That’s surprisingly difficult to answer. Here’s how I tried to describe it recently in an application for a teaching award, in which I discussed my work in open education.
Originally designed as a zombie game played on Twitter (and thus called “Twitter vs. Zombies”), we have also created a new version called “Technology vs. Zen.” Both games are played through Twitter, and are meant to bring people together in order to create collaborative stories. The other part of the purpose of the game is to help people learn how to use Twitter, and to give them motivation to create and share digital artifacts such as blog posts, images, videos, and more. The game usually happens over the course of a weekend, often lasting about three days.
In “Twitter vs. Zombies” the overall setting of the game is a zombie apocalypse, where there are zombies who have started to infect humans. You can see the website for the third iteration of the zombie version, here: https://twittervszombies3.wordpress.com/basics/. On Twitter, one can be bitten by a zombie through the use of a hashtag, and then has a certain number of minutes to dodge or be rescued by someone else before they turn into a zombie themselves. But the game goes beyond this; the most interesting parts of the game are when people take on missions where they have to add to the ongoing story in the game through a blog post, a picture, a video, a drawing they take a picture of, a song, or many other things. These aspects of the game happen through new rule releases that occur about every 12 hours: https://twittervszombies3.wordpress.com/rules/
In “Technology vs. Zen” the setting is an apocalyptic scene of unknown origin; participants are to imagine that they have woken up to find a wasteland around them, dead and dying plants, deserted city streets. The game site for this version is here: http://tvsz.us. The point of the game is to figure out what has happened and to determine how to approach solving the problem. Players begin on one of two teams: “technology” or “nature,” each team devoted to either a technological solution or one that has to do with working more in tune with nature. Participants start out recruiting others for their teams, but then are asked to engage in missions such as finding food, building a shelter, describing what they think has happened, and determining an approach to solving the problem (examples of such missions can be found here: http://tvsz.us/story-2/).
A number of people have used #TvsZ in their courses, asking students to play in order to experience collaborative storytelling and connecting with people around the globe in a team that has to work together in order to accomplish their missions. They have also used it to show an example of open and emergent pedagogy, though outside of a specific course context. Finally, it serves as an engaging way to encourage students to learn how to create and post digital objects—though the game sites don’t have information on how to do so, participants learn this from each other (or from their instructor, if they are playing the game as part of a course). As the current TvsZ planning team wrote in an abstract for an upcoming conference presentation:
This game builds digital literacy through creating avenues for participants to engage in international collaboration, to compose for a visible and active audience, and to craft personal learning networks. It is a dynamic experience for engaging students in transmedia storytelling and narrative collaboration, and it can democratize the classroom by blurring the line between teacher and student. The game design itself is democratized through emergent rules: players re-shape the rules and revise the narrative as the game unfolds. (This quote comes from the abstract reprinted below)
But even since writing that, the game has changed again. This time we’re thinking of not having any teams to start with and asking people to create their own teams. Thus, there might not be a “technology” team or a “nature” team, but entirely different ones.
That’s one of the wonderful things about this game: it is continually evolving. And not only between games, but within the game itself: rules change over time, new missions are created for teams to complete, and participants are asked to suggest changes during the game as well. And actually, participants sometimes just change the game themselves by choosing to do something quite different than what we designed; in a recent version, which had a divide between humans and zombies, a group of people decided they didn’t want to be either humans or zombies and participate in biting or escaping bites, but to rather be neutral commentators who created poetry about the game.
I think I’ll just let our abstracts, which are pretty detailed, speak for themselves. We have two presentations, a longer one and a shorter one.
Here’s the abstract for the long, 2.5 hour workshop. This one is called Perforate Your Classroom: Collaboratively Hack the Open Online Game #TvsZ 6.0.” During this workshop, people will learn about the game, start playing it, learn how it has been used in courses, and work together on how they might change it for their own educational purposes.
Here’s our abstract for the shorter session. This one is called “Perforating the Classroom: How Hacking the Online Game #TvsZ 6.0 Brings Together Faculty, Students and Community Members.” It is just for talking about how we changed the original #TvsZ from a zombie narrative to a more generic apocalypse narrative, and why, and how we engaged in cross-world collaboration to do so.
(I’m playing #tvsz this weekend — http://tvsz.us. In short, it’s a game on Twitter with zombies and an emergent storyline and ever-changing rules. A great way to do digital storytelling and learn the power of Twitter at the same time. Plus, you can make new connections to people with similar interests (at least, people who also think playing zombie games on Twitter is a good use of weekend time!) I had to write this post on my phone because I am camping, and writing a post on the phone is quite challenging, actually. This post is part of the game, so it will likely only make sense if you’ve played or check out the website above.)
After finding safe haven in Rhonda Jessen’s (@rljessen) safezone for awhile this evening, I had to run when the zombies found us, and I lost track of my companions: Rhonda, Nana Lou (@NanaLou022), Brendan Murphy (@dendari), and Robin Bartoletti (@robinwb).
Fortunately, Nana Lou had found her way back to her place, and Janine DeBaise (@writingasjoe), Rhonda Jessen and I ran as fast As we could to join her. Nana Lou had fresh baked bread and backwoods brew, and we hoped the cows might roll over onto any zombies that came by. We also had brew bombs on fire ready to throw if needed. But the zombies found us and there were too many; the cows and we gave a valiant effort, but in the end we had to flee again.
I then found myself back in the forest, in a place very similar to where I spent last night. During today I managed to break into an abandoned home and found a tent and some water. Out back I found a few pieces of dry firewood.
It’s so peaceful here, I almost think the zombies are gone and life can return to normal. But I know better. And the tent is big enough for quite a few of us! Now, I know what you’re thinking. A tent as a safezone? Really? We can’t keep the zombies out of it, but we can fight them off before they get near it. There are plenty of big sticks and we can set those on fire. Plus, there are no signs of them here. We can keep the fire low to keep them from seeing us. It’s still light here so the light won’t attract them. We do risk the smoke being seen, but this is such a vast forest it’ll be hard for them to find us. I brought some homemade bread from Nana’s place, so there’s food here too!
It should keep us safe for long enough for some to rest and get warm, at least. Welcome to the #forestcamp #safezone!