4 of Clubs: Rearranging the Diamonds and making collages.

4 of Clubs: Rearranging the Diamonds and making collages.

I’ve not been updating this much, partially due to a lack of time, partially due to laziness, and partially because I’ve not been doing small posts in between some big drafts: I have two face card posts in the works at the moment. I’m going to try to do some smaller posts, but I’m not going to promise anything.

What I am doing however is a slight rearrangement to the card suit system. I’m going to move posts primarily discussing works of fiction from being classed as Heart posts to being under Diamonds, leaving Hearts solely for non-fiction. This is partially because I don’t want every post to be Hearts, and partially for another reason.

img_20190625_0002.jpg

BOOSTER Talisman: Collage made using pictures from Physics World Magazine.

One of the things I’ve always  wanted to do for the blog is add artwork for the posts, preferably original. However, my art skills are generally lacking (see the previous post’s artwork), and I can’t afford to pay people to make it.

I was inspired by the cover of Sam Keeper’s most recent book, Who Killed The World, a series of essays on various X-punk genres (cyberpunk, steampunk, solarpunk), which has a fantastic collage as it’s cover, the focal piece being the winged porcupine that serves as the book’s mascot. The book itself is great, but the collage cover is most relevant to this post.

WhoKilledTheWorld

Essentially, when I can, I’m going to making collage covers for these posts. You can see one up above as an example. I’ve made two so far for upcoming posts, as well as BOOSTER Talisman up there, and they have been a lot of fun.

These collages have a couple of rules. First of all, I can’t just look for “the perfect picture”. When making them, I set myself a particular source of images, whether a particular group of magazines, junk mail, leaflets that I’ve collected up for free, ect. There is one exception to this rule, which is that I am allowed one image directly relevant to the topic at hand; e.g. in a Harry Potter post I am allowed one Harry Potter picture.

Secondly, I cannot buy new things for the collages (other than backing paper, scissors, glue and other tools). Everything I use must be either something I already own, something I got for free, or at most something I found in one of my town’s many charity shops.

Rule three is a simple one; I need to be able to explain how the collage represents the post. Not necessarily in the post itself, unless people want that, but I need to have an idea for how it works. In this case, the periodic table represents organisation, the gears are me actually posting something, the Booster in the middle represents my hopes I will obtain a boost to posting here, the talisman is there to represent me moving where I put discussions of fiction, and the hands are me putting this new thing together. The collages will all have the post’s respective card in them as well, as seen here with the four of clubs. This is the other reason I am moving fiction discussions from Hearts to Diamonds: I don’t want to run out of Hearts too quickly.

Finally, all collages in this first wave will be A4 landscape. There is a reason for this that I will discuss later on.

Note that not all posts will have a collage. Sometimes, like in the previous post, I will use a different medium. I would like to get better at all forms of arts and crafts, not just collages, so I’ll be branching out sometimes. They will still always involve the post’s card however. And sometimes I will just not have time; the low the card value of the post, the less likely I am to do a picture for it.

Additionally, I will be doing live streams of me making these collages. These will be held at the weekend in the evening, hopefully both Saturday and Sunday, using a camera looking down at my desk. It will be on my twitch, Heartofaquamarine.twitch.tv, and I’ll post on various places such as twitter to say what time it will be. Please, feel free to come and join!

Advertisements

3 of Hearts: Crank Up Some Games – The Playdate system

So I saw this on twitter and thought people might be interested. The company Panic, who you might know from making the game Firewatch, has just announced a new handheld gaming system called Playdate.
It is, for the most part, fairly simple; it’s a black and white screened console with games built in, a d-pad and an ‘a’ and a ‘b’ button. The unique part is that it includes a crank at the side that you can rotate as part of the control system. This opens up a couple of fun ideas; it’s very easy to control the speed of the crank, and it can obviously go in both forward and reverse. One of the games they demo’d on twitter was called Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, which used the crank to send the character forwards and backwards through a set of motions. The crank was suggested by the company’s partners, teenage engineering.
 
The other part is that the games are released once a week, although the console comes with them all preloaded. I’m not entirely sure about this, but it does give you the chance to play them one at a time without spending additional money.
Overall, Playdate looks like a fun gimmick. It’s not going to take the gaming world by storm, but I’m glad people are experimenting with new control methods for games, even if they don’t quite work out.

Jack of Hearts: Games and Failure

Jack of Hearts: Games and Failure

Game and… is a series of articles in various media focusing on evaluating the mechanics of games, how they are created, how they affect us, and how we can apply them to the world outside of games.

Games and Failure

I die a lot while playing games.

That’s less self-deprecation about my skill in such games and more just due to the nature of many games. Death, and failure in general, in many games is just a set back. You come back at your respawn point, whether the beginning of the level or your last save or your team’s base, and now you can try again with the hindsight of knowing at least some of what you need to do, and where you might have gone wrong last time. Even in games where failure sends you back to the main menu, the option is always there to start again. Even how much of a setback that is decreasing over time; compare Super Mario 64’s removing a life from your stock to the most recent Mario game, Mario Odyssey, which just removes 10 coins in a game where collecting 1,000 coins basically happens by accident as you hunt for the various power moons, the goal of the game [1].

Games are actually really forgiving of failure. I mean, sure, there are degrees of setback they apply to you; you might get sent back to the beginning of the level, to your last save (which can admittedly be a while back), or have a penalty applied to you until you are able to recover what was lost when you died [2]. In some games, usually strategy or 4X games [3], you will be made to restart the entire campaign, unless you reload your last save and are able to work around whatever made you fail.  But even with all of that, the point is not to say “you lost, look how bad you are at this!” but “You lost. Wanna try again, this time having a better idea of what you need to do?”

Some of this is just necessary. A game aims to keep you playing, particularly when they are using models like games as service or arcade machines [4] which aim to monitise themselves by having players make small payments over a long period of time, but this has spread out to basically all games, to the extent that having a failure state has been suggested by some as a fundamental property of games; i.e. something may be an interactive experience but if you cannot fail, it is not a game. I don’t want to discuss the definition of a game here. Instead, I want to focus on how the way we can learn from and indeed, use the way games encourage you to continue on, to move past failures and eventually succeed to help us handle other situations.

Games being used in learning is nothing new of course, and nor are interactive experiences, whether on a computer or more traditional “analogue” games, but we tend to classify them as childish, and indeed these games can be patronising. I have fond memories of the Adi and Adiboo games, but I wouldn’t recommend them to an adult who’s maths is at the kind of level Adi covers (partially because I haven’t looked at those games for years; maybe I should get hold of them and have a look) [5]. They are still used however, with the cartoony visuals removed, particularly in subjects like maths and language vocabulary that computers are far better at being able to handle than, say, marking a piece of literary criticism. While I do think that there is a space for Educational Games, particular because the interactive nature of games allows you to learn by actively doing, rather than passively learning, I want to make it clear that this isn’t what I am suggesting here. Nor am I talking about the gamification of learning, where the concept of experience and levels are used to provide a reward for effort and learning successfully. That’s definitely an interesting topic, and it’s on the list to cover in a Games and… article, but it isn’t this one. Rather, I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum; how do we handle failure?

Learning from your mistakes isn’t a new concept, but we can still ask the best way to encourage and assist people in doing so, a question that the field of pedagogy (the science of teaching) has been trying to answer for a while now. Before we continue, it is important to acknowledge that methods of learning are not universal. The following section will discuss a number of mindsets towards and techniques of learning. These may not be directly relevant to you the reader, or indeed techniques shown with a positive lens here may, for whatever reason, not be useful for you personally. However, I think they hold up in enough cases and are underused enough (that is, people who might benefit from them haven’t encountered them) that they are worth exploring here.

One of the most important factors in whether people feel able to learn from mistakes is the surrounding culture and particularly the response of whoever the learner views as a teacher, whether an actual teacher, a supervisor or just someone the learner looks up to. Fischer et al. (2006), a study detailing the self-reported responses of medical trainees to a survey on how they learn from failure, notes that when they feel able to report the failure they learn more from it. Furthermore, they note that there is a culture of covering up mistakes in many hospitals, and as they spend more time working in medicine they find themselves defending individual cover ups while acknowledging that ethically they really shouldn’t [6]. This is fairly common in professions where mistakes can have grave consequences; indeed, some industries use a concept called a blameless culture, where mistakes are not punished so that people don’t feel they cannot come forward to admit that they have made them (Dekker, 2016). This, while a fascinating topic by itself, is slightly off the topic of this essay, particularly as, as I noted above, one of the big benefits of games is that they remove the real life rewards and consequences for the player, allowing them to simply focus on what they can learn from the situation. Now, obviously on a practical level making mistakes with consequences can be an excellent, if, depending on the situation, traumatic, learning experience, but we are discussing using the premise of treating learning spaces as a game and the benefits of doing so, not trying to create a universal system of learning.

Another issue to discuss is why people want to learn. What is their underlying goal [7]? Two common reasons are to demonstrate how competent you are at something, or performative goals, and learning to improve your own abilities, which we might refer to either improvement or mastery goals. Now, this is one of those awkward situations where I would wager that most people would say they want to learn for the sense of mastery; performative goals tend to be more specifically about showing a particular person or group of people what you are capable of (Wolters 2004). However, it is far easier to encourage performative goals, simply because they are based around demonstrating what you know. Performative goals aren’t inherently bad, but like the negative consequences they often encourage not learning from mistakes but instead avoiding the people you are trying to perform to, while mastery goals tend to encourage using mistakes as a learning experience (Wolters 2004, Turner and Patrick 2004).

Games I think have mechanisms by which they can encourage the player to try to improve their abilities, rather than demonstrating their skill. One is something we will find difficult to transfer to a learning setting, which is the greater ability for the creator to control the learning curve of the game compared to the learning curve of most real life topics. I want to discuss this in another G& essay [8], so I won’t go into it here, but essentially games are far easier to control and can make you feel like you are improving far more quickly than you are actually learning about the game because you are gaining new tools and powers in a far more controlled environment. However, there are two other ways they encourage you to learn. First of all they are very good at informing you what you are aiming for, giving you a motivation to work out how to overcome the obstacles in-between you and that solution, and secondly games don’t treat failure as a problem. They provide temporary rewards for success, not permanent consequences, and that sequence of short bursts of rewards, even if it is just a pat on the back. This, I think is something we can take over from games. Rewarding people for the entire journey, not just the final destination, and giving them clear reasons to motivate them in the short term; not just a long term goal like “I will be able to communicate in French” but “I will be able to say this thing I want to say in French”. Meanwhile, the games either not responding to your failure outside of a short death animation or, if they do respond, then showing it as a challenge and encouraging you to continue to overcome it. Probably the best example of this is from Toby Fox’s Undertale, which tells you “STAY DETERMINED!”.  As I said, failure treated as a chance to try again with new knowledge and experience.

Staydetermined

Figure 1: The Undertale Game Over screen

For a concrete example, I do quite a lot of maths in my everyday life, both in my work and my free time. I enjoy maths, and I can do it to a reasonably high level, and I am aware that this makes me fairly unusual. When I try to teach maths and explain the concepts to people who struggle with it, one of the big issues I face is overcoming their fear [9]. Not of mathematics (although for some people that is in there as well), but fear of failing at mathematics, and a corresponding fear of being mocked and mistreated because of that failure. The fear that a single mistake that will hang over you, or worse that you will never be able to move beyond those failures.

Often, the students I am teaching are students doing a scientific subject at a university level, and there’s basically no field of science where maths is not a vital and major part of the research toolkit; even in fields such as sociology statistical analysis is essential. Even knowing this however, for some the anxiety of failing at maths, and being mocked or treated as stupid because of that failure, however temporary, makes actually doing the maths really difficult. This is within a classroom setting, not an exam or, worse, research or designs that might influence the real world. It is in a setting specifically created to give a space to learn without incorrect results causing problems. It is a space where incorrect results should be responded to with “You got that wrong. Wanna try again, this time having a better idea of what you need to do?”

In other words, I am saying that classrooms are gaming platforms, the lessons are the levels and we are all Mario…Okay, I’m not actually saying that, but I think the similarity of both being environments where failure is essentially devoid of external consequences and is simply an indication you need to go back and do some additional work is important. It allows learners to focus entirely on learning, so that when there are consequences, they already have all the tools they need to handle it.

ESSAY OVER.
CONTINUE?

Footnotes

[1] Given that lives are basically meaningless in a lot of Mario games, a hold over from the days of arcade machines [4], you could argue that losing one is actually less of a set back than losing coins; really the biggest set back is you do get a Game Over screen when you run out of lives, which sets you back to the start of the level.

[2] This is a mechanic codified by the Souls games, and other games like Hollow Knight, which make you drop your in-game currency and have a mechanical penalty, usually a drop in maximum health, applied to you. This makes failure, and continuing on despite it, a core mechanic of these games.

[3] For anyone not versed in gaming terminology, 4X games are a genre of games where the player(s) control a full faction, rather than a single character, and scout throughout the world, build new settlements and technologies, gain resources and battle opposing factions. 4X stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate, and was coined by the game writer Alan Emrich in 1993.

[4] See “Games and the First Age of Microtransaction” – TBC

[5] Upon trying to track them down, I discovered the Adi and Adiboo series were created by the french Coktel Vision, which usually focused on adventure games. The games were sold in various languages, with Adiboo (or Adibou in french) seeming to be more well known and spread around than the older Adi. I kind of want to track them down and give them another look; we’ll see how that goes.

[6] Rationalisations for bad behaviour of individuals of groups you are a member is is a very important topic I’d like to explore. If I ever do I will link it here.

[7] See “Games and Goals” – TBC

[8] See “Games and Skill” – TBC

[9] For more discussion on how I think we might be able to improve maths teaching, see 9 of Hearts: An Introduction to Mathematics.

References:

Dekker, S. (2016). Just culture: Balancing safety and accountability. CRC Press.

Fischer, M. A., Mazor, K. M., Baril, J., Alper, E., DeMarco, D., & Pugnaire, M. (2006). Learning from mistakes. Journal of general internal medicine, 21(5), 419-423.

Turner, J. C., & Patrick, H. (2004). Motivational influences on student participation in classroom learning activities. Teachers College Record, 106(9), 1759-1785.

Wolters, C. A. (2004). Advancing Achievement Goal Theory: Using Goal Structures and Goal Orientations to Predict Students’ Motivation, Cognition, and Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(2), 236-250.

4 of Clubs: Patreon and Tumblr reposts.

Starting in May 2019, the crowd-funding site Patreon will be increasing how much it takes from pledges it processes, in return for some features I’m not particularly interested in. However, existing creator accounts will be grandfathered out of this, so…I have no reason not to make a Patreon account now.

There’s a link in the sidebar, but currently I’m not doing anything serious with it. I have it set to charge per creation, but I think I am, for now, only going to charge for high effort posts; that is, posts that in the code of this blog, I would give one of the royal cards or an ace. This will likely include any videos I do, since they take more effort, but not streams or other low effort work.

I am currently in the middle of my last year of my PhD, so for now I don’t feel I can do much Patreon only extra-stuff. Once my PhD is done I’ll reconsider this, and work out what I can do. At the moment, as noted above, the account is mainly to avoid the changes being made, but I thought I should note this. This is, incidentally, why I have stopped doing the themed months; I just couldn’t keep up with them while doing my PhD work, and that made me stop working on the blog in general.

In other news, as you might have noticed with the “Am I being lazy” post, I am reposting some of my old tumblr posts here. Some of them will be edited a bit, but I’m mostly happy with the long form posts I wrote on there. I’ve basically left tumblr, and I want to preserve the bits I like. If you want to have a look at my tumblr, which is mainly just me reblogging dumb stuff, you can find it here, or the side blog Blue Sky Self Help I ran with my friend Packbat here.

5 of Diamonds: 20 Incantations (I)

So I have a lot to say about the manga/anime Bleach, most of it fairly negative, but there is one thing I can definitely say I love about it: the spell incantations used. They are just so poetic in seemingly unrelated ways to the actual spells, which tend to be fairly boring. Still, I love this style of incantations for spells, even without actually having a spell to go with them.

This is just a list of twenty incantations, written in the style of the Kido incantations from Bleach. I have ideas about what each spell does, which I might fill in in a later post, but I am curious about what other people think the spells might do. If you want to use the spell incantations in your own work, or want me to come up with an incantation for a particular spell, just ask!

1. “Freeze the fire and burn the seas. Clear the storm and cast over the blue skies. Soften iron, harden blood, sit below the crumbling cliff and cast yourself into the skies.”

2. “Thirteen locks, Thirteen screams, twelve puzzles, eleven hands, nine fingers, six flowers, one tomb. Reverse the sequence, swallow your pride, break the fourteen barriers of heaven.”

3. “The banshee stands silent, the dragon grounded, the mage labours in the fields. The vines eat the tower, the glass breaks apart. Metal, ash, stone. Life flows back to the sea, and the world spins and returns to its origin.”

4. “Starve the fed, let the seas become deserts, freeze the warm, awaken the sleeping. Feed the starving, water the thirsty soil, shelter the cold, let the exhausted rest. North becomes south, darken the sun, light the night, change the coin and cheat the dice.”

5. “We who plant seeds of hope, wander this changing forest. Birds fly left, rats run right, stand in the shade and eat the fruit of the poisoned tree”

6. “Judge of the 18 castles, pass your sentence. Four triangles, three pentagons, six circles. The ground cracks and the waters part. Separate the shadows and render the world as their jail cell.”

7. “The temple guards fail the priests. The altars turn to dust, the congregation choke on their hymns. Render apart your skin, scavengers in this hall, and become dogs howling in fear.”

8. “The silk worms sacrifice, the dye boils. Swing below me, wrap around my wrist, follow my fingers. Repeal, reflect, remain. The first verse of threads sings out in the clank of armour, the rustle of dresses”

9. “Gather the thousand spiders here. The copper is our foundation, the clouds our scaffolding. Build, Bend, Bridge. The second verse of threads sounds in the city’s chorus and the traveller’s safe footsteps.”

10. “A single wire cuts across the skin. Lightning imprisoned in two states of being. Power, produce, provide. The third verse of threads harmonises with the tongue of every human.”

11. “The blacksmith beats out the chain for her mistress. Six games, fourteen terrors. Control, confine, combine. The final verse of threads fills the new silence of your minds.”

12. “Take one step, dig a grave. Take two steps, build a shrine. Take three steps, empty a well. On the fourth step, bow your head, and wait for the executioner’s axe.”

13. “The compass spins twice, you cut once. Blue cairns, red fences, black heath. The mountain’s pass fills with snow, yet we leave no footprints.”

14. “The grasshoppers swarm and the locusts sing. On the hill, a farmhouse burns. Mark the boundaries with shells, bind the walls with teeth. Choke down soil and spread your arms in the sun.”

15. “Bonds break, jaws crack. A platinum hand stirs the sand and sapphire fingers build their castle. Hexagons of love within wheels of plots. Cast sand in their minds, blow our secrets to the wind.”

16. “Six tomes of knowledge, twelve tomes of memories, eighteen tomes of emotions. The library’s windows crack, the lock opens. Nineteen steps, thirty vertebrae, golden stitches. In the silence, we meet and I listen.”

17. “Below the city, the centipedes clatter, the millipedes shake. On the street, rats scatter and cats chase. The streets are unnamed, the glass windows open. Three hunters stand still, jewelled eyes fly.”

18. “Papers lie unread in tombs, diamonds breed in vaults. Three beads to the left, nine on the next row. The coins clutter the board, blocking the pawns. The hammer bends the metal, the bracelet binds the wrist. Scatter the idle objects, and bring their parts to the empty table.”

19. “To my right stands the sea, to the left the sky. Red clouds, flowing wind, spear of steel. Cloths rub the amber, the song sounds out late.”

20. “Understand your place, those who stand here now. Lift the children, step upon the old, watch the trees you planted grow, bloom and whither. Names are forgotten, bones are rock, and the stars watch on.”

6 of Hearts: Am I being lazy? (Repost)

Note: This is a repost from a tumblr blog I ran with a friend called Blue Sky Self Help. I’ve basically moved on from tumblr now, but I want to move some of my better posts over here, and given I’ve been having depression issues this week I thought this would be a good first repost. The original post can be found here.

One of the problems I find with depression and other illnesses is working out when I am having a bad mental health day and when I am simply being lazy. To make matters worse, during a bad mental health day it is easy to convince yourself that you are being lazy when in fact you are being ill.

I try to overcome this using a system of levels. I try to classify activities as being on a scale between 0 and 4.

Level 0 activities are your default activities, the ones you can do regardless of your current state. Obviously staying in bed is one, but for me they include playing Overwatch badly and watching Midsomer Murders.

Level 1 activities are ones you can easily normally bring yourself to do. These include both things you are motivated to do because you like them and things you know you really need to do. Often simple food, like frozen pizzas fall into this.

Level 2 activities that on a healthy day, you can do without any real problems. For me this includes my PhD work and writing things like this.

Level 3 activities would normally be difficult to do, so for me it would be doing particularly hard maths for my course or making a phone call I really don’t want to do.

Level 4 activities are the kind that wipe you out completely after doing them.

Try and categorise your activities on a good day, and be honest about where you put them, so you know that on a bad day you can trust your categories.

The way I use this system is that if I can manage level 0 activities and maybe some level 1 activities, usually the ones I NEED to do such as basic food, then I am having a bad day, and the question then becomes “what can I do to recover?”. If I can do level 1 activities easily, and I can do level 2s but I just don’t want to, then I am probably just being lazy.

As usual, if this system doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, don’t use it, but I hope it can be useful for at least someone.