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Plexus: Online Microgames for Reacting to the Past

October 27, 2022 12:33 PM | Anonymous


By: Robert Biggert and James Petullo
Creators of Plexus
Assumption University


Plexus is a real-time, multiplayer educational game platform built at Assumption University. As a professor-student team, our impetus for this game was two-fold: first, to create active and engaged classrooms and second, to harness the (usually unproductive) student use of technology in the classroom (laptops, tablets, smartphones). In short, our solution to the classroom conundrum is “If you cannot beat em, join em.”

Originally, our game was intended for use in sociology classes, specifically as a tool to aid in the teaching of social movements and collective action: students could be placed virtually into a conflict scenario, playing as either protestors or police. To support this style of play, our game is broadly based on game theory. This entails two actors with divergent interests both facing the basic choice of whether or not to use violence to achieve their goals. Thus, our game model includes a payoff matrix that awards payouts to each side during repeated play, ultimately determining a final winner at the end of the game.

Additionally, we have added support for game customizability. Professors can upload educational content for students to read before the game starts, while the actor names and payoff matrix can all be customized to reflect the intended game scenario. This customizability has enabled the use of our game in contexts outside sociology, including the Arab Spring protests in a history class, the mechanics of oligopoly collusion in economics, and homeless encampment clearings in a criminal justice course. Nevertheless, our goal is to build a platform that can facilitate play of many different role-playing games, beyond our current two-actor model.

Throughout our research, we considered the RTTP model, which we had run in classes previously, to be the exemplar in the field of educational gaming and simulation. Due to our focus on protest, we used Nicolas Proctor’s Chicago 1968 to link our platform with the RTTP model. We did so by building a game on Plexus that replays the enormously consequential Battle of Michigan Avenue. In this way, we view our game as a complementary mini-game to a larger role-play, facilitating play of high intensity, singular events from the overall game scenario. RTTP is the gold standard of education role-playing games, and we think that a micro, online gameplay option would greatly increase RTTP users’ ability to more quickly deliver engaging and exciting content from the larger role-play to their students.

We believe that most role-playing games can be hosted wholly or partially online via a pairing of our model and the RTTP framework. We would be delighted to assist the RTTP community in the creation of new online mini-games or the porting of existing games to our platform.



About the Author

Dr. Robert Biggert and James Petullo have been designing ed-tech games (since 2019) at Assumption University in Worcester, MA. Robert is a recently retired professor of sociology at Assumption and James is a senior studying Computer Science. Their interdisciplinary research has led to their creation of Plexus, an online platform for hosting customizable, realtime role playing games.


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