A sense of community- Online. How the card game Magic: The Gathering acts as a nurturing design and social space.
For this play journal we embark on a magical journey across the great trade route Marco Polo and many other traders and explorers endured. Tokaido is a game involving 2-5 players traveling across a great trade route making pit stops at various places while gathering points along the way. Along your way you collect art, food, blessings and knick-knacks to score achievement bonuses. At the very beginning of the game each player randomly receives a slight modifier avatar and this adds an element of variance to the game which is fun as it changes your play-style. The game won many awards for its design and wonderful art, unboxing it was a true joy as each of the player pieces are small finely crafted wood people. This is accompanied with thematic player avatar cards.
For this session of play I played with three players and the experience was enjoyable but confusing at first. About a quarter of the way down the trade route you start to catch on to what things are more valuable and whats worth collecting. The game rewards exploration of the trade routes pit stops and encourages the player to seek specific items. Some of the interactions about specific item bonuses can be confusing at first as the interactions are a little complicated the first time through. Thankfully we had an experienced player for our third wheel. As we went along new emergent game-play revealed itself as the trade routes linear progression became a focal point for screwing another player out of an item bonus. Players who over step their bounds usually end up gaining a bonus but sacrifice having ti wait for other players to pass them. Eventually you reach a half way point and have a big dinner where everyone randomly pulls a “ticket” revealing their meal which gives bonus points. Ultimately whomever gets the most of these meals wins the game unless another player can get achievements at the end which involve collecting items or art.
In the end I was second place with our experienced leader placing first and my partner third. We all immediately decided to play another game as we had quickly learned the inner workings of the game and had all decided that we were due another round. This was interesting because after most initial play through of games I usually want to try something else but Tokaido had the right mix of things to pull me back.
The game limits mobility in the game as everyone is pushed forward on the same road but allowed to move forward at any pace, granted if you moved right to the end you would have collected nothing and thus lost the game. This initially feels like a hindrance in the game but swiftly becomes a strategic element when trying to take things from other players. The games art is one of the centerpieces of the game and as we learned in our readings this week, wrapping your interactive experience in relatable media is key to engaging your players or students.
The past few weeks in my Games and learning class things have continued to pique my interest and cause me to approach games in a new light. For my affinity space project I’m interacting with the community over at MTG Salvation and I recently submitted a deck for review on a forum. What I’ve learned in the process of interacting with the community so far is that there is a plethora of other micro communities existing within the larger Magic: The Gathering community. Ultimately the forums work as a relay for information to be transferred and gathered for those creating decks, comparing cards, debating prices and speculating on new cards. Magic as a game I have focused on in our Games and learning class as a Play Journal wherein I tested playing beginner decks with my partner.
The community at MTG Salvation serves as a gateway of sorts for new players as it divides its forums very straight forward. Deck construction is broken down into the various formats of play making it easy to navigate. Each format has a primer explaining the format which can be very helpful for new players. The forum also has a new player forum for greeting new players or people in the community as well as additional forums to support more off topic items and other discussions related to the lore and development around Magic: The Gathering.
I initially approached this class with a basic understanding of the sense of engagement games create but the ability of Magic: The Gathering to motivate its players and create a large community of players who discuss a plethora of topics related to it created a whole new avenue of thought for me. Its easy to shrug games off as a silly toy for young boys but the truth is they inspire engagement and sharing in large communities and allow a person to interact with others to develop new strategies and test theories.
I have personally relied on the MTG Salvation to help me decide on which cards to use on my sideboard in my U/R control/combo deck. I submitted the deck list and noted my issues when playing against other players and received a few comments on how to increase my win rate by adding some cards which would allow for more utility when playing. This ability for games to serve as a common ground between two parties is key when gathering information as in common face to face interaction may deter some from sharing at all.
While my interest in this class has primarily been the educational benefit of games I am now wondering what the application of communities to class rooms would have. Imagine if a classroom and its students could post questions and answers on a shared community forum with other students in the same grade or even school. While this has taken place to some extent I can’t help but wonder what this might do in grades 6-12. This question has popped into my head the past few days as I continue to take part in the MTG Salvation community.
In my Games and Learning class this semester I have learned about how valuable gamification,the application of applying game mechanics to non-game concepts, can be. Especially for educational purposes, specifically when its paired with recognizable and approachable media like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. Its with a curiosity of how important understanding this concept of pairing education and games that I have enjoyed learning in this class. My initial approach when starting this class was from that of a seasoned gamer who understood games in a very tactile sense. Games and Learning has allowed me to see a card game like Magic: The Gathering in a different light. The elements of the same games I play in leisure can enhance the experience of learning in education. When learning about science the methods of gamification can make it more approachable and digestible.
In this course I have also contributed to open annotation of our readings which has allowed me to contextualize what might be hard to read and thus learn. The comments and feedback from peers allows me to learn about definitions or facts pertaining to the reading. Most recently it allowed me to see that my fellow students also watched MacGyver, like I did. Gems like this paired with quick nuggets of punctual and relevant citations allow me to digest what might be an eye drying affair after work, an engaging and delightful experience.
For my affinity space project I am currently interacting with the online Magic: The Gathering community at MTG Salvation. A question I have let guide me when engaging with the community is, What attracts people to play Magic?
While I can’t know the answer for everyone I have certainly answered it for myself. Over the past few months I have taught two of my personal friends to play Magic: The Gathering. For me the game has always been about winning and doing so in a really different in fun way. When teaching my partner Jessica, I learned that the art had become the focal point for her. This very different approach to Magic for her then mine made me realize that Magic attracts new players almost entirely by its art. The learning of the game is more fun because of the art. Casting a Sphinx to fight a Giant Crocodile is neat! The art and the flavor text on the card evoke a realm of mystery and intrigue. In our article this week I saw this same combination of gamification and media to allow fourth graders to learn.
The last month or so I’ve really become curious with my intent with my Affinity Space Project and how I intend to approach its presentation, and ultimately its focus. I’ve spent much time on the forums reading about new decks, sharing my own and learning. Reading spoilers of the new cards and learning about the lore of the next magical plane of existence, debating how powerful new cards are. There are weekly market price updates on the previous six sets, whole micro-economies exist because of Magic.
These next couple days I plan on honing in on what I’ve truly learned and how what I have learned about Magic can benefit the knowledge of my peers.
In this play journal I will be playing Kodama: The Tree Spirits!
In Kodama your goal is to score the most points by being an expert caretaker of a growing tree. In it 2-5 players interact with their own trees by going through growing seasons. By collecting and attaching tree branches with Kodama that appear in their main tree trunk the players can score more points! But not every branch will have the Kodama you need to score points so things get tricky. In addition to knowing what Kodama are on your tree you are also dealt bonus cards that score you extra points at the end of every season. One may allow you to convert a Kodama to another(Firefly to Caterpillar) to score points. Points are awarded starting at the furthest arm off the trunk. Points are given out based on the number of Kodama on a branch every turn and by the bonus cards at the end of each season.
I played with two other people for a total of three players. It was all our first time and we had varied experience in playing board games before so it was easy to pick up on right out of the box. One aspect of this game that differed from previous card based games I’ve played is that tree branches could not overlap, what this meant was that when placing a branch on your base tree trunk you had to connect the art on the cards via the trunk. This added an additional level of difficult but a surprising amount of interesting gameplay. This physical interaction allowed for a truly interesting and genuine way for the game to mirror the growth of an actual tree.
The players play through thee seasons of adding branches to three main trunk card. At the end of each season we played our bonus cards. I ended up winning with 115 points with everyone else right behind me at 108 and 95. The interesting part though was the discussion we had about the rules and whether or not cards could touch in various places. We ultimately ended up following the directions provided as some decisions were made poorly due to do lack of knowledge about where branches could touch.
Kodama primarily operates on taking cues from the Kodama on your trunk card as well as the bonus cards you’ve been given. As discussed in the article How Video Game Might Actually Help Our Brain by Campbell-Dollaghan, cues allow for players to interact and expand their thought processing skills and engagement. Kodamas cue driven system allows for an easy interacted with concept game focused on scoring points of tree spirits and glorified botany. By cutting out bad decisions and pruning bad bets one can score the most points and become the victor of Kodama while increasing neural plasticity! Cues help us define patterns and find ways to better interact with current or future events. And as we read in the article also contribute to helping our brains become stimulated and engaged.
Thanks for reading!
Over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of taking a class called Games & Learning. Participating in the class through a variety of ways, Hypothes.is annotations, Twitter, WordPress and through canvas has allowed me to see a wide variety of thoughts and opinions of the readings and work we have been assigned. What the class has thus far helped me understand is the relationship between the player and their learning experience. What I mean by this is how a player learns a game and how they interact with it on a problem solving level. A game is a different experience to every player who plays it and most of the games out there provide a different experience each time they are played. This creates a difficult to study field of work but one rife with data and general conclusions.
A few of my preconceptions about games have been smashed, for instance the amount of educational funding and work that goes into games I was not aware of. The reading (Jenkins et al 2006) had an extensive review of gaming in education and really opened my eyes to the benefit that games can have. We also read an article which I couldn’t find(argh!) which discussed the main barriers to games in education wherein lack of funding and lack of understanding lead to lower quality games that are rigid and hard to enjoy.
I also find myself analyzing my game playing techniques as well as thinking about why I’m making the decisions that I am while playing. This has lead me to an understanding that games are satisfying to me because they create problems and solving these problems give me joy as well as a challenge.
Throughout the course I’ve used Hypothes.is to ask questions it allows my peers to assist with what their thoughts on it may be. This engagement has allowed for me to see others feedback and use it to better understand the content we are studying. In addition to this I created a Twitter of which I had avoided using up until now. While I certainly don’t enjoy using it I can see the direct benefit it has when used in a class setting or in flagging others of your posts or thoughts regarding an issue.
The question I would ask myself would be, “Why do people choose to play a game?” This question I feel is important because a game in and of itself may not appear to be what it really is. Good games provide challenges and rewards that people can enjoy and learn something from and thoughtful games can make a person feel something they may have not felt out in the real world. People choose to play games because they seek a challange followed by a reward and where those challenges and rewards fall into in terms of what is offered allow for a large market of games. This large market of games allow for people to engage with games as a media and ultimately for each person to find a game they want to play.
My ongoing interests in games is how each individual makes choices in them. Take any game for example that provides the same play through, if two different players interact and play it differently what content did they learn beforehand that lead them to that choice. Games are a lot like life in that people make choices based on “fight or flight” we seek out patterns and attempt to meet challenges based on our previous experiences with other games and with life.
The game I will be playing today is Magic: The Gathering(MTG). It is a card game generally played with two people (1v1) using a 60 card deck generally made up of 22 lands or “resources” and 38 other cards consisting of a mix of creatures, spells, artifacts, enchantments and an assortment of other fun and interesting things. A game lasts anywhere from ten minutes to an hour depending on the types of decks or interactions that take place. Each player plays spells and creatures by “tapping” or turning cards sideways to create mana which allows you to play cards which may have effects. Each player goes back and forth taking turns until the other player reaches a life total of zero, each player starts at twenty life.
Below is a summation of the games setup as well as some rules:
For the purposes of playing I am playing against my girlfriend Jessica who has learned in the last few months how to play MTG. We are using two very basic pre-made decks which are simple in how they play but also provide a consistent and interactive experience. Using these basics decks allows us to avoid more complicated interactions and longer games.
Alright now lets get down to playing!
The first game played Jessica decided to go first and decided to draw a new hand due to her hand being full of land (resources) generally speaking you want to have a mix of cards. This is one element of MTG that can be extremely frustrating as the cards you draw are random and sometimes you can encounter an issue where you are “flooded” with resources leading you to be unable to play anything.
Thankfully Jessica drew another hand and it was good. My hand was also good so we decided to continue play. I had a rough start and had the exact opposite problem of Jessica in that I took a hand with two lands or resources but couldn’t play anything because everything I had cost more then two. It took two turns to draw more lands and by that time I was down to 15 life. By the time I was able to get any creatures out I was down to 8.
Suffice to say the game only lasted 10 minutes, I lost and Jessica reigned supreme.
The primary problem with MTG is its element of random draw while it allows emergent game play it also allows for a player to be set up for failure. This is where deckbuilding comes into play and making choices about what is in your deck to make things more consistent. A deckbuilder can take information learned from previous battles and incorporate it into a deck and play test the new deck to find its strengths and weaknesses.
MTG’s main motivating factor is the large customization it allows with the over 10,000 cards available to build a deck. As discussed in the Salen article, “Learning about games and learning with games take place simultaneously. One cannot learn about or from games without engaging in their play.” MTG illustrates this concept beautifully as well as the idea of no one game being the same from any perspective. Many choices can be made in MTG but only by playing and trying different decks can one develop the ability to craft decks and make decks that meet a wide variety of challenges.
After learning how to play MTG one must meet the challenge of understanding the depth of it like any other game. The player determines how to approach the problems they face throughout their experience with MTG and thus becomes aligned with a favorite color (red,blue,black,white or green) each referring to a different play style in MTG.