Flashbacks of a Fool

This is the first week of the “Introduction to Digital Game-based Learning” module. Over the next 12 weeks, we will be exploring the world of digital games in terms of ideas, concepts, issues and controversies and in particular how games can aid with the learning process – what lessons can be learnt if any? I do believe that exploration and play are the building blocks of learning.

But before we begin our adventure into the realm of gaming and the gamer-learner, we must start with that time old tradition of storytelling – the back story or rather my back story which will provide some historical context to my relationship and engagements with games.

I was never fond of traditional sports like football or rugby and as such a lot of my peers felt that I must be a misfit or something. But I did enjoy games that were created from my own imagination involving LEGO, Meccano and toy figures. This extended to the traditional board games like “Cludeo” (a personal favourite), chess, draughts, “monopoly“, “snakes and ladders” (another favourite) which I played with friends and family – so the socialisation of game playing became an important aspect for me. I was very keen (and still am) on “Top Trumps” and other card games like poker, 21 and cribbage.

By the time I reached my teens, this would be the 1980s with the advent of the arcade games, like “Pac Man” (another favourite), “Asteroids” and “Breakout” and some of the earlier computer games. I owned a Binatone TV Master that played a number of rudimentary games like “Pong” and “Tennis”, this was later superceded with an Acorn Electron which ran a version of BBC BASIC¬†and allowed me to play such games as “Repton” and the near legendary “Elite” which made use of wireframe technology and was one of the first games to make use of the “back story” in the form of a mini novel. At college, I had become hooked on the game version of Douglas Adams’ “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy“, which was a text-based role playing game (it has since been updated by a friend of mine who went to the same college and was a collaborator of Douglas Adams).

However, these early games soon lost their appeal on me as that all important socialisation factor was missing – while some people could be engaged with the competitive nature of trying to beat the computer it lacked the camaraderie. I became aware of the role playing game¬†genre or RPG that involved creating characters and becoming them to be able to perform a range a series of tasks or activites usually within fantastical settings that required creativity, imagination and team work. The RPG that I enjoyed the most was based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s stories and was called “Call of Cthulhu“. What struck me the most about this game was the narratory skills of “The Keeper” which, if played well, was atmospheric and damn-right scary – here you were completely immersed with the story and the character which you are playing. Whilst there were a load of game-based resources for this game, I had preferred to create my own “Call of Cthulhu” scenarios inspired by the works of Lovecraft, Poe, Conan Doyle, Christie and such like – if only the Internet was available at the time.

In the mid 1990s which saw the rise of the Internet within the Higher Education sector, I had developed a SF / murder mystery game called “Murder on the Aurora” which was developed using HTML and Javascript and was created to help new users to the World Wide Web get to grips with this new, emergent technology.

Whilst I don’t own a Wii, X-box or any of the PlayStation variants, I have become interested in the alternate reality game or ARG phenomena which have been made popular by TV shows like “Lost”, “Spooks”, “Heroes” and “Torchwood – again, this plays heavily on story telling and having the gamer to “live out” the role.

That’s my “back story”, so let the adventure begin…