Exploring risk through pervasive gaming

By Andrés Monroy-Hernández MIT Media Laboratory

T540: Cognition and the Art and Science of Instruction Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Tina Grotzer

This is project is not for the TE Specialization but uses technology and is not part of another class.

Overall purpose
The goal of this project is to foster the understanding of risk by creating and participating in pervasive games. Special focus will be directed towards risk in the context of complex causality, such as the risk in virus-like phenomena. As our society becomes more interconnected in the physical and digital realm, complex phenomena have become common place. From viral marketing to the avian flu virus, the understanding of risk within this context is important for the full participation of individuals in society. In the spirit of the Participatory Simulations (Colella, 1998) and the Environmental Detectives (Klopfer, 2002) this project exposes learners to the understanding objectives through games that take in the physical world. Inspired by Constructionist philosophy (Papert, 1980), I try to go a step further by encouraging participants to design their own games. This paper is a description of the following: • A two day workshop where middle-school students create and participate in pervasive games that explore the topic of risk assessment. The overarching goal of the activities is to promote the transfer of knowledge through the exploration of structurally similar phenomena. • The technical design and proof-of-concept prototype of the system where the pervasive games will take place.

Understanding goals
Based on the research literature (Grotzer, 2005) there are core issues involved in the perception of risk in complex phenomena. This project tries to tackle these issues while promoting the use of iterative design. 1. Question: How can we find the hidden (or non-obvious) causes of an infection1? Statement: Students will understand and appreciate: • • that risk can stem from unexpected causes that it is important to question assumptions

2. Question: Can an infection be caused by something far away or that happened sometime in the past? Statement: Students will understand and appreciate: • that causes do not have to be in temporal and spatial proximity. For example, there are theories that explain active hurricane seasons as caused by an increase in water temperature in the arctic. 3. Question: Can an infection have multiple unrelated causes? Statement: Students will understand and appreciate: • that a centralized mindset is not always useful when analyzing complex causality. For example, most people tend to think that traffic jams are caused by a single event such as an accident or a construction site, but oftentimes it is caused by the small


The word infection is used to refer to any type of phenomenon that exhibits virus-like


decentralized relationships between cars such as differences in speed. 4. Question: Can we tell how risky something is? Statement: Students will understand and appreciate: • that when confronted with risk it is helpful to model it in a quantitative and/or qualitative way, instead of viewing it as a dichotomy (i.e. risky vs. not risky) 5. Question: What is the value of creating a model of a system and redesigning it a few times? Statement: Students will understand and appreciate: • that model-building skills are helpful to convey and understand an idea • that iterative design is a useful skill

It is important to note that the goal of this intervention is not to present risk as something to be avoided at all costs. After all we would not have learned how to ride a bike if it was not for our ability to take risks.

Analysis of learning challenges
Most of the understanding goals described before were selected based on what research has identified as being challenging features of understanding risk in the context of complex causality. Therefore, the learning challenges and goals in this project have an almost one to one relationship. 1. Tendency to attend to only obvious causes. When assessing risk there are multiple factors that can come into play to determine how risky something

is. Research shows (Driver and Warrington, 1985) that often times people’s explanations focus more on those “perceptually obvious” than those less noticeable causes. 2. A centralized mindset is common in most children and even adults. The idea of decentralized systems is not new, yet, most of us grow in a world where the centralized mindset is prevalent. Assessing risk with a decentralized mindset is powerful, however, it is challenging not only for children but for all people. Leiser (1983) exemplifies it when writing about children’s conception of Economics: “The child finds it easier to refer unexplained phenomena to the deliberate actions of a clearly defined entity, such as the government, than to impersonal ‘market forces’.” 3. Great difficulty is shown in understanding causes that involve probability. Research shows that children can think in probabilistic terms, but they greater difficulty in thinking about probabilistic causes (Kalish, 1998). 4. Time delays and distance can prevent people from seeing a causal relationship (Grotzer & Bell, 1999). Credit assignment is one of the pillars of learning (Minsky, in print), but sometimes it is very challenging to identify the causes of an event due to the difference in time or distance between cause and effect. For example, is global warming related to something that is happening in a different location?

Structure of Intervention
If you wanted to really learn French, you cannot do better than living in France for a while (Papert, 1980). With this idea in mind, the Logo programming language was invented as way to give children the ability to live in 'Mathland' – a computer environment where Mathematics must be learned in order to play, explore and prosper. Using this powerful notion of full immersion, this project tries to create a microworld where in order to play, explore and prosper, one must learn about risk. “Riskland” takes the form of a pervasive game where the learning goal is to let participants be fully immersed in a virtual world where the understanding of risk is necessary to succeed.

The game
The objective of the game is to earn points by collecting items scattered around certain location (school, neighborhood or city). Participants are split into teams and teammates are encouraged to help each other. The winning team is the one that gets the highest score by the end of the session, which is not necessarily the one that collects the most number of items. In order to emphasize the collaborative nature of the game, only the team’s scores are published for everyone to see. The personal scores are private by default. Participants carry cell phones with them that, using cell phone tower IDs, the system can determine the zone in which the participant is located. Given this

location, the cell phone presents the user with a list of possible items to be found in that area with a description and picture of the specific location given as clues.

Fig 1. Cell phone application with location awareness.

The items to be collected are physical annotations embodied in Semacode2 tags. Inspired by the use of Semacodes in the Semapedia project (Rondeau & Wiechers, 2005), these paper tags are attached to physical spaces such as walls, doors, etcetera. This how a Semacode looks like this:


Semacode is a trade name for machine-readable two-dimensional black and white

symbols that act as "barcode URLs." It is primarily aimed at being used with cellular phones with cameras. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semacode)

Fig. 2. Example of Semacode printed on paper (Semapedia)

The tag itself only needs to have the Semacode, anything else printed on the tag is for decoration purposes or to explain to people not participating in the game what the tags are about. When a participant finds an item he or she he uses a camera phone to read the tag and record the finding into the system. Just for finding the item, the participant’s team gets one additional point.

Fig 3. Participant finding Semacode in the street uses the Semacode reader (Semapedia, Semacode).

Once recording the finding and its corresponding point, the participant will be presented with the choice of getting an additional reward that comes with the risk of a penalty. The participants are presented with information that will help them make the decision of whether or not the reward is worth the risk of the negative consequence. Rewards can be: Points ranging from 1 to 10. Ability to get double or triple points in the future collections. Ability to get additional points if participant engages in an interaction with another teammate. Interactions consist of getting in physical proximity with a teammate and connect both cell phones via Bluetooth3.
Fig. 4. Users exchanging information via Bluetooth (Corbis)

Penalties can be: Item collection disabled for certain period of time or in certain location. Item collection hindered by cutting in half or third future points collections.


Bluetooth provides a way to connect and exchange information between devices like

personal digital assistants (PDAs), mobile phones, laptops, PCs, printers and digital cameras via a secure, low-cost, globally available short range radio frequency.

Awards and penalties are explicitly described as well as the percentage of risk associated with it. For example, a screen could have a statement like this:

Fig. 5. Proof of concept application

Penalties can affect the individual that found it or they can spread to others when interacting with them. The spreading of penalties depends on: The penalty. Some penalties cannot be spread The interaction with other players, mainly teammates. The interaction with the items. Some penalties can be transported from one item to another. The game changes as participants interact with items and with each other, giving it dynamism and the ability to frame each activity to convey specific understanding goals. All activities are recorded by the system.

The activities
During the workshop, participants first play a predefined game and later customize their own game by placing Semacode tags in physical locations and registering them into the system using their cell phones. When the registration takes place, the participant has the ability to choose a reward and penality from a menu.

Fig. 6. Participat pasting printed Semacode in a physical location (Semapedia)

During the game, participants are expected to confront the understanding goals when trying to make sense of the game as players and designers. Debriefing sessions will consist of discussion and reflection on the activities as well as through experiments that will lead students to make analogies of the abstract underlying structure of the game with similar scenarios from real life. Facilitators will encourage learning by analogies and will use those analogies to confront students with their naïve assumptions about their experiences in other settings.

The activity will be a two day workshop that will follow a structure like this: • Day 1 o 9:00 AM. Give students an overview of the day’s activities and overall goals. For example: “Welcome everyone, today we are going to learn about risk. We will learn new ways of thinking about risk and its causes. We are going to do this by playing some games. How many of you like games? What type of games? Video games? Well, today we are going to play a game using your cell phones, it is part video game and part real-world game. We’ll be walking, talking and having fun. The first half of the day we will… and then we will finish by doing…. Ok?” o 9:15 AM. Introduction. Students will be asked to thinking about their current understanding of risk. This will also help facilitators get an idea of what are the preconceptions students bring with them. Sample questions to direct the conversation: Can you give me examples of situations where you have encountered risk? How do you decide whether or not to take risk? How does your perception of risk is affected by how big or small the consequences are? (Extent of consequence)

Do you think risk is related to luck? (Deterministic vs. probabilistic) Can you always tell when something involves risk? Can you remember any situation when you or someone else did something and later found unforeseen consequences? (Nonobviousness) o 10:00 AM. Describe purpose of the game and split students into two groups. Let them choose a name for their team. o 10:30 AM. First game takes place to get students accustomed to the system and experience the concepts in real life. This section appeals to those learners that enjoy playing games and manipulating toys, like in the case of Montessori learning objects (Zuckerman, in preparation) o 11:30 AM. Everybody gets together to have a brief discussion of the experience. Sample questions for the discussion: What strategies did you use while playing the game? What made you take the risk of going after a reward? How did you come up with that conclusion? Did you encounter a situation where you didn’t know why you got less or more points than you thought? Why do you think that happened? o 12:30 PM. The winning team is announced. o 12:40 PM Lunch break.

o 1:00 PM. Facilitators explain that now it is time for them to design their own game by hiding items and assigning them rewards and penalties. They are informed that the game they are designing will be played by the other team. The learning objective for the design of customized games is mainly to foster a deeper understanding of risk concepts because creative design is one of the cognitive tasks that promote development of analogies (Ganter et al, 2001) Students should accomplish a higher level of mastery in the understanding of the game and risk itself. Through the design of their own games students will think about how to challenge the other players by thinking about making clever combinations of award-penalty pairs that use some of the learning challenges themselves. o 1:30 PM. Groups go and design their game. This resonates with learners more inclined to learning by design and construction. (Zuckerman, in preparation). Facilitators need to make sure that the level of difficulty is maintained within reasonable standards. The parameters to be observed are: Location of items. Make sure they are not in dangerous or inaccessible locations. The points awarded should correspond to the risk and the penalty. For example, a reward of 1 extra point with a 99% risk of loosing 10 points might not be the best arrangement.

The facilitator should point out this, but the students themselves should think about this and making the final decisions. o 2:30 PM. Everyone gets together again. Facilitators indicate that new each group can play each others game. o 3:30 PM. Time is up. Discussion of experiences guided by questions from the facilitators. These questions should lead students to: Answer any questions they had about the structure of the game. Make analogies of their experience with real-world phenomena. Leveraging the power of analogical reasoning (Gillespie, 1999). Think about their strategies and ways of thinking while they were playing the game. Sample questions: • Let’s list all the types of risk/rewards you experienced and the strategies that we can use to make a decision. • If you could name the strategies you used, how would you name them? • Can you think of examples in the real life where you have encountered similar decision making situations?

Did you act the same way as in the game? If not, why? • How is the game similar to real life? How is it different? • What type of penalties did you use when designing your game? Which ones do you think are the most challenging for other players and why? • How did creating the game help you see the different things to look for when assessing risk? What elements of the game do not apply to real life? • In what scenarios do you think similar strategies to the ones used in the game might or might not work in real life? Why? • How would you advise others to act on similar situations? • Do others team members affect your decision making? Would you have done the same if you were playing by yourself? Does the same happen to you in real life? o 4:30 PM. Facilitators indicate that students can stay to discuss with their teammates ways to improve their game design and playing strategies for the next day session. This initiates the first iteration of the design of their game. Facilitators should help teams in the

design of their games based on the different strategies and challenges that came up during the discussion, which should resemble the concepts listed in the understanding goals. • Day 2 o 9:00 AM. Welcoming to day two. Facilitators present the goals and schedule for the day. o 9:30 AM. Students continue in the improvement of their game and creation of strategies. o 10:30 AM. Groups play each others game. It is assumed that the difficulty of the game is higher as well as their skills for playing the game. o 11:30 AM. Everyone gets together and a winning team is announced. Teams start working on a poster that summarizes their experiences and strategies on how to approach the game and the applications of the skills in other risk assessment activities. Facilitators should help students in defining the structural elements of the posters which ideally should include: Lists of social and natural phenomena that share characteristics with the game, specifying the differences as well. Mind maps on all the concepts touched upon the activities. Workflows on different strategies used during the game and noting how they can be applied in real life.

o 12:00 PM. Lunch break. o 1:00 PM. Poster creation continues. o 2:00 PM. Poster presentation takes place. Facilitators lead the discussion and wrap up by giving a didactic presentation that encapsulates the understanding goals. Each team has 20 minutes to present their poster and defend their ideas. The organizers should highlight those concepts presented by the students that match the understanding goals. o 3:00 P M. Group assessment takes place. The questions should be very similar to the assessment done the first day, but giving more emphasis to what was experienced in the games o 4:00 PM. Ends. The discussion session is perhaps one of the most important moments of the workshop because it is the main opportunity to foster high-road transfer. The facilitator should encourage students to challenge what is presented and question each other their understanding (Feltovich, 1993). Questions should lead to the description of the general structure of the game and then the facilitator should point out explicitly the general features of the activity (Perkins and Salomon, 1988). Some of the questions should lead to the finding of similarities between the models presented in the activity and other phenomena students know, for example: Diseases Rumors

Sexual education Smoking Pollution

Justification for the Design
There is a long tradition of games in the style of what here is proposed. Examples of this are scavenger and treasure hunts and more recently Geocaching (Peters, 2004). Geocaching, is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which participants (called "geocachers") use a Global Positioning System receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches") anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook and "treasure" (usually toys or trinkets of little monetary value). Some variations of the game include a point system to enhance game play (Wikipedia). At the same time, these types of hunting games have been mentioned by educators (Lary, 2004) as a valuable tool in educational environment. Similarly, successful implementations of pervasive games for education can be exemplified by the game Savannah (Benford et al, 2004) where kids play at being lions by navigating in augmented environments with mobile handheld devices. Nevertheless, the idea of letting people not just participate, but also create their own games has not been widely explored. Through the design of their own games, learners will take the active roll of creators not just consumers of ideas. The creative design process is a cognitive task where analogy development is manifested (Gentner et al,2001). The hope is that the

creations of analogies will occur and if it does, research shows that it can have a very positive impact on learning. 1. One of the goals of the activities in this project is to appeal to a wide range of people, something that Resnick and Silverman (2005) call “wide walls”. This also reflects the multiple intelligence theory set forth by Gardner (1980). Given that framework we could map several intelligence types to aspects of the game: • Logical/mathematical. Coming up with a strategy for finding of items and assessing risk in a quantitatively way • Verbal/linguistic. Describing activities during the discussion and poster presentation. • Visual/spatial. Creating a mental image of the physical locations where the game takes place. • Bodily/kinesthetic. The activities involve walking and moving around in a physical location looking for the hidden items. • Interpersonal. Socialization is part of the team organization. Also, having mental models of other players help make the game more challenging during the design phase. • Intrapersonal. Individual exploration and planning occurs during the game. 2. Learners have the opportunity to confront these challenges while playing two roles: designer and participant. While playing the game, the understanding challenges are actually part of the game challenges,

fostering the understanding of the core ideas. Similarly to learning analytical skills while playing chess. When the learners play the role of designers, they have the opportunity to customize the game by placing challenging obstacles that relate to the learning challenges as well. As opposed to other game design tools that give a lot of freedom, in this case the tool will give less freedom as to what options are available, giving more emphasis to the understanding of the core concepts rather than the game building itself. One can think of this design tool as a MS Word Template where we can only change the content but the framework is created for us. 3. The abstract nature of the game would allow for the use of multiple analogies rather than being stuck to a specific example. All the discussions should always link back to specific examples. This feature is aimed at fostering transfer. The activities are abstract on purpose to avoiding low-road transfer by attempting to emphasize deep structures rather than surface features (Feltovitch et al, 1993). Ideally this will lead to a high-road transfer (Perkins D.N. &Salomon, G, 1988) to a diverse number of fields presented during the discussion session. 4. Facilitators end the sessions with a group discussion and reflection of the events of the game that try to encourage the use of the metacognitive layers through Socratic-like questioning. For example, one of the metacognitive layers relates to the evaluation of the type of thinking learners do, this is approached through suggested questions such as “In

what scenarios do you think similar strategies to the ones used in the game might or might not work in real life? Why?”. Learners have the opportunity to confront these challenges while playing two roles: designer and participant. While playing the game, the understanding challenges are actually part of the game challenges, fostering the understanding of the core ideas. Similarly to learning analytical skills while playing chess. When the learners play the role of designers, they have the opportunity to customize the game by placing challenging obstacles that relate to the learning challenges as well. 5. In the spirit of Constructivism, one of the goals of this project is to engage students in the creative design of a game, not only to foster the modelbuilding skills but because “research has shown that the process of creating models (as opposed to simply using models built by someone else) helps develop a greater understanding of the concepts embedded in the models” (Colella 2001). 6. Collaborative learning. Given the structure of activities it is expected to foster collaboration. 7. Engagement. The activities should be fun for everyone. Participants in previous similar activities have proven to be very engaging. This is what an educator found in a Geocaching activity: “The kids were excited (as were the parent volunteers who, in one case, had to be restrained!), and two of them even mailed me thank you notes after the camp was over.

How often do students actually thank you for teaching them something?” (Leary, 2005)

Critique of the design
Perhaps this project is too ambitious at trying to accomplish the understanding of risk while also showing how to create a game. There were two reasons why I decided to go this way. The first is that in my personal experience the deepest learning experiences occur when I am building something rather than being just an observer. The second is that the creative design functionality has not been widely explored in the realm of pervasive gaming. I think running a mini version of this workshop with other graduate students could give me a better idea of how successful this could be and what changes can be made, perhaps the creation of games should only be introduced in a longer workshop. Given my limited experience in teaching it is hard to predict how the sessions would be carried out, this has made the facilitator’s instructions lack more detailed definition. This, again, can be improved by running a mini workshop where I would get better sense of how the script of a session would look like. The same critique applies to the description of the posters. In terms of the technology, one of the biggest challenges is the User Interface given the space limitations of the cell phone. The goal will be to opt for simpler interfaces even at the cost of attractiveness. There is certainly a lot of work needed to be done before this can be implemented in a school setting, but I think this paper help me shed a light on those issues to be on the look out for. In the next weeks the focus will be on the

creation of the simplest version of both: the activities and the technology, leaving aside the ability to design customized games. This will give me a product that I can test in a lab environment and from which I can get more feedback from experts. I expect to have multiple iterations of the same process until I have a more refined version of this project.

The initial idea is to implement the items as printed Semacode tags (similar to those used by semapedia.org). Using cell phones with location based services (Java API LBS JSR 1.79) the phone will tell the user where to look for items and some clues. Once the user finds the item, it will use the camera phone to retrieve the information from the Semacode. The prototype is composed of a J2ME Semacode reader application that utilizes Location Based Services and/or cell tower ID. The application assumes the availability of camera features on the phone and data access to connect to the server where the index of Semacodes and their reward/penalty information is stored. This project capitalizes on existing technology developed at the MIT and in other places that would make it feasible to scale this to a larger audience. A sample of the applications to be used as core components of this project are here: http://web.media.mit.edu/~andresmh/riskland/ along with instructions on how to install them on a Nokia cell phone.

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