human female grad student – a real life rpg

As part of a school project on participating with the Internet, I’ve turned six weeks of my life into an RPG.  I’m about halfway through now, and way behind on writing down my thoughts. How does one turn their life into an RPG? Well, there’s not really much change required. My whole life is one big campaign. I’m just formalizing things with numbers.

The Quest: To make it through the semester while working and maintaining a personal life. Success is measured in experience points. My goal is to acquire 6000 before the end of the project. This is not going so well. I (purposefully) gave myself missions that would be challenging. Things like picking up extra work at my job (the ever-present assessment goal) and taking my dog out regularly even though I am swamped. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few gimmes. Things that award me with stamina, like going out on a date, aren’t hard to make time for.

I’ve learned a number of things from this experiment even as I hit the halfway point. The first is that this project has actually motivated me. I was skeptical that it would have any effect on my behavior and thought it would be an exercise in transparency more than anything. I realize now that I do tend to prioritize missions above other things I could be doing. This was an odd conceit for me to make, since I am a big proponent of game-based incentives in education. That being said, I feel like what really appeals to me about the power of gaming in education is the opportunity for the player to form an identity and become immersed in the game and therefore the content it is trying to impart. When I was formulating this idea for a project, I thought about it more in terms of analytics than in terms of play. I was not forming a new identity–I was me. I did and continue to do the things that are required of me. So what is the difference? How does assigning an arbitrary point value to a task incentivize me?

I didn’t realize it at first, but I was turning my life in data. What do we in education say about data? Data can be analyzed. Data makes sense of things. Assigning “Stamina” and “Knowledge” points to my endeavors started out as slightly tongue-in-cheek and a good way for me, as the designer of this game, to arrive at a value for each mission. However, I have found that I am taking the personal missions where I am gaining stamina to heart. I feel more rested after completing these tasks, just as I feel a greater sense of accomplishment from doing a school mission than a task that I did not assign value to for the week. As a result, I have turned in more assignments early in the last few weeks than I ever have before.

I can’t exactly explain why I feel better about completing “missions”; I’m sure it might have something to do with what I’m choosing to assign to myself in the first place. I can say, though, that sitting down each Sunday and attaching very specific value to what I’m going to do that week helps me make sense of things. It seems more pressing than a to-do list. More compelling than a due date on a syllabus. I have a quest, and I feel like I must achieve my goals. It is what I love about progress bars and power-up animations on a grand scale. These kinds of metrics make one aware of their own accomplishments and quantify what is still left to achieve. This is the power of learning analytics.

I’ve learner a few other things, too. My husband does a lot to take care of me while I’m going to school. My time and resources are finite. There is value in making the decision to let something go. There is value in sending something out into the world before it is perfect. I hope I keep learning these kinds of lessons from this project.



a reflection on design

A reflection on the three i’s that I wrote for a class recently. 

As someone who designs things fairly regularly, I see the process as an extension of the desire to create.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that a designer always enjoy designing things. To the contrary, I would venture to say that many artists, writers, and musicians would say that creating things can be hard and downright painful. However, at the end of the day, the artist/designer/writer has the need or desire to make something. Just as a songwriter must start thinking about melody and rhythm as things take shape, an interactive designer must begin to think about questions of usability and readability as they form their project.

Painting is mystifying to me because I have never been particularly good at it. I assumed for a long time that one is just able to capture things in paint because they have an eye for it. More recently than I would like to admit, I have talked to artists that have changed my mind about the magic lamp I though of as “The Creative Process”. They described the difficulty of laying out draw distance, determining scale, and choosing the perfect palette. Of course, that is also what a good designer does. The process must be undertaken with care, and it is far from a miracle. Without showing too much bias, I would say that the effort in creation especially tedious in interactive media design. Not only does a designer have to ask questions about aesthetics, but of scale, heuristics, and functionality. This is where the subtle interplay of information, interface, and interaction come into focus.

Everyday, I deal in content. It is by far the most valuable thing I handle on a regular basis. These are precious ideas culled from the heads of subject matter experts and shaped by writers. My job as an instructional designed is to make this costly stuff digestible for others so that they get to experience its worth fully. That task is certainly not just of formatting and arranging. The information must be molded and then be made accessible. When the medium is digital, this means taking away the layers of abstraction that naturally crop up between text on the screen and an eager—or not so eager—user. Only through rich presentation (appropriate for the task at hand) can the full meaning of the information be derived. An effective interface is essential to delivering the promise of the material. The very act of delivering information is a way of interacting with its audience.

I would argue that interaction is the goal of all media. For instance, the goal of a piece of art is to elicit feelings within the consumer and to encourage cooperation between them and the artist. Even pure entertainment is an exchange of between the viewer and the creator, even if we scarcely consider something like television interactive at all. Interaction taps into the inherent joy humans find in reciprocity. It’s the same reason you’ll find yourself tossing pebbles into a pond—changing your environment that validates your existence.  There is something delightful about being able to manipulate things and give them context outside of oneself. This feeling is critical to creating a pleasant digital space where someone wants to spend time. Personally, I put roll over effects into just about everything, because it is one of those little details that suggests reality even in a counterfeit place.

Just how hard is it to synthesize well-sculpted information that encourages an exchange between itself and the user and deliver it in a smart way? Hard, but not so hard when the designer really stops to consider the person that they are designing for. This is why the design process is an extension of the desire to create. The source of the desire will be apparent in the final product. Hopefully, the designer has the wish to please others above all else.

Photo credit user fooflington on flickr.

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