Teaching and Games

Teaching tools like games can supplement or shift the ways we interact with literary texts. ARIS is one of those tools. ARIS is an open source web-based tool that utilizes a combination of story elements and GPS (Global Positioning System) mapping to create a locative, augmented reality experience. ARIS puts fictional, historical, or theoretical content onto a specific location on a map, which appears to the player when they enter a designated space.

An ARIS map as it appears to the user/player.

An image or video appears in a designated location.

ARIS has provided a new way for me to think about narrative structure in an interactive learning environment. Augmented reality GPS-based platforms imbue location with new dynamic experiences and generate multiple meanings within a specific geographical location. The text, image, and animation on the screen, project layers of meaning onto a particular space, thus transforming a seemingly static spatial environment into a kind of palimpsest, making abstract ideas or histories immediately experiential and relevant.

Currently Professor Jon McKenzie and I, in collaboration with the Mobile Learning Incubator, are exploring ways that abstract theoretical concepts can be situated or located in real spaces. In Eng 550: Studies in Criticism our students are using the concepts and information architectures of theory comics to build games in ARIS. For example, one group may decide to use post-colonial theory to animate the paradoxical histories of Bascom Hall, an historic and iconic building on the UW-Madison campus, so that as the player walks through the building with an iOS device, they can engage with Bascom Hall’s paradoxical histories of colonialism (e.g. its placement on effigy mounds) and democracy (e.g. its history of land grants and public education).

As you can imagine, locative-based game design has particularly exciting possibilities for learning. For example, as a student builds a game, she is compelled to think about the ways that the story structure (the narrative development/divergence, the pathways of the game, the conceptual architecture) and the design elements of the game (sounds, images, colors) affect the structures of knowledge within the game, the story arc, the affective augmented environment of the player, and the learning outcomes that result from these combination of choices. As students craft stories or experiences for other users, they reflect on the processes that affect the ways they think about and perceive the world around them.

DesignLab provides a space where the university community can grapple with the affordances and constraints of new media forms and with their relationship to pedagogy, interdisciplinary practices, and various area studies. For me specifically, game design provides a creative outlet for thinking about and experimenting with the interplay between theory, narrative structure, and media form. Just as language can be used as a political tool, so too digital media platforms often lend themselves to a radical potential that is materialized as artistic process intersects with theoretical innovation.

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