Monday, June 11, 2018

Cool Event Alert: Loot Boxes: Video Game Gambling, Paying to Win, and the Question of Game Design, Talk by Drs. Mark R. Johnson and Tom Brock

Long time no see!

I am resurfacing after a pretty long hiatus from academic/public life, which included both a yearlong sabbatical (or research leave) and a (nearly) yearlong maternity leave. Work on Kids DIY Media is in full swing, as we are nearing the end of our data collection and analysis, and getting set to finalize our project reports, and I'll have more news on that in the coming months, along with some additional exciting announcements about the status of my book, courses, etc.

In the meantime, however, I'm so happy to be involved in this upcoming talk, hosted by Semaphore,  the Jackman Humanities Institute, and Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, which is happening on June 19th, 2018, 3-5pm, and will delve into some extremely key issues relating to pay-to-play models found in an increasing number of digital games. All of the details are below, and can also be found on the Eventbrite page for the event. I hope to see many of you there!

Loot Boxes: 

Video Game Gambling, Paying to Win, and the Question of Game Design

A Research Talk by

Dr. Mark R. Johnson (University of Alberta) and
Dr. Tom Brock (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Sponsored by the Semaphore Lab, Jackman Humanities Institute, and the
Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO
This talk is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.
Attendees are invited to join the speakers and organizers at a local pub after the Q&A.

Abstract:  A 'loot box' is a consumable virtual item purchased and redeemed within a video game to receive a random selection of virtual items. In the last eighteen months, their implementation in many major and independent titles has led to extensive controversy. For example, in April 2018, gambling authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands declared that loot boxes risk creating a new generation of problem gamblers, whilst China, the UK, US and Canada have expressed concern over whether that loot boxes lower the threshold of gambling by integrating 'games of chance' into otherwise skill-based gaming experiences. Despite public and policy outcry, research has not engaged with those who actually design and develop these systems: the voices of designers are missing from the debate. In this talk, Drs. Johnson and Brock will outline their present research program into this phenomenon, which is believed to be the first project to interview industry actors on loot boxes within video games development and integrate these voices into local, national and international debates about the regulation and funding of games development. They will outline their main research questions, interview data and findings to date, and potential directions for further investigation into loot box implementation, effects, and impacts on both policy and regulation, and video game players themselves.

Speaker Bios: 
Dr. Mark R Johnson is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. His research focuses on the intersections between play and money, such as eSports, live streaming, fantasy sports betting, gamification, and loot boxes. He has published in academic journals including Information, Communication and Society, The Sociological Review, Convergence, and Games and Culture, and his first book, The Unpredictability of Gameplay, is due out in late 2018 from Bloomsbury Academic. Beyond academia he is also an independent game developer and a former professional poker player.

Dr. Tom Brock is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests include video games, social theory, digital cultures and political protest. Tom currently co-convenes the BSA Realism and Social Research Group and steers the BSA Theory Group. He is an Associate at the Centre for Social Ontology at the University of Warwick and is also the co-author of the edited book, Structure, Culture, Agency: Selected Paper of Margaret Archer (Routledge).

Headshot of Mark R. JohnsonDr. Tom Brock headshot

Thursday, April 05, 2018

CFP Alert: Special issue of Information and Learning Science on "Youth and Computational Thinking"

The Journal of Information and Learning Sciences is currently undergoing a major revamp, and in this vein has a number of super exciting special issues coming up. Here is the CFP, cut and paste from the journal website, for an upcoming issue on youth, computational thinking and digital/computer literacy movements. The deadline is coming up soon (May 14).

Learning to Code, Coding to Learn: Youth and Computational Thinking
Special issue call for papers from Information and Learning Sciences

A special issue of Information and Learning Sciences

Professor Jeannette Wing's provocative and influential article entitled "Computational Thinking" appeared in the March 2006 issue of Communications of the ACM; in the twelve years since, educators, computer scientists, policy makers, and technologists have been working to define this conceptual space, measure it, and assess the role that computer science can and should play in the education of young people. While Wing is by no means the first person to notice that computer science can play an important role in developing problem solving capacities in youth across the curriculum (see: Papert, 1980; Clements and Gullo, 1984; Harel and Papert, 1990; diSessa, 2001, to name just a few), her call to arms fueled increasing research attention and policy interest (e.g. Aho, 2012; Cooper and Cunningham, 2010; Guzdial, 2008; Wing, 2008).

Since that time, the Computer Science Education (CSE) movement has gained considerable momentum, led by a coalition of scholars, non-profits, and industry partners. Coding interfaces such as MIT's Scratch platform, Gamestar Mechanic, Kodu, and a host of others (Anton and Berland, 2014; Resnick, Maloney, Monroy-Hernandez, et al., 2009) have opened new possibilities for youth to develop their own interactive games.  The “Computer Science for All” Initiative begun during the Obama Administration suggests that the United States is not far behind France, the UK, and other nations in mandating coding for children beginning in the elementary grades. Programs and initiatives in the US context that contribute to these efforts include, Hour of Code, and the work of organizations including BlackGirlsCode, GirlsWhoCode, iRemix, Code Savvy, Globaloria, KidsCodeJeunesse, and others.

Scholars in formal and informal learning have been working to make computer programming more accessible to young people. According to a recent survey, coding is already a part of the formal curriculum of 16 countries in Europe (Balanskat & Engelhardt, 2014). Curricula in game design, such as those developed by Constructionist scholars and instructional design experts Yasmin Kafai, Idit Harel and their colleagues (e.g., Kafai, Peppler and Chapman, 2009; Fields, Searle, Kafai et al, 2012; Reynolds & Harel, 2011; Reynolds, 2016) have engaged thousands of young people across several US states in formal, intensive in-school introductory CS education coursework. Public and school libraries also present a context and opportunity to engage children in playful introductions to coding through drop-in making activities (Martin, 2015; Prato, 2017).

These initiatives, and the growing base of research evidence, offer support that the incorporation of computer science concepts in learning programs is an idea whose time has come. Computational Thinking, or CT, can be defined as "the process of recognising aspects of computation in the world that surrounds us, and applying tools and techniques from Computer Science to understand and reason about both natural and artificial systems and processes" (Royal Society, 2012 p. 29). We argue in this call for our special issue that Computational Thinking is a generative space residing between the learning sciences and information sciences, drawing on concepts of cognition and development (e.g., motivation, self-regulation), the system sciences (e.g., algorithmic representation, design of data structures), and areas of shared or interdisciplinary concern and interest (e.g., digital literacy, problem solving).

The guest editors are seeking high-quality, innovative articles to address conceptual, empirical, and theoretical issues in the broad area of computational thinking and youth: the who, what, where and why of learning to code. Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):
•    Critical, conceptual, epistemic explorations of code and coding
•    Relationship between computational thinking and literacy or literacies
•    Informal spaces for coding education, including libraries, museums, maker spaces
•    Design and architecture of learning platforms for coding
•    Innovative coding curriculum and pedagogy
•    Emergent and designed communities for learning computing skills and concepts
•    Learner assessment approaches and techniques
•    Effect of coding instruction on youth skills and behaviours
•    Equity, gender, status and identity issues in coding and computation environments

Eric Meyers, University of British Columbia

Hong Huang, University of South Florida

Submissions should comply with the journal author guidelines that are here. Submissions should be made through ScholarOne Manuscripts, the online submission and peer review system. Registration and access is available at

Initial submission due: 14 May 2018
First round decisions made: 30 July 2018
Revised manuscripts due: 10 September 2018
Final decisions made: 15 October 2018
Anticipated publication date:  Issue 2, March/April 2019


  • Aho, A. V. (2012). Computation and computational thinking. The Computer Journal, 55(7), 832–835.
  • Anton, G., & Berland, M. (2014). Studio K: a game development environment designed for gains in computational thinking (abstract only). In Proceedings of the 45rd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. New York: ACM Press.
  • Barr, V., & Stephenson, C. (2011). Bringing computational thinking to K-12: What is involved and what is the role of the computer science education community? ACM Inroads, 2(1), 48–54.
  • Berland, M., & Lee, V. R. (2011). Collaborative strategic board games as a site for distributed computational thinking. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 1(2), 65.
  • Clements, D. H., & Gullo, D. F. (1984). Effects of computer programming on young children’s cognition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(6), 1051–1058.
  • Cooper, S., & Cunningham, S. (2010). Teaching computer science in context. ACM Inroads, 1(1), 5–8.
  • diSessa, A. A. (2001). Changing minds: Computers, learning and literacy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Fields, D. A., Searle, K. A., Kafai, Y. B., & Min, H. S. (2012). Debuggems to assess student learning in e-textiles. In Proceedings of the 43rd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. New York: ACM Press.
  • Guzdial, M. (2008). Education: Paving the way for computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 51(8), 25–27.
  • Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1990). Software design as a learning environment. Interactive Learning Environments, 1(1), 1–32.
  • Kafai, Y. B, Peppler, K. A, & Chapman, R. N. (2009). The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and creativity in youth communities. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Martin, C. (2015). Connected learning, libraries, and connecting youth interest. Journal of Research on Young Adults and Libraries. connected-learning-librarians-and-connecting-youth-interest/
  • Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.
  • Resnick, M., Maloney, J., Monroy-Hern├índez, A., Rusk, N., Eastmond, E., Brennan, K., Silverman, B. (2009). Scratch: programming for all. Communications of the ACM, 52(11), 60–67.
  • Reynolds, R., & Harel Caperton, I. (2011). Contrasts in student engagement, meaning-making, dislikes, and challenges in a discovery-based program of game design learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59(2), 267-289.
  • Reynolds, R. (2016).  Relationships among tasks, collaborative inquiry processes, inquiry resolutions, and knowledge outcomes in adolescents during guided discovery-based game design in school. Journal of Information Science: Special Issue on Searching as Learning. 42(1), 35-58.
  • Royal Society (2012). Shut down or restart: The way forward for computing in UK schools.
  • Prato, S. C. (2017). Beyond the computer age: A best practices intro for implementing library coding programs. Children & Libraries, 15(1), 19-21.
  • Wing, J. M. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1881), 3717–3725.