaming communities. The image portrayed in public media of gaming as a

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lone player in front of a computer screen is increasingly fading from public consciousness.38 Playing the latest and most popular video games actually requires interaction and coordination with others in solving complex problems to advance playing. This feature is what gives such games their “edge.” Making games is very much a part of this edge; from being able to modify an avatar’s appearance and controls to designing an entire game engine from the ground up, players increasingly want to produce gaming content that is unique to their own personal interests. Games are more valued when they are extensions of the individual. And such play is never a solitary activity because part of the thrill of making is the element of sharing one’s designs with others. Simply put, these makers want their games to be played. Like the thousands of students who participated in one of the game-making projects discussed in this chapter, they learned not only by making games but also by having others comment and provide feedback on them. The cumulative evidence in this chapter bears out these conclusions. In fact, they highlight what is already present in gaming cultures when players move outside the game to reflect on their experiences, share them with others, and start making their own worlds. For successful gameplay, there can be no playing without making. The boundaries we have drawn between game playing and game making are typically artificial as well as largely academic simply because different research communities study different topics. The realities of connected gaming are in support of our perspectives and borne out by the numbers: millions of children are now making and programming their own games across a range of different platforms. These children often do so without even formally recognizing it, and only rarely do they do so because it is a school project. More likely, their reason—or at least their reason for persisting—stems back to a grander reason: to join the digital public. Children see making games as a way to interact, socialize, and share with others. Such interaction serves as the topic of the next chapter, where we examine the social dimensions of constructionist learning.

3  The Social Side: Making Games Together Beats Making Them Alone Chapter The


3 Side

“The lesson that day was on enemy movement,” explained the 2010 New York Times Magazine article profiling New York City’s newest—and perhaps most unique—public school: Quest to Learn. “The enemy was a dastardly collection of spiky-headed robots roving inside a computer game.” The sixth grade class combating the robots followed their movements closely on the screen, noting on sheets of graph paper their iterative movements and attempting to discern a pattern to their attack. The course was Sports of the Mind, and unlike typical middle school curricula, did not fall neatly into a single category of math, language arts, or science. Rather it served as a mix of all three, focusing on the multimodal nature of literacies through the exploration of digital design, most notably video game design. How does one use narrative structure to establish a sensible story line? How does one establish set patterns for play and then tweak these iterative patterns to intensify gameplay? These are not the typical questions sixth graders encounter during the classroom, but they are the questions at Quest to Learn. Originally situated in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan’s Lower East Side (it has since moved to the West Side), Quest to Learn (or more commonly, Q2L) was something entirely new in 2010. Conceived by teachers and games designers alike, the public school was the result of a partnership between the New York City Department of Education and the Institute of Play corporation, which defines Q2L as an effort to reimagine school “as one node in an ecology of learning that extends beyond the four walls of an institution and engages kids in ways that are exciting, empowering and culturally relevant.” Clearly this prospect of reimagining school was a tantalizing one, as the New York Times Magazine article prompted its readers: “What if teachers gave up the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built? … What if, instead


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of seeing school the way we’ve known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game?”1   The prospect of school as a “big, delicious video game” holds a certain appeal—not least among today’s youths, who on average, according to the 2014 Nielsen ratings, spend over six hours per week playing video games. Why can’t school be as responsive, immersive, and ultimately fun as a video game? Indeed, spurred on by initiatives such as gamification and the increasing capabilities of handheld devices, the serious games market is currently projected to grow to $5.4 billion by 2020.2 Education, energy, and health care now join marketing and retail in their commitment to leverage the potential of video games to grow their respective industries.3 The New York Times Magazine cover story was Q2L’s first major exposure within the national media, but it certainly was not the only one. The school garnered unprecedented attention at its opening in 2010. While thousands of new K–12 schools open every year, few grab the national spotlight like Q2L, with the Times profile preceded by coverage on National Public Radio and followed by similarly enthusiastic write-ups in other magazines the same year. Why? Certainly the technology factor played no small role. As a rule of thumb, K–12 schools incorporating digital technology tend to garner considerably more fanfare within the popular media than schools using “traditional” curricula and pedagogies. But the prospect of aligning school with anything video game–related appears to especially whet the appetite of journalists. Even the regional institution Robert Morris University Illinois received unprecedented national media coverage based on the school’s decision to incorporate a varsity “eSports program” in which undergraduates are recruited and financially supported (via scholarships) based on their proficiency playing video games such as League of Legends competitively. The eSports program continues to grow, and Robert Morris’ enrollment numbers are likewise up.4 But to what extent is such coverage more hype than actual substance? Are all these calls to “rethink education” and create “schools 2.0” all that new? Not according to essayist Audrey Watters (2015, 9), who insightfully points out in a Hack Education article that technology enthusiasts decrying the “industrial” or “factory” model of education in favor of a new, improved schooling model is actually nothing new. In fact, she argues, these charges of “industrial education” serve more as a rhetorical device

The Social Side 


versus a historical reality as US schooling was never as rigid and uniform as its pundits purport. “We’ve invented a history of ‘the factory model of education,’” concludes Watters, “in order to justify an ‘upgrade’—to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently.” Which brings us back to Q2L. Newspaper articles certainly drew from the widespread notion of the time period that the new generation of youths were indeed “digital natives,” and that schools were well advised to tap into this prevalent and even supposedly natural predilection of young people to gravitate to anything digital. Of course now—only a handful of years later—the idea that children, by virtue of their birth date, are automatically more technologically capable, has since diminished considerably.5 The assumption that access to the latest technology can alone improve learning outcomes has widely been debunked in the critical and popular literature alike. While Q2L never claimed as much when it was founded, the school certainly went through its own growing pains over the first few years of its existence. In his recent book The Game Believes in You, education reporter Greg Toppo recounts some of these growing pains. The dream of school being a big, delicious video game did little to brook the hard realities of starting up a public school in the country’s largest district. Q2L’s founding principal quit his position two weeks into the school’s inaugural year, and a number of middle school parents subsequently opted to remove their children from the school based on concerns about their children’s prospects of being admitted to competitive high schools. Even the “Sports of the Mind” middle school instructor profiled in the magazine article left after year one. Among Q2L’s detractors there was a sentiment that the school did not appear to be “school-y” enough as well as concerns whether students were learning skills that would transfer to college and eventually the marketplace. Other reports described the Q2L model as a “space of possibility,” yet early critics wondered too about the “space of probability,” concluding that “it remains to be seen whether Q2L’s modern approach can thrive within an outmoded educational infrastructure.”6 This chapter on the social side of constructionist gaming argues that Q2L’s success (indeed any progressive learning space’s success) stems from its commitment to having children make rather than simply encounter content. This, not the technology alone, we maintain, is the innovative


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substance behind game-making curricula at Q2L or within any other related effort. Instead of concentrating on the technology alone, Q2L asks students to create with such technology, and this represents a considerable distinction. In the process of finding its feet, Q2L ditched the “School for Digital Kids” tagline and replaced it with “Challenging Students to Invent Their Future.”7 Reminiscent of Alan Kay’s (1989) famous quip “the best way to predict the future is to invent it,” Q2L’s switch in taglines represents a focus on generating what’s ahead as opposed to tapping into what already exists. Whereas “video games” attracted the bulk of the attention with Q2L’s opening in 2010, this chapter contends that the school’s success is ultimately not so much rooted in the subject itself of video games but rather the actual process of making and sharing content in line with Progressive pedagogies promoted by philosopher John Dewey and others. It is not that video games are not a key component to such making. As an object that children revere, video games are instrumental in motivating children in the making process.8 Video games hold considerable currency across a wide range of age levels and social groups, and young people gain a certain status by being able to make such games. But ultimately it is the element of making (and playing) in schools that represents the truly unique value-added dimension. And this, as we will see, is actually not so new. Be it video games, paper dioramas, or birdhouses, making in schools has a rich—if not particularly successful—history. The first part of this chapter will briefly investigate the notion of making in schools as a Progressive ideal, most notably promoted by Dewey, then Papert, and Gee. From this historical perspective, the second part will investigate this more general progressive ideal in terms of small, large, and massive communities of connected gaming. Gaming as a Learning Community Dewey’s Progressive model of early twentieth-century education hardly seems analogous to this century’s ubiquitous video gameplay. The two are very much connected, however, through a focus on genuine learning experiences that occur in a community of learners. While the technologies at Dewey’s disposal at his University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in the early 1900s were hardly as sophisticated as those of today, Dewey recognized the transformative potential of technology in education. “Technology is modifying, even revolutionizing conduct and belief outside the

The Social Side 


school,” Dewey and John Childs (1933, 318–319) asserted in “The SocioEconomic Situation in Education.” Schools, they assert, have a responsibility for not only developing a child’s literacy in terms of reading and writing but also in regard to the wider and more mercurial nature of social media. “Inventiveness in technical things, tools, and machines,” they continue, “has been stimulated to a great degree, but inventiveness in social forms and methods has been discouraged rather than promoted.” In the development of his Laboratory Schools as well as his educational philosophy, Dewey stressed that students needed to engage in physical activities that held meaning beyond the classroom. “If the impulse is exercised, utilized,” Dewey (1915, 38) writes early on in The School and Society, “it runs up against the actual world of hard conditions to which it must accommodate itself; and there again come in the factors of discipline and knowledge.” For him, the learning activities that schools promoted must not only be applicable but also testable in the worlds that children occupied outside the classrooms—otherwise education would devolve into a meaningless routine of memorization and recitation with no sense as to how such skills can be utilized beyond school. Whether it be boiling an egg or constructing a wooden box, Dewey offers a series of examples in School and Society that illustrate the power of hands-on, experiential learning to ground learning principles in the actual process of doing, using the materials of his time—an aspect that we will investigate further in chapter 5 when we look at making tangible extensions for gameplay. Papert was well aware of Dewey’s work some fifty years later in his efforts to bring computers to a Boston public elementary school with Project Headlight, described in chapters 1 and 2. And like Dewey, he contended that he was not diminishing the role of the teacher and power of instruction but rather championing the role of the actual activity—the situation—as that which should ultimately drive classroom learning. As one of the first attempts to use computers as a means for learning instead of the object of teaching, Papert saw computers as the tools for the same hands-on, experimental learning Dewey promoted in School and Society. Of course, while Dewey couched his model for schooling in terms of civic engagement and democracy, Papert had a much different—and arguably more picturesque— model in mind when it came to developing communities of learning: the samba school. His firsthand experience researching Brazilian samba schools encapsulated his sense of social norms and interactions as pivotal to any


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form of learning. Papert (1980, 178) explains his unique model in LEGO’s Mindstorms: These are not schools as we know them. … [T]hey are social clubs with memberships that may range from a few hundred to many thousands. Each club owns a building, a place for dancing and getting together. … During the year each samba school chooses its theme for the next carnival, the stars are selected, the lyrics are written and rewritten, and the dance is choreographed and practiced. Members of the school range in age from children to grandparents and in ability from novice to professional. But they dance together and as they dance everyone is learning and teaching as well as dancing. Even the stars are there to learn their difficult parts.

In many ways, the proposal of samba schools as an example of learning culture predates the move away from traditional schools to apprenticeship learning that was ushered in years later by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s (1991) seminal study examining work communities, and then again in the form of affinity cultures in Gee’s (2003, 2004) explorations of gaming communities. Papert, like Dewey, became a champion of experiential play and learning fostered in the context of children’s building activities. With Logo and later Mindstorms construction kits as the arbiter of the rules of play (or “dance,” if you will), children learned fundamental math principles and systematic thinking by generating the programmable robot’s movements across the floor themselves. They came to appreciate the numerical difference between an arc of 120 and 220 degrees by the actual monitoring and adjustment of the robot’s movements before them. Children learning math is not simply a matter of good teachers and good students, he argues in Constructionism, but rather a question “on a different level.” Papert and his colleague Idit Harel (1991, 7) write, I am asking what kinds of innovation are liable to produce radical change in how children learn. Take mathematics. … It seems obvious that as a society we are mathematical underperformers. It is also obvious that instruction in mathematics is on the average very poor. But it does not follow that the route to better performance is necessarily the invention by researchers of more powerful and effective means of instruction (with or without computers). The diffusion of cybernetic construction kits into the lives of children could in principle change the context of the learning of mathematics. Children might come to want to learn it because they would use it in building these models.

The current focus on video games as learning communities may well draw on Dewey and Papert’s thinking in which the situation—and

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developing social situations optimal for learning—is the crucial ingredient for children’s learning. For Gee, effective video games and processes for game making very much represent these situations. According to Gee, “good” video games—those that challenge the player creatively, critically, and in wider collaboration—in fact represent an ideal learning situation. In the conclusion to What Video Games Can Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, Gee (2003, 215–219) writes, Having given a great many talks about video games across the world, I know that many people who have read this book take it to be an argument for using games in schools or other settings. However that is not the argument I have tried to make in this book. I have first wanted to argue that good video games build into their very designs good learning principles, and that we should use these principles, with or without games, in schools, workplaces, and other learning sites. … Second, I have wanted to argue that when young people are interacting with video games—and other popular cultural practices—they are learning, and learning in deep ways.

For Gee, the rules of the game or situation itself, rather than the teacher, serves as the ultimate arbiter of the learning process, and in this way makes the education less authoritative and teacher centric but instead democratic in process. This was Dewey’s and then Papert’s dream, though the Progressive ideal of a child-centered classroom as opposed to a teacher-centered one subsequently (and repeatedly) sunk under the watch of administrative Progressivism, which championed rank authority in schools situated in the form of the individual.9 While Dewey’s ideal is still championed in higher academia, “on the ground” in K–12 schools, situated learning still struggles with legitimacy and practicality. Gee’s own quote points to this struggle, noting that his book’s argument was never to promote gaming as a particular curricular and pedagogical tool for schools; rather, it celebrated good games as a learning end in and of themselves. Yet does it have to be an either-or situation? That is, if gaming and game making allows for uniquely creative, critical, and collaborative learning experiences, what can classrooms—as specific learning spaces—gain from recasting themselves in such a light? Dewey, Papert, and Gee inspire us to think about serious gaming as a social activity, not one where the gamers play and learn alone, but rather together with others. This is no small proposition either. Despite the inherently social aspect of schooling—lunchrooms, lockers, after-school clubs, and sports—classroom learning itself is nearly always an individualistic


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endeavor with the teacher as the sole arbiter of what qualifies as meaningful work. Over the past few decades, however—and especially since the growth of the so-called Web 2.0—there has increasingly been a push to leverage digital technologies for collaborative learning in schools. Collaboration has become one of the new watchwords in classroom practice precisely because existing research suggests that collaborative learning is not done particularly well within schools or not done at all. Hundreds, if not thousands, of research studies have investigated various aspects of collaboration, including the nature of various group arrangements such as reciprocal teaching or jigsaw techniques, interactions with members of different genders, races, abilities, and experiences, and causes for the successes and failures of group work.10 Small Game-Making Communities: Pairs and Teams Within constructionist gaming, the research revolves around collaborations and communities in which game making can take on various forms, ranging from small-scale collaborative programming in pairs, to projects involving whole classes and schools participating in national game-making competitions. Few of these different social designs, however, have been the focus of extensive and comparative research, such as the studies on student pair programming designed by computer science education researchers Jill Denner and Linda Werner along with their team. Pair programming, an activity in which one learner controls the keyboard and enters the code while the other vets the text for quality and sequence, originally started on the college level in introductory computer science courses. Working at a single computer, the student coding takes the role of “driver,” while the other student takes the role of “navigator,” reviewing each line of code for accuracy. The pairs switch roles intermittently. While a relatively basic concept, pair programming was a remarkable pedagogical success in promoting and retaining undergraduates in computer science coursework, and thus led to the paired approach being brought to younger students’ game making. Pair programming—sometimes referred to as “peer programing”—is rooted in the belief that learning is an inherently social activity.11 Denner, Werner, and their research team conducted a number of studies around using pair programming activities to help support children’s making of games with the program Alice and its offshoot, Storytelling Alice.

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They found that college students were not the only ones who could benefit from such an approach. Working with 126 middle school girls (ages ten to fourteen) over the course of an after-school program titled Girls Creating Games, they discovered that the girls developed the confidence and language to try to debug their programs. This in turn made the girls more likely to persist in programming before asking the instructor for external help or even giving up altogether. These results were subsequently mirrored two years later with middle school girls programming their own video games using Storytelling Alice rather than Flash. Denner, Werner, and their team’s success with pair programming was likewise reinforced by findings from computer science education researcher Ron Owston and his colleagues some two years later. Working with eighteen classes of fourth graders from nine public elementary schools in Canada, Owston and his colleagues found that the children were not only motivated to create quiz-based video games for the sake of their peers’ playing them; their spelling, grammar, and punctuation in devising such questions was also significantly improved for the sake of their peers’ being able to effectively read (and play) the game as it was intended.12 The importance of these peer interactions for learning programming was equally revealed in apprenticeship studies conducted by education researcher Cynthia Carter Ching, who examined teams comprised of elementary students with and without prior experience when designing instructional science simulation software in Logo. She found that student designers bring their previous software design experiences to bear in multiple ways and that the quality of collaborative helping interactions can shift output dramatically. Teams with experienced software designers ended up providing more collaborative assistance to their novice members, while those groups consisting entirely of less experienced members spent far more time vying for control over the project and frequently duplicating efforts. Students working with experienced team members were supplied with more flexible and collaborative work arrangements with more experienced members informally checking in with them. In contrast, those students working with inexperienced but just slightly older students were often put in heavily supervised activities that entailed little involvement in programming activities. Thus their opportunities to develop such collaborative and coding skills as well as grow more independent were largely curtailed because the range of their activities was so limited. Furthermore,


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participation in different teams also resulted in different understandings of roles in the projects. Experienced software designers addressed a muchricher set of roles involving planning, helping, teaching, and understanding younger students’ concerns and anxieties in programming their designs.13 Designing a School for Connected Gaming: Returning to Q2L The previous research examined collaborative game making, and while some studies included samples of over one hundred students, the duration of the pair programming intervention was relatively brief (less than three months) and populations relatively small. How can these promising results be replicated to reach larger number of students? Could such efforts “scale up” to more than just one class and one camp? Here we return to the aforementioned Q2L, a school founded on a number of these case-based research studies. Q2L represents perhaps the boldest reconsideration of a K–12 school as a learning space in the past decade. And it certainly stands out as the most well-known game-based curriculum in the country. Units of study at Q2L are divided into a series of “discovery missions,” each roughly ten weeks in duration. Within these missions, children are not simply students but instead adopt various identities, from architects to biologists to journalists, and use these roles to solve design and systems-based problems that serve as individual quests. Academic terms are capped with “Boss Levels,” two-week intensive projects at the end of each semester that serve as the summative assessment of the student’s learning. For example, a high school mission in physical design (“physics” within the traditional high school curricula) would be capped with the construction and peer-to-peer testing of virtual bridges via the Bridge Builder software platform, coupled with preliminary exploration in the game Soda Play to look at physical theories in supporting weight distribution and pressure.14 In Q2L, game design and gameplay are not “added” at the end of the lesson as a reward, diversion, or even practical application but rather are the actual substance of the learning. Digital design is ultimately the “authoring system” for the content as well as primary space where the nascent engineers test others’ constructs and realize the durability of their own designs. As the founders of Q2L point out, design and simulation within virtual spaces does not negate the validity of the experience nor the potential to subsequently transfer such learning principles into “real-world” applicability. Generating games and testable simulations such as virtual bridges is real

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engagement. And this real-world applicability and hands-on engagement helped Q2L weather the difficulties of any new start-up school. The school in New York City rebounded from its challenging early years and has found its footing.15 Evaluation researcher Valerie Shute and her team also examined Q2L students’ performances on three skills that have been consistently identified as necessary for twenty-first-century success and collaborative learning: teamwork, time management, and systems thinking. Working with a seventy-student sample of sixth graders from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as socioeconomic status (approximately 40 percent qualified for free or reduced lunch), the researchers assessed participants’ progress in each category four times over two academic years using existing, peer-reviewed metrics to evaluate growth across each respective skill set. The results were encouraging, with Q2L sixth graders’ scores in systems-based learning increasing significantly over the two years, while teamwork and time management saw smaller (but statistically significant) gains. While hardly resounding proof of Q2L as the “school of the future,” this study suggests its promise as an alternative model, particularly because, as the authors note, skills like systems thinking and teamwork rarely enter the equation by which schools evaluate students’ academic success.16 So what gave Q2L the resilience to survive the seemingly inevitable “trough of disillusionment” that often follows the peak of inflated expectations?17 After all, as the closing of Chicago’s Mirta Ramirez Computer Science School illustrates, despite the generally enthusiastic press surrounding technology-oriented schools, the promise of digital proficiency frequently serves more as a publicity scheme than a substantial academic foundation.18 We again return to this element of “making” content—in this case, that means games—as core to Q2L’s success. Making and project-based learning in general is certainly not unique to the school, but the conception of games and game making as the actual space for student learning is relatively new, and a notion unique to Q2L. Going forward, though, what remains less clear is how K–12 schools can effectively integrate game-making activities and the associated teamwork into school-day curricula as a sustained and standards-aligned learning environment to promote a range of core subject content. Q2L of course represents one model, yet it is also an entire school designed around gaming—hardly an option for the overwhelming majority of this country’s K–12 schools. Simply the prospect of bringing gaming with its focus on


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collaborative problem solving and perseverance into the curricula leaves many teachers shaking their heads, daunted by fixed class schedules, a lack of curricular materials (and ways to assess students), and the ever-present concerns over statewide testing and meeting standards.19 Certainly, afterschool programs and school camps have effectively promoted game making as an engaging way to learn coding and STEM-related content, but these programs are only reaching a small fraction of students who are fortunate enough to attend a school where such programs are offered and have the option to stay after school to attend them. If we intend to have a wider range of children get the opportunity to explore the educational potential of game making, then we need to bring such opportunities to school classrooms on a wider scale. Expanding Gaming within the School System: Globaloria Globaloria provided the first large-scale integration of game making as a course of study. Developed in 2006 through the World Wide Workshop Foundation, Globaloria is a program geared toward students in grades fourth through twelve for learning how to create educational Web games and simulations. Rooted in the constructionist tradition developed by Papert, it was started by Harel, an education entrepreneur, and specifically aimed to bring game making to children attending technologically (and more generally, economically) underserved schools. With industryemployed languages such as Flash and ActionScript, students use languages alongside computational programming tools and Web 2.0 technology to not only generate their own self-made video games but then share these games with their peers for feedback and potential collaboration.20 Since 2006, Globaloria has served over 17,500 students and educators, and currently is serving over 8,000 students across fourteen states. The program offers six different courses ranging from twenty-five to fifty-five total hours in duration. More recently it added a blended learning platform, supporting classroom learning with online assessment tools and a textbook, game maker portfolios, video tutorials, and live technical support. This suite of services offers schools unprecedented support for bringing game-making activities into their regular curriculum, and Globaloria supplies a variety of integration models to further facilitate this process. Models range from single course integration such as a video game design module for a high school biology course to stand-alone coursework such

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as a game design course for seventh and eighth graders.21 For each model, all lessons are tied to statewide standards in the respective subject matter. Schools have responded in kind. In addition to the admirable scope of Globaloria in terms of the number of students it reaches, the program has promising data that make an early case for integrating game-making curricula into school-day courses. Working with two classes of middle school students (sixth and seventh grade, respectively) as well as two groups of middle school students at local Boys and Girls Clubs, education researchers Rebecca Reynolds and Ming Ming Chiu found participants’ sense of self-efficacy improved across both settings based on pre- and postintervention surveys. Participants from the formal, school-based settings, however, reported significantly more gains in self-efficacy than those within the informal, after-school club environment. Likewise, children who said their parents had less education reported increased rates of selfs-efficacy than those participants who came from homes where one or both parents had attended college. These findings suggest that in-school implementation may be an especially fertile context for video game making as a way to improve students’ capacity to be producers rather than just consumer of digital content. Expanded studies with 242 middle and high school students across thirty-eight West Virginia schools, all of whom used Globaloria for a full academic year through a daily class, confirmed these trends. More research is clearly needed, but these studies indicate that game making can be an effective way to engage learners with less exposure to computers at home, which in turn corresponds with lower socioeconomic backgrounds.22 What is apparent from Globaloria’s success across multiple states is that this element of community needs to accompany the making process for game-making curricula to sustain themselves and grow. As evident with even a cursory visit to its Web site, Globaloria’s curriculum is committed to not only establishing in-person communities for children within participating schools but also extending these communities online for a wider network of game-based projects to be shared, commented on, and remixed. Teachers too have access to this wider network, making contact with likeminded educators and utilizing message boards as well as Globaloria’s regional coordinators to exchange game-making ideas and best practices. Yet there is a price tag associated with all this support, leading to the question, Where can schools and districts find such a supportive infrastructure if they are unwilling or unable to pay for such support? There is no


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immediate answer here. Nevertheless, over the past five years, the growth of gaming and game-making competitions offers a potential opening going forward for developing an infrastructure that is open to all. Going National: The STEM National Video Game Challenge “Don’t buy a new video game, make one,” President Barack Obama announced to US schoolchildren in 2013 at the outset of the annual Computer Science Education Week.23 And the federal government has offered more than just rhetoric here. Tapping into youths’ excitement for gameplay and competition, the White House has sponsored the STEM National Video Game Challenge for the past six years. Encouraging children to design their own educational video games using a range of free game-making tools such as Scratch, Kodu, Stagecast, and Gamestar Mechanic, among others, the competition is not prescriptive in terms of the tools but rather focuses on rewarding those young creators who teach a crucial concept through engaging gameplay. Every year, fifteen middle and high school students from around the country are selected as winners, and the number of entries has grown from a modest six hundred in 2011 to over four thousand this past year. Increasingly, schools and school districts nationwide have been posting links to the challenge, encouraging K–12 administrators, educators, and children to participate.24 Having been part of the inaugural challenge in 2011 with a class of seventeen middle school students using Scratch, we found in postinterviews and surveys that it was the social aspect that figured most prominently as the impetus for the participants to persist in completing their video games— even when they hit considerable walls in terms of coding and design. In postclass surveys as well as follow-up interviews, participants reported that more than academic grades and even more than the prospect of actually placing as a finalist in the challenge, they were motivated by the approval of their peers during the final session in which the entire school was invited into the classroom to play and offer feedback on their video games. As thirteen-year-old Adam explained about navigating the inner workings of his video game, “There were so many people who helped me. … But the really ironic thing is that the biggest of my problems start occurring as soon as people really started playing my game. And that made me realize there were still things to fix and that I had a long way to go. … [W]hen we were

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playing they’d tell me things like ‘there’s a glitch with this’ or ‘this doesn’t make sense here.’”25 In terms of offering schools a wider infrastructure on which to build game making, many online communities have followed the lead of the STEM National Video Game Challenge and begun to engage their members by regularly issuing community-based challenges and competitions. The Scratch Web site issues annual “collaborative challenges” and “collab camps,” as does Microsoft’s Kodu site with the “Kodu Cup.”26 Australia has followed the United States’ lead and in 2015 launched its own STEM

Figure 3.1 Galleries of projects from the Scratch home page.


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national video game challenge for all children ages five to twelve. While each of the various competitions have their own rules and regulations for their respective competitions, all foster the collaborative spirit by encouraging their challengers to post their ongoing projects for feedback from their peers as well as utilize discussion boards and forums to search out fellow team members and solicit advice on the game-making process. Not unlike the success of science fairs, which grew tremendously over the second half of the twentieth century in the United States, these gamemaking competitions are introducing a growing number and wider range of children to the power of coding, design, and collaboration in the process of making content that has real-world value beyond their school walls. The STEM National Video Game Challenge and growth of individual program-based competitions certainly offer some top-down infrastructure for educators and schools looking for venues to structure and encourage game making within the classroom and during after-school programs. But children are drawn to these collaborations even without the impetus of external competitions, as the next section will illustrate. The success of these competitions ultimately stems from the bottom-up enthusiasm from the young players and makers themselves. Simply put, many kids see making as an extension of playing video games, and the capacity to make and mod popular games signifies membership within many online communities around gaming. DIY Game-Making Communities: Making for and with Your Peers Outside schools, game-making activities are a popular and driving force in many online creative communities. This is well illustrated with research that computer scientist Andrés Monroy-Hernández, founder of the Scratch online community, and his colleagues provided by studying collaborations at the Scratch Web site and other online communities.27 Through a series of case studies, their analysis points out that one of the primary reasons that children are drawn to Scratch as a tool is the potential to find like-minded game makers on the Scratch Web site. To make their case, they highlight one particular online game-making collaborative that called itself Gray Bear Productions. Described as a “company,” Gray Bear was founded in 2008 by three young game makers—ages eight, thirteen, and fifteen; they soon created a video game titled Pearl Harbor that functioned like a digital version of the classic Battleship. The sophistication of the game’s graphics and ease of

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gameplay attracted hundreds of views and downloads on its initial release. Multiple remixes of the project soon followed. As Gray Bear Productions explains at its Web site, “we had a lot of people who wanted to join us,” and membership jumped to eighteen. Soon Gray Bear Productions created games such as Forest Frenzy and A Night at Dreary Castle that reflected the designers’ growing sophistication in creating graphics, plotlines, and gameplay. Forest Frenzy had nineteen versions over a period of multiple months before a final glitch-free version was completed. Computer science researchers Kurt Luther and Amy Bruckman investigated how such collaborations form along with what keeps them together, because quite frequently members have never once met in person and must solely rely on Web-based interactions. Their research focused on the Newgrounds Web site, which like Scratch hosts self-generated content in terms of video games, animations, artwork, and music. As a Web site dedicated to hosting homemade animations, video games, artwork, and music through four respective portals, Newgrounds regularly sees youths collaborating “in the wild” to create new content—particularly on video games and animations, as these efforts need to be programmed in Flash or HTML, and are typically more labor intensive than uploading drawings. Through Newgrounds discussion board threads as well as follow-up interviews with game makers and animators, Luther and Bruckman tracked various groups’ (known as collabs) progress on the Web site over a period of three years. Those that successfully created a game or animation were a rarity; 80 percent of potential collabs fail to complete a finished project. Interestingly, the 20 percent that actually complete a game or animation rely on effective social skills as much as technical prowess. Examining those select collabs that do succeed, Luther and Bruckman found that the consistent “ingredients” for success were a strong central leader in regular communication with the team, clear task delineation among group members, and a strong overall sense among all participants as to how to break down the project’s constituent parts into individual segments or “modules.”28 While these indicators of success may hardly appear surprising to project managers on the job, they represent a wake-up call to schools—especially in the area of digital technology—where aptitude is still too often presumed to be a trait versus a matter of exposure and continued support. Luther and Bruckman’s research here speaks to Fred Brooks’s (1995) now-classic collection of essays, The Mythical Man-Month, related to the need for strong centralized leadership and vision at the top end of software


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engineering projects, but the results also speak to how much game making is inherently a social activity that demands strong communication skills and a sharp sense as to how often disparate parts as well as team members can come together to produce a unified whole. This, in turn, speaks to Gee’s notion of “affinity groups” and “affinity spaces” in gaming, in which individuals not only come together over a common interest in a type of game but also have specific spaces—real or virtual—to share these mutual interests. Facilitating such collaborative spaces is crucial to growing and sustaining such a community, and Newgrounds wisely added chat rooms and discussion boards in the early 2000s, allowing members to actually connect with each other more meaningfully. Their decision to create a “front-page” section on the site, featuring particularly innovative and complex video games and animations, was likewise a boon to the site as an affinity space; it was instrumental in incentivizing designers to go “bigger and better” with their projects from public acclaim. Programs like Scratch, Alice, and Kodu have followed suit and created online affinity spaces for game making, with these sites encouraging openness rather than gamer exclusivity. Making and sharing innovative and complex video games and animations were similarly a benefit to each site, promoting the exchange of ideas through discussion boards and chat rooms, while remixing features allow users to stand on the shoulders of peers in order to create even more ambitious video games with multiple levels and intricate story lines.29 Game making is no easy task, and getting teams started with the process often requires them to take a sample game such as Donkey Kong or scrolling game such as Super Mario Brothers. Getting teams going with an existent game can prove remarkably fruitful in getting them familiar with not only the range of underlying coding scripts characteristic of certain gaming genres but also simply that different gaming genres exist and can be played on to develop one’s own unique project. As teams grow more adept at using Scratch and other coding programs, remixing shifts from being a creative starting point to becoming a means for peer-to-peer collaboration with one team member taking the helm of a project for a period of time before passing on the project to a partner, who then continues the modification. Of course in school, remixing is not a term regularly used. In fact, it is still better known by another term: “cheating.” One of the challenges of bringing remixing into schools as a collaborative process clearly is ensuring

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that credit is given to all relevant parties. Too often students will take the easy way out, and remix without giving full or any credit. Yet in a world where so much content is freely available with the click of a button or mouse, this challenge is one that schools should embrace, not ignore. On the whole, most K–12 schools continue to promote a conception of copying that is at odds with the practice of remixing, which in turn is characteristic of gaming culture and the wider culture of remix. This results in a tension between schooling as well as the requisite problem-solving skills and collaborative practices promoted under the umbrella of “twenty-first-century learning.” This tension should nevertheless only lead schools to embrace game making as a practice ripe for exploring and better understanding some of the inherent tensions and practices of twenty-first-century life, in which the Web is the new medium and remixing is standard practice. Certainly game remixing on the most basic level requires just a few mouse clicks to copy programs. But selective game remixing can move into game modding, require a high degree of sophistication, and engage beginning designers in the computational participation characteristic of connected gaming. Some activities (such as considering what to modify in selected code segments, what to keep, and where to add or delete procedures or variables within a program) require a deep, functional understanding of the code and design, and in some instances, this type of modding may be more complex than starting with a blank slate. Schools need to undertake and readily include the role of mediator. Together, they further reshape contemporary literacy practices in DIY communities, helping youths to meet the goals of becoming fluent with technologies and essentially extending computational thinking into our notion of computational participation. Minecraft: Connected Gaming for Millions Nowhere is the merging of tools and communities more evident than in the wild success of the gaming platform Minecraft, in which playing is making and making is playing. If there is any doubt that connected gaming is a reality, the tremendous popularity of Minecraft well demonstrates that the divide between playing and making games is essentially gone, and has resulted in the merging of instructionist and constructionist gaming. As of late 2015, over seventy million copies of the game had been sold, with twenty million on the personal computer platform, making it the third


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highest-selling video game of all time. The game consistently ranks among the top three paid downloads in the United States. It is also the subject of thousands of YouTube videos, hundreds of Web sites, and several novels, and recently was parodied by the television show South Park—perhaps the clearest marker that it has, in fact, arrived in popular culture.30 In 2009, however, few would have imagined Minecraft to grow into the global phenomenon it is now. The Java-based game was created by Swedish programmer Markus “Notch” Persson essentially as a side project and was released to the public with absolutely no marketing scheme. Gameplay is not what one would expect from the typical video games. Referred to as a “sandbox” game, Minecraft is not driven by a single mission but rather exists as a vast virtual world in which players have free reign to build and sample a world of their own liking. Unlike typical video games, where the action sequences are typically highly linear and directed in a carefully orchestrated order by the game engine, Minecraft allows it players to roam free and at their own leisure. While there are no imperatives in terms of who to fight, who to save, or how to win, Minecraft has a single impetus for the player, and this is to make. Creation in Minecraft starts on the small scale, though. At the start of the game, the goal is essentially to build shelter, a home base. At the center of the game are blocks (3-D cubes), reminiscent of Lego bricks that can be snapped together and apart. A player may stack or break these blocks in order to construct a wide range of objects and also assign them behaviors. Depending on the block type (dirt, stone, ore, and water, among others), a player can construct vast oceans, mountainous vistas, dense forests, or expansive cities. Minecraft’s expansive world mimics this diversity in what can be created. Divided into a series of biomes including deserts, snowfields, plains, and jungles, players visit these various spaces specifically to retrieve certain blocks for future building. Two modes exist for gameplay. In the basic creative/construction mode, the player may explore, build, and destroy structures at their leisure. Yet in survival mode, this drive to build shelter is predicated on surviving the elements of rain and snow, alleviating hunger, and thwarting outside players who might want to steal or destroy one’s content.31 As with the numerous informal competitions hosted at game-making sites such as Scratch and Alice, the phenomenon that is now Minecraft started with a few dedicated enthusiasts. The multiplayer mode allowed

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players from around the globe to work with or against each other as they devised their own microworlds, establishing in the process, quite literally, Gee’s notion of affinity spaces. But soon enough, the educational community—many of whom were enthusiasts themselves—began to take notice. Just a year after Minecraft’s opening, in 2010, elementary school teacher Joel Levin started documenting his classroom use for his first and second grade students through his blog, the Minecraft Teacher. Other grade levels followed with various articles documenting and/or presenting the potential to the use Minecraft in a variety of subjects, including language arts as well as a range of middle and high school science courses. Most recently, Minecraft was also tapped as a way to teach the fundamentals of coding—not unlike stacking bricks of code in Scratch and Alice—through a virtual summer camps and customized add-ons that allow players to stack Minecraft bricks to enact certain behaviors within gameplay.32 Minecraft’s new current owner Microsoft has certainly recognized the tremendous educational potential of the game, having launched an education site based on the custom mod of the original game titled MinecraftEdu, which includes lesson plans and sample projects for integrating Minecraft into the classroom. Over sixty-five hundred schools across the globe currently subscribe to the site. Elementary school math teachers can create a series of exercises for splitting and combining blocks as a way to reinforce children’s learning of fractions. Middle school social studies teachers now can take their class through a virtual tour of ancient Rome’s classic buildings and have them modify the styles accordingly. High school environmental science teachers can help students appreciate the nature of ecosystems by exploring how the various biomes interface with each other and how certain minerals are exclusive to certain biomes. Conclusion What we see in these examples of making games together in pairs, schools, and online communities is the overall appeal that constructionist gaming has for players and makers alike. But game making is neither “big” nor “delicious”; it requires hard work, as Rosemary’s quote at the beginning of chapter 2 illustrates. What is clear in her response is the element of dedication and ultimately conscientiousness that video game making requires. This does not mean the element of play is gone; as Papert (n.d.) aptly noted,


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making with Logo is “hard fun.” This notion of hard fun is a better model than that of big and delicious when it comes to framing the potential future of schooling through game making. It is not about making school akin to a video game but rather, more simply, creating spaces specifically for making within schools. Beyond schools and moving into the professional workplace, Gee (2007, 38) explains that collaborative games often mimic professional practices, and these types of games “already give us a good indication that even young learners, through video games embedded inside a well-organized curriculum, can be inducted into professional practices as a form of value-laden deep learning that transfers to school-based skills and conceptual understandings.” While Gee is referring here to game playing, his sentiment is certainly appropriate for game making as well. As evident with the range of studies cited above, whether game making is integrated into classroom curricula, or occurs “in the wild” at youth-oriented media sites such as Scratch and Newgrounds, when children make games, they are making first and foremost for the sake of playability. Conceptual understanding of subjects such as mathematics and science as well as the dynamics of teamwork and task prioritization are not learned as ends in and of themselves but instead put expressly toward the purpose of creating genuinely playable games, resulting in more genuine—and collaborative—learning experiences. It is important to note that the first foray into bringing game making into schools—as recounted in Papert’s Minds in Play—was never solely about learning math, learning to code, or becoming technologically “literate.” It was about making playable games for one’s peers. “We are creatures that need to make,” writes editor of Make magazine Dale Dougherty (2013, 8), quoting poet Frank Bidart. Making is nothing short of a basic human activity, and in his essay “The Maker Mindset,” Dougherty claims that making stands out as children’s most exciting, memorable, and important learning. Dougherty also laments, though, that this inclination to make is frequently driven out of children at young ages, as schools—especially as students move up grade levels—increasingly eschew making as remedial, nonacademic activity. Dougherty (ibid.) writes of the DIY community that the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the Maker Movement, is to transform education. … Students are seeking to direct their own education lives, looking to engage in creative and stimulating experiences. Many understand the difference between the pain of education and the pleasure of real learning. Unfortu-

The Social Side 


nately, they are forced to seek opportunities outside of school to express themselves and demonstrate what they can do.

In “The Promise of the Maker Movement for Education,” education researcher Lee Martin (2015) cites three essential elements from DIY communities that can help make K–12 education more relevant and agile: improved digital tools for generating content quickly at lower costs; the maker mind-set, aesthetic principles, and habits of mind characteristic of the DIY community; and community infrastructure, both online and in person, to promote the previous two. This chapter has addressed the third element, which is perhaps the most challenging of the three. For as we will outline in chapter 6, the first element is largely a nonissue given the ever-growing number of game-making tools available to youths at little to no cost; meanwhile, the second element is quite evident through the ample research documenting youth-based activity focused on game making outside formal education. It is this third element that will have to be addressed on multiple fronts. From the individual institution to the networks of districts, schools stand as this country’s imperfect yet best conduit for supporting, sharing, and generating ideas as well as offering the necessary infrastructure for bringing connected gaming to all children.

4  The Cultural Side: Rethinking Access and Participation   in Gaming Chapter The


4 Side

On November 17, 2014, a post on the blog Pamie by screenwriter and novelist Pamela Ribon [2014] went viral. It told about a visit to a friend’s house where Pamela discovers the children’s story booklet Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, published by Random House.1 The book, part of a Barbie “career series” ranging from sports star to US president, follows Barbie as she delves into the world of computer design and programming. However, the moment coding enters the equation, Barbie must relinquish such work to her male school buddies Steven and Brian. They will finish up the video game for her since she’s “only the designer.” “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie explains, laughing. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.” Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer was met with considerable resistance. Within hours, Pamela Ribon’s critical blog post had garnered hundreds of comments, and made the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Even reviews on Amazon condemned the book; one reviewer wrote, “As a computer engineer and the father of two daughters who are both in STEM fields, my only recommendation for this book would be to set it on fire.” A day later, Casey Fiesler [n.d.], a PhD student in human-centered computing at Georgia Tech, created a post titled “Barbie, Remixed: I (Really) Can Be a Computer Engineer” to counter the many problematic assumptions propagated in the book—among them that girls can’t code, that they can only be designers, that girls accidentally infect computers with viruses and need boys to fix them, and that girls take all the credit. In the remixed version, Barbie codes her own game together with her sister Skipper and they talk about stereotypes: “Sometimes I don’t get taken seriously because of my clothes and hair. And because of I wear makeup. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not smart.” Her sister Skipper, clinging to her pink laptop, responds, “I know, you can like pink and be a really good computer programmer.” The “Barbie Remixed” site now has a supporting team of coders and designers, because most software is written in teams, and a supporting


Chapter 4

computer science teacher, Mrs. Smith, who talks about the challenges for women to be taken seriously in the tech industry. It didn’t take long for Fiesler’s blog post to be followed by the Feminist Hacker Barbie site, which allows everyone to take a page from the original Barbie booklet and compose their own text to help Barbie “be the competent, independent, badass engineer that she wants to be.”2 Soon dozens of these new versions began to circulate on the Web. Not long after this new spate of versions, Mattel and Random House announced that they had pulled the book from Amazon as well as discontinued its print and e-book publication.3 Meanwhile, the Feminist Hacker Barbie site remains up, continuing to invite visitors to rewrite Barbie’s foray into computer engineering, while other efforts such as Linda Liukas’s children’s book Hello Ruby brings a more balanced and nuanced view to young girls’ learning to code, and accordingly was awarded with nearly $400,000 worth of support through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.4  

Figure 4.1 “Barbie Remixed, I (Really!) Can Be a Computer Engineer.”

The Cultural Side 


The fact that such a small booklet could create such a big media storm might take some by surprise. Wasn’t this an overreaction? After all, the book had already been published a year earlier, and at that time, received none of the fanfare that now brought it to the forefront. Why did Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer become such a lightning rod? Was this the outcry of a few disgruntled feminists for whom Barbie had long been a beacon of discontent with its stereotypical promotion of femininity? Or was this the sign of something larger in the technology and gaming culture that finally had reached its boiling point? The answers point to several developments in the gaming, coding, and making communities that converged, and highlighted key cultural issues of play and participation that we cannot ignore when we seriously talk about games and learning. While it’s hard to pinpoint a single event as the instigator, several happenings around the treatment, absence, and lack of representation of women and minorities in technology played a critical role. Much of fall 2014 was dominated by the discussions about “GamerGate,” a seemingly personal feud between a game designer and her estranged boyfriend that started with a series of nasty blog posts, moved on to become a larger discussion about the harassment of women in the gaming industry, and finally escalated to death threats. It made the front page of the New York Times when gaming activist Anita Sarkeesian canceled an invited talk at Utah State University.5 Funded by a widely successful Kickstarter campaign, Sarkeesian had produced a series of videos under the label Feminist Frequency that examined the extensive gender stereotyping and harassment of female characters in commercial video gaming.6 Her talk at Utah State was to focus on these efforts, but the talk never occurred due to an e-mail threat sent anonymously to the school. The e-mail promised mass murder if Sarkee­ sian was allowed to speak. “This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it,” the message read. “I have at my disposal a semiautomatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs.” What initially started as sniping online had escalated into a full-blown threat followed by an FBI investigation. Whether there in fact would have been a shooting if Sarkeesian proceeded with her talk is unknown. But clearly is there is a highly unique vitriol among some toward those who dare to question the role of women in video game playing and making.


Chapter 4

The discussions about the absence of women in the gaming industry were amplified by reports about the overall lack of diversity in Silicon Valley. Suddenly major technology companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook were concerned about the lack of women and minorities in their workforces, and saw such a lack of diversity as detrimental to their creativity and economic development.7 These trends were neither new nor unrelated. Every year when the College Board releases the annual data about high school students’ Advanced Placement (AP) exams in computer science, Barbara Erikson, the director of the Georgia Computes! outreach effort, disaggregates the data by state, gender, and minority status. Year after year she reveals depressing findings: the numbers in AP computer science are low— the lowest of all AP exams. In the states of Montana and Wyoming, not even one male or female high school student had taken the AP computer science exam in 2013. In 2014, the national media actually paid attention to her reports for the first time. Major news outlets such as CNN inquired as to why so few women and minorities took the exam. The pipeline into the tech industry was leaking, and indeed had been leaking for a long time.8 This is not to suggest that the media has been particularly helpful in disabusing the wider public of the idea that computer science and engineering are men’s careers. For the past decade, MAKE magazine has been the most visible and mainstream outlet for promoting making and learning, and has been pivotal in promoting the growing maker movement with its flagship event Maker Faire. Yet as observed in a keynote talk by Leah Buechley at the FabLearn conference in October 2013, MAKE hardly has promoted a balanced picture of gender in terms of the maker movement.9 Buechley’s analysis of the covers of the last five years of MAKE magazine demonstrated that only a few women and no minorities graced the magazine’s covers, and only a few women and minorities could be found among its staff. Likewise, when Buechley analyzed the topics that were published in the magazine, nearly all of them focused on rockets, robots, and cars. These are all remarkably important topics, but they present a fairly narrow vision of who, in fact, is making and what “making” was all about. There is relatively little room for crafts-related development as well as highlighting the tools that are functionally equivalent and technically as sophisticated as the robots and rockets that stand as the pillars of what DIY represents. There ultimately needs to be a reconsideration as to what will stand as such hallmarks

The Cultural Side 


of the maker movement if we want to better represent (and understand) what it means to be a maker. This returns us to Barbie. The booklet about her professional aspirations became a veritable lightning rod for the accumulated discontents about technology culture that had been festering for far too long. It was no longer just about access—about being able to use technology—but also about participation—about being able to design and make technology. The decidedly “ivory tower” argument that cultural values tend to foster or prohibit access and participation—an argument long made by feminists—had become visibly instantiated within the mainstream digital culture. It surely captured the frustrations that many have felt around the absence of females and minorities in the fields of computing, engineering, and gaming over the last twenty years. Coding and gaming communities have a lengthy history of not engaging and encouraging females and minorities to participate, and the reasons for this are multiple: on the one hand, there are the presumable lacks of interest, experience, and skill from females and minorities. On the other hand, there is the persistent stereotyping of females and minorities in these very same areas, compounded by a lack of prominent role models. While the previous chapters of this book attested to the fact that everyone can learn about coding, content, and collaboration, making (rather than simply playing) games has been viewed as a possible remedy to address the lack of diversity and equity of underrepresented groups in computing and gaming. This chapter is about cultural issues in terms of who gets to (and who is “supposed to”) play and make games. One of the main concerns is that the communities and productions of gaming have been reluctant to open up to women and minorities—a situation that has remained largely unchanged for the last twenty years. While discussions of these issues have predominantly focused on girls and games, there is also now equally active research and discussion about minorities in games.10 We will examine the surprising spin to use constructionist gaming for bringing girls into computing by making games. And while this effort has been successful, one question has never been truly addressed: Why did girls have to design games in order to signal their “official” tech savviness? Games may be given a priority over other digital design projects because they have been shown to invite more complex coding.11 Yet even if game design entails a level of coding complexity not evident with other introductory projects such as digital stories


Chapter 4

and interactive art, why does the surrounding culture suggest that games are inherently more for males? Of course this culture also points to certain types of groups of males—namely, Caucasian and Asian. Accordingly, this chapter also looks at efforts to bring African American male youths into computing by turning them into testers of games addressing another perplexing question: Why was it that some of the most active player groups did not consider a career in computing as a viable option? By examining the lack of interest of girls in gaming and young African American men in computing along with their reasons, we can better understand these persistent issues of access and participation, and design more inclusive cultures of connected gaming. Participation Politics in Digital Cultures The cultural dimensions of constructionist learning examine the politics that determine how particular ways of knowing, viewing, or doing are valued over others. And nowhere is this more visible than in technology cultures, including gaming and DIY communities. As the introductory discussions revealed, these cultures have a long history of being exclusive whether they concerned the “clubhouses of computing,” as computer science educators Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher argue, or the portrayals of women in gaming, as Sarkeesian showcased, or the lack of women and minorities’ representation in maker culture, as Buechley pointed out.12 The lack of access and participation in these cultures reveals itself most poignantly in what is being valued in these communities, and these can be preferred ways of working with technology, preferred representations in gaming, and preferences in what is being made. And most clearly these cultural values, practices, and affinities spill over into how we think about access and participation in constructionist gaming, because they impact what is being taught, and how and with what children should play, learn, and make. Discussions around the educational value of games are a good example. While playing games for a long time was considered “a waste of time,” and even harmful in some instances, it is only recently that the tenor of the conversations has shifted and we now see potential value in playing (and making) games for learning.13 While making games for learning has never experienced quite the resistance that playing games had in the past

The Cultural Side 


(except for its association with games themselves), it is on the approach to doing where we see other cultural preferences emerge. What after all qualifies as a “good” game? Given the predominance of sports and firstperson shooter games in the marketplace, the “playing” market very much informs the nascent “making” marketplace in terms of this unspoken topdown qualification as to what matters. This hierarchical model is one that Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert notably resisted with their work with computing education throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when the impetus for K–12 computing education first emerged. Turkle and Papert (1990) asserted then that there are preferred ways of working with technologies, spoken and unspoken. Dominant is the “top-down” planning approach over a more improvised, bricoleur-like approach. They suggested that the bricoleur approach is not a stepping-stone toward more advanced forms of knowledge construction but rather a qualitatively different though equally valid way of organizing one’s planning and problem solving.14 They argued for epistemological pluralism, meaning that context, approaches, and passions should be given equal room in digital cultures. Epistemological pluralism is not only about different forms of knowledge but also about different approaches to how we code, play, and make things, or how problems are viewed. The ways of knowing and doing reflect values, as do the artifacts of what is being made and played. More important, actions and the resulting artifacts provide context and community for learners to connect as well as engage with the practices and other people in the field. This impacts who gets to play and make in these cultures along with whose interests and passions are being recognized and supported. We don’t learn, play, and make all by ourselves, as Gee has contended. Affinity groups are key to getting us involved in and sustaining these efforts. Understanding boundaries and values that have been associated with coding, making, and playing are critical to better understand who and how learners can connect with them. In other words, how we come to think and participate computationally and gaming wise is not just a matter of choice but also introduced and prescribed via cultural values, preferences, and affinities through and with others. In the coming sections, we will examine this proposition around two unexpected developments: how making games became for girls the pathway into STEM, and how testing games became the pathway for black male youths into STEM.


Chapter 4

Getting Girls into Computing and Gaming In order to understand the issues around girls and games, we need to reach back in time, into the late 1980s, when the personal computer moved out of the lab and workspaces into people’s homes. Likewise, the second generation of video gaming consoles had become a mainstay in many households, particularly those with young boys. Digital media were becoming a household item, much like radio and then television sets did before them. While listening to the radio and viewing television were in the beginning a family affair, the engagement with digital media was predominantly a male affair. In households with young boys, over 80 percent of them had a video game console, and in those with personal computers, mostly men or boys were using them.15 The video gaming industry, like the computer industry, didn’t see a need to cater to the female audience because in its view, there was no market for them since girls and women were simply not interested in either games or computers.16 But there were also many concerns voiced about this absence of girls. Two separate yet interrelated developments in computing and gaming that both hinged on the lack of girls’ presence, interest, and participation began to promote gaming as a pathway into STEM. Coding communities have a long history of not engaging and encouraging girls, even though in the early days of computing many roles were not as strongly biased. There were multiple reasons for these exclusions. On the one hand, there was the perceived lack of interest, experience, and skill from females. On the other hand, there was the persistent stereotyping of women in these same areas, compounded by a lack of female role models. Numerous studies documented girls’ lack of interest in and experiences with computing inside and outside schools—trends that have not changed significantly over the last twenty years.17 Likewise, many studies documented girls’ lack of interest and experience in playing video games.18 A large body of research established significant gender differences as they related to performance and experience with digital gameplay. Other research focused on differences in game-playing interests, and used these as an explanation for why girls were not playing digital games. One of the reasons cited was the content of digital games, most notably the stereotypical representations and violence found in many games. Cultural researcher Eugene Provenzo (1991) conducted one of the

The Cultural Side 


first content analyses of characters in digital games, and found that most of them portrayed women as either victims or prizes, and few games provided alternative choices for female gamers. In a similar vein, the violence prominent in many games was seen as another factor deterring girls from play.19 More recent research documents that strong female protagonists such as Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, Metroid’s Samus Aran, and The Longest Journey’s April Ryan are now prominent in many games, but stereotyping continues to exist. These developments frame the study of children making games. The opening vignette in the first chapter that describes students making fraction games well demonstrates the study’s unique findings.20 The outcomes of the game making study broke with the conventional wisdom that girls simply were not interested in gaming, much less computer programming. This was not the case here. All sixteen students, eight of them girls, who participated in the project significantly increased their skills in writing and debugging code, especially when compared to students who had learned programming the more traditional way through syntax-centric weekly computer labs. In addition, none of analyses revealed any significant gender differences between boys’ and girls’ performance in the program, suggesting that girls could be as effective programmers as boys (which stood out as a minor revelation at that time). Designing games was successful in engaging all students, girls very much included, in learning programming and gaming. Yet there was one important difference in how boys and girls approached and realized their game designs. All of the boys’ designs featured violent feedback, were situated in fantasy settings, and assumed a male player, while the girls’ designs were situated in realistic settings and none had violent feedback. The girls also notably made provisions for players of different genders. An alternative interpretation of these findings would propose that the boys positioned themselves in their games as savvy game players by choosing established conventions that reaffirmed their identities while the girls did the same with their designs. In their choices of game themes as well as their programming of animation and interactions, the boys and girls offered a glimpse into what they found appealing and unappealing in the digital games and stories characteristic of the mass media.21 Making a game and constructing its rules allowed the young game designers to be in charge, determining the player’s place and role within the virtual world.


Chapter 4

These findings took on a life of their own because they demonstrated that girls could not only be interested in games but also in computers. It didn’t matter that later research would not reveal such extensive differences in their game type—suggesting that context plays a crucial role in how students position themselves in relation to game design and subject matter.22 While the number of participants in this study was small and not replicable given that only a few students in the 1990s had regular access to computers in their schools or homes, the study’s findings had a larger impact because they supplied a compelling illustration of girls’ possible engagement with computing and gaming. The findings from this research spoke to feminists and tech enthusiasts alike perhaps because the results not only aligned with the then-popular discourse about gender differences in technology use but also showed a possible way out—namely, let girls make rather than just play digital games. Constructionist Gaming as a STEM Pipeline for Girls The STEM pipeline argument claimed that boys’ early access to video games provided them with a home field advantage in getting experience and familiarity with digital technologies.23 Consequently, increasing their participation in gaming was seen as a way to address the lack of women’s involvement in computing. It is for these reasons that constructionist gaming—that is, game making—became a model for promoting programming for girls inside and outside school. In previous chapters, we summarized and discussed the multiple benefits of making games for learning. What stands out here is that most studies included both boys and girls, and found that both groups were reaping the benefits of making games. Moreover, social arrangements such as pair programming were tested to see what conditions proved more conducive to get girls interested and proficient in programming. There also have been efforts to customize programming tools with gender inclusive themes or mechanics, such as customizing storytelling features in order to appeal to girl game designers. A recent study confirmed that with such tools, girls even wrote more complex code than boys for their games.24 One issue with the approach of using constructionist gaming as a pathway for girls into STEM has not been extensively discussed. In fact, recent research has cast a shadow on this premise. A study by education researcher

The Cultural Side 


Judy Robertson (2013) had over nine hundred students ages eleven to fourteen in the United Kingdom make digital games using the Adventure Author tool. Based on the analysis of 225 available pre- and posttest surveys that assessed students’ attitudes toward computing, she found that many girls did not enjoy the activity as much as the boys, and this significantly so, and that the participation in the game design activity also made many girls less inclined to study computing in the future. While concerns about the low return rate of the surveys are valid, the findings from such a broad implementation present a more nuanced picture about the motivating nature of constructionist gaming, tempering previous claims that game making can wholly improve students’ attitudes toward computing. It replicated findings from earlier research—girls can program games—but also contested the notion that this was a surefire way to get girls interested in computing. The main issue with this STEM pipeline argument may very well be that boys’ activities in gaming have tacitly become the benchmark for girls’ educational opportunities in computing. The underlying assumption of such benchmarking is that it elevates one group’s activities as the norm for others. Much of what drives this question is a throwback to the feminist rhetoric of the early 1970s that saw benefit in making women equal to men by having them behave like men.25 The idea was that if girls just engaged in the same activities as the boys did, then they also would gain the same valuable experiences and skills to become tech savvy. It reifies the notion of gender as a biological construct rather than a social construct that is performed. Feminist theorists like Judith Butler have introduced the notion of gender play, meaning that both girls and boys, and men and women, experiment with gendered expressions within different contexts.26 Finally, the numbers behind this premise also have not borne out any real changes. One would have expected changes in the gaming culture with the increased numbers of female gamers.27 Even now as females are the majority of game players in some genres, this equality in numbers has not translated into widespread acceptance of female game players and designers, as the recent GamerGate incident illustrates.28 What these findings suggest, though, is that having girls make games solely for the purposes of getting them into the STEM pipeline is not the way to go. Rather, we should examine the potential and possibilities of game making for learning on its own terms. And we should pay careful attention not just to how interest


Chapter 4

but also values frame access and participation for particular groups. This topic is discussed in the next section by examining young African American men’s interest in gaming and their disengagement with computing. Finding Boys in Gaming and Computing (and Not Finding Them) While boys and young men have always been the largest group of video game players, we actually know surprisingly little about them. Often what we know about male players and video games is captured in surveys documenting their play preferences and quantity of gameplay. For instance, an extensive Pew Internet and American Life study found that 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls between ages twelve and seventeen play video games. In general, boys play more frequently and for longer periods of time than their female counterparts, especially tween boys, who spend more time playing video games than both girls their own age and older boys and girls. Media researcher Henry Jenkins argued that video games provide a contemporary, much-needed alternative to the adult-supervised, structured spaces of home, schools, and playgrounds, similar to the outdoors freedom of movement that boys historically have accessed. Jenkins’s assessment of video game spaces and their resonance with boy culture echoed the findings of developmental psychologists, educators, and others who have long understood that children’s access to and play in particular spaces is gendered.29 Few other studies have examined gender and video games from the perspective of boys. Relevant here is learning scientists Reed Stevens, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy’s (2008) ethnographic study of thirteen youths ages nine to fifteen who played video games in their homes. They found that boys do not necessarily take the games they play at face value, nor do they always play the games the ways in which game designers intended them to be played—a finding that other studies confirmed with older players.30 Furthermore, educational researchers Ben DeVane and Kurt Squire observed that players can experience a game such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas quite differently depending on what outside knowledge they bring to it. For instance, African American male youths perceived and played Grand Theft Auto differently than Caucasian suburban youths. Whereas the

The Cultural Side 


Caucasian suburban boys were inclined to perceive gameplay as accurately reflective of the realistic violence of street gangs, the African American group of boys who played together saw it only in terms of outrageous exaggeration, unreflective of the actual violence some had experienced in their own city neighborhoods. Accordingly, while the Caucasian suburban boys played the game in a near-systematic way, following the various missions sequentially to move up the ranks of “gangsterdom,” the African American players often simply rollicked in escapist gameplay, randomly exploring the city streets as well as sampling different types of car and the game’s varied sound tracks. Based on these observations, DeVane and Squire (2008, 281) advocate viewing video games as “possibility spaces,” or “open work[s] that [allow] the player many potential actions and thus styles of play.” But what we lack about boys’ gameplay is the kind of nuanced understanding we currently have about girls’ play (or their absence of it). In fact, the research on gender and games has almost exclusively focused on how we can draw girls into gaming and computing, promoting the technical skills we reviewed in previous sections. We have not conducted equally extensive research on how we can draw boys into computing because we always assumed the interest and expertise were already there given their overwhelming presence in gaming. Where this lack of research becomes particularly apparent is in the case of male players from minority groups. One study interviewing African American male youths found that their gameplay is indeed attuned to more than just sports and violence, making it more distinct than previous research indicates.31 Likewise, many efforts have examined the lack of diversity in computing, and how schools and games, the lack of role models, and excessive stereotyping in gaming and computing can explain access and participation.32 In computing, like Hispanics and American Indians, African American males and females are starkly underrepresented across the K–16 spectrum as well as in the technology workforce.33 Like women and girls, the absence of underrepresented groups in computing has been persistent for decades, but with the added twist that we always assumed that boys and men would be interested, and it was just a matter of outreach. The following study on Glitch Game Testers illustrates that the situation is actually way more complex.


Chapter 4

Glitch Game Testers: Bringing African American Males into STEM The development of a program called Glitch Game Testers by computer scientists Amy Bruckman and Betsy DiSalvo at Georgia Tech together with researchers Charles Meadows and Ken Perry from Morehouse College addressed how the issues of interest and values connected to gaming and computing are situated for African American young men.34 In the program, high school students worked as full-time game testers during the summer months and part-time ones during the school year. They did quality assurance work on prerelease digital games for industry clients that involved planned testing where students would systematically test specific functionalities that developers requested. But they could also engage in play testing, which involved a more open-ended critique of the playability of the game. Sessions included training in quality assurance work and reviewing of bug reports too. A typical workday in the Glitch Game Testers program consisted of testing games from 10:00 a.m. to noon, lunch, then a computer science workshop, and then more testing in the afternoon until 5:00 p.m. According to the Georgia Tech researchers, the rationale for this particular daily arrangement was to establish a work versus educational environment for the high school youths. The program also included lunch sessions featuring speakers from Georgia Tech’s faculty and industry, just like many tech companies provide at work for continued professional development. In addition, students toured colleges, wrote college applications, and took computer science workshops. And they researchers added competitive elements to the program because their studies had suggested that young African American males valued competitions as part of their gameplay.35 This resulted in the Glitch Competition, an ongoing tally of points that were posted on a public whiteboard in the room where the Glitch Game Testers worked. The researchers noted that “keeping track of points became an important part of each day for the participants. When updates were made on the board, everyone stopped what they were doing, and turned to look at the manager writing the new scores down, and started bragging, making excuses or trash talking with each other based upon the outcome.”36 The added points determined winners each summer and at the end of the year, and the winners would be rewarded with a new video game, gift certificate, or even computer that the students had built during the year. The National

The Cultural Side 


Science Foundation supplied funding for the program since the game companies were not willing to pay for the services provided by the high school students, even though they tested their prerelease games. Overall, the Glitch Game Testers program was a success in engaging the participating African American male youths in gaming and computing. Not only did the program broaden participants’ perspectives of the gaming industry and raise their own interests in such jobs, it also instilled within them a confidence that they could, in fact, pursue computing as a course of study and career. The twenty-five male high school students who participated in this program over a three-year period significantly changed over time in terms of their interests and perspectives on computing, and gained confidence and interest in computing careers. All of them graduated from high school, and two-thirds of them enrolled in continuing education and college programs. While only four students had even expressed an interest in computing before the program started, eleven did so after completing their time as a game tester. The implementation of this project also informed university researchers about the complexities of organizing partnerships between for-profit companies and public universities. One of the most fascinating findings comes from research that examined the underlying motivations for the young men to join and then continue in the Glitch Game Testers program.37 On the surface, bringing male youths who are already heavily invested in gaming into computing would not appear to be a challenge. But while gaming was highly popular among the African American young men, it was mostly valued as a social place and not as a pipeline into STEM. Georgia Tech researchers stipulated that “saving face” became a prominent tactic among participants, who would say that they were paid to test and play games even though they often found the activity quite repetitive and dull. Testing pre-release video games may initially appear to be every child’s dream come true, but the work is laborious, and requires a great deal of patience and attention to detail. More important, while “they were attracted to game testing because they were interested in gaming and thought it was cool, they were able to participate because it was a paying job that met needs that they valued more than an interesting thing to do with their time.”38 What becomes apparent here is that values associated with gaming and computing play as crucial a role in increasing and sustaining participation as the interests do that the youths might (or might not) display in one topic. We have paid a lot of attention


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to the latter while mostly ignoring the former. The program provided key insights into the values that engender participation in computing. What these findings indicate, as observed in a recent editorial piece in the Association of Computing Machinery’s newsletter by Bruckman and DiSalvo, is that if we want to broaden access and participation in gaming and computing, we need to pay equal attention to interests and values. While many outreach programs focus on interest—on what is fun—few take into account values—on what is important to the respective child and why. For the African American youths “who grow up in poverty, finding a path to economic security is critical. And it has to be an accessible path—one they can easily imagine themselves on. Values connect to what they see as important, who they see themselves as now, and who they can imagine becoming.”39 Likewise for girls, a positive experience such as the gamemaking project is significant, but it’s not enough to overcome a lifetime of accumulated messages about who belongs and who doesn’t in gaming and computing cultures.40 What these findings show is that the main premise of game playing or making as a pipeline into STEM is not a direct pathway for either boys or girls. Beyond Access and Participation: Why Values Are Important These studies offer us a much better understanding of how to think about the role values play in games as learning environments—played and made. We are certainly not the first to raise the issue; gaming researchers Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum have done so eloquently in their recent book. But theirs is more of a perspective on professional game design.41 Collectively, the discussed studies are the most extensive and systematic efforts we have to date that inform pedagogy for connected gaming and educational programming in significant ways. Like other learning contexts, gaming and computing are social activities with associated communities. Gee thought about gaming communities as affinity groups where gamers come together because they share like-minded interests. With all the enthusiastic reception that serious gaming has received in the last decade, it is easy to forget that affinity groups not only can be welcoming but also exclusive clubhouses to which not everyone is welcome. In this regard, educators and researchers need to approach such affinity groups with more caution as they are not simply a solution but instead can be a barrier to

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more inclusivity. And this matters, in particular for educational purposes where we want everyone to have welcoming, meaningful, and productive experiences that enrich their understanding of themselves, others, and the larger world they want to participate in. We have paid way more attention to how to provide access and how to increase participation, and much less attention to what is actually available to kids once they opt to join the clubs of content contributors in gaming and computing. In game-playing communities, how players are represented is often predetermined through the companies’ designs, though more recently many character and level editors now exist, giving players greater say in what they want to see and how they wish to extend their games. In game-making communities, in contrast, players entirely rely on the content created by the players themselves. Here it is much less obvious in which ways the availability of content is constrained by what players have created and who is contributing. This information is difficult to come by given that the players themselves most frequently provide the only available information; companies as well as online sites rarely collect demographics on ethnicity or race.42 A recent study by education researchers Michael Lachney, William Babbitt, and Ron Eglash (2016) looked at the content of the Scratch programming site, and found it heavily leaning toward commercial content from popular video games, television series, and toys, but less so in terms of culturally relevant content that would appeal to other constituents. For instance, a simple search of the Scratch archive for the popular video game Doom will find hundreds, if not thousands, of different programs created and posted by Scratch members. Any search for other content, such as on American Indians, will find only a handful of projects at most—some of them obviously school-initiated, as indicated by a creator’s comment “I made this for a social studies assignment.”43 In this instance, this is not to imply that the Scratch Web site would necessarily turn off Native American youths due to its prevalence of Doom remixes over interactive American Indian social studies projects. Most children gravitate to that which is commercial over what comes from school assignments. And it is unlikely that children’s predisposition to first first-person shooter games is first and foremost predicated on ethnicity or race. But the predominance of Doom firstperson shooter games here does tacitly establish the boundaries of what qualifies as a game at the Scratch Web site and what is valued as an upload.


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Affinity groups that coalesce around like-minded interests are powerful learning cultures, but this also makes them exclusive cultures, although perhaps not intentionally so. These exclusions are not just the machinations of powerful commercial companies but also replicated by players themselves in DIY communities where the players are the ones contributing content and signaling what should be of interest. It is here where we see the intricate intersections of interests and values in gaming and computing, and how they can invite or exclude participation in these communities in much less obvious ways.44 Interest and passion for projects are important, and can serve as crucial launching pads for participation, but they do not guarantee diversity on its own if what players see as well as encounter in these communities is limited in content and creators. We also need to understand how such passions are contextualized, and what values frame them in order to broaden and deepen participation. Otherwise we risk perpetuating stereotypes and maintaining inequities whether in game playing or making. Instructionist gaming has leveraged motivation for linking interests and experiences to learning. Constructionist gaming has also recognized how these interests and experiences can become steps into participation and making. In connected gaming, we need to examine and promote how learners as users and producers not only can reproduce but also creatively and critically engage with content. Such discussions around values in gaming and games have been much more focused on the professional designers along with how they are embedded in various design decisions and stages as games are being made, as Flanagan and Nissenbaum (2008) have illustrated.45 Now we need to extend these discussions to students and researchers as well as study game making for learning. More recent developments have added a new layer to the potential of making games for learning. Educators, researchers, and general enthusiasts now situate game making in the field of new media literacies, and emphasize benefits such as systems-based thinking and critical engagement with media.46 The push to consider game making as educationally significant enough to be a “literacy” or one of many “literacies” has proved to be a powerful leverage point in terms of reconsidering what skills and content K–12 schools value plus instill in their students. The goal is not necessarily to produce legions of professional game designers but rather to give young learners the opportunity to design, develop, and debug their own

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digital content, and in the process, better grasp the nature of Web-based media and potential to collaborate through such media on project-based assessments. Furthermore, we can look at the independent gaming movement, which like its counterpart in the film industry, has been growing in significance and popularity.47 While the Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, has been the annual showcase for commercial gaming in the Los Angeles convention center, just next door in Culver City, the Indie Arcade has been growing in number of attendees, spotlighting game designs that move beyond mainstream experiences. Game designs can address personal topics as in Numinous Games’ That Dragon, Cancer, which deals with cancer and grief, or educational topics as in Walden, a Game, designed by Tracy Fullerton to simulate Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in living at Walden Pond in 1845–1847, allowing players to walk in his virtual footsteps.48 Many consider independent gaming an incubator of innovation since the Hollywood-like productions of many commercial video games makes experimentation with well-established formats a risky business. In closing, the making games effort initially assumed that the engineer’s world stood as what girls and underrepresented minorities needed to aspire to in order to become truly interested in computing. But there is no need to step right into a “man’s world” to become interested and engaged in computing and engineering. Likewise, our understanding of boys at first assumed that by nature of their affinity for gaming, they would be interested in computing. But these assumptions turned out to be too simplistic; real life was in fact far more complicated, especially for youths from underrepresented groups where the cultural value attached to gaming and computing might require saving face and be considered an exercise of escaping reality rather than creating future realities. Interests matter, as do values, in gaining access to and motivating participation in gaming and computing. So we need to expand connected gaming in what we are making and with what we’re making it—topics we will explore in the following chapters on tangibles and tools for making, playing, and sharing games.

5  The Tangible Side: Connecting Old Materials with New Interfaces in Games Chapter The


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In summer 2011, a nine-year-old boy named Caine Monroy created a makeshift arcade in his father’s used auto parts store out of cardboard boxes, balls, and tape. Located in East Los Angeles, Caine made simple games out of discarded boxes and charged a dollar to take four turns at his cardboard games. Visitors could shoot a ball through a tiny basketball hoop that he had gotten from a local pizzeria; they could play soccer by using their fingers to navigate a mini ball through a series of glued-down plastic army figurines. For two dollars visitors could get a “fun pass,” good for five hundred turns in a month. For all its ingenuity, Caine’s arcade had few visitors—only he and has father had actually played its myriad of games. This changed, however, with a short video made by local filmmaker Nirvan Mullick that was posted on Vimeo in April 2012. Numerous media outlets quickly picked it up nationwide. Mullick had visited the auto parts store in September 2011 in search of a used door handle for his car and became the first paying customer of Caine’s arcade. A few days later, he came back and asked Caine’s father whether he could make a short video about the arcade and bring more visitors to the store. He posted an invitation on the Facebook page “Hidden City Los Angeles” that was circulated on other online sites. The invitation went viral, and the oncevacant arcade was filled with hundreds of people on an October Sunday afternoon in East Los Angeles; many visitors came with their kids in tow, and even more commented from afar on the videos and pictures posted that they wished that they could have been there too. Within less than ten days, Mullick’s video garnered more than five millions views and contributed thousands of dollars to a college fund for Caine. Inspired by the news reports, thousands more from all over the world came to visit the arcade in person. Mullick then set up the Imagination Foundation to inspire creativity and entrepreneurship in children around the world. The foundation started the annual Global Cardboard Challenge, which currently has over a hundred thousand kids from fifty countries making various


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arcade games, machines, robots out of paper, and electronics. Two years after his arcade’s opening, Caine “retired” from running it, partially as he was entering junior high school, but also to start a new business of a bicycle shop to help repair and remake bicycles.1   The success of Caine’s arcade came as a surprise. Millions of kids across the globe use cardboard boxes every day for play, but few of their designs ever garner so much attention. What was it about a set of duct-taped used cardboard boxes transformed into old-fashioned carnival games that generated worldwide attention in the age of digital games? Was it simply the story of a shy boy who spent the summer in his father’s storefront making his own games? His imagination in addition to his persistence was surely inspirational, particularly in the absence of any external visitors prior to Mullick’s fateful visit. Or was it the story of reusing everyday materials and taking what typically ends up clogging landfills, and transforming it into something playful, even joyful? This repurposing of craft materials was very much in line with the growing popularity of DIY culture. Caine’s spirit of entrepreneurship was undeniable. He became the youngest person ever to present at the University of Southern California’s business school, and an article in Forbes magazine even conjured his future as a billionaire within the next thirty years.2 Whichever the reason, Caine’s arcade reminds us that making and playing games is a matter of imagination not bound to the digital medium. With all the discussions of serious gaming over the last decade, we may well have forgotten that games existed long before the computer arrived and that such nondigital games are still going strong today. Even as video gaming has become a global multimillion-dollar industry, traditional board games and cards continue being played by millions, young and old, around the world. In fact, board games are making a comeback, based on recent successes on the Kickstarter crowdfunding Web site. Game designer and researcher Mary Flanagan successfully launched a campaign for her Monarch board game, in which players vie for the crown of the queen (and not the king) to rule the roost. A new journal called Analog Games was launched to explore the research and design of board and card games “with a substantial analog component.” Caine’s arcade emulated the old-fashioned carnival games still found in many places like traveling road shows, boardwalk amusement parks, and pizza parlors. It brought to the fore a trend that some even might consider a form a backlash against digital games.3

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As the pendulum is swinging back to traditional board and card games, it is worth remembering some of the advantages that these decidedly lowtech games have over the high-tech digital games, starting with the significantly lower cost of production. Developing graphics for printing cards and boards as well as adding some gaming pieces is a relatively inexpensive process, hardly requiring a whole studio of engineers and designers. Board games are also quick to set up, and can rely on the informal knowledge that many players, in particular young ones, have about their rules and mechanics. In fact, several serious gaming designers are rediscovering these advantages of board games and have began producing versions, right next to digital gameplay. Take, for instance, the card game that game designer Sasha Barab used to stimulate students’ quests in the virtual world of Quest Atlantis. Or the collaborative BeeSim game, designed by learning scientists Joshua Danish and Kylie Peppler, to help elementary school children learn about the nectar foraging behavior of bees.4 But when it comes to board and video games, it is not an either-or scenario. Traditional board and card games are not just being rediscovered; they are also being augmented and connected to the digital world. Commercial gaming has long moved beyond the screen into the physical world with new genres of controllers such as the Wii remote for Nintendo games, drum interface for Rock Band, dance mat for Dance Dance Revolution, and augmented board games such as Monopoly with electronic banking.5 Even in Caine’s arcade, some games included calculators that allowed players to “check” their status.6 Newly available computational construction kits make such extensions of game designs beyond the screen accessible for beginning players and designers. This chapter explores this intersection of the new and old, as paper and plastic meet the digital. It focuses on the newfound interest in serious gaming beyond the screen and examines the potential of yet another extension of connected gaming that has deep roots in constructionist learning. Learning by Making Learning by making games has emphasized designs on the screen that can be shared with others, in classrooms or online communities. But this leaves out the equally important physical, concrete dimension of learning and knowing that is often seen as less valuable than its counterpart—abstract


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manipulation. In Piaget’s theory, formal abstraction is seen as the ultimate goal of all knowledge construction, with concrete thinking always associated with younger children.7 Constructionism, however, equally values concrete and abstract modalities of learning—a valuation that is now being recognized in many learning theories that situate cognition not just in the head but also in space, and see it embodied in gestures and mediated via artifacts in the world.8 Early on, Papert (1980, 63–68) attributed great significance to these multimodal dimensions of learning, which he called “syntonic learning” because it allowed children to identify with computational objects in multiple ways: For example, the turtle circle is body syntonic in that the circle is firmly related to children’s sense and knowledge about their own bodies. Or it is ego syntonic in that it is coherent with children’s sense of themselves as people with intentions, goals, desires, likes and dislikes. … One can also see it as cultural syntonic in that when drawing the circle, the turtle connects the idea of an angle to the idea of navigation which is closely rooted in children’s extracurricular experiences.

The Logo turtle and Scratch cat—and for that matter, many other screen representations—allow children to manipulate objects on the screen as they would manipulate them in the physical world. A child, using their own body, pretending to be the screen turtle or cat, could also execute every single turtle step in the real world. The different notions of syntonicity allow the learner to create connections between the screen and world. The screen artifact, observe Turkle and Papert (1990, 4), sits “betwixt and between the world of formal systems and physical things. [I]t has the ability to make abstract concrete [at] … the same time it makes it visible, almost tangible and allows a sense of direct manipulation.” While Turkle and Papert made this reference to objects on the computer screen, the inferences apply even more so to tangible artifacts connecting the digital with the physical world. In extending coding to the physical world, we reveal that this world is programmable and malleable, and thus controllable by us. Many of the projects in the maker movement focus on crafting handson, or building robots, 3-D printing objects, or electronic circuits.9 Making has brought back physical design into learning academic content. For that reason, maker activities are seen as promising authentic contexts because they demonstrate how the learning of science, technology and engineering can be situated concretely within making tangible artifacts rather than being taught in the abstract. Using various materials, learning about their

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properties, and coordinating designs across modalities not only introduces new challenges for the learner but likewise presents more opportunities for learning. They engage young designers in making, testing, debugging, and iterating their creations—all aspects of computational practices. Aside from these functional benefits for learning, there is the added advantage of providing transparency of technology designs. By making artifacts, students gain insights about the physical production of the technology itself and making visible how things actual “work.” This is not common with twenty-first-century technologies. Most of today’s technology designs intentionally hide or make invisible what makes them work. They are marketed to consumers as such. The goal is not to promote end user tinkering for fear that the consumer could break the device or alter the “brand” itself. Yet for educational purposes, visibility is unequivocally more beneficial in promoting understanding and learning. In designing with electronic textiles, for example, the fabrication of stitches, circuits, and codes reveals the underlying structures and processes in tangible, observable ways.10 It breaks the dichotomy between producer and consumer, and reveals a more nuanced, interchangeable dynamic between the two roles. Getting a better understanding of how technology works with a broader range of materials is crucial for educating today’s youths. These multimodal constructions also have the potential to attract marginalized youths who have been left out of the STEM pipeline in more subtle ways by capitalizing on and affirming their interests in low-tech materials while simultaneously introducing STEM content. In the context of constructionist gaming, this means that we can extend the design of games beyond the screen, where hand controllers supply the interface for players to dictate actions on the screen. But we can also think of augmenting existing board games with digital features. In either context, we integrate coding and crafting in game-making activities by leveraging the shared pedagogical premises of constructionist learning that value the building of artifacts, on and off the screen. Gaming Beyond the Screen: New Tools and Everyday Materials The pioneering design of the Hook-Ups construction kit by computer scientist Amon Millner showcased how children could become creators of interactive, tangible experiences. The Hook-Ups construction kit consisted


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of the PicoBoard, alligator clips, and materials such as cardboard boxes, plastic balls, and scissors to make and program. Millner’s work illustrates how youths can learn about electricity, design, and programming while crafting tangible interfaces from everyday materials and objects. The sheer “everydayness” of the materials is what makes it such fun. Learning how to work with materials at the intersection of programming and engineering is promising, but it is no small feat. We know from prior research that hybrid crafting activities such as robotics and electronic textiles are time as well as labor intensive, requiring many new skills—notably patience. They also demand teacher and mentor support to foster such persistence. A whole new line of computational construction kits has entered the marketplace, building bridges between the digital and physical.11 While kits like LEGO’s Mindstorms have been around for nearly three decades, they have largely focused on robotics. Over the past five years, many new computational construction kits have become available to the larger public.12 In particular, the tangible construction kit called MaKey MaKey has opened design opportunities for physical computing by requiring no programming whatsoever. Unlike Mindstorms and other computational construction kits, MaKey MaKey requires neither extensive setup nor deep technical knowledge, and hence has widened the opportunities to tinker, especially among younger children. This is facilitated by MaKey MaKey’s function of turning anything conductive into a tangible user interface, simply by using alligator clips as the connective tissue. MaKey MaKey plugs into the computer using a simple mini-USB to USB cord. Another cord is a connection to earth, which grounds the circuit. The third connection is a set of cords that connect to the conductive objects (figure 5.1).13 Exploring the range of attachable conductive objects is where much of the fun lies, as children often start by connecting aluminum foil as well as quarters and dimes. But they soon find conductivity in the unexpected, including pieces of Play-Doh clay and even fruit such as bananas. When a user holds earth in one hand and touches the banana, the circuit is complete, running electricity from the computer, through MaKey MaKey to the everyday object (here, a banana) and then back. With the circuit complete, the computer interprets touching the banana as akin to touching the space bar or another designated key. MaKey MaKey thus gives budding designers the ability to use conductive objects to replace the typical input (e.g., the up and down or right and left keys). In the process, the user learns not only

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Figure 5.1 MaKey MaKey banana piano. Photo: Courtesy of JoyzLabz LLC.

about the nature of conductivity but also the computational nature of input and output. These features render MaKey MaKey particularly well suited for tinkering and prototyping for beginners because it provides immediate feedback, does not require a great deal of setup, and works tremendously well with easy-to-find materials, again reinforcing the programmability and malleability of our immediate and everyday surroundings. We tested the use of MaKey MaKey immediately after its successful Kickstarter campaign. The setting was a pilot project where we asked students (ages ten to twelve) to design touch pad controllers using Play-Doh.14 The goal was for youths to design custom physical controllers to go along with their Scratch video games. All of the students designed and crafted a functional touch pad that aligned with and controlled their Scratch game. Some of the touch pad designs were extremely detailed, with controller components matched to the screen sprites (characters) in their Scratch games, while other touch pads were just heaps of colored Play-Doh. This touch pad activity provides a good introduction to software and hardware design, especially for middle school students, because it builds on their prior experience with popular gaming platforms and can draw from the large repertoire of games available on the Scratch site. It also pairs nicely with middle


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school science given that circuitry is usually a unit of study within the sixth and seventh grades. The design of touch pads with these materials also made transparent how different input devices function. In the case of the touch pad controllers, students were able to design and program the functionality of keyboard keys, and understand what underlies pressing a key—a functionality that is frequently hidden away from users. Rather than making this a textbook exercise where students read about circuit design and conductivity, the design of the touch pads let students experiment with materials of different conductivity and different, albeit simple, circuit designs. This activity of course goes back to Papert’s focus on the creation of real and meaningful objects as the locus of learning, instead of exams or homework sheets. While such connections between school and home are more common in the elementary grades, they seem largely forgotten once students move into the seemingly more abstract domains of science and mathematics at the high school level. Augmented Boards: Combining Old and New Games The idea of augmented board games is not a new one. It has, in fact, been an active area of human computer interaction for close to a decade because it affords the research of multimodal interactions in a familiar space. Designs have concentrated on augmenting traditional board games like Go, Settlers of Catan, and Battleboards, or even creating entirely new games.15 Augmentations can take on various forms such as adding 3-D, light, and sound feedback, randomly changing game board configurations, and providing playback mechanisms and automated game setup. In all these examples, professional computer scientists and engineers designed the augmentations for the games. Here we are turning the tables by making players and learners the designers of augmented board games. Augmented board games are traditional board games that have integrated digital components like digital dice or playing cards. We set out to test these premises by running workshops with middle and high school students.16 We gave the students Scratch starter code for digital dice along with timers to integrate these components into their board games. The students worked in groups to design and produce their own games, merging on-screen programming with hands-on crafting in the process.

The Tangible Side 


Figure 5.2 Philadelphia-augmented game board. Photo by Yasmin Kafai.

The students’ personal interests in and knowledge of music, movies, and video games inspired their board game designs as well as their hometown in Think You Know Philadelphia? (see figure 5.2). For instance, Peter’s personal interest in music influenced the Cairo group theme while two members in the Safehouse group drew on their understanding of the plot of the film with the same title, the first providing the name of the movie and the other member filling in the concept. For the Mountain Men group, Andy explained how they were trying to make their board game similar to video games: “We also wanted to make … mixing a platform video game with, like, a regular board game … specifically the way you move, and how you jump and climb up the mountain. We also wanted … in, like, a video game there’s … empty space you could fall so we wanted something like that, um, to put into our game as well.” Such connections to popular culture are not surprising given youths’ known engagement with popular media.


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To design and craft augmented features, each team had to think about the interaction between the physical board game and digital components, and that required constant testing of their designs, on and off the screen. Two games, Cairo and Mega Mountain Men, included digital dice, while instructions were embedded on the board itself. In Safehouse, the student designers included a digital spinner and digital playing cards with riddles that the players had to solve (although they did not quite get to integrating their spinner, introduction, and digital playing cards into a single Scratch program). In Get Out Alive, the team used digital dice and playing cards that were called up each time a player landed on a certain kind of space. Augmenting the games added a layer of complexity that required them to think about the gameplay activities in a different way: they had to think about how the digital would be embedded into their gameplay experience, and vice versa. These crafting and gaming dimensions became even more intertwined in their coding, thereby illustrating how the crafting of augmented board games engaged students in the key computational practices of iterating and testing their designs.17 Furthermore, making the components work required student designers to take into consideration the audience, which in many cases included group members themselves. The students designed rough play test boards, and then played each other’s games to get feedback and perspective. This also gave them a chance to see what worked and what did not work, and then make adjustments. To that end, Bill explains, “I was designing the board and I noticed, like, that if it was too small and … when we, like, did those … trial runs and stuff, I was able to notice, first of all, like, the proportion, and also it was, like, a rough draft basically.” Bill appreciated designing a playtest (or rough draft) board on which the team could test out their games and had room to make mistakes. This iterative process gave high school designers a sense of what seemed too easy or difficult for other players. While these opportunities for playtesting were integrated into the overall design of the workshop, the making became closely intertwined with the playing of the game in the process. Such instructional approaches to game making can provide a rich context for learning by broadening the kind of games to be designed, leveraging the informal knowledge most youths have from playing tabletop games, and introducing new modalities for computational participation.

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Wearable Controllers: Combining High and Low Technologies Augmenting board games with digital features and connections to screens offers opportunities to examine game playing and making with new materials in an old, often more familiar context. The board becomes the interface through which game playing and making are mediated. But what if the interface is no longer bound to either the table or screen? This was the question we asked when we considered adding wearable controllers to online games. Inspired by a design developed by a pair of college students for the popular Flappy Bird game at the University of Pennsylvania’s biannual StitchFest hackathon, we decided to take the wearable controllers to the middle school level. The original Flappy Bird’s premise is to keep a bird afloat in the air while dodging a set of scrolling challenges. With the traditional tool of the keyboard, this is accomplished by a player’s clicking on the space bar or the up arrow key, which maintains the bird at center screen, selectively oscillating up and down to dodge obstacles. With Hacky Bird’s wearable controller, though, the keyboard is replaced with the player’s arms, which they must flap, just like a bird. The wristbands, sewn together out of green felt pieces, were adorned with a heart since the weekend hackathon took place during Valentine’s Day (see figure 5.3).

Figure 5.3 Hacky Bird game controllers. Photo: Courtesy of Darryl Moran Photography.


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The project launched in a public middle school with twelve students, boys and girls, who met twice a week for an hour working on their Scratch games and wearable controllers over a three-month period.18 Flappy Birds was already quite a popular game on the Scratch Web site, having many remixes within the online community. Drawing from this pool of community-generated and remixed games, we provided students with a simplified Scratch game code that included the scrolling background and gravity effect (for the bird). While all the youths started with the same Flappy Bird program code in Scratch and wearable controller design with MaKey MaKey, their designs then took them into different directions ranging from simple tweaks in the program code to creative redesigns of the game and controllers. The students not only played and made a Flappy Bird Scratch game in this class. Like the undergraduates in the college hackathon, they also designed wearable controllers for their games. The original Hacky Bird controller was a fairly complex design involving code for sensor and wireless input that went beyond the programming skills of middle school students. So we opted to develop a simplified initial prototype: a fingerless glove with conductive fabric on the top. To keep the bird afloat, a user would tap the conductive patch on the top of the glove. As the workshop evolved, this prototype was modified to more aptly simulate the action of a bird flapping. When the thumb and fingers touched, simulating the act of flapping, the circuit was completed, thus keeping the bird afloat. Overall, we saw the middle school designers embracing the high and low of technology by coding their Scratch games as well as crafting their wearable controllers with MaKey MaKey. They used low-tech, familiar materials such as markers, tape, cardboard, sticky foil tape, and embellishments such as feathers and sequins, and combined them with higher-tech materials such as MaKey MaKey. In doing so, they were able to connect craft with technology, and the digital with the tangible. For instance, in the Flappy Pusheen Cat game, the student designed a spoon made out of cardboard and a piece of cake made out of felt. To keep the Pusheen character afloat, the player had to tap the spoon onto the cake. For the Flappy Bat game, the student created two felt patches that both had to be touched to close the circuit and keep the bat afloat. The wearable controllers for the Flappy Nemo, Michael’s Trip, and Chespin games required a player to close their hand, so their fingers and thumb would be touching, to close the circuit and keep

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Figure 5.4 Wearable controller glove for the Chespin Scratch game. Photo by Veena Vasudevan.

their characters afloat (see figure 5.4). When playing, the player ended up turning their hands up toward the ceiling so the original flapping became more like a tapping gesture. As evident with the postworkshop interviews, youths begin to appreciate the programmability of their surroundings and how their own personal interests ultimately drive such programmability. Programming, they began to understand, was ultimately to make technology more conducive to their own personal preferences. Much of this learning is illustrative of the learning involved with maker activities, promoting can-do hands-on designs, here with digital elements.19 Students recognized these benefits in their reflections. As Christian said of his game and the use of the tangibles rather than keyboard, “It actually worked a bit better than the keyboard because with the keyboard, you could actually glitch the game out where you would constantly be attacking and moving at the same time. But you couldn’t do that with the MaKey MaKey, which actually helped. [T]here was more that went into it rather than just constantly attacking and moving back and forth.” What was particular about these activities is that the students value crafting and computing equally. Designing game controllers and augmented board games as well as synching input with output on the screen


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is part of a single package, and screen and tangible are equally important.20 When gaming moves beyond the screen, young game designers learn not only about basic computational concepts such as loops and conditionals in Scratch but also about basic engineering concepts such as circuit design and the conductivity of materials. Flipping the Script: Online Game Inspires Real-Life Circuits While this chapter made a case for moving game design beyond the screen, in a strange turn of events, one of the most popular gaming platforms these days encourages exactly the opposite: moving from the screen back into “real life.” The game in question is Minecraft (for a more detailed introduction, see chapter 3), the sandbox developed by Swedish gamer Markus “Notch” Persson and now owned by Microsoft. It incorporates both playing and making games in one platform. Playing in Minecraft is all about making. One of the key construction elements in the online version of the game is called Redstone, the equivalent of electricity. Redstone is an ore that players can find at the bottom of their mines. When they mine it, they will get Redstone Dust, which is what they need to make Redstone circuits. It can be used to create amazing inventions, such as working computers or factories.21 In order to make Redstone circuits, Minecraft players need to learn logic design, just like in real life. To help new players make these circuits, hundreds of Redstone tutorials have been written up by more experienced players, sometimes computer scientists or engineers, but often engaged players who learned it on their own.22 These tutorials, at times covering content equivalent to that in undergraduate engineering courses, are compelling examples of the metagaming prominent in many gaming communities that Gee and other researchers have written about illustrating how learning moves beyond the confines of the game itself.23 While the design and use of Redstone tutorials alone would provide rich material for a study of its own, here we want to illuminate how this kind of Minecraft play that started out online has sparked play and design in real life. A makerspace called Soldering Sundays based in New Jersey has created and distributed a maker kit titled Minecraft Circuits in Real Life (figure 5.5), and offers tutorials and workshops.24 Using the block-inspired look of Minecraft, kids learn not only how to design circuits in Redstone but in real

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Figure 5.5 The Minecraft Circuits in Real Life kit. Photo by Soldering Sunday, Paul Gentile.

life too. The tutorials start with simple circuit design in Redstone, offering step-by-step introductions, and then introduce “real-life” circuit design providing a list of materials needed for the design (available with the kit) including online video tutorials. For instance, to make a circuit that turns on an LED, players are instructed to design a Minecraft torch. Here a soldering iron, LEDs, resistors, batteries, and a breadboard are used to create a “real-life” Minecraft torch. The tutorials and workshops offered by Soldering Sundays are just one example of how the boundaries between making and playing gaming are crossed. Programs developed in public libraries provide further illustrations of how digital gaming is connecting back to making and playing in real life.25 Banking on the popularity of Minecraft, public libraries offer makerstyle workshops using the Minecraft theme to draw in young patrons for making bookmarks, creeper bracelets, backpack clips, Steve (the main player character in Minecraft) bags, and even toys with perler beads to emulate the pixel-like graphic design of online Minecraft.26 While many of these activities are decidedly lower tech than the aforementioned circuit design workshops, their results are frequently displayed throughout the library, and offer a constant reminder of the connection to the digital play and community.


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These Minecraft-related activities epitomize some aspects of connected gaming, in which playing and making are not only part of the online universe; such a universe has both digital and physical platforms. Minecraft players are learning to design circuits online or off-line. MaKey MaKey introduced circuit design to connect to games on the screen, while Minecraft Circuits in Real Life flipped the script entirely by using circuit design on the screen to inspire circuit design in real life. Connected gaming demonstrates that these activities are not exclusive but can in fact be mutually beneficial to each other. Serious Gaming beyond the Screen Amateur electronics, a once-popular leisure activity, have made a comeback, linking gaming with computing and crafting. What connected gaming offers here is not just a return to the past (though some of Minecraft’s pixelated graphics clearly wink with nostalgia); it also supplies rich learning opportunities with old and new materials that allow game players a peek behind the curtain of how technologies they daily engage with function. The combinations of low-tech crafting activities and materials with high-tech digital designs facilitate not only engagement but also learning about computation, crafting, and gaming by making them more transparent. Computer science educators Leah Buechley and Mike Eisenberg have argued that these combinations of low and high technologies allow for insights into “transparency” by helping young learners and designers to understand the features as well as processes of the digital technology that for too long have been rendered invisible behind shiny back cases.27 Children also now have the opportunity to learn about the iterative nature of making by moving from a sample idea to prototypes and then testing both designs, finally resulting in functional controllers, online games, and augmented board games. Most prominent here is the use of remixing, actively encouraged in the workshop by giving students essential pieces of code and even sample controllers with which to work.28 This approach offered novice designers a launch pad to develop workable games and controllers within the time constraints of a school setting. More important, the large majority of students went beyond surface changes in remixing code and designs, thus supporting it as a valid approach for beginning programmers. This distinction between simple and creative remixes provides a basic

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indicator of how we can leverage this practice for assessment purposes, although it is also clear that more work is needed to flesh out criteria that capture the multiple dimensions of students’ on- and offscreen designs.29 We certainly agree that more research and implementation studies are needed to fine-tune the introduction of these crafting and coding activities. Connected gaming illustrates how achieving transparency is not just a matter of making games but also playing them and then reworking the game based on such play. A virtuous cycle can exist. Engaging learners with new materials, tools, and activities in gaming can help broaden as well as deepen participation in computation. On a general level this promotes understanding of the basic functionalities that underlie digital games, encompassing aspects such as the designs of interfaces, systems, and materials. On a personal level, connected gaming allows for a broader range of designs. Such domain-crossing activities have the potential to attract players such as girls and minorities who have been traditionally marginalized in subtler ways. Allowing learners to broaden their conception of games and gaming affirms their interests, and marries low to high, while simultaneously introducing new content. These new, tangible forms of gaming not only create new spaces and channels for computational participation but also provide a more nuanced understanding of how technology works precisely by showing how intimate and everyday such technologies truly are. The video game arcade, so to speak, has grown broader, and is all the better for it.

6  The Creative Side: Tools for Modding and   Making Games Chapter The


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If there is any indicator of the popularity of connections between gaming, making, and computing, it is the sudden spate of crowdsourcing initiatives. According to its Web site, over 22,000 Kickstarter projects were funded in 2014, with games as the third most popular category, just after film and music. A total of 1,980 games were funded in 2014, receiving US$89.1 million.1 Funded projects covered a wide range of topics, bringing back old video games like Interstellaria, a vast sandbox galaxy that let players experience the spirit of old-school space games with modern mechanics on a variety of platforms; and there is AR-K, a homage to the classic point-and-click story game with an updated twist. Others proposed board games to teach kids programming, like Code Monkey Island, which purports to make programming a matter of child’s play by providing a family friendly board game that introduces kids ages eight and up to programming concepts used by real programmers. There is also Robot Turtles, the most-backed board game in Kickstarter history with over 13,765 supporters; it promises to “sneakily teach programming fundamentals to kids ages 3+.” Kickstarter supports small campaigns as well, though, like The Lonely Raven by luis_the_beat, who only requested $200, but received $252 to make a series of games that “will be rpg ans other, they will be non-profit games:)” (typos included). Finally, backers could even make their own computer with Kano, a program that provides a rudimentary computer and coding kit for all ages, all over the world, claiming to be as “simple as Lego, powered by Pi,” and allowing anyone to “make games, learn code, and create the future.” The campaign was funded to the tune of $1,522,160.   These Kickstarter campaigns are just a small sampling of what got funded in 2014, leaving aside thousands of other efforts that did not reach their goals in years before. And this of course also did not include the results from other crowdsourcing platforms. But even a cursory review of Kickstarter’s


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2014 initiatives makes it quite clear that people of all ages are not just interested in playing games but in supporting the making of games of all types too. These initiatives likewise promote learning programming for a wide range of platforms, on and off the screen. While discussions about the educational value of children playing video games will continue to be a wider conversation that will inevitably have its promoters and detractors, it is obvious that the educational value of kids’ learning through building video games is considered to be a decidedly productive activity inside and outside school. As noted in previous chapters, no small part of such enthusiasm stems from the increasing push to bring programming to children at earlier ages. Equal impetus, however, comes from the fact that young people enjoy making and sharing their own games. In terms of school, the creation process employs the STEM learning that schools regularly tout as essential to twenty-first-century learning. Recall gaming researcher Gee’s (2003) own assessment that good video games build into their very designs good learning principles. Yet the question remains: What kinds of building and learning are going on in making games? One of the reasons that game making—and in turn, connected gaming—has grown so tremendously is that there has been such a spate of tools for making these games. The capacity “to build” is very much characteristic of Web 2.0 technology, in which children are encouraged to no longer be passive consumers of digital media but active producers as well. The development of one of the first programming languages for children, Logo, was of course a precursor to all these more recent efforts. With its initial development occurring over the late 1960s, Logo was conceived as a means through which to introduce children to the basics of computer programming. On entering schools over the next decade, though, it soon became apparent to its creators (and the K–12 teachers implementing the tool) that Logo could not only introduce coding to children but also potentially support traditional academic subject content. Logo creator Wallace Feurzeig (2010, 5) remembers this transition in reviewing the history of Logo’s development: “We believed that it would point the way to transformational changes in education—not only through its powerful potential for learning real mathematics—though that was our primary initial focus— but then also in language, music, and science. … Our long-term hope was that it was going to really revolutionize education.” This pattern of starting with programming and then extending into more academic subject matter

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became the standard among early efforts to introduce game making to children in and around schools. Early studies were specifically designed to leverage the mutually beneficial aspects of game design, emphasizing the learning of programming while also pointing to how such efforts aligned with traditional subject content, such as the learning of mathematics, and writing in the design of artifacts and representations.2 More recent developments have added a new layer to the potential of making games for learning. Educators, researchers, and general enthusiasts now situate game making in the field of new media literacies, and emphasize benefits such as systems-based thinking and critical engagement with media. The push to consider game making as educationally significant enough to be a literacy, or one of many literacies, has proved to be a powerful leverage point in terms of reconsidering what skills and content K–12 schools value and instill in their students. The goal is not necessarily to produce legions of professional game designers but rather give young learners the opportunity to design, develop, and debug their own digital content, and in the process, better grasp the nature of Web-based media and potential to collaborate through such media on project-based assessments. This of course returns us to our original premise of computational participation as the capacity to make and remix video games, which very much offers children objects with which they not only can ground their thinking but also support their capacity to reach out to others online and foster future collaborations.3 While the Web represents a myriad of options for youths interested in the game-making process, this chapter recognizes the paramount importance of classrooms, clubs, and community centers as means to disseminate tools for as well as develop communities around game making. This is not to say that learning through game making does not extend beyond schooling; examples from the previous five chapters well attest to this fact. But one of the primary goals of this chapter in particular and book in general is to begin to take the DIY ethos in which youths independently engage with a variety of digital media on their own time, and start to explore how such an ethos can situate itself in the environs of traditional schooling. Media theorists, education reformers, and school leaders are increasingly using “DIY” as the new watchword in digital learning when it comes to describing the use of Web 2.0 applications in and around schools.4


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Accordingly, the first part of this chapter examines the sharp spike in various software applications as specific tools geared to allow youths to create their own digital games. We start with the notion of games as microworlds for learning and especially look at the nature of “sandbox games”—a term that has been used in previous chapters to describe Minecraft. We then examine other educational and commercial applications in terms of ease of entry, their capacity to facilitate complex learning, and their breadth in allowing for a range of user experiences. We also consider a fourth principle, called “open windows,” because more than simply tools, entire communities have begun to develop around making and sharing games online, including not only the established Newgrounds but also previous online extensions of video game consoles such as Xbox Live Indie Games.5 The final part of the chapter will explore learning as children interact online and the overall nature of game-making communities in fostering creative collaboration among youths. Here we see that the community becomes the tool. Whether to teach basic computer programming, reinforce traditional academic subject knowledge, or make children more discerning media users, game design is increasingly being employed as a way to ground learning and engage youths. In this context, we also discuss modding activities and communities as examples of connected gaming. We conclude by returning to schools and their responsibilities as such designated communities for learning. If we are to recognize the importance of the community as a tool, then educators and researchers need to prioritize game making in schools. Microworlds as Tools and Contexts for Learning Making games is about understanding and designing worlds, on and off the screen, for playing and learning. Here we connect to another critical concept in constructionist learning that early has seen programming environments such as Logo as microworlds to understand mathematics, investigate particular concepts, and experience learning. The turtle world in Logo is a “place,” “a province of Mathland,” where certain kinds of mathematical thinking can hatch and grow with ease. Microworlds have been described as “a computer-based interactive learning environment where the prerequisites are built into the system and where learners can become the active, constructing architects of their own learning.”6 A classic example is the Dynaturtle, a physics environment in which learners can experience

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Newtonian physics and also historically important alternatives like Aristotelian physics. Movements and states of turtles can be preprogrammed to respond to certain laws of motion, which can be manipulated by the learner. No explicit instruction about the laws is provided in microworlds, unlike in computer-based tutorials or computer-assisted instruction. Learners induce these laws by interacting with a turtle preprogrammed to behave as an object in a frictionless universe. What if we considered the making of educational games, like the ones described earlier in this chapter, as a form of making microworlds? A wide range of microworlds in mathematics and sciences has been developed by computer science educators and content specialists, because the design of these worlds requires a deep understanding of the domain itself as well as learners’ informal and conceptual understandings of the domain.7 In our case, the student designers are the ones creating microworlds for their players, and in the process, they engage deeply and extensively with what they are learning, what they like about it, and how they can express it in the computational medium. It is clear that the student designers learn not just about content but also about programming in this process, and equally important about their own learning. Taking this a step further, learning scientists Nathan Holbert and Uri Wilensky (2014) have conceived of a new form of microworlds, which they call “sandbox games,” that integrates the worlds of game making with designing and playing microworlds in ingenious ways. In these sandbox games, learners are provided with a microworld that lets them make and play their games around focused concepts. In the car racing sandbox game, for instance, Holbert and Wilensky leverage a widely popular sports game mechanic, and supply the designers with a sandbox and tools that allow them to build a racing track and cars, and then color different part of the track to represent different velocities (see figure 6.1). Playing the car racing game then becomes like running and participating in a real-life experiment where student designers can examine the outcomes and modify the constraints in order to test their hypotheses. Working with a small group of students, they found that engaging in sandbox design not only increased students’ understanding of key representations but also brought in, as predicted, informal understandings. Just like the original microworlds, such sandbox games offer students as designers and players access to ideas and phenomena such as the


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Figure 6.1 Screenshot of a sandbox game. Courtesy of Nathan Holbert.

frictionless world that they may not easily encounter in their regular textbooks or classroom lessons. These sandbox games also are environments that challenge naive understandings by providing the learner with feedback on their interactions and manipulations. Finally, interactions with the sandbox games allow the learner to develop the kind of personal knowledge that can supply the foundation for more formalized interactions. It is precisely these formal representations that underlie many commercial racing games, but that are hard to extract for players from the actual gaming experience. Sandbox games become a type of learning environment in which talking about the science is part of the game. The “objects-to-thinkand-share-with” in the sandbox game are like the turtle world in Logo, becoming a place, a province of Mathland, as noted above. The microworld was an incubator.”8 That’s just like what Gee and others found about learning and literacy in playing games. In sandbox games, making and playing games becomes closely intertwined. Design Principles for Gaming Tools and Communities While the past decade has witnessed a steep jump in the number of tools designed to create digital games, many share a common ancestor—namely, Logo. Now widely remembered for its turtle graphics of pencil on paper, Logo was not created exclusively for video game design but instead very

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much supported the design of highly playable artifacts for children’s learning. By providing children with a functional tool that they could use to generate a particular construct, an “object-to-think-with,” as Papert (1980) referred to it, abstract learning was grounded in the physical, making the process more tangible and, by extension, eminently more personal. As the heirs to Logo, numerous tools for making one’s own video games now exist.9 Rather than evaluate each game design tool in terms of the particular learning outcomes it potentially may offer, here we evaluate the tool in terms of its capacity to facilitate children’s game making. Computer science educators Mitchel Resnick and Brian Silverman articulated essential principles of which to be mindful in the development of any constructionbased kit meant to foster a child’s learning and development through making.10 Using the metaphor of a house or building, they advise that such tools need to address the first three principles: • 

Low floors: a tool that is intuitive enough to allow new users to acclimate

to it gradually and with a degree of confidence. • 

High ceilings: a tool that also allows more experienced users to create con-

structs (in this case, video games) that can grow increasingly complex and nuanced as one’s own proficiency increases. • 

Wide walls: a tool that—in addition to low floors and high ceilings—

allows its users to create a wide range a constructs, letting users tap into elements of personal experience as well as popular culture to design and develop something entirely unique and representative of their own interests and backgrounds. We added a fourth principle to emphasize the equally important social dimension of construction tools:11 • 

Open windows: a tool to facilitate the sharing of digital media. The creation

of digital communities represents the new frontier in terms of making computer programming a more accessible skill for youths. So to what extent do educational game-making tools and communities meet these four principles? Through a closer analysis of each criterion, coupled with research studies on the usage of these various game-making tools, it becomes clear that managing all four principles in unison is no easy feat yet also entirely possible.


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Low Floors The goal of Logo and all its descendants has been finding a medium to make the once-laborious process of coding more accessible and easy for youths. Most immediately, this entails a technical component. Whereas programming a video game traditionally required extensive typing in which the smallest syntax error could offset gameplay altogether, multiple tools now rely simply on a “drag-and-drop” approach to coding in which one can drag the mouse over various objects, and then click and release to add game functionality such as game score or player mobility.12 For Scratch, these objects are programmable bricks for controlling a cat character on the screen; for AgentSheets, they are layered digital sheets, while for GameMaker and GameSalad, the clickable objects are cascading pop-up windows. With most children capable of manipulating a mouse by age six, the dragand-drop approach to programming makes coding very much an intuitive process. Gamestar Mechanic meanwhile takes a different approach. Based on the assumption that its young users know how to technically play video games by manipulating hardware, the game engine developed out of the Institute of Play leverages this preexisting knowledge to then teach players how to likewise make their own video games. Populating gameplay (e.g., “the Quest”) with various game-making tutorials throughout the narrative, Gamestar Mechanic rewards its players with programmable objects that can be subsequently used to build their own future creations even as they iteratively gain technical know-how about how to design and develop a video game. Gaming researcher Robert Torres’s examination of a group of middle school students’ use of Gamestar Mechanic over a six-month period well captures this concept of low floors and the nature of learning to make games by first understanding (and personalizing) the rules of play. His study focuses in particular on one participant, eleven-year-old Tania (a pseudonym, as are all the names used), who describes herself as a “low to medium achiever”; yet despite this assessment, Tania effectively learns how to create an innovative video game based dually on her experience playing Gamestar Mechanic as an avatar and her own personal desire to create “games that made you relax.”13 Connecting her own desire for peace and quiet to the mission of Gamestar’s avatar, the rooms in her home to the various gameplay levels, and her annoying “lil’ sister with attitude” as the oppositional yet reinforcing feedback requisite for gameplay, Tania’s capacity to create

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her own video game is facilitated by her technical experience as a Gamestar player as well as her own personal creativity and sensibility. This element of relatability—namely, Tania’s capacity to personalize gameplay based on her own life experiences—merits further consideration. Perhaps even more important than technical feasibility, however, for a game-making tool to truly maintain a low floor, it must ensure that the content of its gameplay is recognizable, or least inviting, to new users.14 To this end, the programming tool Alice employs the same 3-D characters and objects populating the best-selling Sims video game series; ToonTalk and Scratch both feature embraceable “mascots” (a colorful bird and smiling orange cat, respectively), and Kodu syncs its game-making software with the ever-popular Xbox console, configuring end user development to the graphics that users know from the console. To a certain degree, couching one’s game engine in highly recognizable objects speaks to the larger body of research that attributes game making itself as a palpable “object” through which young people can learn programming. Game making in this sense itself serves as an “object” by which to ground programming in a real and meaningful artifact. And by giving children a particular “object” around which they can develop these games—be it instantly recognizable 3-D character or eye-catching cartoons—tool designers further make the process more personal and thus accessible for children. High Ceilings With the floor laid out, the next question becomes to what extent these various game-making tools have the capacity to retain their users. While accessibility is the first step to ensure a steady number of novice users are accessing and using a game tool, designers also have to make certain that their game engine is robust enough to ensure that more experienced users do not tire of the software, and can find new ways to become more proficient at making more complex and detailed video games. This again returns us back to the question of computer programming. Whereas the low floors criterion aims to downplay the need to learn programming for making a video game, the high ceilings component does the inverse, emphasizing the functionality and efficiency of its underlying code. More complex coding features, such as the capacity to develop control and data structures, allow for increased functionality and efficiency within video games along with a number of tools that specifically highlight their interfacing with


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industry-level languages. Among other tools, this includes Alice’s capacity to switch its syntax into Java, Panda3D interfacing with both Python and C++, and Phrogram translating into Java, C#, and Visual Basic. Learning scientists Kylie Peppler and Yasmin Kafai’s (2007a) case study of fifteen-year-old Jorge well captures the potential for young game designers to not only reach the high ceiling of effective programming but also meticulously re-create popular media through seamless imitation. Using Scratch at a Computer Clubhouse specifically geared toward low-income youths from the surrounding neighborhood, Jorge was a regular visitor there over the eight months of the ethnographic study. The second project he created was a video game titled Metal Slug Hell Zone X, a play on the popular run-and-gun video game series Metal Slug. Carefully coding each sprite within Scratch to respond promptly to keystrokes, Jorge fully re-created the avatar fluidity characteristic of the original game, exploring and to a certain degree reformulating the genre conventions of shooter games. Yet Jorge’s high-ceiling re-creation extended beyond code as every character and animation in the game was also the result of numerous hours using Scratch’s paint editor to draw and coordinate the images, which in turn were based on penciled sketches he made of the original video game. Media researcher David Buckingham (2003, 134) points out that “imitation is an indispensable aspect of learning” in media education, and Jorge’s own video game exemplifies the educational potential of imitation to reach more sophistication. For Jorge’s imitation, his most significant challenge was revising his code in order to make it more efficient so to re-create the intuitive and fluid movement and feedback characteristic of the original game. For many experienced video game makers, the capacity to access the high ceilings of more complex code, such as recursion, not only means they can create more streamlined games but also allows them to demonstrate a modicum of coding prowess. In fact, numerous studies have highlighted the capacity of the tools above to lead to measurable gains in introductory computer science coursework. Computer science instructors have realized the potential to start their introductory courses in the field using these basic object-oriented, drag-and-drop tools listed as a means to ground their students in basic programming concepts before moving on to text-based languages. There are others who even seek to remove the ceiling altogether, such as computer scientist Brian Harvey and his colleagues, who

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have added procedures to the existing Scratch tool.15 They revised Scratch to allow more experienced Scratch programmers to design their own codable bricks (“build-your-own brick” or BYOB, now called Snap! programming language) by combining preexisting bricks from the original Scratch tool, and then renaming these combinations as a single brick or procedure. These BYOBs pack more functionality within a single brick, allowing for more refinement and economy within the underlying code of one’s video game. Ultimately, the Snap! programming language permits even highly proficient programmers to achieve the level of functionality they can find with industry-level languages, uniting utter novices and total experts under a single language/tool. Wide Walls Having defined the vertical in terms of the floor and ceiling, the third component of an effective game-making tool lies in the horizontal component of wide walls. Wide walls signify the capacity of a tool to allow for a variety of creations—in this case, a wide variety of games. Effective game-making tools must allow their users to create a variety of game genres, whether platform, first-person shooter, role-playing, strategy, trivia, or maze games, to name a few. This of course is no easy feat, since the more options a designer has in creating their own game genre, the more difficult it is for a newcomer to become acquainted with the overall design and function of the tool. After all, for new users of any game-making tool, it is much easier to begin to generate one’s own game when building on the preexisting tropes and characteristics of a traditional game genre. The game engine Sploder is a good illustration. With over four hundred thousand registered users (60 percent of them adolescents), Sploder attracts novice game designers by allowing registered users to remix one of four types of games: a platform game, a physics puzzle, an algorithm jumble, or a shooter game.16 The fact that users can build on the structure of a preexisting game is highly appealing to those with little or no prior programming or gaming experience. Rather than developing an entirely new game engine and populating it with objects, users can simply tweak the preexisting structure of these games to develop their own unique, personalized version. Sploder’s four options certainly offer a lower barrier of entry among users who have an affinity for one or more of these video game types. Yet the lack of variety overall—the tool’s lack of wide walls—means that any


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new user unfamiliar with or uninterested in these four types of video game prototypes has no other entry point option. The tool GameSalad offers even fewer options than Sploder—only variations of first-person shooter games, which is a popular game genre with adolescent boys, but tends to be far less attractive to girls and less appropriate for younger children.17 The tool Scratch, on the other hand, offers a much wider array of not only games but also all types of interactive projects from its home page. Far from just promoting the most common genres of platform, maze, and shooter, the site encourages choose-your-own-adventure storytelling, coloring games, and fashion design challenges (among others) by regularly featuring this wide range of user-generated content on its highly competitive “Featured” section. Sampling a total of 534 Scratch projects developed in a community technology center and coding each in terms of a game genre, we found a robust diversity, with 50.8 percent as interactive narrative projects (e.g., animations, interactive art, and narrative games), 7.3 percent as sports games, 2.3 percent as simulation games, and 8.8 percent distributed among other game categories, including mazes, rhythmic games, role-playing games, interactive shooter games, racing games, and platform games.18 While some projects defied categorization (22.3 percent were graphics-only files with no associated game mechanics), the numerical breakdown clearly suggests no single pathway into using Scratch. This need for wide walls extends beyond the tools themselves and has particular implications for educators too. For the past few years, there has been discussion of better integrating video game making in K–12 classrooms.19 Yet unless game making can be effectively integrated into K–12 classroom subject content, there is little chance schooling will be able to utilize the constructionist affordances of game design and development. Certainly, as indicated at the outset of this chapter, there has been documented success in utilizing game making as a way to integrate traditional K–12 content in subjects; chapter 3 outlines such burgeoning success, most notably with New York City’s Quest to Learn. But analyses of successful integration suggest that there needs to be a clear plan for subject matter alignment with the overall structure of the game-making activities for this to continue. Such alignment does not simply occur by accident or good fortune. Much of this falls of course to the teachers who head the individual classrooms. At the same time, the designers of the educational tools must be keenly aware of the role of wide walls as an absolute requirement in their

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design and refinement of their tools, because if these educational tools are to be embraced—even sampled—by teachers, they need to exhibit enough flexibility to facilitate learning within a variety of subjects and contexts. Open Windows Low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls offer some visage of a metaphoric house in terms of what game-making tools should look like. As noted above, however, we would like to add a fourth component to the consideration of computational construction kits: open windows. Where and how do children look to share the video games they create? And perhaps even more important, where and how do they look to actually learn to make these games? Community has always been tacitly recognized as one of the crucial elements facilitating any learning, from a skill as specialized as designing a video game to a capacity as fundamental as learning how to speak. Yet with the conceptions of “communities of practice” as well as Gee’s “affinity groups” and “affinity spaces,” there recently has been more of a focus from educators and researchers on understanding the role of social interplay in the learning process. Much of this directly relates to the rise of the Internet as a new way to socially interact with each other. With the advent of Web 2.0 in particular, societal understanding of what is meant (or could be meant) by the notion of “community” has shifted tremendously in a remarkably short amount of time. Chat rooms, massive online role-playing games, and certainly the seemingly ubiquitous presence of Facebook all serve as examples of communities that while termed “virtual,” also very much have their roots in the physical and real presence of daily life. This capacity “to build” too is very much characteristic of Web 2.0 technology, in which children are encouraged no longer to be passive consumers of digital media but active producers as well.20 Game making, then, is ripe as one of these new skills for shifting youths’ participation in Web-based environments from consumers to producers of digital media, and out of such production emerges not only a new DIY ethic but also new DIY communities based on shared interests. This is not to say that game-making communities did not exist prior to the Internet boom, though. In their notion of “game design,” Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (2004) continually return to the fundamental importance of audience in the development of one’s own video game, online or off-line. Even when there is no discernible audience to play one’s video game creation,


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good designers are always building and refining gameplay with a conjectured, would-be audience in mind. The capacity here to think communally along with anticipating and adapting to how potential players will react to one’s structured challenges is perhaps the single defining characteristic of an effective game designer. And this maxim does not change even if one’s audiences are decidedly local and off-line. Central to the study of elementary school children creating math games within the classroom was the component of these same elementary school children then proceeding to share these educational math games to support the learning of elementary school children. Jill Denner and colleagues likewise began to develop the role of local audiences in the design process itself, conducting a series of studies around paired programming activities that in turn fostered a series of microcommunities around game making.21 The role of community within collaborative game design also figured prominently within the Computer Clubhouse, an international network of clubs for youth, through which a vibrant game design community emerged using the tool Scratch. Over the course of two years, hundreds of different games were designed, developed, and shared within these clubhouses, with the process becoming almost a rite of passage among members.22 In terms of the migration from local communities to online, global communities, the tool Scratch deserves particular attention. Of all the game-making tools to have made strides toward the development of corresponding online communities, Scratch especially stands out as not only the first to do so but also the most successful. Dubbed “the YouTube of interactive media,” the Scratch Web site currently has over seven million registered members worldwide, and since its launch in 2007, has had over ten million projects uploaded. While many Web sites such as YouTube and Flickr support the uploading and downloading of user-generated content, the Scratch Web site is unique in that it offers a platform for users to share interactive media.23 Uploading and downloading projects on the site is not simply an exchange of information but rather an exchange of content that has been personally created, and this material can be subsequently downloaded and remixed to create entirely new projects. Consequently, the more familiar one grows with the Scratch site, the more one encounters a variety of projects and coding scripts from which one can personally sample and remix. The remarkable success of the online Scratch community has sparked similar interest among other game-making engines in extending beyond

The Creative Side 


Figure 6.2 Screenshot of Looking Glass projects. Courtesy of Looking Glass Research Group, Washington University in St. Louis.

tools and into communities. The Alice team developed the Looking Glass Community as an online extension of its game tool (see figure 6.2), while both the for-profit Kodu and GameMaker tools have developed online communities over the past few years. Even those tools that have not developed their own robust online communities for sharing and downloading games have made some headway toward an increased online presence. ToonTalk offers a series of links from its home page to external Web sites in which its users have shared their own homemade ToonTalk games. AgentSheets has partnered with the organization Ristretto to allow for publishing on the Web via Java applets, Gamestudio, and Game Editor, and have pages set aside on their respective sites for users to share and comment on screenshots of each others’ games. In terms of opening windows onto the work of others, the Scratch Web site serves as a stellar example for these other sites. With users being able


Chapter 6

to develop an online profile at the site and “friend” each other through the network, Scratch online has a personal feel that has been further fostered by recent community efforts to encourage positive peer-to-peer feedback among users, particularly from more experienced users to novices.24 The “Forums” section likewise supports collaboration online with users posting on a wide range of topics ranging from how to create more advanced scrolling games all the way to how to attract more fellow Scratch users to one’s own projects. Perhaps most interesting, the Scratch community’s collab challenges (recounted in more detail in chapter 3) invite members to form groups of two or more online or in person (or both) to participate in thematic project making. Past challenges have included musical interludes, games that incorporate three disparate objects, and choose-yourown-adventure role-playing games. With a panel of judges comprised of administrators and long-standing Scratch members alike, each challenge announces its winners on the highly coveted “Featured” front page of the Scratch Web site, offering a link (and thus more traffic) to the project itself. What likewise became clear in our examination of ninth graders participating in Scratch’s inaugural collaborative challenge was the role of remixing—or modding—other projects to refine and add to one’s original game.25 In this sense, when tools allow for such liberal modding, there is a built-in pedagogical affordance to such a practice. At the Scratch Web site, the capacity to freely access others’ code as well as tweak and build on such code offers the site a level of welcome transparency. Of course, while there have been incidents of players not appropriately citing others’ work, the capacity to liberally mod others’ work on Scratch has altogether strengthened the site as a game-making tool.26 And this is unsurprising. Good video games have always allowed for the end user to tweak gameplay. Whether it is as simple as picking one’s avatar, changing their dress, or altering the game’s sound track, these modding options allow the player to make gameplay more personal and meaningful. From Game Making to Game Modding While the tools developed for game-making activities have primarily focused on supporting academic skills and content in classroom communities, game-modding activities have centered on engaging gameplay and production in fan communities. Gaming researcher Elizabeth Hayes-Gee

The Creative Side 


argues that in research as well as practice, the distinctions between gamemaking and game-modding activities have become less apparent, drawing on computer scientist Jeanette Wing’s view of computational thinking as “having also the confidence we can safely use, modify, and influence a large complex system without understanding its every detail.”27 Tools for game modding—like the ones used for game making—can offer players low floors for facilitating simple changes of avatar designs and play levels, high ceilings for allowing complex projects and manipulations of game mechanics, wide walls for affording various opportunities for modifications that can move beyond the game itself, and open windows for sharing modifications and gaming insights in discussion forums. Studies of gaming community activities have shown that younger and older players equally take advantage of various modding opportunities. For instance, in the popular LittleBigPlanet2 console, game players are invited and often supported by the corporate company to generate their own level designs, and develop their own game rules and challenges for other players. In fact, over eight million of these user-generated designs have been developed, contributing to the emergence of a vibrant gaming community. In one case, fan-made knitting patterns for Sackboy, the game’s central avatar, have been adopted and then promoted by the corporate owner to the larger, enthusiastic player community.28 Likewise, the Sims series, especially popular among female players, has a rich modding culture where players not only create new challenges or games for other players but also discuss the appropriate use of particular commands to change the game or shortcuts to work around challenges. In tinkering with various aspect of the system, players learn technical skills that range from simple graphic manipulations to designing new levels and add-ons. Yet another example of game modding is the player-driven development of the online Apolyton University that Kurt Squire and Levi Giovanetto (2008) researched among Civilization III players. They found that a small group of players bonded together in designing instructional resources and tools to help newcomers and other players become more knowledgeable. These examples illustrate how game modding eventually leads players to turn from users into designers. Inspired by such instances of game modding, education researchers have set out to leverage metagaming practices into educational opportunities. In the case of the after-school club, researchers observed how male minority youths playing World of Warcraft engaged in various digital media and


Chapter 6

computational literacy practices as well as collective problem solving and collaborative learning.29 An after-school club focused on playing Civilization III showcased how the development of gaming expertise initially required the involvement of mentors as more knowledgeable players that gradually receded in importance as the youth players developed expertise in not only gaming dynamics but also historical understandings of time lines, terminology, and maps.30 In each case, learning to play a complex game was not done for its own sake but to help players to reflect on and articulate the valuable ideas connected to academic content. Rather than teaching the content, remaking the content for others became the preferred mode of operation. Each after-school club became an affinity culture—a learning community where ideas were shared.31 Just like the student instructional game designers in Project Headlight twenty years earlier, as portrayed in chapter 1’s introductory vignette, the learning of coding and content was not done for its own sake but instead to be shared with others. These adaptations of game-modding activities for promoting literacy and learning suggest that future developments sit at the intersection between playing and making games. Some recent tool developments for modding and making games further illustrate that first steps have been taken toward connected gaming. For instance, SimCityEDU let players not only develop and successfully manage a city and its citizens but also provides them with analytic tools for a better understanding of the constantly shifting dynamics in a simulated world.32 New features in the Scratch 2.0 environment allow members to better understand who is sharing online along with what they are sharing by getting access and programming tools that survey information from participants on the site.33 These are two different approaches, but both have the same goal of “looking under the hood” for understanding what happens in the massive and interconnected community. While experts program the tools in SimCity, players themselves program the tools in Scratch. Going forward, there is no reason that SimCity couldn’t offer programmable tools that would allow end users to customize their investigations, while preprogrammed tools in Scratch can be offered for those wanting to experience an actual simulation before designing their own. In fact, the latter approach already exists. Such efforts indeed cross the lines that have been drawn around game making and modding, informing each other in mutually beneficial ways and promoting a vision of connected gaming that values all forms of computational participation.

The Creative Side 


Connected Gaming Going Forward Papert’s statement from the preface that “perhaps the most important way in which game making is a theoretically significant domain is the emphasis it lays on importance as a category in thinking about what situations are good for learning” very much touches on why game making has mattered and will continue to do so when it comes to children’s learning. Certainly video games are crucial because they are wildly popular, and game making taps into such importance, offering children the opportunity to become more intimately part of a wider phenomenon, all the while grounding their technical and content learning in a particular construct or object-tothink-with. But in terms of an even larger takeaway, what is evident with game making’s shift from stand-alone tools to wider communities is that the really important tool is, in fact, community. Papert’s assessment of the Logo turtle as an object-to-think-with may well now be replaced with video games as-objects-to-share-with.34 These are devices that have real currency in society’s growing migration toward online partnerships. Lawrence Lessig’s (2008) work on remix suggests that the boundaries between making and sharing are growing less and less distinct by the day, and simply a cursory review of game making over the past decade well evinces this point. Those who are good at making things are increasingly also those who are good at effectively sharing things. As this trend from tools to communities indicates, to make is to share, and to share is to make. Indeed, with the release of Scratch 2.0, the MIT design team no longer makes any distinction between Scratch as a tool and Scratch as a community.35 Rather, young designers code and communicate at a single site. The expectation is that these new windows of community will ultimately make it easier to connect as well as collaborate, thus further dropping the floors, raising the ceilings, and widening the walls for everyone. This has implications for both the programmers who design these game-making platforms and the educators who would incorporate them into their classrooms. For those who design these game-making platforms, there needs to be efforts at bridging game-making tools and game-making communities; as stated previously, in addition to Scratch, the for-profits Kodu and GameMaker have already developed online communities, with Alice soon to join the trio.36 But all designers need to likewise develop and


Chapter 6

promote online forums in which users can upload their games and download others’ projects; remixing should be encouraged. They need to promote social interactivity by allowing users to “friend” each other online as well as develop their own affinity groups based on mutual interests. By allowing fellow game makers to connect online, the designers of gamemaking platforms essentially give children access to the most influential resource: their own peers. For educators, there altogether needs to be a greater focus on projectbased, collaborative learning. While the full-fledged curricular integration of New York’s Quest to Learn does not need to be the de facto model, a growing number of schools across the country, including Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy and San Diego’s High Tech High, recognize the need to embrace a constructionist approach with technology over the traditional instructionist model. If recognizing this movement from tools to communities represents one mandate for game-making educators, designers, and researchers, there are also two corollary ones. First, simply in terms of hardware, games and game making are going (some would argue, “have gone”) mobile. In his book The Young and the Digital, S. Craig Watkins (2010) describes handheld devices as the veritable “Grand Central Station” for youths under the age of twenty-one, pointing out that just over the past three years, the number of children using handheld mobile devices has jumped by as high as 141 percent annually among some populations. For designers of educational game-making tools, this means their software needs to not only be compatible but specifically designed for handheld devices too. This presents entirely new challenges technically, yet in the spirit of App Inventor, a number of tools including Game Editor have already begun to concentrate their efforts on creating and sharing via mobile devices.37 This of course also speaks to the increasing movement toward handheld objects, as described in chapter 5. The second corollary is for educators and researchers to develop practical as well as reliable assessments measuring children’s learning through game making. For game making to ultimately enter K–12 classrooms with greater frequency, there very much needs to be particular forms of assessment, if not standardized ones. The work of computer scientists Betsy DiSalvo and her colleagues at Georgia Tech described in chapter 4, with their Glitch Game Testers initiative as well as other game programming debugging activities, offers potential inroads for game-making assessment.38 By giving

The Creative Side 


students partial versions of video games, and asking them to either revise or edit portions, educators not only have activities related to game design and development but also construction-based assessments that can be measured with a fair degree of objectivity. Now more than ever before, children and educators have ready access to a remarkably wide range of game-making tools. And there are only more to come, as is evident with the new crop of funded Kickstarter projects in 2016. But if connected gaming is to really occur for all children, these elements of floors, ceilings, walls, and windows must be in place within the emerging tools, and schools themselves must recognize what some of the best game-making programs have already discovered: community is, in fact, inseparable from the tool.

7  Connected Gaming for All Chapter Connected



7 All

On October 2, 2013, an episode of Comedy Central’s long-standing South Park series focused on Minecraft, the successful indie game. In the episode, the children of South Park fear that their parents’ addiction to racy dramatized crime shows will lead to real-world violence. Using a parental content blocker, they prevent cable access with a question only a kid would know the answer to: How do you tame a horse in Minecraft? Desperate to get their cable access back, the adults of South Park resolve to learn Minecraft for themselves. Their background playing Atari 2600, however, does not help them much. Making their wooden cabins at the outset of the game, one particularly hapless parent wonders, “OK, so when does the game start?” to which the frustrated child instructor snaps, “You are playing the game! This is the game!” There is much to like about this episode’s irreverent twist of the typical concerns about gaming leading to violence. Here it is the kids, and not the adults, who are concerned and use their technical skills to block off parents. It is the kids who understand that the thrill of playing the game is in fact making the game, while their confused parents keep wondering when they can finally get to the start of the obstacle course. But besides the humor associated with this generational divide as to what qualifies as a video game, Minecraft in a television show is a clear signal that connected gaming has arrived in mainstream culture. The Minecraft episode illustrates the latest shift in digital gaming, just like an earlier South Park episode captured the expansion of gaming into everyday lives in the massive multiplayer online game World of Warcraft.1   What was so compelling and revealing about this South Park story? While many other video games have become commercial successes, none of them has ever generated as enthusiastic a reception as Minecraft. Kids love it, and parents are—well, parents are occasionally confused. Having grown up in


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the 1980s and 1990s, their points of reference for video games are situated in the consoles of their childhood such as Coleco, Atari, and the original Nintendo Entertainment System. But interestingly, whereas parents once condemned video games as the cause of childhood violence and attention deficit disorder, they now stand behind their child at the screen trying to learn how Minecraft “works.” Book after book, news report after news report over the last two decades have been decrying the dangers of video games, even in the face of contradictory evidence, as Harvard researchers Lawrence Lutner and Cheryl Olson argued.2 Yet today parents don’t seem to mind their children playing Minecraft. And this is particularly surprising given that Minecraft is popular with many younger children, who are considered an especially vulnerable audience when it comes to exposure to digital media.3 In South Park’s cheeky take on these issues, the kids are actually the ones who are trying to keep their parents out of Minecraft rather than the other way around. It is their thing, and they are the ones who understand that making and playing are synonymous. Have video games finally moved out of the corner and been recognized for the good learning environments they can be? Another startling observation of Minecraft’s success is that kids are making and playing a game with simple block-shaped figures—figures that have been designed and constructed by the players themselves. The pixelated retro look of Minecraft has little in common with the high-definition graphics of commercial video games, where professional computer graphic designers and programmers spend thousands of hours in rendering hair and water as lifelike as possible. Those were the games that inspired Gee to write about what video games can teach us concerning learning and literacy. But the DIY-inspired graphics and mentality speak to a different audience—connecting perhaps with the idea of “craft” in Minecraft. Microsoft’s purchase of Minecraft in September 2014 for a hefty US$2.5 billion clearly signals the game’s rising popularity and commercial success. What started as a Swedish game designer’s passion project has become a global phenomenon in gaming.4 Furthermore, how is it that Minecraft is now “rewriting the playbook on learning,” as digital media researcher Mizuko Ito recently claimed? She noted how geeky teachers were using Minecraft in their biology and history lessons, kids were attending summer camps in public libraries, and the International Games Day Minecraft Hunger Games tournament recently

Connected Gaming for All 


crowned its first female champion. Ito points out that many youths who have been known for mostly “hanging out and messing around” with digital media, to quote the title of her book,5 have moved into “geeking out” by making stuff and games together.6 In Minecraft, there are endless ways to level up, and player-operated servers put digital citizenship into the hands of makers, not commercial companies. None of the other learning games, even successes such as SimCity, the Sims series, or Civilization III, have scaled up to where Minecraft is now with its over one hundred million paying subscribers. Microsoft recently launched an education channel for Minecraft to harness and support these academic interests among educators, and invested in an expanded educational version with special learning tools for classrooms.7 What the story and success of Minecraft surely signals to us is a vision of connected gaming, where playing and making games is coming together rather than being apart. It is a vision in which computational participation can and will be part of everyday play.8 Ito herself noticed how Minecraft is more like Legos or the Logo programming language. In Seymour Papert’s terms: children programming the computer rather than being programmed by it. Sure, you can put school content in a Minecraft world, but at its heart, Minecraft is about constructing and problem solving in a networked social world. The blocky indie vibe just contributes to the culture of DIY creativity in Minecraft and kids feel empowered to make it their own.9

The connections between gaming, coding, and making have finally been made. In Connected Gaming, we have argued that making and playing games is a form of computational participation, and promotes solving problems with others, designing intuitive systems for and with others, and understanding the cultural and social nature of human behavior in these contexts. It is what Ito identified as “the constructing and problem solving in a networked world.”10 Previously such ideas were closely tied to concepts, practices, and perspectives fundamental to computer science, but they now are becoming markers of everyday digital citizenship. What we see in Scratch, Minecraft, and many other programming environments are the beginnings of the communal practices of constructing, remixing, and sharing that allow players to become full participants in their respective communities. The new credo is that it’s not just about playing but also about making games; this is connected gaming.


Chapter 7

Applications are increasingly being developed for children that allow them to make their own games for themselves and others, both on and off the computer. As we discussed in chapters 5 and 6, the recent spate of gamemaking kits and new generation of smart toys well illustrate that children no longer simply want interactive toys that light up and make sounds for them. Rather, they desire those toys and games that let them do the interactive designing. They want to be the ones who determine when the light blinks and the buzzer sounds. If the unprecedented success of Minecraft signals anything, it is that the tide is shifting toward constructionist gaming. Inspired by the DIY mentality that has popularized maker activities and brought back hands-on activities into education, we see a parallel trend in the digital realm where kids love to not only play their games with others but also make them with and for others. In Connected Gaming, we have attempted to bring these two aspects of computation and participation together in the context of making and playing games to better address the challenge of engaging youths in the digital public. Having the chance to participate and collaborate in communities of programming and gaming is key to becoming an active contributor, not just a consumer of digital media and devices. We are both optimistic and cautious about the possibilities of making that happen. The current enthusiastic reception of Minecraft certainly showcases some of what often accompanies the “technology of the moment.” From our previous book, Connected Code, we know that having kids program games, placing them in groups, and encouraging them to remix code will hardly address all the challenges associated with broadening access and deepening participation in the digital public. Likewise, our observations of tweens in virtual worlds in Connected Play indicate that having kids migrate online is not sufficient to broaden access and deepen participation. There need to be Web sites committed to providing multiple and continuous opportunities for participation if we expect children to develop their digital identities. In the following sections, we examine how we can understand learning and literacy in serious gaming, and how connected gaming can be realized in educational contexts as well as discuss the different opportunities and challenges we see in broadening and deepening computational participation at large.

Connected Gaming for All 


Situating Learning and Literacy in Connected Gaming When Gee asserted that playing video games can teach us about learning and literacy, he made the point that games embody many of the promising features that we should seek in learning environments, digital or not. Among them he highlighted the social nature of play that required players to work together to solve problems and overcome challenges, the motivational efforts players needed in moving ahead in the game, and the contextual prerequisites that play provided for an authentic reading and writing of text. He also maintained that while games promoted many of these aspects, educators shouldn’t take this as a call to turn everything into a game. But this is what has become the impetus for much of the serious gaming movement, which sees the educational effectiveness of digital gameplay entirely in terms of how it engages the learner with little or no attention paid to the wider context in which gameplay occurs. In fact, as the authors of a report by MIT’s Education Arcade stated, “Advocates for game-based learning tend to adopt one of two very different approaches to designing games for formal education.”11 The first group promotes commercial gaming such as that observed in World of Warcraft and Civilization as the ideal, and argues that the interactivity and immersiveness of these video games far exceeds schools’ capacity to consistently engage young learners in the digital media that increasingly characterizes twenty-first-century life. The second group, however, generally eschews commercial games, and instead focuses on educational games such as Word Island and Math Blaster that serve to reinforce traditional academic content areas, particularly within mathematics and reading. As the report observes, while “the first group embraces games and abandons school, this second group often embraces school to the detriment of anything that looks like real gaming.”12 Video games or school games? Clearly such a divide exists. Ask any student between the ages of eight and eighteen to point out the difference between a commercial and educational video game, and they typically will be able to spot it within a few minutes of actual gameplay, if not a few seconds. Is the game ultimately about the game, or is it merely a thin veil for skilling-and-drilling academic content? Is there a narrative or story line that goes beyond the retention of vocabulary words and math equations? These beg another question: Is there a middle ground between popular


Chapter 7

gaming and educational gaming? This has been the leading query that educational game designers and educators alike have focused on when it comes to more effectively and widely integrating games into formal learning environments. The serious gaming movement, expanding on Gee’s points, has consistently posited that the educational potential of games sits somewhere between commercial products and skill-and-drill exercises, and thus searched for this middle ground. In contrast, we contend that the real solution does not fall somewhere between the commercial and educational but rather is situated between the practice of playing and making games, thereby combining constructionist and instructionist efforts in serious gaming. Gee himself made this connection between playing and making when he reflected in a later paper that “in fact, it is a crucial learning principle that people learn best when they have an opportunity to talk (and write) about what they are learning. I may well have learned more by writing this book than anyone has by reading it.”13 While he was commenting on writing his own books and papers, writing like programming is a maker activity where people construct an artifact, and it doesn’t matter whether the artifact is digital, material, or hybrid. As we noted at the outset of this book, the current discussions on serious gaming for the most part have revolved around playing games for learning.14 In particular, Gee’s learning principles have articulated what there is to gain from playing games. We find that these principles about community, literacy, and motivation also apply to making games for learning. What works for playing games for learning also works in making games for learning. And why not? Gee’s main point was that games were great examples of learning environments, but this didn’t mean that everything had to be a game to be played; it could also be a game made—to reference the title of Papert’s preface. In Connected Gaming, we have brought together these previously separate strands of discussions because gamers and gaming itself, as we have argued, have already incorporated them in their play. We see it in commercial and educational contexts that provide platforms for both playing and making games.15 Serious gaming should follow suit tearing down the boundaries that have been erected between instructionist and constructionist gaming. Moving beyond the specifics of gaming, on how and where learning takes place, the larger assertion pertains to the questions of literacy, on what is

Connected Gaming for All 


being learned. Here we want to restate clearly what we already articulated in Connected Code, outlining rationales on why children needed to learn programming for developing what we called “computational participation,” or “the ability to solve problems with others, design intuitive systems for and with others, and understand the cultural and social nature of human behavior by drawing on the concepts, practices, and perspectives fundamental to computer science.”16 In promoting computational participation, our goal is not that all children should become computer scientists. Few of them, in fact, will write the code and design the systems that undergird our daily life, but they all will need to understand code to be able to constructively, creatively, and critically examine digital designs along with the decisions that impact their daily life.17 As we wrote before, On a functional level, a basic understanding of code allows for an understanding of the design and functionalities that underlie all aspects of interfaces, technologies, and systems we encounter daily. On a political level, understanding code empowers and provides everyone with resources to examine and question the design decisions that populate their screens. Finally, on a personal level, everyone needs and uses code in some ways for expressive purposes to better communicate, interact with others, and build relationships.18

These understandings are key in the twenty-first century because we all are users of digital technologies for different purposes, be it functional, political, or personal. This is the function of literacy, of any literacy. In playing and making games, we come to understand, change, and remake the digital world in which we live as well as participate. How can such efforts be implemented in classrooms, clubs, and communities more intentionally? Formally Implementing Connected Gaming for Learning We now have evidence that it is possible to engage students in making games and learning about computational concepts, practices, and perspectives while also learning about academic content and metacognitve skills. Like their instructionist counterpart, constructionist gaming provides students with social, motivational, and contextual supports for learning and literacy. To move the conversation about serious gaming out of their respective ivory towers and ahead, it might be worthwhile asking: What can constructionist and instructionist approaches learn from each other? The most obvious answer is to argue for connected gaming in order to bring


Chapter 7

playing and making together. But before we consider this, we want to look at the steps before that, where we consider including elements of each, thus expanding what either playing or making games for learning efforts can do. This would allow us to build on the substantial knowledge base that hundreds of researchers have built over the last decade in designing, examining, and testing instructional efforts. For instructionist gaming, we see the most direct applications stemming from efforts to promote game modding—those activities that already add design to game playing. The level of design, obviously, can range from modifying characters and levels to actually building new games. Hayes-Gee drew on Wing’s view of computational thinking to build a bridge between game-making and game-modding efforts by highlighting that we also need to have “the confidence we can safely use, modify, and influence a large complex system without understanding its every detail.”19 The ability to manage complex systems, whether it is in designing or modifying them, is certainly one of the hallmarks of computational participation. As explored in chapter 6, tools for game modding like tools for game making can offer low floors for facilitating beginnings and simple changes, high ceilings for allowing complex projects and manipulations, wide walls for addressing multiple interests in what can be modified, and open windows for increasing social participation. In modding various aspects of the system, players learn technical skills that range from simple graphic manipulations to designing new levels and add-ons. Game modding eventually leads players to turn from users into designers.20 We see equal benefit in engaging players intentionally in metagaming activities that are part of the larger gaming ecology such as discussion forums, reviews, cheat sites, and extensive mods. These metagaming activities require players to move from an “in-the-play” stance to a more reflective one that evaluates their own gameplay and that of others. Participating in discussion forums where players share strategies to overcome challenges or develop theories on how the game is developed leads players to examine the structures and dynamics of how the system is designed. Writing reviews is another approach that can lead players to evaluate the game and play for others, and engages them in articulating and reviewing strategies as well as knowledge they have learned. From analyzing cheat sites, we know that players not only use them but also design them to share their understanding of the game with others. We noted before how the design of games can

Connected Gaming for All 


have players just look for a right answer, and hence not require much of the cheat site designer other than posting information.21 But instructional games can also be designed in such a way that simple cheating is not possible. Here problems can have more than one right answer and would require cheat designers to invest more efforts in providing solutions. Furthermore, we see benefit in promoting hybrids like the sandbox games discussed in chapter 6 that were developed by Holbert and Wilensky. Here instructional design and constructionist activities are integrated by using the microworlds approach promoted earlier in constructionism for situating students’ learning experiences in domain-specific contexts. When students not only can experience a frictionless world but also begin to modify and experiment with key parameters, they are both players and designers. We see the boundaries here between instructionist and constructionist gaming falling apart. These efforts bring content specialists and computational designers together, thinking about how to support learning from both sides. These hybrids challenge us to reconsider where the playing and making are, and how we can leverage the best of both worlds. Likewise, what can we learn from our instructionist counterparts in making games for learning a richer enterprise? One element that stands out is the performative aspect of gameplay that could benefit from more attention in game making. What we mean by this is that games are not only made but need to be played too. We noted in various projects how designers often served as play testers for their own games and those of others. In past software design studies, we have always emphasized this use aspect by, for instance, bringing in younger students for whom the games were designed for usability sessions. These usability sessions are part of professional software design, also called “user-centered design,” where designers want to make sure that the users actually can use the software. Such sessions are not only conducted at the end when the software is finished but throughout the process as well to capture any design mistakes before they become too deeply ingrained in the software interface and architecture. We have used such testing sessions with great success in the past, often lasting no longer than ten to fifteen minutes, during which the aspiring designers get essential feedback on their designs and functions while the users learn how to engage in constructive criticism.22 We can further strengthen the audience dimension of constructionist gaming by adding other events in which the game designs are not only


Chapter 7

played but also evaluated. We noted in chapter 3 how competitions like the STEM National Video Game Challenge provide a possible authentic context for game designers to share their games and learn from each other. Such challenges can serve as an outside audience and motivator for students to complete their designs. We have experimented with various formats such as challenges and camps to remove the competitive streak as well as emphasize the collaborative nature of such public events. We found here that offering feedback even in the middle of the design process, rather than just highlighting winners at the end, led to the most profound changes and improvements in software designs.23 Finally, we want to stress the role of instructional design for facilitating constructionist activities. While this seems like a contradiction, engaging students in constructionist gaming doesn’t mean that they have to start from scratch—no pun intended. In chapter 5, in which we discussed game design beyond the screen, we gave several examples of how we provided customized starter activities and controller designs to students so that they could be successful within the confines of school project time, given their beginning engineering and programming skills. We realized early on that many of these projects required material knowledge and software skills that were beyond the scope of an instructional school unit, with its limited number of hours and teacher expertise, and also cannot rely on students completing work outside class, as is the case with college students. Designing such scaffolds and making decisions on what to “black box” and where to leave design open for students is a tricky business. It frequently requires multiple iterations of a project idea with different groups of students to understand progressions, but also stumbling blocks both from the student and teacher sides. We think that this is a fruitful avenue for future research. But ultimately, we want to think about platforms that combine playing and making games under one umbrella. It is obvious from our multiple explorations of Minecraft throughout the book that this is becoming a reality. With Microsoft offering an educational channel and an expanded educational version, it is clear where some commercial companies—in this case, one of the world’s largest software companies no less—see the directions of serious gaming. What would playing and making games in a classroom setting mean? So far, most examples have been developed by the first wave of intrepid teachers on their own. What would it mean for other teachers not equipped with the same kind of technical expertise or experience in

Connected Gaming for All 


Minecraft to follow suit? What are we to make of the subscription-based model that requires payment for each student account in Minecraft given the cash-strapped situation of many school districts? How can we, in the spirit of the indie arcade, foster more developments that promote not just commercial gaming themes but also open up to other communities? These are the questions—among many more—that we predict will occupy researchers, designers, and teachers in the coming years. We are hopeful but also cautious about what we expect of connected gaming. Most important, we realize that not everyone has access to these opportunities, and this is why we need to discuss challenges and opportunities around broadening as well as deepening computational participation. Broadening Participation in Connected Gaming While we see the many benefits of connected gaming, we are woefully aware of the many challenges in getting everyone involved in making, playing, and participating. Not only inviting but also sustaining participation in fact might be one of the biggest challenges that Minecraft and other online communities face in becoming viable learning communities for all. The millions of makers that have accounts for Minecraft and millions of projects that have been posted on the Scratch site suggest a broad as well as extensive range of participation. But this is not the case. The sheer numbers actually mask a lack of diversity in participants and projects, as we observed in chapter 4. The lack of participation by women and minorities in digital production has been a perennial issue, and the situation in gaming is no exception. Contrary to many individual success stories, we know that not everyone joins and is as heavily involved in games as the massive numbers seem to indicate. As a first step, we need to be concerned with who comes and who doesn’t. Ito and her colleagues already pointed out in their multisite ethnography that many youths hang out and mess around, yet few move into the geeking out seen in creative online communities such as Minecraft, Newgrounds, and Scratch that we described in earlier chapters.24 We know firsthand from research with Scratch in classrooms that many students indeed were not interested in posting their programs to the online Scratch community.25 We initially assumed that students would be eager to find out what other kids, much in their same age range, had created and posted online.


Chapter 7

Much to our surprise, they were neither interested in joining nor browsing other content on the site at first. We should take such resistance as an indicator that not everyone feels comfortable in joining and participating in online communities. Just because you can access it online, doesn’t make it accessible to everyone. Even in online communities such as Scratch, which unlike Minecraft do not require a monthly subscription fee, this is the case. We certainly need a better understanding of what and where those initial stumbling blocks are that impede moving into online creative communities, what signals to new users that they are welcome, and perhaps even more important, who is invited into the clubhouse. There are simple things like having customizable characters that not only allow different genders but also different races. Minecraft just recently added a female player, Alex, to its default player character, Steve; Apple introduced emojis with different skin colors; Whyville even lets players choose the skin color and gender of their first avatars.26 These are small but important steps in getting more players involved, signaling to them that everyone can have a representation online. Further examples target activities themselves, and provide opportunities to collaborate while inviting newcomers to join the club.27 The case of Gray Bear Productions discussed in chapter 3 well illustrates that some players can organize such productive collaborations on their own, perhaps because they know each other or have certain skills, but newcomers especially have a much harder time joining the fold. Beyond the first steps of joining the clubhouses of computing, gaming, and making, we need to understand who is participating and in what ways. What we know from the few available studies is that while millions of players are registered, in fact only a relatively small percentage of players actually participate. In mining the back-end data of two massive online youth communities, we have gained a fairly good understanding of how this plays out. In the case of Whyville, a virtual world for tweens, we found that at most, five percent of the players were the most active in all types of social networking and participation whereas the other half only became tangentially involved in many of the available activities.28 We also observed that participation fluctuates in quantity and quality over time; it is neither a gradual linear increase nor a constant that many imagine. In the case of Scratch, the youth online programming community, we found that about 10 percent of the contributors were the most active in not just posting projects but commenting on them too.29 But continued forms of extensive

Connected Gaming for All 


participation were limited to this small group of Scratch members. In other words, the vast majority of content that we encounter online is produced by a minority of the participants. We can also look at the area of independent gaming movement, which like its counterpart in the film industry, has been growing in significance and popularity. Many consider it the incubator of innovation in gaming since the Hollywood-like production of many commercial video games makes experimentation with well-established formats a financially risky business. There is now more than one game to play and make, and just as the gaming population has broadened, so can the game design become a design activity in its own right. This doesn’t always mean that we need to have special games just for girls or provide gender-friendly assets to make game design more palatable to them.30 It means that we can look at game design as a medium of expression in the digital realm, just like movies, animations, and graphics are. From a pedagogical standpoint, we can be more considerate about what kinds of topics and tools we choose, and in which context game design takes place, as demonstrated in a recent study where girls designed different games when either with other girls or a boy.31 The task of broadening participation in connected gaming likewise needs to consider both individualism and autonomy. There needs to be a call to make children not only more discerning in their use of such media but also more creative and entrepreneurial in nature. This is the mandate, reformers assert, not only for the individual child; it applies to this country’s entire education system. In terms of game making, this DIY community is as focused on the design and artistic elements characteristic of effective gameplay, since they are the technical and content components. Also imperative to the DIY ethic is the role of peer collaboration, for despite the “scrappy, go-at-it-alone” sensibility associated with the term, “DIY” entails developing networks of like-minded creators, leading media theorist Henry Jenkins to rechristen DIY media as “do-it-ourselves” media instead.32 Given the educational significance of these elements of autonomy and collaboration, it is important to add this DIY perspective to those of the technical and literate when evaluating the tools and communities for educational game making. Deepening Participation in Connected Gaming Beyond increasing access and broadening participation, we need to be concerned with deepening computational participation. And here is where


Chapter 7

the real challenge lies. Getting more kids into the clubhouses of gaming, computing, and making, and opening these up to more diverse groups of players and makers, is critical. But once they are there, we need to be concerned with how we can engage them more deeply so that their participation can become the meaningful and enriching learning experience it is meant to be. From what we discussed in chapters 2 and 3, we know that such engagements in content, coding, and collaboration are hard to come by; in fact, the majority of teams never complete a project in online creative productions “in the wild.” We could argue that the players and makers in such failed collaborations might learn some important lessons, perhaps in the spirit of the popular concept of “productive failure” that has proven in more confined activities that many learners benefit from failing to solve problems in the first round, but then are more successful when facing the problem the next time.33 While we do not have empirical evidence for this in the context of the more complex, open-ended, and long-term projects of making games, we can see the appeal that at least attempting to make something can be a valuable learning experience on its own. Ultimately, though, we are concerned with ensuring that computational participation does not become limited to a select few who can read and write the code that undergirds much of our digital life; instead, all should be able to engage in the multiple facets that comprise life in the digital public. We thus cannot rely on the accidental success stories but rather need to figure out ways in which competencies can be developed by all. This brings us back to the first game-making project that took place in Project Headlight, an experiment started in the 1980s to “invent the future,” because, as computer pioneer Alan Kay quipped, this is best way to predict it. Constructionist gaming was meant to be a model for how we could envision the integration of digital technologies in learning and teaching in school. It was the idea of situating the learning of coding by creating a finished product, or application, from beginning to end, which was meant to provide the full learning experience. It was the goal of connecting coding to mathematics, language arts, and the arts as opposed to seeing it as a standalone activity. It was the notion of having an audience, a social context, for sharing and using the games. All these ideas have been picked up in more recent efforts such as the Quest to Learn schools, Globaloria platform, and STEM National Video Game Challenge.

Connected Gaming for All 


Moreover, we need to realize that while playing and making games are important stepping-stones toward computational participation, these activities are not enough alone. The fuller forms of computational participation only emerge once projects are also discussed, critiqued, and exchanged.34 Particularly relevant to this conversation is recent research that found posting content on the Scratch site was a baseline for all visible participation, followed by downloading and only then by commenting. In the Scratch community at least, commenting is one of the first signs of social interaction beyond the more one-sided sharing of a project or downloading another’s project. Thus, although commenting is one of many optional activities on Scratch, it provides one of the richer proofs of kids’ participation. Learning to code involves not just learning the technicalities of programming languages and common algorithms but also draws from the social practices within programming communities. In other words, learning coding not only encompasses an acquisition of technical skills but also is appropriated within a social context. These are not isolated findings from two online youth communities, both with an admittedly educational focus. It could well be that commercial sites that require subscriptions engage players in more extensive ways since they involve a financial commitment. But this is not the case either. From a recent survey of over hundred kid-oriented DIY media sites, education researchers Sara Grimes and Deborah Fields found that while many of these sites invite making, not a lot of sharing is going on, and as such, most participants are missing out on elements key for developing computational participation.35 While such sharing is more actively invited and fostered in education-oriented sites like Scratch and Whyville, it is still a rare yet critical feature on many commercial sites that often limit exchanges between participants. With the increased interest in getting kids into coding, the importance that such communities play in providing access and participation to computation will only grow. While instructionist gaming has made it into schools as a tool to enhance and support the learning of academics, constructionist gaming buys us the added advantage of introducing computing. More recent developments have added a new layer to the potential of making games for learning. Educators, researchers, and general enthusiasts now situate game making in the field of new media literacies, and emphasize benefits such as systemsbased thinking and critical engagement with media.36 The push to consider


Chapter 7

game making as educationally significant enough to be a literacy or one of many literacies, as we’ve remarked, has proved to be a powerful leverage point in terms of reconsidering what skills and content K–12 schools value as well as instill in their students. The goal is not necessarily to produce legions of professional game designers but rather to give young learners the opportunity to design, develop, and debug their own digital content, and in the process, better grasp the nature of Web-based media along with the potential to collaborate through such media on project-based assessments. More than twenty years ago, gaming and computing were considered curious niches in education, but now they are worldwide industries surpassing the movie industry in income and relevance. Game design programs have started at many universities to prepare the profession, and computer science programs once again have become popular on campus. Furthermore, gaming has become part of all aspects of life, as the success of gamification illustrates.37 Digital games are no longer just a medium. They have also become a method to transform learning and everyday activity.

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In a 1971 MIT memo titled “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer,” computer science educators Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon outlined a bold vision of how computers could help children learn by using a language called Logo.1 Learning programming, they wrote, would allow learners to converse and interact with a computer, and introduce new ways of learning. These ideas became the foundation and material for Mindstorms, the book that Papert would write a few years later. In the memo, though,

Figure 8.1



they suggested a variety of activities that could engage children in programming: making a turtle draw images on paper by programming a pen to lift up and down; programming behaviors so that the turtle could follow a lined pathway; or engaging in geometry by writing a program for the turtle to draw spirals. There was even the possibility of playing and programming one’s own game, titled Play Spacewar (see figure 8.1). It was already there, outlined in a few sentences: the combined vision for playing and making games as mutually beneficial and complementary processes. The memo concludes its list of recommendations by asking the reader to come up with twenty more things to do with a computer. This tongue-in-cheek reference to recursion, encouraging an infinite flow of ideas, is very much in the spirit of connected gaming, which links together the playing and making of games. So what is on your list of twenty?

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The first book on making games and learning, Minds in Play, was published in 1995. But the timing wasn’t right. On the one hand, the programming in schools movement had run its course to completion by the early 1990s. Glossy, multimedia CD-ROMs marked the “new” technology back then. Why program when all you had to do was point and click to interact with the machine? On the other hand, discussions about the impact of video games focused mostly on the negative side, with such games promoting violence and misogyny among the country’s youths. The serious gaming movement wasn’t to pick up steam until a good decade later. Happily times do change, though. If there ever was a fertile period for talking about gaming, computing, and learning, it is now. Many people have been supporters of the ideas promoted in this book. There is Eliot Soloway, who invited Yasmin to come to Yale University to join his research group in the 1980s and opened many doors in the community. Most certainly this includes Seymour Papert, whose intrepid mind was never constrained by conventional boundaries, and who understood something about the motivating and constructive nature of learning. There is also Idit Harel, alongside with David Perkins, whose support, ideas, and enthusiasm shepherded the dissertation research of game design for learning—something that she has now successfully extended with Globaloria into a nationwide and award-winning program. Education innovator Doreen Gehry Nelson has been our kindred spirit, yet long before us understood that it is about agency and empowerment in student learning and teaching, as she showcased in her City Building Education program. And Megan Franke, who saw the potential in games for asking critical question about teaching and learning mathematics in teacher education.



From 1989 to 1994, many members of the Epistemology and Learning Research group, and then Learning and Common Sense group, at the MIT Media Lab in Boston contributed to conversations: Edith Ackerman, Aaron Brandes, Amy Bruckman, Aaron Falbel, Greg Gargarian, Ricki Goldman, Nira Granott, Paula Hooper, Jacqueline Karaslaanian, Fred Martin, Nicholas Negroponte, Steve Ocko, Michele Evard Perez, Mitchel Resnick, Judy Sachter, Alan Shaw, Brian Silverman, Carol Sperry, Carol Strohecker, Hillel Weintraub, and Uri Wilensky as well as many teachers at Project Headlight, among them Marquita Minot, Gwen Gibson, and late principal Eleanor Perry. In particular, Joanne Ronkin deserves a shout-out for being a model teacher and innovator in bringing the first game design project featured in Minds in Play into her classroom. Conversations around games and learning continued at the University of California at Los Angeles with graduate students Daniel Battey and Cynthia Carter Ching, and then moved out of school into the Computer Clubhouses in Los Angeles. Here, most notably Kylie Peppler contributed her perspectives on creativity and computing as we were prototyping the development of Scratch together with colleagues at the MIT Media Lab. While schools were not quite ready for games, the hundreds of youths at the Computer Clubhouses showed us otherwise: making games in Scratch was one of their most popular activities. Thanks to Natashka Jones and James Watson of the South Los Angeles Computer Clubhouse Youth Opportunities Unlimited for welcoming us into their neighborhood and community along with dozens of University of California undergraduates as mentors. At the University of Pennsylvania, game design moved online. Working with Chad Mote at the Penn Alexander School, we developed the school’s inaugural game-making competition using Scratch. The game-making activities subsequently began to include DIY interfaces. Here Richard Lee Davis, Eunkyoung Lee, and Gabriela Richard examined the design of tangible and wearable game controllers and augmented board games. Veena Vasudevan in particular was instrumental in implementing and understanding the various projects with high school and middle students that were described in chapter 5. Many people in Philadelphia helped pave the way for this work in their schools and classrooms, among them Chris Lehman and Luke van Meter at the Science Leadership Academy, and Peter Endriss at the Penn Alexander School.



In terms of the writing process, we also wish to thank many others who have contributed at various stages to this book. Specifically, we would like to acknowledge Doug Clark and Deborah Fields, each of whom provided detailed comments on an earlier manuscript. Our gratitude as well to the people who have helped with locating and contributing images from their archives for chapter illustrations or helped clarifying legal issues (here’s to you Mattel and Barbie, Remixed!): Casey Fiesler, Paul Gentile, Nathan Holbert, Caitlin Kelleher, Daryl Moran, Alex Repenning, Jay Silver, and Veena Vasudevan. Our book editor at the MIT Press, Susan Buckley, was a wonderful sounding board, always offering thoughtful and honest feedback as this manuscript evolved. Our work would have not been possible without the support of the National Science Foundation, which over the last twenty years has generously funded and kept alive ideas around computing, gaming, and learning that resulted in the research studies whose cumulative insights are captured in this book. While we have to add the customary disclaimer that any opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this book are ours, and thus do not reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, we are thankful for its instrumental support. Finally, we want to thank our families and friends who have supported us in various ways with patience and encouragement in writing this as well as the previous book. We all are happy that the work has been completed, and that now we can go play and make some games of our own!   Yasmin B. Kafai and Quinn Burke Summer 2016

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Chapter 1: Introduction 1.  The narration is drawn from a short video that Idit Harel produced in 1991 on the game design project, described in Kafai 1995. For the full video, see https://www (accessed March 24, 2016). 2.  For information about the serious games movement, see http://www������������������������������������������������������� (accessed March 28, 2016). For more examples of seri� ous games, see (accessed March 28, 2016). For a mainstream summary of current efforts in serious gaming, see Toppo 2012. For academic perspectives about the field of instructionist gaming, and in particular, a work that makes the case for video games as learning environments, see Gee 2003. For a look at educational or epis� temic game designs, see Shaffer 2007. For an outline of serious gaming design, see Squire 2011. In addition, several studies have recently examined the various learn� ing benefits of playing games for learning. The verdict reached by these meta-analy� ses is decidedly mixed: while one meta-analysis found significant impact (Wouters et al. 2013), others were more hesitant in their assessment of impact (Clark et al. 2013; Girard, Ecalle, and Magant 2012; Vogel et al. 2013), and still others were downright dismissive of the motivation and cognitive benefits claimed by serious gaming (e.g., Young et al. 2012). 3.  Numerous initiatives have funded research on the design, implementation, and evaluation of educational games. Funding sources include, among many others, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Melinda and Bill Gates Founda� tion, and Knight Foundation as well as federal funding through the National Science Foundation. Alongside private and public money, numerous conferences such as Digital Games Research Association, Foundations of Digital Games, Games for Change, Serious Play, and Games, Learning, and Society were launched. A report by the National Research Council evaluated effectivess of learning through games (2011a). New academic journals such as Games and Culture and the International Journal of Learning and Media were started, and older ones such as Simulations and Gaming



expanded their scope. Constance Steinkuehler Squire was appointed as the first senior policy analyst on serious gaming to the White House Office of Science and Technology in September 2011. In 2013, Mark DeLoura took over the position. 4.  For the first accounts, see Kafai 1995, 2006. For more comprehensive overviews on different efforts in constructionist gaming, see Kafai and Burke 2015; Earp 2015; Hayes and Games 2008. Jill Denner and Shannon Campe (2013) are currently con� ducting a more extensive and systematic synthesis of research on making games for learning, funded by a grant by the National Science Foundation (#1252276). 5.  See preface herein. See also Kafai 1995, i–iv. 6.  For this definition of modding, see Sotamaa 2007, 1. The term “playbour” (e.g., “play” + “labour”) was coined by Julian Kücklich (2005) to describe modding. For discussions of game modding and its various forms, see Hayes-Gee and Tran 2015; Postigo 2007; El-Nasr and Smith 2006; Scacchi 2010. Some of the most interesting modifications are the grand, full-scale ones—some of which even turn out to be more popular than the original commercial game. Such was the case with the firstperson shooter game Counter-Strike, which started as a mod of the video game HalfLife, which itself was a mod on Quake and the Doom. Gaming researcher Walter Scacchi (2010) notes that “as the success of the CS (Counter-Strike) mod gave rise to millions of players preferring to play the mod over the original HL (Half Life) game, then other modders began to access the CS mode to further convert in part or full, to the point that Valve Software modified its game development and distribution business model to embrace game modding as part of the game play experience that is available to players who acquire a licensed copy of the HL family.” 7.  For the “official” tribute page, see (accessed March 28, 2016). 8.  For a work that encourages such modding as part of gameplay until the next ver� sion becomes available, see El-Nasr and Smith 2006. 9.  For a list of the top ten Doom mods ever, see GamesRadar, http://www (accessed March 28, 2016). 10.  A closer examination of gaming cultures reveals that many rich learning activi� ties happen in the context of what Gee’s (2003) notion of metagaming, in which play extends beyond the game, and includes participating in online discussion forums (Steinkuehler and Duncan 2008), developing cheats (Hayes and Gee 2010; Hayes and King 2009), and even developing cheat sites (Kafai and Fields 2013) that invariably accompany each available game and virtual world. Developing cheat sites and hosting discussion forums not just involves technical skills but also connects game playing with game making. For instance, cheat sites are not limited to adult commercial games but are popular with younger players, too. While educators are conditioned to treat cheating as wholly unfair and unproductive behavior, in fact



the designers of cheat sites and the cheaters themselves often are innovators in their digressions from the norm. Finding “openings” in gameplay, they reveal the weak� ness in the game design and structure, and give the end user the opportunity to remake gameplay to their own advantage. And more simply, games that can be “cheated” are invariably more fun, leading the gaming industry to deliberately build in certain glitches and hidden sequences (e.g., “Easter eggs”) that are eminently dis� coverable. Some, like gaming researcher Mia Consalvo (2007) observed, believe that cheating even becomes a form of gaming capital that players accrue in mastering the game. Making cheat sites and discussion forums are part of playing games, and illus� trate that creative activities are connected to gaming, even if situated outside the game. 11.  For analysis on discussion forum activities in World of Warcraft, see Steinkuehler and Duncan 2008. For discussion forums and teaching guides for Civilization III, see Squire and Giovanetto 2008. For modding in LittleBigPlanet, see Grimes 2015; Rafa� low and Tekinbas 2014; Ross Homes, and Tomlinson 2012. 12.  For more detail on the history of Minecraft, see Goldberg and Larsson 2014. For research about various Minecraft activities, see Garrelts 2014. For those interested in using Minecraft in classrooms, see Dikkers 2015. 13.  Several publications have captured the maker or DIY movement starting with the flagship magazine Make by Dale Dougherty, the public figurehead and owner of O’Reilly Publications, in addition to Frauenfelder 2010; Anderson 2012; and Hatch 2013. Likewise, see Knobel and Lankshear 2010; Gauntlett 2011; and Honey and Kanter 2013. For a look at the maker movement from the education side, see Pep� pler, Halverson, and Kafai 2016a, 2016b. 14.  Ito et al. 2009. 15.  Swalwell (2012, p. 4) documents that in the early days of microcomputers, this DIY mentality of hacking interface devices for games and modding the games them� selves was part of gaming. For similar developments in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, see Švelch 2013. 16.  Lenhart, Jones, and MacGill 2008. 17.  Kafai and Burke 2014. See also Stevens, Boden, and von Rekowski 2013. 18.  For business developments, see Dougherty and Kulasooriya 2014; Hagel, Brown, and Kulasooriyya 2014. For the education side, see Honey and Kanter 2013; Harvard Educational Review (Fall 2014), -review-volume-84-number-3 (accessed March 29, 2016). For reference to the coder movement, see Resnick 2014. 19.  Wing 2006, 33. For a more comprehensive overview, see Grover and Pea 2013; National Research Council 2010, 2011b.



20.  Kafai and Burke 2014. 21.  For a more extensive discussion on learning benefits, see chapters 2 and 3 herein. See also Earp 2015; Hayes and Games 2008; Kafai and Burke 2015. 22.  Vos, van der Meijden, and Denessen 2011. 23.  Killi 2005; Kim, Park, and Baek 2009. 24.  For an introduction to objects-to-think-with, see Papert 1980. For extensions of the concept, see Kafai and Burke 2014. See also Stevens, Boden, and von Rekowski 2013. 25.  This sociocultural turn in learning theories has been promoted in Cole 1998; Lave and Wenger 1991. 26.  For the most recent data on the diversity of employees in Silicon Valley compa� nies, see  jmpmlNwiynyQhpMi6JM/edit#gid=0 (accessed March 29, 2016). See also Swift 2010. For more recent data on diversity in gamer populations, see the annually updated essential fact sheet produced by the Entertainment Software Association, (accessed March 29, 2016). For discussions of diversity in maker communities, see Buechley and Hill 2013; Brahms and Crowley 2016.

Chapter 2: The Serious Side 1.  For more information on the project and other games designed in the astronomy game design project, see Kafai 1998. This project was conducted a year after the fraction game design project in the same school, and the same teacher, but with a different group of students, examined a different academic context—science rather than mathematics. Findings on gender differences in game designs from this project are discussed in more detail in chapter 4. 2.  In Mindstorms, Papert (1980) promoted children learning Logo programming as far more than a technical exercise; he instead understood it as a means to be more creative with computers. Wally Feurzeig (2010) and a team at BBN designed the Logo language itself. For an extended discussion—pursuing Papert’s initial vision— of situating programming in long-term, complex, and personally meaningful con� texts, see Harel and Papert 1990; Palumbo 1990. 3.  For distinct perspectives on the value of video games, industry, and players in the 1980s, see Herz 1997; Provenzo 1991. 4.  For more detail on the history of programming in schools, see Kafai and Burke 2014. 5.  For research on a collection of games using paper, dice, and cards to teach math� ematics concepts, see Bright, Harvey, and Wheeler 1985.



6.  For a research overview on play, see Fromberg and Bergen 1998. For one of the first studies that examined computer use and gameplay at home, see Giaquinta, Bauer, and Levin 1993; see also Kafai et al. 2002. 7.  For a discussion of learning in game play, see Gee 2003. For a look at the appeals of video game playing for boys, see Jenkins 1998. 8.  Kafai 1995, iii. See also preface herein. 9.  For more detail on the developmental role of play and games, see Piaget 1951. For an extended treatment on the value of making games, see Kafai 1995, 2006. 10.  While Wing (2006) popularized the term in an essay of the same name, it was Papert (1996) who introduced the term in a paper to capture the essence of what computation had to offer to mathematical thinking. 11.  Programming’s failure to promote problem solving and planning among chil� dren in alternative contexts was researched first by Roy Pea and D. Midian Kurland (1983, 1984). But it is also worthwhile to examine a critique of the research design by Celia Hoyles and Richard Noss (1996). Palumbo (1990) published an extensive review of the various designs of programming interventions in K–12 schools that is likewise worth considering in weighing the role of educational context. 12.  For work on situated cognition, see Lave 1988; Lave and Wenger 1991. For a more comprehensive overview on how people learn, see Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000. 13.  As evident with the vignette that begins this chapter, there are multiple learning outcomes associated with introductory coding activities; for a review of construc� tionist gaming research over the past decade and more about the various outcomes, see Kafai and Burke 2015. Examining a total of fifty-six studies around children making their own video games since 2005, the authors find that 44 percent of the studies focused on children developing computational strategies to problem solve; 34 percent explicitly dealt with children learning computational concepts; 27 per� cent examined shifts in learners’ perspectives about the nature of programming and computer science; 34 percent looked at children’s own sense of learning as a particu� lar process (e.g., “learning about learning”), and 16 percent investigated children learning particular subject matter content (e.g., mathematics, science, or language arts) through the game-making process. 14.  Brennan and Resnick (2012) presented this conceptualization of computational thinking in a paper at an annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association conference. For an overview on computational thinking, see Grover and Pea 2013. See also Wing 2006. 15.  For research on perspectives about computing, see Yardi and Bruckman 2007. 16.  Kafai 1995.



17.  For a review of K–12 programming studies in the 1980s, see Palumbo 1990. 18.  For more detail on our approach and the findings of synthesis, see Kafai and Burke 2015. For previous reviews on game making and learning, see Hayes and Games 2008; and Hayes-Gee and Tran 2015. For a more recent compilation of stud� ies, see Earp 2015. Between 2014 and 2015, we conducted several comprehensive surveys of published papers on the topic of children’s learning while making games. We searched online in educational databases as well as in journal and conference archives with key phrases such as “children and game making” and “children and programming games” to locate papers that centered on tool development for game making and reported on findings within a usability rather than educational evalua� tion. We only included distinct studies, and privileged those with more recent pub� lication dates (the past decade) that often provided more comprehensive and extensive study outcomes. Additionally, we included qualitative studies that focused on cases of individual students making games. We excluded papers that were essays on game making, or did not include any information on study design or outcomes. We identified a total fifty-five papers suitable for a review, published in English, although a number of studies have been conducted outside the United States, mostly in Europe. The studies used a wide range of tools from surveys to interviews to tests as well as case studies and project analyses, frequently combining them though experimental or quasi-experimental designs. The papers included in this analysis addressed a multiple number of all these aforementioned outcomes and influencing factors, such that a single study could simultaneously evaluate middle schoolers’ learning to code through rudimentary game making, while also assessing the poten� tial role of gender in the games the students created. 19.  There are various examples of game-making studies in schools that engage stu� dents in the learning of computational concepts. For studies with the programming software Alice, see Werner, Denner, and Campe 2014. For studies with Stagecast Creator, see Denner, Werner, and Ortiz 2012. For studies with Flash in the Globalo� ria platform, see Reynolds and Harel Caperton 2011. For studies with AgentSheets, see Repenning 2013; Repenning and Ioannidou 2008; Repenning et al. 2015. For more detailed findings on different aspects of research on AgentSheets, see Basawapatna et al. 2011; Webb, Repenning, and Koh 2012. 20.  For various examples of game-making studies outside schools that engage youths in the learning of computational concepts, see the overviews of evaluations on learning in the Computer Clubhouse in Kafai, Peppler, and Chapman 2009; Maloney et al. 2008. See also the evaluations of the Imaginary Worlds summer out� reach camps in Adams and Webster 2012. See also the design of the Flip program� ming language for programming stories in Howland and Good 2015. For other studies, see Al-Bow et al. 2009; Clark and Sheridan 2010; Denner and Werner 2007; Denner, Werner, and Ortiz 2012; Denner et al. 2014; Fadjo et al. 2009; Holbert and Wilensky 2014; Fowler and Cusack 2011; Javidi and Sheybani 2010; Kafai 1995;



Kafai and Peppler 2011; Mouza et al. 2010; Peppler and Kafai 2007a; Robertson 2012; Werner, Campe, and Denner 2012. 21.  For more detail on students’ learning of computational practices in schools, see the study of Logo in Kafai 1995. See also the research on AgentSheets in Repenining et al. 2015. For further examples, see Akcaoglu and Koehler 2014; Basawapatna 2011; Baytak and Land 2010; Carbonaro et al. 2010; Denner, Werner, and Ortiz 2012; DiSalvo et al. 2014; Esper, Foster, and Grisworld 2013; Fadjo 2009; Holbert and Wilensky 2014; Howland and Good 2015; Kafai 1995; Pelletier 2008; Robertson 2012; Robertson and Howells 2008; Werner, Campe, and Denner 2012; Werner and Denner 2012; Werner et al. 2012. 22.  For more detail on youths’ learning of computational practices in community centers and after-school programs, specifically a case study of Computer Clubhouse youths, see Peppler and Kafai 2007b; Kafai, Peppler, and Chapman 2009. For a study of an after-school program that captured related aspects by examining the agency that youths achieved by moving from student to assistant, and then designer and implementer, of instruction in game design, see by Sheridan, Clark, and Williams 2013. 23.  For more detail on students’ development of computational perspectives, espe� cially students’ learning with AgentSheets, see Repenning 2013; Ryoo et al. 2013; Webb, Repenning, and Koh 2012; Javidi and Sheybani 2010; Lakanen, Isomöttönen, and Lappalainen 2014; Mouza et al. 2010; Vattel and Riconscente 2012. For studies that focused on the positive development of computational perspectives by African American youths, see Clark and Sheridan 2010; DiSalvo et al. 2014; chapter 4 herein. For research that demonstrated less findings on girls’ development of computational perspectives, see Robertson 2013; chapter 4 herein. 24.  For more research on the relationship between students’ confidence and learn� ing with technologies, see Moreno and Mayer 2005; Sun and Rueda 2012. For more detail on the relationship between race and computing, see Margolis et al. 2008; Warschauer and Matuchniak 2010. 25.  For a more extensive discussion of the benefits of learning programming, see Chermside 2012; Abelson and diSessa 1980; Resnick and Wilensky 1998. 26.  For more detail on students’ learning of STEM content when programming games, particularly research on learning mathematics, see Kafai 1995; Ke 2014; Schanzer et al. 2015; Vattel and Riconscente 2012. For other disciplinary content, see Baytak and Land 2010; Clark and Sheridan 2010; DiSalvo et al. 2014; Javidi and Sheybani 2010; Lakanen, Isomöttönen, and Lappalainen 2014; Mouza et al. 2010; Robertson 2013; Webb, Repenning, and Koh 2012. 27.  Kafai 1998; Yang and Chang 2013.



28.  For more detail on students’ learning of language arts when making games with Logo, see Kafai 1995. For similar detail when programming with Scratch, see Kafai and Peppler 2012. Likewise, for studies on programming with Adventure Author, see Robertson 2012, 2013; Robertson and Howells 2008. And for discussions of making games with Mission Maker, see Buckingham and Burn 2007; Baytak and Land 2010; Hwang, Hung, and Chen 2014; Khalili et al. 2011; Howland and Good 2015; Owston et al. 2009; Schanzer, Fisler, and Krishnamurthi 2013; Vattel and Riconscente 2012. 29.  For an examination of the relationship between learning programming and sto� rytelling, as compared to making games, see Adams and Webster 2012. For an inves� tigation of the use of a programming tool called Flip to foster learning programming when telling stories, see Howland and Good 2015. For more on the experimental study involving fourth graders using game making to develop logical sequences, see Owston et al. 2009. 30.  For a look at the challenges of dual focus when learning content and coding in making games, see Ke 2014. For an analysis of how content representation could be improved in students’ fraction game design, see Kafai et al. 1998. 31.  Squire 2007a. 32.  The term “wicked problems” was introduced in Rittel and Weber 1973. For a discussion of ill-defined problems, see Simon 1980. 33.  For the comparative study of playing versus making games, see Vos, van der Meijden, and Denessen 2011. For the comparison of learning outcomes for two summer camps, see Akcaoglu 2014; Akcaoglu and Koehler 2014. 34.  For more detail on students’ learning of design skills while making games with Gamestar Mechanic, see Salen 2007; Games 2010; Games and Kane 2011. For other research related studies, see Akcaoglu 2014; Akcaoglu and Koehler 2014; DeLay et al. 2013; Hwang, Hung, and Chen 2014; Khalili et al. 2011; Ke 2014; Navarete 2013; Owston et al. 2009; Pelletier 2008; Reynolds and Chiu 2013, 2015; Robertson and Howells 2008; Sheridan, Clark, and Williams 2013; Sprung et al. 2011; Vos, van der Mejden, and Denessen 2011. 35.  For research on the effectiveness of learning while playing games that found significant impact, see Wouters et al. 2013. For a more hesitant assessment of the impact, see Clark et al. 2013; Girard, Ecalle, and Magant 2012; Vogel et al. 2013. For a downright dismissive study of the motivation and cognitive benefits claimed by serious gaming, see Young et al. 2012. 36.  For a discussion of metagaming, see Gee 2003. For research concerning online discussion forums, see Steinkuehler and Duncan 2008. 37.  Peppler and Kafai 2007b. 38.  Steinkuehler and Duncan 2008.



Chapter 3: The Social Side 1.  See Institute of Play’s overview of New York’s Q2L school, http://www (accessed April 3, 2016). 2.  For an excellent overview of gamification, focusing on the use of games as well as pointing to accrual as a way to incentivize potential consumers and clients in prod� ucts and services, see Werbach and Hunter 2012. 3.  For more detailed numbers, see Nielsen 360° Gaming Report, http://www.nielsen  .com/us/en/insights/news/2014/multi-platform-gaming-for-the-win.html (accessed April 3, 2016). For more on the projected growth of serious games, see the market research report titled “Serious Game Market by Vertical (Education, Corporate, Healthcare, Retail, Media, and Advertising), Application (Training, Sales, Human Resource, Marketing), Platform, End-User (Enterprise, Consumer), and Region— Forecast to 2020,”  .asp (accessed April 3, 2016). 4.  Popular magazines Wired and Popular Science likewise profiled the school that initial year. For a full listing of the Q2L press, see Institute of Play, http://www������������������������������������������������������������ (accessed April 3, 2016). The press surrounding the origi� nal High Tech High in San Diego (and its subsequent network of charter schools) well attests to the national media’s attachment to schools that leverage technology to “rethink education.” For instance, High Tech High recently received prominent coverage in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival documentary selection Most Likely to Succeed ( [accessed April 3, 2016]), which explores the changing face of school and offers specific criticism on the dated “industrial model” of educa� tion. For more on Robert Morris University’s varsity eSports program, see Gregory 2015; Wingfield 2014a. For more on the growing popularity of video games as a spectator sport, see Arthur and Stuart 2014. 5.  The term “digital native” was coined in Prensky 2001. For an overview of the myth versus reality of children as inherently digital natives, see also Margaryan, Lit� tlejohn, and Vojt 2011. 6.  For a more extensive report on Q2L, see Toppo 2015, chapter 6; Alper 2011. It should also be noted that the MacArthur Foundation was, and continues to be, a key funder of the Q2L school in New York City and its sister school in Chicago. 7.  Toppo 2015. 8.  For a study that found students are significantly more likely to enroll in com� puter science and STEM-based coursework by advancing the “project-first” approach—a “making video games course” rather than “introduction to program� ming”—see Repenning 2013. But for a study that showed girls engaged in game



making did not necessarily develop a greater interest in STEM careers, see Robertson 2013. For more on this, see chapter 4. 9.  For an overview, see Labaree 2006. 10.  For comprehensive overviews, see O’Donnell 2006; Webb and Palincsar 1996. 11.  For a general introduction into pair programming, see Williams and Kessler 2002. 12.  For details on pair programming studies in K–12, see Denner and Werner 2007; Werner et al. 2009; Werner and Denner 2012; Owston et al. 2009. 13.  This happened by initiating and expanding science conversations in groups (Kafai and Ching 2001), helping younger inexperienced teams with planning their instructional designs, and providing programming assistance when needed (Ching and Kafai 2008). The perceptions of roles as software designers also change over time, as found in one of the few longitudinal examinations of long-term program� ming learning. 14.  Salen et al. 2011, 87. 15.  Spring 2015 saw its first graduating class of high school seniors and a sister school named Chicago Quest opened in Chicago in 2011. The school’s standardized test scores are consistently above average for New York City’s public schools, thereby keeping the school operating with considerable autonomy under the NYC Depart� ment of Education. Moreover, according to preliminary results on the College and Work Readiness Assessment, Q2L students scores “are quite impressive,” as noted by New York professor of sociology and education Richard Arum. Q2L is equipping kids, Arum continues, “to collaborate, think critically and master 21st-century com� petencies like systems thinking and design thinking” (as quoted in Talbot 2015). 16.  Arum’s assessment here is supported by Shute,Ventura, and Torres 2011; Torres 2010. 17.  This phenomenon is also called Gartner’s Hype Cycle for emerging technolo� gies. Hype Cycles provide graphic representations charting the maturity and adop� tion of technologies solving business problems. They nearly always start with a “peak” of inflated expectations followed by a dip (or “trough”) of disillusionment, after which successful innovations rebound to find more consistent (and level) adoption. For a wide range of Hype Cycles covering technological innovations such as big data, cloud computing, and open-source software, see https://www.gartner  .com (accessed April 5, 2016). See also (accessed April 5, 2016). 18.  See Ahmed-Ullah 2013. 19.  See Baek 2008.



20. (accessed April 5, 2016). 21.  For more information on implementation models, see courses-services/implementation-models (accessed April 5, 2016). 22.  Reynolds of Rutgers University, also a former Globaloria team member, and Chiu of Purdue University have authored a number of studies evaluating Globalo� ria’s effectiveness in schools. Reynolds and Chiu (2013) investigated the extent that middle school students’ engagement with Globaloria game making could shift stu� dents’ sense of their own self-efficacy using digital technologies. In a later study, Reynolds and Chiu (2015) found students reporting not only increased self-efficacy using digital technology but also an increased use of computers outside school—on average, 64 percent more among children in schools where parents were less edu� cated than the state norm. 23.  Leech 2013. 24.  For the US version, see (accessed April 5, 2016). For the Australian version, see (accessed April 5, 2016). 25.  Quoted in Kafai, Burke, and Mote 2012, 286–87. 26.  For more detail, see Kafai and Burke 2014; Kafai, Fields, et al. 2012. 27.  See Aragon et al. ,2009. 28.  See Luther et al. 2011. 29.  According to a recent analysis (Fields, Giang, and Kafai 2013) of the projects uploaded to the site, over a quarter (27.64 percent or 670,932) of all projects on the Web site are remixes of previous ones. Similar percentages of remixes have been reported on other youth-oriented programming sites, such as Kodu Game Lab and Studio Sketchpad. Documenting the various ways that Scratch users utilize remix as a pathway, educational researcher Karen Brennan (2012) notes that users often stumble onto remix as a way to learn and persist at making games on the Web site. In Connected Code (Kafai and Burke 2014), we have dedicated a whole chapter to the various forms of remixing in the Scratch community. 30.  For an overview on the development of Minecraft, see Goldberg and Larsson 2014. For up-to-date information on Minecraft’s demographics, see https://minecraft .net/stats (accessed April 5, 2016). For predictions about Minecraft’s growth, see Jedeur-Palmgren 2015. 31.  For more on the distinction between construction and survival modes in Minecraft, see Duncan 2011. 32.  For information on teaching with Minecraft, see (accessed April 5, 2016). For examples of language arts activities, see Schifter and



Cipollone 2013. For illustrations of the actual implementation of Minecraft activities in a high school physics classroom, see Short 2012; Breitweg 2013. For a collection geared to teachers of classroom activities using Minecraft, see Dikkers 2015. For examples of summer camps using Minecraft, see (accessed April 5, 2016). For many examples of the add-ons used in Minecraft, see (accessed April 5, 2016). For Microsoft’s education channel, see April 5, 2016). For detail on subscriptions to the education channel, see Herrold 2015.

Chapter 4: The Cultural Side 1.  The full book title is I Can Be an Actress / I Can Be a Computer Engineer (Barbie) (Marenco 2013). 2. (accessed April 6, 2016). 3.  The announcement by Random House and Mattel to discontinue the book went through all major media outlets. See also NPR Staff 2014. But the book listing can still be found on the publisher’s Web site, now with the note “coming soon”; http://  -computer-engineer-barbie?isbn=9780449816202#.VOIKFyk8qR8 (accessed April 6, 2016). 4. (accessed April 6, 2016). 5.  Wingfield 2014b. 6. (accessed April 6, 2016). 7.  Editorial Board 2014. 8.  For the initial mention of the “leaking pipeline” in computer science, see Camp 1997. 9.  For the second half of a video of Buechley’s keynote at FabLearn 2013, see http:// (accessed April 8, 2016). See also Brahms and Crowley 2016. 10.  See Gray 2012; Kafai, Richard, and Tynes, 2016; Shaw 2014. 11.  An analysis (Adams and Webster 2012) of over three hundred middle school and high school projects in Scratch and Alice suggests that games, more than other introductory project types, best capture certain programming features such as condi� tional statements and variables. 12.  The book title Unlocking the Clubhouse by Margolis and Fisher (2002) makes ref� erence to this metaphor. For related arguments on the lack of diversity in informa� tion technology, see also Warschauer 2003.



13.  For a discussion of the positive aspects of games, see Gee 2003. For more critical explorations of violence and gender stereotyping, see Provenzo 1991. 14.  Other examples that highlight such cultural preferences for understanding phe� nomena is activity in beehives or the occurrence of traffic jams. We often assume causal relationships when in fact these are complex systems whose behaviors emerge out of the interactions smaller, simpler actions. Mitchel Resnick and Uri Wilensky (1998) called such thinking the centralized mind-set that assumes a central agent such as the queen bee is responsible for coordinating bee’s activities. 15.  For one the first studies of computer use at home, see Giaquinta, Bauer, and Levin 1993. 16.  Nearly a decade before her controversial foray into computer engineering, Barbie took her first swipe at digital design—and this initial time, much more pro� ductively. During the holiday season of 1996, Barbie Fashion Designer™ took the market by surprise. As a software package in which players could design their own Barbie clothing on a personal computer, and then print it out and glue it together, Barbie Fashion Designer bridged the computer screen with the traditional handheld dolls. The software package box came with specially coated paper with a textile feel to be inserted into dot matrix printers, and also included other accessories such as bags and shoes that otherwise came with the commercial clothing packages that girls and parents would buy for the Barbie doll. While there was much to like about this package that extended girls’ design on the screen to play in the real world—a rare occurrence in digital gaming in those days—there was equal concern that the introduction to computers came associated with rather traditional values around fashion and looks promoted with Barbie dolls. Barbie Fashion Designer broke the mold and illustrated that girls could be interested in not just using computers but also making things with software. In fact, Barbie Fashion Designer’s success was not alone. Other software packages quickly appeared on the market such as the Babysit� ter Club, modeled after the popular teen book series, and McKenzie’s Diary, in which girls could record their daily activities in an interactive digital journal. Fur� thermore, Purple Moon’s Friendship series developed initially by Brenda Laurel (2001) at Interval Research as an alternative to the Barbie series promoted relation� ships as well as an online discussion forum for girls to share their ideas and con� cerns. A few years later, Mattel bought Purple Moon, marking the end of the widely successful but also short-lived period of girl games. 17.  For more detail on the changing role of women in the history of computing, see Ensmenger 2010. For a more current discussion about the underrepresentation of women in information technology, see Cohoon and Aspray 2006. For reports on girls and computers in schools in the 1980s, see Sutton 1991. For a follow-up study, see Volman and van Eck 2001. For more current explorations, see Margolis et al. 2008; Warschauer 2003.



18.  For more comprehensive overviews, see Cassell and Jenkins 1998; Kafai et al. 2008; Kafai, Richard and Tynes, 2016. For research on the topics of interest and experience, see Greenfield and Cocking 1996; Hartmann and Klimmt 2006; Klawe  et al. 2002. 19.  See Provenzo 1991. Researchers like Christine Ward Gailey (1992) have debated exactly how young players receive these overt and tacit identity messages, and exactly what children get out of the games. One of her findings was that children did not accept the designated gender roles within gameplay as being reflective of themselves. They instead made up their own descriptions. In contrast, Marsha Kinder (1991) argued that the values embedded in movies, toys, television, and digi� tal games provide powerful stereotypes for children’s thinking, and take effect whether or not the child is conscious of these stereotypes. For more current discus� sions, see Jansz and Martis 2006. 20.  Kafai 1995. 21.  Researchers have provided different interpretations of the observed differences in making games. Kafai (1996), for instance, argued that personal preferences play a critical role while Caroline Pelletier (2008) framed these as player positionings. 22.  In this study (Kafai 1998), students were designing astronomy games. For a more recent analysis of students’ game design, see Denner et al. 2014. 23.  Hayes 2008. 24.  Howland and Good 2015. 25.  De Castell and Bryson 1998. 26.  Butler argues that the expression of gender is not just a biological marker or numbers game but a social construct too. Butler (1990, 14) conceptualizes gender from a human and feminist perspective as “an attribute of a person, who is charac� terized essentially as a pregendered substance, or ‘core,’ called the person.” Much of the research has focused on where and how society places constraints on gender performances, thereby impacting a gendered identity formation. 27.  Entertainment Software Association 2014. 28.  Wingfield 2014b. 29.  For an early study on boys and video games, see Provenzo 1991. For evidence that video gameplay extends boys’ play space, see Jenkins 1998. The Pew Life largescale surveys (Lenhart, Jones, and MacGill 2008) on children and video games high� light that boys still play games in larger number than girls. For studies on historical and contemporary childhood play that emphasize gendered performances, see Goodwin 2006; Opie and Opie 1985; Sutton-Smith and Avedon 1971; Thorne 1993.



30.  For studies confirming this for older players, see DiSalvo, Crowley, and Nor� wood 2008; Sanford and Madill 2006. For more studies on boys’ gameplay, see DeVane and Squire 2008; Searle and Kafai 2012; Steinkuehler and King 2009; Walk� erdine 2008. 31.  Bruckman and DiSalvo 2011. 32.  Margolis et al. 2008. 33.  Gilbert et al. 2015. 34.  DiSalvo et al. 2013. 35.  Bruckman and diSalvo 2011. 36.  Di Salvo et al. 2014, 319. 37.  Ibid. 38.  Bruckman and DiSalvo 2011, 29. 39.  Ibid. 40.  Valian 1998. 41.  Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014. 42.  See Kafai and Fields 2013. 43.  For the Scratch project, see (accessed April 11, 2016). 44.  For a recent analysis of racial diversity in project content, comments, and cre� ators on the Scratch site, see Richard and Kafai 2016. 45.  Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2008. 46.  See Gee 2003. For studies emphasizing benefits such as systems-based thinking, see Salen 2007. For those stressing critical engagement with media, see Buckingham and Burn 2007; Peppler and Kafai 2007b. 47.  Parker 2013. For information about programs for yearly expositions on the East and West coasts, see (accessed April 11, 2016). 48.  For more information on the development of That Dragon, Cancer, see http:// (accessed April 11, 2016). For Walden, a Game, see (accessed April 11, 2016).

Chapter 5: The Tangible Side 1.  For the original and a follow-up video on Caine’s arcade’s Web site, see https:// (accessed April 11, 2016). The newspapers that ran articles on



Caine’s arcade included the Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times along with a television feature on CNN. For information on the Imagina� tion Foundation, see (accessed April 11, 2016). 2.  Malby 2012. 3.  For more information, see (accessed April 12, 2016). For 2014’s most successful funding categories on Kickstarter, where games occupy the fifth place, see (accessed April 12, 2016). For more information on the design of the board game and  the Kickstarter campaign for Monarch, see maryflanagan/monarch-board-game-vie-for-the-crown (accessed April 12, 2016). 4.  For a more extensive discussion of other advantages of board games, see Zagal, Rick, and Hsi 2006. For descriptions of Quest Atlantis, see Barab et al. 2005. For design and research about BeeSim, see Danish et al. 2011. 5.  For more examples, see Magerkurth et al. 2005; Martinez 2014; Tanenbaum and Bizzochi 2009. 6.  This was more for show than real-time accounting since none of the calculators in Caine’s arcade kept track of players’ actual actions. 7.  Wilensky 1991. 8.  For an overview of interaction design and embodiment, see Antle 2013. 9.  For the research and design of different maker activities and spaces, see Honey and Kanter 2013. 10.  See Kafai and Peppler 2014. See also Buechley 2010; Eisenberg et al. 2006. 11.  For more information about Hook-Ups, see Resnick et al. 2009; Millner 2009, 2010. For more information on the PicoBoard, see picoboard.html (accessed April 12, 2016). For more information on research with electronic textile construction kits such as the LilyPad Arduino, see Kafai, Fields, and Searle, 2014. 12.  For general overviews on new computational construction kits that make such physical and wearable interface designs accessible to novice designers, see Blikstein 2012; Buechley et al. 2013; Ngai et al. 2013; Resnick 1993; Resnick et al. 1996. These kits facilitate hybrid crafting—those approaches that integrate crafting with digital components to further learning (Horn, Crouser, and Bers 2012) and creative expres� sion (Golstejn et al. 2014)—but have not extensively been used by young designers. 13.  For a general introduction to MaKey MaKey, see Silver, Rosenbaum, and Shaw 2012; Resnick and Rosenbaum 2013. For the Kickstarter campaign video, see https:// (accessed April 12, 2016).



14.  Two workshops for eighteen middle school youths (nine girls and nine boys, ages ten to twelve) took place in a neighborhood K–8 school in a metropolitan city in a US northeastern state. For more detail on the student demographics, design of workshop activities, data collection and analyses, and findings, see Lee et al. 2014. 15.  Research has revolved around augmenting traditional board games like Go (Iwata et al. 2010) or Settlers of Catan (de Boers and Lammers 2004), adding 3-D to a Battleboard game (Andersen et al. 2004), or even developing new game designs (Mandryk, Maranan, and Inkpen 2002), to name but a few. 16.  The augmented board game workshop included seventeen first-year students (four girls and thirteen boys, ages thirteen to fifteen) from a public high school situ� ated in a metropolitan city in a US northeastern state. For more detail on the design of workshop activities, data collection and analyses, and findings, see Kafai and Vasudevan 2015. In addition, we ran the augmented board game workshop with a class of middle school students. For more detail, see Vasudevan, Kafai, and Yang 2015. 17.  For a more detailed description of computational concepts, practices, and per� spectives to capture various aspects of computational thinking, see Brennan and Resnick 2012. Each group’s final Scratch programs used computational concepts such sequences, events, operators, and parallelism, while some also ventured into conditionals and loops. For more detail on the design of workshop activities, data collection and analyses, and findings, see Kafai and Vasudevan 2015. 18.  The wearable game controller workshop for twelve youths (seven girls and five boys, ages eleven to thirteen) took place in a public K–8 school located in a metro� politan city in a US northeastern state. For more detail on the design of workshop activities, data analyses, and findings, see Vasudevan, Kafai, and Yang 2015. For examples of more complex, bidirectional responsive designs by high school stu� dents, see Richard and Kafai 2016. 19.  For more examples of maker activities inside and outside school, see Honey and Kanter 2013. 20.  This is distinct from many other hybrid crafting activities such as electronic textiles in which on-screen activities are usually limited to writing code that then gets downloaded to control the behaviors of actuators and interactions with sensors on the wearable artifact. In our projects, the control was both on and off the screen in the touch pads or game boards, privileging neither modality. 21.  For more detail on Minecraft players’ perceptions on Redstone and electricity, see Dezuanni, Beavis, and O’Mara 2015. 22.  For the tutorial for making circuits on the fan community site Planet Minecraft, see (accessed April 12, 2016). “I am Zaralith and I have a real life degree in Computer Science and Computer Engineering. That means that I



make and program computers for real, and not just the cool redstone ones that people make. That being said, I know a lot of people that play Minecraft would like to learn about circuits and what is called Logic Design, so I will teach you. This will also help you make shiny redstone circuits” ( learning-real-circuits-with-redstone [accessed April 12, 2016]). 23.  For a discussion on metagaming, see Gee 2003. For research on scientific habits in discussion forums in virtual worlds, see Steinkuehler and Duncan 2008. 24.  For more information on the Minecraft Circuits in Real Life workshop tutorials and videos, see (accessed April 12, 2016). 25.  Many thanks to Debora Liu for pointing out these workshops with Minecraft activities in public libraries. 26.  For a collection of images of crafted Minecraft items from public library work� shops, see (accessed April 12, 2016). 27.  For a more extensive discussion of making learning visible, see Buechley 2010; Eisenberg et al. 2006. 28.  See also our chapter on the different uses of remixing for learning coding in Kafai and Burke 2014. 29.  This statement builds on Andrés Monroy-Hernández’s (2013) categorization of remixes in Scratch community.

Chapter 6: The Creative Side 1.  As a reference point, technology projects reached the most in terms of funding with US$125 million, followed by design with US$96.7 million—both categories likely candidates for game-making tools and designs as well. For more information on overall funding, see (accessed April 13, 2016). For more information on the Interstellaria campaign, see https://www (accessed April 13, 2016). For more on the A-RK campaign, see 432712414/ar-k-an-old-school-game-with-a-new-twist/description (accessed April 13, 2016). For more on the Code Monkey Island campaign, see https://www  -childs-play/description (accessed April 13, 2016). For more on the Robot Turtle cam� paign, see  -game-for-little-programmer/description (accessed April 13, 2016). For more on The Lonely Raven, see -gamefunds-for-programs-to-make-ga/description (accessed April 13, 2016). For



more on Kano, see  -anyone-can-make/description(accessed April 13, 2016). 2.  For examples, see Harel 1990; Kafai 1995. 3.  For more on this DIY attitude as increasingly being a fundamental way to con� nect and communicate online, akin to literacy, see Gee 2004; Guzzetti, Elliott, and Welsch 2010; Knobel and Lankshear 2010; Lankshear and Knobel 2003. For exam� ples of how to apply systems thinking to game design, see Salen 2007. For examples of critical thinking in game design, see Buckingham and Burn 2007; Pelletier 2008. 4.  See Gauntlett 2011; Guzzetti, Elliott, and Welsch 2010; Knobel and Lankshear 2010. 5.  For Newgrounds, see (accessed April 13, 2016). Xbox Live Indie Games has been discontinued in September 2015. 6.  Papert 1980, 122. 7.  For more examples of microworlds, see diSessa 2001; Edwards 1998; Noss and Hoyles 1996. Further developments have expanded Logo into massively parallel microworlds on the computer; instead of one turtle, now hundreds, if not thou� sands, can interact. Working with StarLogo offers learners the opportunity to explore the probabilistic patterns in complex interactions in the same way as the turtle in Logo gives learners the chance to connect to formal mathematical objects in new ways (Resnick and Wilensky 1998). StarLogo can provide accessible objectsto-think-with for people to examine emergence in complex systems. In StarLogo (Resnick 1993), a circle would no longer be programmed by one turtle but instead by having dozens of turtles follow two simple rules: keep a specific distance from each other, and repel the group as a whole and move away from other turtles. This ver� sion of Logo connects to another emergent discipline, complex systems design, which is interested in how complex behavior patterns emerge from interactions between many simple objects. Many natural and human phenomena can be described in this way; see Resnick 1994. 8.  Papert 1980, 125. 9.  Hundreds of applications to make one’s own video game exist on the Web, most notably authoring software such as Unity and Blender. The following list of fifteen tools was selected based on each program’s particular focus on engaging new users (and especially children) concerning the potential of game making, utilizing a series of stages to make game design and development a more intuitive process (Burke and Kafai 2014). This list includes both commercial and freely available tools. 10.  See Resnick et al. 2009 and Resnick and Silverman 2005. 11.  Burke and Kafai 2014.



12.  For Scratch, see����������������������������������������� (accessed April 14, 2016). For descrip� tions of AgentSheets or now-scalable design, see Resnick et al. 2009; Repenning and Ioannidou 2004. For more information about Gamestar Mechanic, see Games and Squire 2008. 13.  Torres 2010, 5. 14.  For a general overview of different design features, especially an excellent tax� onomy of novice programming tools, see Kelleher and Pausch 2005. For more detail on Alice, see Dann, Cooper, and Pausch 2008. For more detail on ToonTalk, see Kahn 2001. For more detail on Kodu, see McLaurin 2009. 15.  For work with Scratch, see Malan and Leinter 2007. For work with Alice, see Cooper, Dann, and Pausch 2003. For work with AgentSheets, see Repenning and Ioannidou 2008. For expansions of Scratch into Snap! see Harvey and Mönig 2012. 16.  For more on adolescents’ use of Sploder to design games, see Games 2011. 17.  For more specifics on the role of gender and gaming, see chapter 4. See also, in particular, Denner 2007; Kafai 1998. 18.  Kafai and Peppler 2011. 19.  See Kafai 2006; Squire 2011. 20.  For an overview of communities of practice, see Lave and Wenger 1991. For a similar conception of affinity groups, in which such communities develop more “ground up” over common interests and goals, see Gee 2004. For studies that both champion the newfound potential of Web 2.0 to reconfigure this producers versus consumers dichotomy as well as align mutual interests for common causes, see Ben� kler 2006; Shirky 2011. 21.  Denner and Werner 2007; Denner et al. 2008. 22.  See Kafai and Peppler 2011. 23.  On the development of the Scratch Web site, see Monroy-Hernández and Resn� ick 2008. 24.  For a look at assuring that users credit their sources on Scratch, see MonroyHernández et al. 2011. For an account of growing the Scratch online community, see Brennan, Monroy-Hernández, and Resnick 2011. 25.  Kafai et al. 2012. 26.  See Monroy-Hernández et al. 2011. 27.  Wing 2004, 33. See also Hayes and King 2009; Hayes-Gee and Tran 2015. 28.  Grimes 2015. See also Ross, Holmes, and Tomlinson 2012; Rafalow and Trebinkas 2014.



29.  Steinkuehler et al. 2012. 30.  Squire et al. 2005. 31.  For more information on the World of Warcraft gaming club, see Steinkuehler et al. 2012. For more information on the Civilization after-school club, see Durga and Squire 2008. For case studies of modding communities, see Squire and Giovanetto 2008. 32.  Salen 2007. 33.  Dasgupta 2013. 34.  See Kafai, Fields, and Burke 2010. 35. (accessed April 15, 2016). 36.  See Grimes and Fields 2015. 37. April 15, 2016). 38.  For the use of debugging as a way to assess young programmers’ competency using Scratch, see Griffin et al. 2011.

Chapter 7: Connected Gaming for All 1.  For links to the mentioned episodes, see Comedy Central, Southpark, season 17, episode 2, “Informative Murder Porn”; Comedy Central, Southpark, season 10, epi� sode 8, “Make Love, Not Warcraft.” 2.  For writings about the dangers of video game playing and computer use, see Provenzo 1991; Healy 1998. For an opposing view, see Lutner and Olson 2008. 3.  Actual player demographics are hard to come by. 4.  For the whole story on Minecraft, see Goldberg and Larsson 2014. 5.  Ito 2015. 6.  Ito et al. 2009. 7.  See Herold 2015; Salcito 2016. 8.  Kafai and Burke 2014. 9.  In her book Engineering Play, Ito already suggested that construction games would become the future of gaming. 10.  Ito 2015. 11.  Klopfer, Osterweil, and Salen 2009, 1. 12.  Ibid., 2.



13.  Gee 2003, 215–219. 14.  Several studies have recently examined the various learning benefits of playing games for learning. See Clark et al. 2013; Girard, Ecalle, and Magant 2012; Vogel  et al. 2013; Young et al. 2012; Wouters et al. 2013. 15.  Holbert and Wilensky 2014. 16.  Kafai and Burke 2014, 128. 17.  Cultural psychologist Sylvia Scribner (1984) articulated these three purposes of literacy when she examined the roles of traditional literacies in relation to print, but they easily also extend into the digital world. 18.  Kafai and Burke 2014, 135. 19.  Hayes and King 2009; Hayes-Gee and Tran 2015. 20.  Squire and Giovanetto 2008. 21.  Kafai and Fields 2013. 22.  Druin 1998. 23.  Kafai et al. 2012. 24.  Ito et al. 2009. 25.  Kafai, Burke, and Fields 2009. 26.  Kedmey 2015. 27.  Kafai et al. 2012. 28.  For more detail on data collection, analytic methods, and the findings, see Kafai and Fields 2013. 29.  A series of recent data-mining studies from a random sample of 5,004 users out of 20,000 who logged onto Scratch in January 2012 examined to what extent these features promote “computing for all.” In research of this same random sample, we found that nearly 45 percent of Scratch members posted content on the site. While there was no significant link between level of online participation, ranging from low to high, and that of programming sophistication, the exception was a small group of highly engaged users, who were most likely to use more complex programming con� cepts. Groups that only used few of the more sophisticated programming concepts, such as Booleans, variables, and operators, were identified as Scratch users new to the site and girls. For more detail on data collection, analytic methods, and the find� ings, see Fields, Giang, and Kafai 2013. 30.  Pelletier 2008. 31.  Denner et al. 2014.



32.  Quote in Knobel and Lankshear 2010, 233. 33.  Kapur 2014. 34.  Fields, Pantic, and Kafai 2015. 35.  Grimes and Fields 2015. 36.  See Gee 2003; Robison 2009. On systems-based thinking, see Salen 2007. On critical engagement with media, see Buckingham and Burn 2007; Peppler and Kafai 2007a. 37.  Werbach and Hunter 2012.

Coda 1.  Papert and Solomon 1971. See also Solomon 1988.

References R R

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Index I I

n n

d d

e e

Note: Page numbers in italic type refer to illustrations. Academic content coding and, 30–32 game-making for learning, 30–32, 112 Logo and, 102–103 Access. See Computational participation ActionScript, 50 Advanced Placement (AP) exams, 66 Adventure Author, 32, 73 Affinity groups, 13, 36, 44, 56, 69, 78–80, 113 Affinity spaces, 56, 59, 113 African Americans STEM pipeline for, 76–78 and video games, 74–78 After-school clubs/programs, 27, 28, 49–50, 51, 117–118 AgentSheets, 27, 28, 29, 108, 115 Alice, 8, 15, 28, 46, 56, 58, 109, 110, 115, 119 America’s Army, 2 Analog Games (journal), 84 App Inventor, 120 Apple, 66, 134 Apple II, xv, xvi Apprenticeship learning, 44, 47 AR-K, 101 Atari, xvi, 124

Atari Age (magazine), 7 Australia, 53 Babbitt, William, 79 Barab, Sasha, 85 Barbie (doll), 63–65, 67, 157n16 Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer (booklet), 63–65, 67 Barbie Remixed (Web site), 63–64, 64 BeeSim, 85 Bidart, Frank, 60 Blender (software), 163n9 Board games augmented, 85, 90–92, 91 traditional, 84–85 Brennan, Karen, 25 Bridge Builder, 48 Brooks, Fred, 55 Bruckman, Amy, 55, 76, 78 Buckingham, David, 110 Buechley, Leah, 66, 68, 98 Butler, Judith, 73 Card games, 84–85 Castle Smurfenstein, 5–6 Castle Wolfenstein, 5 Cheat sites, 7, 130–131, 146n10 Childs, John, 43 Ching, Cynthia Carter, 47

x x


Chiu, Ming Ming, 51 Civilization, 127 Civilization III, 7, 117–118, 125 Code Monkey Island (board game), 101 Coder movement, 10 Coding and academic content learning, 30–32 educational value of, 24 game-making for instruction in, 24–30 methods of learning, 24–25 Coleco, 124 Collaboration, 45–47, 55–57, 60, 135 Commenting, 134, 137 Commodore 64, 5 Communities, game-making, 113–116, 119–121 Community centers, 27, 28–29 Competitions, game-making, 52–54 Computational concepts, 25, 26–28 Computational participation African Americans and, 76–78 characteristics of, 129, 130 connected gaming as path to, 11, 13, 92, 99, 103, 118, 133–138 curricular role of, 5 DIY ethic and, 113 game-making and -playing as, 125 girls and, 70, 72–73 minorities and, 75 paths and obstacles to, 57, 67–68, 80, 126, 133–138 promotion of, 133–138 Computational perspectives, 26, 29–30 Computational practices, 25–26, 28–29 Computational thinking, 5, 10–11, 13, 24, 57, 117, 149n10 Computer Clubhouse, 27, 28–29, 114 Concrete thinking, 85–87 Connected gaming cultural aspects of, 16, 63–81 described, 5 DIY collaborative, 54–57


educational implementation of, 129–131 educational value of, 127–129 essence of, 125 future of, 119–121 Minecraft as model of, 57–59, 123–125 need for, 12–14 outcomes of, 26 personal aspects of, 15, 19–37 social aspects of, 15, 36–37, 39–61, 113–116 tangible aspects of, 16, 83–99 Constructionism concrete and abstract learning balanced in, 86 early example of, 1–2 instructionism vs., xvii key principle of, 23 Constructionist gaming absence of, from education, 4 educational opportunities for, 10–12, 131–132 instructionist vs., 12 obstacles to use of, 4 outcomes of, 4, 11, 24, 33, 149n13 as STEM pipeline for girls, 72–73 Construction kits, 87–90 Convergence culture, 6 Counter-Strike, 146n6 Crowdsourcing, 101–102. See also Kickstarter Curriculum integration, 32, 49–51 Dance Dance Revolution, 85 Danish, Joshua, 85 Denner, Jill, 46, 114 Designer mindset, 34 Design tools, 34 DeVane, Ben, 74–75 Dewey, John, 42–45 Digital natives, 41 DiSalvo, Betsy, 76, 78, 120 Discussion forums, 130


DIY/maker movement and connected gaming, 8–10 and digital learning, 60–61, 103 educational applications of, 60–61 game-making in, 54–57, 135 Minecraft and, 124 tangible products of, 85–87 Donkey Kong, 56 Doom, 6, 7, 79, 146n6 Dougherty, Dale, 60 Drag-and-drop approach, 108 Dynaturtle, 104–105 Eglash, Ron, 79 Eisenberg, Mike, 98 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), 81 Electronic textiles, 87, 161n20 Erikson, Barbara, 66 eSports program, 40 Excitebike, 7 Facebook, 66 Feminist Frequency (video series), 65 Feurzeig, Wallace, 102, 148n2 Fields, Deborah, 137 Fiesler, Casey, 63 Fisher, Allan, 68 Flanagan, Mary, 78, 80, 84 Flappy Bird, 93–94 Flash, 27, 50 Forest Frenzy, 55 Fraction Game Design Project, 1–2, 3 Fullerton, Tracy, 81 Funding, for educational games, 145n3 Gailey, Christine Ward, 158n19 Game Editor, 115, 120 GameMaker, 8, 108, 115, 119 Game-making academic content learned through, 30–32, 112 for coding instruction, 24–30 competitions in, 52–54


computational concepts learned through, 26–28 computational perspectives learned through, 29–30 computational practices learned through, 28–29 DIY/maker movement and, 54–57, 135 early challenges in, xv educational value of, 35–37, 102–103, 119–121, 137–138 game-playing in relation to, 5–8, 12, 33–37, 125, 128, 132, 140 girls’ involvement in, 70–73 importance of, xvi, 119 instructional premises underlying, 22–25 for learning about learning, 32–34 modding in relation to, 116–118 pairs and teams for, 46–47 Q2L and, 41–42, 48–49 social connections through, 10 solution-finding in, 36 top-down vs. bricoleur approaches to, 69 Game modding early attempts at, 9 educational applications of, 130 full-scale, 146n6 relationship of game-making and game-playing in, 5–7, 116–118 remix and, 57 Game-playing, in relation to gamemaking, 5–8, 12, 33–37, 125, 128, 132, 140 GamerGate, 65, 73 Games, Alex, 34 GameSalad, 108, 112 Gamestar Mechanic, 34, 52, 108 GameStudio, 115 Gaming, as a learning community, 42–46


Gaming industry demographics of, 14, 66–68 harassment of women in, 65 and player modding, 4, 6, 7 Gartner’s Hype Cycle, 154n17 Gauntlett, David, 10 Gee, James Paul, 7, 12, 23, 35–37, 44– 45, 56, 59, 60, 69, 78, 96, 102, 106, 113, 124, 127, 128 Giovanetto, Levi, 117 Girls Creating Games, 47 Girls and women and coding, 63–64 and game-making, 70–73 programs for, 47 STEM pipeline for, 72–73 in tech industries, 14, 65–68 Glitch Game Testers, 76, 120 Global Cardboard Challenge, 83–84 Globaloria, 15, 27, 50–51, 136, 155n22 Google, 66 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, 74–75 Gray Bear Productions, 54–55, 134 Grimes, Sara, 137 Group dynamics, 13–14 Hacker Barbie (Web site), 64 Half-Life, 146n6 Harel, Idit, 23, 44, 50 Harvey, Brian, 110–111 Hayes-Gee, Elizabeth, 116–117, 130 High Tech High, San Diego, 120, 153n4 Holbert, Nathan, 105, 131 Hook-Ups construction kit, 87–88 Hype Cycles, 49, 154n17 IBM PCjr, 21 id Software, 6 Imaginary Worlds, 27 Imagination Foundation, 83 Independent gaming, 81, 135 Indie Arcade, 81 Institute of Play, 39, 108


Instructionism connected gaming and, 130–132 constructionism vs., xvii popularity of, 2, 4 Instructionist gaming, 12 Interstellaria, 101 Iterative design, 33, 92, 98, 108 Ito, Mizuko, 124–125, 133 Java, 58 Jenkins, Henry, 6, 23, 74, 135 Kafai, Yasmin, 110 Kano, 101 Kay, Alan, 42, 136 Kickstarter, 64, 65, 84, 89, 101 Kinder, Marsha, 158n19 Kodu, 8, 52, 53, 56, 109, 115, 119 Lachney, Michael, 79 Laurel, Brenda, 157n16 Lave, Jean, 44 League of Legends, 40 Learning, game-making for learning about, 32–34 Learning communities, 42–46 LEGO, 21, 44, 88, 125 Lessig, Lawrence, 119 Levin, Joel, 59 Literacy. See New media literacies LittleBigPlanet2, 7, 117 Liukas, Linda, 64 Logo, xv, xvi, 1, 21, 23, 30, 31, 44, 47, 60, 86, 102, 104–108, 148n2, 163n7 Lonely Raven, The, 101 Longest Journey, The, 71 Looking Glass Community, 115, 115 Luther, Kurt, 55 Lutner, Lawrence, 124 MAKE (magazine), 66 Maker movement. See DIY/maker movement


MaKey MaKey, 88–90, 89, 94 Making, as human need, 60 Margolis, Jane, 68 Martin, Lee, 61 Math Blaster, 127 Mattel, 64 McCarthy, Laurie, 74 Meadows, Charles, 76 Media literacy. See New media literacies Metacognition, 32 Metagaming, 7, 34–35, 96, 117, 130, 146n10 Metal Slug, 28, 110 Metal Slug Hell Zone X, 26, 110 Metroid, 71 Microsoft, 8, 59, 96, 124–125, 132 Microworlds, 104–106 Millner, Amon, 87–88 Mindstorms, 21, 43–44, 88 Minecraft, 8, 17, 57–59, 96–98, 123–126, 132–134 Minecraft Circuits in Real Life, 96–97, 97 MinecraftEdu, 59, 125, 132 Minorities, in tech industries, 14, 66–68. See also African Americans Mirta Ramirez Computer Science School, 49 MIT Media Lab, 19 Mobile devices, 120 Modding. See Game modding Monarch (board game), 84 Monopoly (augmented board game), 85 Monroy, Caine, 83–84 Monroy-Hernández, Andrés, 54 Motivation game-making as means for inculcating, 36 social factors in, 52 Mullick, Nirvan, 83 National Public Radio, 40 National Research Council, 10


National Science Foundation, 76–77 Netherlands, 12 Newgrounds, 16, 55–56, 60, 133 New media literacies, 80, 103, 137 New York City Department of Education, 39 New York Times, 65 New York Times Magazine, 39–40 Night at Dreary Castle, A, 55 Nightmare: Malaria, 2 Nintendo Entertainment System, 7, 85, 124 Nintendo Power (magazine), 7 Nissenbaum, Helen, 78, 80 Numinous Games, 81 Obama, Barack, 52 Objects-to-share-with, 24, 106 Objects-to-think-with, 23, 106, 107 Olson, Cheryl, 124 Owston, Ron, 47 Pair programming, 15, 46 Palumbo, David, 24 Panda3D, 110 Papert, Seymour, 21, 23, 30–31, 32, 43– 45, 50, 59, 60, 69, 86, 90, 107, 119, 128, 139–140, 148n2, 149n10 “Preface to 1995 Minds in Play,” xv– xviii, 4 Participation. See Computational participation Pearl Harbor, 54 Peppler, Kylie, 85, 110 Perry, Ken, 76 Persson, Markus “Notch,” 58, 96 Phrogram, 110 Piaget, Jean, 23–24, 86 Programming. See Coding Progressive pedagogy, 42–45 Project Headlight, 1–4, 11, 12, 19–20, 22, 31, 43, 136


Provenzo, Eugene, 70–71 Purple Moon, 157n16 Quake, 6, 146n6 Quake II, 6 Quest Atlantis, 85 Quest to Learn (Q2L), 14, 15, 39–42, 48–49, 112, 120, 136, 154n15 Random House, 63–64 Reflection, game-making as means to, 32 Remix, 56–57, 98, 116, 155n29 Resnick, Mitchel, 25, 107 Review writing, 130 Reynolds, Rebecca, 51 Ribon, Pamela, 63 Ristretto, 115 Robert Morris University Illinois, 40 Robertson, Judy, 32, 73 Robot Turtles (board game), 101 Rock Band, 85 Ronkin, Joanne, 3 Salen, Katie, 33, 113 Samba schools, 43–44 Sandbox games, 105–106, 106, 131 Sarkeesian, Anita, 65, 68 Satwicz, Tom, 74 Schön, Donald, 33 School camps, 49–50 Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, 120 Scratch, 8, 15, 16, 27, 28, 31, 52, 53, 53, 54, 56, 58, 79, 86, 89, 94, 108, 109, 111, 112, 114–116, 118, 125, 133–135, 137 Scribner, Sylvia, 166n17 Scripting situation, 34 Self-efficacy, 51, 155n22 Serious games movement, 2, 35, 128, 145n3


Sharing as important aspect of constructionist gaming, 13–14, 24, 137 making in relation to, 119 Shute, Valerie, 49 Silverman, Brian, 107 SimCity, 118, 125 SimCityEDU, 118 Sims video game series, 109, 117, 125 Smurf, 5 Snap! programming language, 111 Soda Play, 48 Soldering Sundays, 96–97 Solomon, Cynthia, 139–140 South Park (television show), 8, 58, 123 Spacewar, 139 Sploder, 111–112 Squire, Constance Steinkuehler, 146n3 Squire, Kurt, 74–75, 117 Stagecast, 52 Stagecast Creator, 27 StarLogo, 163n7 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) African Americans’ pipeline to, 76–78 coding integrated with, 31 in curriculum, 14 girls’ pipeline to, 72–73 STEM National Video Game Challenge, 52–54, 132, 136 Stevens, Reed, 74 Storytelling, 32 Storytelling Alice, 27, 46 Super Mario Brothers, 56 Super Mario Brothers 2, 7 Surge: Classic, 2 Swalwell, Melanie, 8 Syntonic learning, 86 Systems thinking, 33–34, 48–49



Teamwork, 48–49 That Dragon, Cancer, 81 Think You Know Philadelphia?, 91 Thoreau, Henry David, 81 TI 99/4, xvi Time management, 48–49 Tomb Raider, 71 Tools, 16–17, 102–121 design principles for, 106–116 high ceilings, 109–111 low floors, 108–109 microworlds as, 104–106 open windows, 113–116 and sharing, 119–121 wide walls, 111–113 ToonTalk, 109, 115 Toppo, Greg, 35, 41 Torres, Robert, 108 Transparency, in game design, 87, 90, 98–99, 116 Turkle, Sherry, 9, 69, 86 Twenty-first century learning, 57

education based around, 39–40 as evocative objects, 9 as microworlds, 104–106 popularity of, 9–10 time spent playing, 40 values associated with, 77–81 Violence, in video games, 71

Unity (software), 163n9 University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, 42–43 User-centered design, 131

Zimmerman, Eric, 113

Values, in gaming and computing, 77–81 Video games adults’ attraction to instructional uses of, 23–24 African Americans and, 74–78 bias in culture of, 68–71, 73, 79–80 boys’ involvement with, 74–75 children’s attraction to instructional uses of, 23 commercial vs. educational, 127–128 content of, biased or stereotypical, 65, 70–71, 79, 158n19 educational value of, 68–69, 102

Walden, a Game, 81 Watkins, Craig, 120 Watters, Audrey, 40–41 Wearable controllers, 93–95, 93, 95 Web 2.0, 46, 50, 102, 103, 113 Wenger, Etienne, 44 Werner, Linda, 46 Whyville, 134, 137 Wilensky, Uri, 105, 131 Wing, Jeannette, 10, 24, 117, 149n10 Women. See Girls and women Word Island, 127 World of Warcraft, 7, 117, 123, 127 World Wide Workshop Foundation, 50