Making Art and Playing Games as a Community

I want to start my provocation by quoting what Michael Branson Smith mentioned in his “CUNY is You, Me, Everybody”:

“I like to think of the early users of the CUNY Academic Commons as a group not unlike “the band”. And the people that built the Commons as the Blues Brothers. But most importantly the orphanage, they were trying to save was, is CUNY.”

Michael Branson Smith

This piece inspired me to focus on how making artwork and games using digital tools can form strong communities of people who are originally not related in any aspects. Such learning communities can be either online (e.g., the Net-Art course, or DS106), in person (e.g., game-based learning in the classroom, or professional development workshops in the library), or both (e.g., CUNY Games Network). I’ll approach this week’s materials and readings from the following two angles:

  1. The power of digital art to bring people together;
  2. The power of games to engage students in the classroom.

The power of digital art to bring people together

Though the “aura” of the work of art has been lost in the age of mechanical reproduction as claimed by Walter Benjamin, art is deeply embedded in human’s co-constructed memory. It enables boundary-free communication among people who speak different languages and come from various cultural backgrounds, and it also gives them infinite possibilities of self-expression. Emerging as a new artistic form, digital art has its unique attraction to people.

Looking at Michael Smith and Ryan Seslow’s work on animated GIFs, either the nostalgic feelings brought by the Vaporwave style (e.g., “Ufologist was my morning meeting” by Michael) or the philosophical reflection on self-identity brought by the visual metaphor (e.g., “The Accountability of One’s Reflection” by Ryan), the connotations of their artwork crawled into my thoughts quietly without redundant explanations. Needless to say, the power of art gets even stronger now in this digital era, with the assistance of the internet and other digital technology that allows art to persist through time and space.

More importantly, making digital art brings people together. Through forming learning communities online, such as the Net-Art course for digital art and DS106 for digital storytelling, art creation is no longer behind closed doors, but through the process of opening tabs in the browser and making connections with people. Exhibition of artwork doesn’t entail organizing a French art salon anymore but uploading .JPEG, .PNG, or .GIF files to any online forum in seconds. Art education is also accessible to everyone within a “clicking” distance, with hundreds of tutorial videos, work templates, and art assets at hand. Within these online learning communities, students of all levels, faculty members, alumni, community members, and affiliates interact with each other, collaborate in art projects, create personal portfolios, and share artistic pieces. Additionally, these online communities of art host, exhibit, and archive artworks, creating an unstoppable art flow that refreshes itself every day. Given this reality of art creation and pedagogy, I would like you to think about the following questions:

  1. How do you like Michael and Ryan’s animated GIFs? In your opinion, do glitches, looping, and Vaporwave elements incorporated in their GIFs have symbolic meanings? If so, how would you interpret them, and are they related to a common theme in this digital age?
  2. How do the online learning communities like the Net-Art course or DS106 challenge the traditional power structure in the field of art education? Also, comparing the art creation, exhibition, and sharing practices in the Internet era and the time before, what has changed, and what hasn’t?
  3. Can you envision a way or two to bring art creation, exhibition, and/or sharing into your teaching practices or your discipline in general? If so, how would you make that happen?

The power of games to engage students in the classroom

As someone who is very interested in games and their application in the classroom, I am fascinated by the power of games to engage students. Educational games are the chocolate over broccoli, “luring” children into learning something they originally had no interest in. Besides, as stated by Robert Duncan, students can get instant feedback from games which makes “just-in-time learning” possible, and given their entertaining nature, games are also an ideal tool to assess players’ cognitive ability or biomarkers in a natural setting (Mandryk & Birk, 2019), let alone some games have built-in adaptivity mechanic, which boosts measuring precision and efficiency. 

In the fall of 2019, I was lucky enough to participate in a workshop focusing on game-based learning organized by CUNY Games Network (this workshop was an important part of Pedagogy Day that year). During the workshop, Joe Bisz amazed me with his What’s Your Game Plan activity, and in the group work session, our group created an educational game to be used in the undergraduate classroom (unfortunately, I can’t think of the details of that game now) by drawing a card from each of the Lesson, Mechanic, Action, and Game deck.

However, I wasn’t going too deep to explore the numerous possibilities of using this game-brainstorming activity in some other disciplines. Maura’s writing on “professional development for library instruction” reminded me of one charm about games: their innumerable modding possibilities. That’s also why creating a game is so much fun since any changes of any game element(s) (e.g., “mechanic” and “action” as used in Joe’s activity) will change the dynamic of the game substantially. With that being said, I would like to invite you to think about the following prompts:

  1. Have you used any games, either computer games or classroom games, in your teaching practices? If not, which game or what kind of gamified materials would you like to use in your teaching? 
  2. Anastasia Salter’s work on game-based teaching introduced several ways of utilizing games in the classroom creatively, such as asking students to write about games or make ARGs to practice storytelling. What are some other indirect ways of using games or game-relevant materials in the teaching of your discipline?
  3. Maura has demonstrated a way to modify the What’s-Your-Game-Plan activity in a librarian professional development setting. How would you modify this game-brainstorming activity to suit your instructional practices?


Mandryk, R. L., & Birk, M. V. (2019). The Potential of Game-Based Digital Biomarkers for Modeling Mental Health. JMIR Mental Health, 6(4), e13485.

Strategic Planning in A Role-Playing Game to Train Executive Functions

Map of the Magical World Abita
Map of the Magical World Abita

The academic work by the CREATE Lab at NYU on the effectiveness and the efficacy of using Computer games to train adolescents’ executive functions (a set of cognitive abilities that help people inhibit impulses, hold information temporarily in working memory, and switch between different rules or tasks) inspired me to work on EF games, though several meta-analyses provided contradictive evidence regarding the training effects of the EF games.

There are plenty of EF games on the market, however, many of them are the gamified version of some popular EF measurements, and the distinction between game-based training and gamified training tasks is not clear. Adding game elements (e.g., background story, incentives, cartoon-like UI, etc.) to existed or modified EF tests doesn’t necessarily turn the tests into games. With an intention of making real games for EF training, I try to find or create compelling game mechanics that are different from the existed EF measurements, which can also effectively enhance students’ executive functions. Regarding the target population of my game, young adults like undergraduates will be good since I am more familiar with this age group, and more studies are needed to investigate the EF development during young adulthood.

I am also interested in learning how strategic planning is related to the EF construct since when I play Clash Royale (a real-time strategy game), I found myself constantly suppressing my impulse of destroying the opponents’ troops for later advantages, remembering my opponents’ cards temporarily, and switching between different strategies. There is also some research evidence supporting the tight association between strategic planning and EF. Thus, I would like to design a game incorporating both strategic planning and EF training to see whether it can enhance young adults’ EF abilities well, which will also allow me to investigate the relationship between strategic planning and EF development.

Though I will shrink the scale of my original project, the major idea is to design a role-playing game with an adventure background story, and there will be several magical places involved in the story. Each magical place corresponds to one mini-game to train one EF component. I am thinking about making 6 EF mini-games instead of 12 considering the scale of this project. Each mini-game will have three difficulty levels, and the harder the level, the more magic points a player can earn. Players will also have limited moves in the game, and they need to strategically plan their moves to get the most magic points while finishing the storyline. Possibly, I will use this game for my dissertation, and by then, hopefully, I can make three versions of the game: one without moves and a risk-reward mechanic, one with moves but not the risk-reward mechanic, and one with both moves and the risk-reward mechanic. So, I can investigate the effect of the game mechanic which fosters strategic planning in training young adults’ EF. I am afraid this will be too complex for implementation. Hopefully, I can think of a better design that addresses my research interests as well as keeps the game makeable and playable after this semester.