MozFest 2014: Finding inspiration in video games to teach technology

Man, I’m still in love with MozFest.

I know I sound like a kid who can’t quit talking about summer camp, but it’s my third MozFest and I’m as excited now as I was two years ago. Back in 2012 MozFest was was intimidating, exciting and incredibly fulfilling by the time all was said and done. It was a tough act to follow, but 2014 seems to have done it.

Why? Probably because I once again showed up in London nervous and excited. I pitched a session which meant I was going to help shape the event more than I had other years.  It was a new role and it had me wound up.

With Zach Wise (my colleague and fantastic session idea man) we led a session on how giving users an “in-game” tutorial might make technology easier to learn.

The idea comes from video games where in-game tutorials are a fairly common way to get players up to speed quickly. Gamers are surely familiar with the technique, but for folks who aren’t familiar the gist is that you learn to play as you play, just like a “practice hand” common to family card nights.

With technology, the idea is that you’d learn as you build a project through a guided tutorial rather than watching a demo, reading a how-to or exploring the technology on your own.

Zach gave the 15 folks who showed up to our session a quick overview of how tutorials are used in games, including a few guidelines for effective tutorials:

  • Less text. Use as few words as possible to explain the lesson.
  • No frontloading. Avoid giving people too much information at before they start building or using a particular tool, which forces people to recall the instruction/information later.
  • Make it rewarding. Use sounds, motion and other interesting visual affects to reward correct tasks. Think about the rewarding clinking of the coins you’d collect in the old Mario Brothers or Sonic the Hedgehog games.
  • Reinforce through use. Using human phrases like “good job” or “way to go” can help users learn and keep moving forward.
  • Listen to your users.

Then we took a few real-world tools — Mozilla’s Appmaker and PopcornJS, Google’s Fusion Tables, and Knight Lab’s StoryMap — and asked participants to storyboard “in-game” tutorials for each tool.

While most groups were successful in coming up with a compelling storyboard for how they’d apply an in-game tutorial to a digital tool or resource, I thought the most effective invented a project for their users to build and a goal to reach, just like in a game.

For example, one group decided to coach users through how to use Appmaker by having them make a stopwatch, a quick and simple project that introduces the essential ideas and skills you need to use Appmaker.

In a game, the objective is almost always clear: progress and eventually win the game. With a tool, the objective isn’t necessarily clear from the start (this is particularly true for beginners), which means inventing a project or objective is key.

Other potential projects for the tools we discussed: Ask users to map their commutes with StoryMapJS, hack a raw news video with PopcornJS, modify a dataset on crime to learn Google Fusion Tables.

Overall, I think the session succeeded. Our participants got to think about a new idea and to collaborate and create something from scratch in an hour. Personally, I got to think more about our idea and learn from their work. But I also got to experience the thrill of MozFest by taking on a new role. A thrill isn’t why I came to London, but is a plenty good outcome and testament both to the event and taking on new challenges. Can’t wait for next year.

About the author

Ryan Graff

Communications and Outreach Manager, 2011-2016

Journalism, revenue, whitewater, former carny. Recently loving some quality time @KelloggSchool.

Latest Posts

  • Building a Community for VR and AR Storytelling

    In 2016 we founded the Device Lab to provide a hub for the exploration of AR/VR storytelling on campus. In addition to providing access to these technologies for Medill and the wider Northwestern community, we’ve also pursued a wide variety of research and experimental content development projects. We’ve built WebVR timelines of feminist history and looked into the inner workings of ambisonic audio. We’ve built virtual coral reefs and prototyped an AR experience setting interviews...

    Continue Reading

  • A Brief Introduction to NewsgamesCan video games be used to tell the news?

    When the Financial Times released The Uber Game in 2017, the game immediately gained widespread popularity with more than 360,000 visits, rising up the ranks as the paper’s most popular interactive piece of the year. David Blood, the game’s lead developer, said that the average time spent on the page was about 20 minutes, which was substantially longer than what most Financial Times interactives tend to receive, according to Blood. The Uber Game was so successful that the Financial...

    Continue Reading

  • With the 25th CAR Conference upon us, let’s recall the first oneWhen the Web was young, data journalism pioneers gathered in Raleigh

    For a few days in October 1993, if you were interested in journalism and technology, Raleigh, North Carolina was the place you had to be. The first Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference offered by Investigative Reporters & Editors brought more than 400 journalists to Raleigh for 3½ days of panels, demos and hands-on lessons in how to use computers to find stories in data. That seminal event will be commemorated this week at the 25th CAR Conference, which...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • Audience Engagement and Onboarding with Hearken Auditing the News Resurrecting History for VR Civic Engagement with City Bureau Automated Fact Checking Conversational Interface for News Creative Co-Author Crowdsourcing for Journalism Environmental Reporting with Sensors Augmented Reality Visualizations Exploring Data Visualization in VR Fact Flow Storytelling with GIFs Historical Census Data Information Spaces in AR/VR Contrasting Forms Of Interactive 3D Storytelling Interactive Audio Juxtapose Legislator Tracker Storytelling with Augmented Reality Music Magazine Navigating Virtual Reality Open Data Reporter Oscillations Personalize My Story Photo Bingo Photojournalism in 3D for VR and Beyond Podcast Discoverability Privacy Mirror Projection Mapping ProPublica Illinois Rethinking Election Coverage SensorGrid API and Dashboard Sidebar Smarter News Exploring Software Defined Radio Story for You Storyline: Charts that tell stories. Storytelling Layers on 360 Video Talking to Data Visual Recipes Watch Me Work Writing and Designing for Chatbots
  • Prototyping Spatial Audio for Movement Art

    One of Oscillations’ technical goals for this quarter’s Knight Lab Studio class was an exploration of spatial audio. Spatial audio is sound that exists in three dimensions. It is a perfect complement to 360 video, because sound sources can be localized to certain parts of the video. Oscillations is especially interested in using spatial audio to enhance the neuroscientific principles of audiovisual synchrony that they aim to emphasize in their productions. Existing work in spatial......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More