CGSA – Day 2 – Panel 4 & 5

Session 4 – Alternative Play Spaces

This sessions dealt with the ever-neglected (imo) topic of health issues/education and videogames.  Fern Delamere kicked the 4th session off with her presentation called Place Matters: social Construction, Disability Groups and the Virtual World Second Life.  Her focus is to look at the virtual worlds in respect to the social communication and the fact that space matters for people with disabilities in terms of the support. The virtual space allows people to get together and interact in ways that they may not be able to in their everyday, physical lives. Looking at the supports systems and services, the relationship between health advocacy and those who participate in these communities. These places level the playing field (physically and socially) for those who go to them – neutral places – and this is important. Fern spend a nice portion of the presentation talking about places like The Virtual Ability Island which offers those with physical disabilities to participate in things that they may not be able to do otherwise and (Virtual) Help Island that focus on health and disability information (i.e. meetings and advocacy) and multiple groups such as the American Cancer Society, Wheelies in SL (social dances for those with disabilities) and Gimp Girl, which is a group of women with disabilities who work towards re-appropriating the word gimp as something that is empowering and unifying. All of these groups and spaces broaden the scope of social meaning and education for both disabled and able bodied people.

The second presentation in the panel was presented by Bill Kapralos titled Community Health Nursing Education Comes to Life and aimed to talk about serious games, the motivation behind the project, and mSTREET, which is a modular synthetic training .. slides moving fast – I missed the last few words). Bill frames the talk by contextualizing the target audience for digitally mediated education as those who have been raised in a “sensory flooded” society (dubbed the Millennial Student – 1981-1999). They expect learning to be “fun” and therefore serious games can be an innovative tool for education. The focus of the presentation is on Community Health Nursing which encompasses home care/public health as something that is moving away from the hospital and into the community. The video game aspect is related to ways to develop its curriculum as that which is contrasted to traditional nursing education. Through serious games and simulations, it can provide the students with a safe practice environment. It would also develop critical and reflective thinking skills, and reinforce key learning concepts. Admittedly, a step or three away from topics that I am usually drawn in by, sometimes it is quite interesting to see projects that attempt to use innovative teaching and research tools to move a field (any field) further.

Session 5 – Identity in MMO’s

Probably the session that I should have presented in (oddly, I cannot remember the last time I presented my identity work in a peer public venue). That being said, there couldn’t be a better topic (imho) to wrap it all up.

Alison Harvey presented her work titled Situated Accounts in Non-Places: Doing Empirical Research on Online Gaming which dealt with methodology, specifically ANT (Actor Network Theory), SST (Social Shaping of Technology) and Post Structural Feminism. Messy methods – John Lay – After Method: mess in social science research.  It is important to keep in mind that research methods are not value neutral – this needs to be taken into consideration when one chooses their methods for research. Alison spent the first half of the presentation taking us through the bullet-pointed definitions (the best kind) of ANT, SST, SCOT and how these theories can be used in research (specifically ANT). She also makes parallels between SST and post-structuralist gender/queer theory as something that tries to move beyond dichotomous thinking. Describing games such as Club penguin which reifies gender norms in video game design – compared to how gender norms are actually performed. A few phrases that stuck out as Alison was wrapping up her presentation: Gender in action instead of as innate traits. Methods from the margins. Allow the messiness of life into the rigid boundaries of research methods.

The last presentation of the day was given by Elkan and Sheldon Richmond – The Question of Identity in Massive Multi-Player Games and Social Reality. As a game designer, philosopher and systems analyst they open the presentation off with questions for the audience about the multiplicity/singularity of identity, getting the group to collectively challenge ideas of reality, being and identity, morality. “Am I my job” ; “how do different social roles or identity related to my ‘real’ identity”; and “if my ‘real’ identity is above and beyond what I do, what is my identity” (the last question was let go, as the audience did not take the dialogue in the (potentially) desired direction). A philosophical presentation that seemed to aim to get the group to discuss the banality (or purpose?) of studying videogames. However, the presentation never really got to talk about videogames at all in an informational sort of way. Too bad really.

All in all, it was a great conference, a few good meals, a couple of good brew (Young’s Double Chocolate Stout baby!), a lot of great conversations and honestly, nothing better than being able to meet once a year with a group of similarly but just different enough-thinking peers.

CGSA 2010 – Concordia University, Montreal Canada next May.

Quote of the day: I guess you can call it informed, directed ignorance

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