Thursday, September 22, 2016

Experience Play: PD Post

I'm rushing to get out of town tomorrow (and that trip is connected to my game!), but I really wanted to write down some thoughts now so that I could have them put down on paper before I move on to the post-trip round of work on this project. THANK YOU, Keegan, for encouraging people to participate remotely and for sharing the game you made for your grandmother; that was what prompted me to make a game for my friend's birthday this weekend, and I want to develop that over the course of the semester to learn more, and then figure out how to incorporate all of this into my classes. So........ here's the post:

Making Your First Game video. I loved this video about making a first game! It reminds me a lot of the kinds of advice I give my students especially as they brainstorm writing projects for my classes. So, I am bookmarking this for future reference: Making Your First Game. My long-term goal here is to offer a "text game" option side by side with the current Storybook and Portfolio options that my students choose from right now, and this video will be really helpful.

My Process So Far. 

Stage One: Text Widget + Blog. The process started two Saturdays ago. We are having a poetry celebration for my friend's birthday this weekend, and I knew I wanted to use poetry by Kabir, and I thought it would be fun to make a "Random Kabir" widget as a way to share the poetry in addition to doing a reading at the party. So, I read through a bunch of Kabir, and grabbed many couplets along with excerpts from longer poems, and then I put them into a giant table, which I turned into a randomizing widget thanks to the power of (an amazing free tool built by a former student, Randy Hoyt: he built it back around 2002, and it is still going strong!). I created a blog to display and share the widget, and also to share the texts I had used, along with bibliography, plus some videos. I used so that I could host the javascript in an https environment, and I also built a vanilla HTTPS webpage display of the widget to use via iframe in places where javascript is not allowed (like in Canvas). I also used OUCreate to make a nice simple URL for the site: (Nomi is the birthday girl!). I thought I was done... but then...

I had a dream.

Stage Two: The Game. Yes, a dream: no kidding! I dreamed about Kabir's poetry as a garden to wander in, and I realized that it could be a text game. So, I spent all of last Saturday making a game! Because I had the blog set up already, I decided to use the blog as a kind of storyboarding space, supplemented by a Google Drive Spreadsheet and a Google Drive Doc to keep track of my work. I created posts for each chunk of poetry, and then I looked for ways to connect them through shared lexical items. I did it in a very simple way: I started with one verse and then branched, and then branched, with a few triple branches and a few crossovers, but no real loopbacks. It's very simple: the idea is that you go into the garden, and eventually the path comes to an end and you are invited to start again. The shortest path has five turns (I'm pretty sure that is the shortest one), and the longest path actually has ten turns (I think! I got a little lost by the end, ha ha). I'm calling it The Garden of Kabir.

Stage Three. Party! I hope we can play this at the birthday party. I've played it on my computer, and it also works well using a browser on a mobile device because Blogger automatically defaults to a nice mobile view which is actually perfect for the game. I am really curious to learn what people think about this at the party, and I hope I will get some ideas for how to keep developing it. The way I think we can play it at the party is that I will read the first verse and ask someone to pick, then read again, ask someone to pick, and so on. It will be like walking through the garden together, sharing the decisions about which way to go next. There are going to be some really wonderful people at this party: artists, poets, people who do improv... so much good energy and wild imagination. So I hope to grab some new ideas there!

Here are some of the ideas I have in mind already:

1. Learning resources at the blog. I want to develop the existing blog posts to have more links and background information so that people will better understand the poetry and Kabir's cultural context. For that reason, I will definitely be maintaining the blog and also expanding it. The blog post structure lets me add commentary, links, images, and video as needed, which I really like for making this a real learning opportunity. For literally 30 years I have wanted to immerse myself in a real study of Kabir... and now I am going to take a couple of years to do that. I am also thinking that the time may have come to finally (FINALLY) learn Hindi.

2. More Garden paths. I want to think more about how to create and maintain the paths in the blog version of the garden. I did it quite hurriedly and while all the paths seem to work, I am guessing they are not optimized. I am not even exactly sure how you optimize paths in a game. I am hoping to learn more about that as part of the Experience Play course!

3. I want to add more texts to the Garden. I relied mostly on Tagore because I could copy-and-paste from Gutenberg, but there are also some other great online resources I can use, including the verses of Kabir in the Sikh scripture Adi Granth, plus there is Ahmad Shah's public domain translation of the Bijak, along with some other freely available materials online. I also have some excerpts from printed books, like the wonderful book by Vinay Dharwadker, formerly of the University of Oklahoma; I met him my first year here, although he has since moved to Wisconsin. I am excited to get in touch with him when I have made some more progress here; we have not been in touch all these years, so this will be a very nice excuse to contact him and thank him for his beautiful Kabir book: Kabir: The Weaver's Songs. It is the book I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about Kabir and his legacy beyond what is available freely online.

4. Twine! I want to build something more like a maze using TwineThreads, something more structured than the rambling branching I have done at the blog. I will need to plan that out, and I'm not really ready to do that yet, but working in the blog space has given me so many ideas. What I am hoping is that I can build something really cool with Twine, and then figure out how to replicate it in a blog so that my students can choose either to learn how to use Twine and/or to build something in a blog space (since they already are doing a lot with blogging in my classes).

Final thoughts on Digital Storytelling (in response to Keegan's prompt). I'm not really much of a technologist, so the digital is not what matters to me so much, except insofar as digital makes possible CONNECTED Storytelling, which is what I care about deeply. I love stories, all the stories... and I see all the stories as connected in a gigantic woven intertext. And yes, I also love that Kabir was, by profession, a weaver. The Internet (WWW) has given us a new way to experience the connectedness of stories, linking and sharing, sharing and linking. I am really glad that Keegan and Co. have prompted me to take my limitless enthusiasm and express it in a new form... a form that people can play. And in my next post I promise to say something about Sanskrit LILA, the play. Kabir has a lot to say about play too: plays of joy!

And now... I need to go pack for my trip. Thanks again, Keegan, for this lovely opportunity. I never would have turned my widget into a playable game without your encouraging example!!!

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