Playing Together to Experience Belonging

#TvsZ 6.0 Starts Friday 11/14 Noon EDT – Sunday 11/16 6pm EDT

This weekend a group of faculty and friends I met on Twitter will be hosting a new edition of Pete Rorabaugh’s epic Twitter literacy game, #TvsZ (new website coming soon). Our version, 6.0, is a significant hack of the original game. We’ve changed the underlying narrative premise, and therefore rewritten the game actions to work within the new paradigm. We are in the process of updating and building the new game components. (Sign up and join in!)

I am incredibly excited about participating as a host in this game that I have enjoyed as a player. Here’s @Bali_Maha’s great, simple explanation of how the game will work and why it’s useful for students. Here are some slides that explain the basic structure of game play, brilliantly updated by @JRDingwall.

Playing the game last summer led me seamlessly into hosting the game this fall. The sense of community and solidarity and mutual support I feel with my fellow player/hosts is a really new phenomenon for me. A new kind of belonging, a networked belonging. The very fact that collectively we cannot actually remember how we all came together to work on this (via Google hangouts, blog posts, shared documents and lots of email, because we are spread across many time zones) attests to the community-building effects of #TvsZ as Pete has designed it. Coming together through the game, our group has been working to reimagine the game. We decided to build a new underlying structure with the goal of bringing our students together to play with each other and potentially find their own new way of belonging.

Why did we decide to reimagine the game premise? We had many long intellectual discussions about this, and we had some good reasons: wanting to avoid a violent premise, wanting to find a broader narrative with more global appeal, etc. But as I think of it now, I believe we wanted to redesign the game because reimagining the game is part of PLAYING the game. The feature we all agreed instantly that we want to keep–and foreground–is the crowd-sourced creation of new rules during game play. The emergent nature of the game invites players to become more than “users”; players become “builders”. And that leads naturally into wanting to build more deeply, to wanting to host an instance of the game, and to reimagine it each time to embody the network that plays it.

What’s new in #TvsZ 6.0?

So what’s the new structure? Zombies, the basis of the original narrative, are a narrative menace with a cultural context. They do not resonate the same way in different parts of the world, and we wanted to make the game as internationally appealing as possible. In the past, #TvsZ began with a Twitter account “PatientZero” who would #bite other players and turn them into Zombies. This metaphor brilliantly concretizes the “virality” that the game seeks to achieve: “going viral” is one of the highest forms of internet success. But it turns out that, as we prepare to play #TvsZ 6.0, a terrible epidemic is taking the lives of many people in West Africa, particularly in Liberia. In light of this, it seems disrespectful to turn a viral epidemic into a game at this historical moment.

In contrast, #TvsZ 6.0 will begin with “Scouts” who will #recruit new members to their teams to work together to survive an unspecified global disaster. The (initial) teams will be Technology and Zen, a binary that I hope the players will hack as they play. Teams might undertake missions, or collectively write their own histories and legends, or create their own team manifestos.

Will this new version “work”? Will it still be as fun? Zombies–with all their cultural baggage–are such a popular trope right now that a game version had built in appeal for many (but not for all!). Will a game based on team-building and collective action be as fun? I don’t know. I HOPE so. Only our students–and you, if you choose to play–will be able to answer that question.

So here’s to a weekend of Twitter Fun. I hope you’ll join us. Let me know if you plan to play–and what you think of it when you do! Above all, this game is an opportunity for players to meet new folks online who share common interests in net literacy, connected learning, mindful social media use, critical pedagogy, and/or in living playfully.

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