The 4th International Educational Games Competition

This month saw the 10th European Conference of Game-Based Learning (ECGBL) 2016 hosted at The University of the West of Scotland, Paisley Campus. In line with the conference, the 4th International Education Games Competition accepted entrants that harness education within their games. Project:Filter was one of these entrants.

Previous winners of the competition set a high standard for submissions. Last year's winner, Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination, explores the occupation of Czechoslovakia under Nazi occupation, and the aftermath of Deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich's assassination. 2014's winner, Meister Cody: Talasia, tackles dyscalculia and math weakness in children, with scientific validation to improve competence within six weeks. The inaugural winner, Mystery of Taiga River, deals with environmental health issues and stakeholder participation in solving problems in the domain of water health.

I submitted Project:Filter out of hope more than anything: I did not have the utmost confidence that I would receive a nomination (in all honesty). Mostly out of intense self-criticism came a lack of confidence in what I have been working on: "Is my work any good?" has cropped up every now and again during the development of my game and my research. However, if I didn't submit I'd never know that answer, and the fear of not knowing has always driven me forward (hence why I chose to go down the route of academic enquiry).

From a research perspective, this was a perfect way to justify my development. I had hoped to use the competition as a method of expert analysis on Project:Filter, gathering perspectives on the game's design and intentions. This, in turn, would validate particular decisions and raise questions over others, but as a whole provide an insight from professionals in the field. In a sense, it's a peer-review process: if it works for paper publications, a game competition should not be any different.

As part of the submission to the competition, an abstract and short video of the game had to be submitted. This was really the first time I had put down on paper what the 'final' article for Project:Filter is intended to be. It has also helped to serve as a template for what I should be considering as part of my thesis: what questions should be addressed as part of the research domain? Since the video submission, Project:Filter has gone through quite a large iteration; as such, I do not think it's necessary to put it up for the danger of misleading and confusing people. Maybe later down the line I'll piece together a post comparing Project:Filter and its iterative stages...

An excerpt from the abstract can be read below:

Project:Filter is designed for adolescent school children to educate and generate interest in public, environmental, and water health issues. The game is inspired by noPILLS. The aims included investigating public engagement methods in order to reduce micropollution in public and private water supplies. This included using serious games as a potential intervention method.

Project:Filter is a single-player experience that borders between narratological enquiry and arcade-like challenge. The player takes control of a drone tasked with cleaning a water reservoir by entering numerous pipes. Each pipe represents a facet of society impacted from micropollution, from agriculture to marine wildlife. The player's goal is to collect a pre-defined total of pollutants while defending a filter at the end of the pipes. Players fail if their drone loses all of its lives through colliding with the filter, or if the filter loses all of its health from incoming pollutants.

The competition was structured into three components. On the first day, participants would be allocated a fifteen-minute time slot to informally discuss their games to two judges. This would be followed up with a demo session with the conference delegates on the following day, where three finalists would be chosen. In the closing session, each finalist would be afforded ten minutes to formally present their game to the delegates, before a winner was announced.

The judging panel for my session involved Professor Maja Pivec and Professor Carlos Vaz de Carvalho. With over two hundred publications and twelve books between them, two of the field's leading figures offered their opinions and criticisms on the (digital-based) submissions to the competition. It goes without saying that their feedback is invaluable to the continued development of Project:Filter.

My fifteen-minute discussion did not go as I'd expected. Possibly due to a self-imposed pressure to do my work justice, I found it an uphill battle to articulate my ideas strongly enough, and as a result a lot of what I was saying was not resonating with the judges. I felt quite overwhelmed by the process, which was rather uncharacteristic of me. In the end, I didn't feel I'd done myself justice at all.

My time during the demo session was spent revisiting my presentation for that day, which was in the following session. Unfortunate circumstances with illness to my colleague led me to prepare for a full presentation, something which I hadn't prepared for previously. This had a knock-on effect to the demo session, which I didn't have time to present in.

The finalists were then afforded the time to present their games. That honour was given to four very interesting projects that approached game-based learning from different angles. Firstly, Discovery Agents is a location-based game where organisations could set up their own content for the public to interact with instantly. E-Ship: Navigating Uncertainty is a board game that focused on the education of entrepreneurial skills. Deadly Distribution from The K20 Center targets undergraduates of statistics courses, statistically (no pun intended) shown to be a course common with low motivation among students. The eventual winner of the competition was Circuit Warz, which presents an array of software options for the learning of engineering and circuitry.

So, Project:Filter did not advance further in the International Educational Games Competition, but it was a privilege to make it to the conference sessions. I was made aware of the judging process as part of the briefing for the competition, so there are a group that recognise a potential for Project:Filter; that's a confidence-boost for an otherwise underwhelming outing. For the time being, it's a case of taking feedback on board from the conference, having a few discussions and thoughts, and planning what the future holds for Project:Filter.