Archive for September, 2011

Expert Gamer

So as I have reading some of the material for this class I am quickly realizing what it means the be an “expert” gamer. At one point in my game (Dead Island for the 360) you enter a car to drive around the island. There are exactly 0 instructions given on how to driv ethe car but I instantly knew how to drive. In fact I knew how to do more than drive. I could switch seats in the car, go forward, backwards and more.

Now here is the question I am posing, for the sake of this class, is that a good thing?

On one end of the spectrum the target audience of video games are in fact expert gamers. Kids spend hours on end playing games (I know because I was one) and we want to leverage that to teach them. On the other end of the spectrum though are the principals we are designing for. How am I supposed to determine how I learn from a video game if I do it effortlessly? I don’t have to think anymore about what the controls are, I just pick up the controller and can play. I am just wondering what others think and if they have any advice for how to overcome this problem.



Speaking of MOTIVATION, here’s a game geared towards helping you achieve your goals and focus on what’s important to you in life!

I highly recommend trying it out for 15-20 minutes and seeing if you like it! I personally don’t think I’d use it, but I can see how it would be useful for some people. I’m a more rational person and cutesy visuals don’t appeal to me a whole lot.. so I like using Remember the Milk, Google Calendar, and the like. If you/someone you know is struggling to keep on top of things, though, this could be a useful and fun way to reorient yourself on the right path.

All that said, if there was a way to incorporate some kind of HUD in actual life and “level up”… I’d sign up. Mindbloom is cool, but not what I am personally looking for. 🙂

Lifehacker post here (how I discovered it) | Link to actual game



Possible newest cool thing that I saw here: Glitch.

Of course, it’s also distinctly possible that I’m old and, therefore, this is totally new only to me.

What Makes a Game Immersive?

Considering the multitude of point-and-click independent flash games I’ve played, there’s one that stands out to me as an example of especially immersive design and execution: The Dream Machine. This game follows the lives of two newly-wed individuals, from a beginning dream state, to their home. The player controls the man, moving him through rooms, exploring, and interacting with objects.

Perhaps the first element of this game which makes it immersive is the attention to interactions which are not relevant to the story. The player can open and shut doors, faucets, windows. The actions mirror the mental models built from real world interactions with such objects. This is not completely unique but still a differentiating factor from many games in the point-and-click exploration genre. When the character has an item, he can attempt to interact with that item on most all of the other objects in the game… though the corresponding response may draw attention to the absurdity of the attempted action (why use a shovel on your own head?).

Given the large number of games in this genre, the medium of the design of The Dream Machine — claymation — sets it apart. The player is not able to connect the look of the game with other subpar games in the genre. This visual design demands a new mental model from the player. The landscapes and actions of the players, though pushing slightly towards the uncanny valley, are lush and detailed. Sounds accompany all actions to heighten the sense that this is a real interaction. Conversations have multiple paths which the player can choose. Though some can be rehashed, eliminating some of the authenticity, often these conversations pass and cannot be returned to. Characters that are talked to may not be present on the next return. Certain elements, such as doors and certain floors, are not accessible to the player — you cannot walk in on your neighbor, though some games allow such interactions which would not be present. Though this is only in the first chapter, these interactions set the stage of a very normal environment, to be disrupted as the game takes more sinister and bizarre turns.

These are just some of the fine details of this game which I’d encourage you to try. The first chapter is free, though later chapters are pay. Given the intensive nature of its development, the full game will not be released for a while, though chapters are playable as they are released.


I like that we were assigned to read the excerpt from Stoll’s book. I tried hard to read it with an open mind and to understand his point of view. After all, I go to the School of Information and am attending a class about video games and learning. Yet, I can’t help but hear the voice of a flustered old man trying to convince everyone that learning should be the same it were back in the old days. He makes some good points like how some educational games don’t really go too much in depth and how you don’t really get the “aha” moment that one would get in a chemistry setting. But I feel the man is discounting technology in the classroom altogether. He has a very “all or nothing” approach to technology in the classroom that it seems borderline ignorant. Does he not believe that there can be a fair level of balance between traditional and modern forms of teaching? The examples he gives are examples of lackluster attempts of using technology. It made me wonder whether or not he really did the adequate research required to have a more robust argument. If he did do the adequate research then he may have just omitted those findings in order to promote his own agenda that technology has no place in the classroom. I’m not saying that I have done the counter research to throw back at this chapter, but I know that so far technology in the classroom has definitely enhanced my learning experiences. Thoughts?


So two years back, there was this report about this South Korean couple that let their real life child die while they “raised” a virtual child in a videogame. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard about the addicting nature of videogames — in one my creative writing classes at Cal, one of my friends wrote a really funny story about his addiction to World of Warcraft. How he would stay in his room and play for days straight. He almost dropped out of community college, lost his girlfriend, and didn’t interact with his parents. It was funny, and self-deprecating, and I didn’t really think much about it after a while. But when I heard about the Korean couple, it struck me as really crazy how addictive behavior can manifest themselves in so many mediums.

Here’s an article about an English professor that basically lost his life to World of Warcraft for a few years. Which brings me to…. how enticing is that virtual world? How well does it provide as a coping mechanism for tough times? When we talk about knowledge transfer, do we really want to perform the act? It’s difficult, right, to bring power and wealth from a virtual world to your real life. Same with game-specific intelligence and perspective. How do we make real life more appealing and the ultimate reality to return to?

Lookie Lookie: The Evolution of Game Controllers

I came across this awesome infographic a few weeks ago and have been meaning to post it. Aside from being just an amazing image, both in its presentation and its complexity, I think there’s a lot this image can tell us about us as learners.

Starting from the top down (going in chronological order), you notice that controllers start off fairly simple, with one joystick and one or two buttons (maybe less). This is obviously due to the simplicity of games of the time, restricted by the technological capabilities of the era. As time progresses and computers get smarter and more sophisticated, so do the games that get played on them, thus their controllers begin to get larger and more complicated. This trend continues until near the bottom of the graphic, which represents the past 2-3 years. At this point, controller complexity (in terms of button layout, etc.) seems to take a few steps backward, with motion coming more in to play (pun intended); and in 1 case, the game controller disappears entirely (Xbox Kinect).

Does this mean that we have mastered the “game controller” as we know it? Or have games become just so complicated, that we must resort to the original controller – our body/movement?

Here’s the real question – what does motion gaming mean for learning? I think it opens up many doors, more than we have ever had, since we’ve been constrained to the physical buttons resting in the sweaty palms of our hands. Motion gaming like the Kinect adds a whole new dimension to the idea of being absorbed into the gaming world. Every action you do here (in the “real world”), has a direct consequence over there (in the game world).

However, I believe game controllers like the Wii or Playstation Move have an additional benefit over the Kinect – they combine motion gaming with a physical controller. With the Kinect, there is a large disconnect between yourself and your avatar on the screen. You get no physical feedback like you do from a game controller. The notion of holding out your arms like your holding a steering wheel, without actually holding anything, just feels weird. The Wii and Move controllers help augment your motion gaming beyond what your body is physically capable of.

It really excites to me to think how about how motion gaming can be applied not just to education, but to fields like physical rehabilitation.

What could a future controller look like?

Every school-aged child in Armenia will be required to play chess as part of the school day.

The country has instituted mandatory chess classes with the hope of fostering  independent strategic thinking.  According to this Radio Free Europe news report the plan took effect beginning with the current academic year. More than 40,000 children in about 1,500 Armenian schools already have received chess textbooks and chess pieces. They are now receiving formal lessons twice a week from 1,200 specially trained and selected teachers.

This raises some interesting questions about the role of games in learning. Some of the supporters of this initiative specifically contrasted the learning gained via chess to experiences gained through video games.

Psychologist Ruzanna Gharibian is a supporter. She says playing chess helps the children not only to improve intellectual abilities, but also to develop essential personality characteristics that high-tech computer games are unable to provide.

“You know it is much better to create an atmosphere of real moral victory [for a child] by giving them these chessmen rather than giving them a computer and letting them experience victory through different aggressive [computer] games,” Gharibian says.
“You make a move and you bear a certain responsibility for the move you made,” Gharibian says. “While playing computer games, children do not feel responsibility for their actions.”

That’s a provocative statement, especially in the context of what we are learning in this class.  Based on what we’ve read in Paul Gee’s book so far, there is an internalized sense of responsibility in choices made while gaming, as well.

I tend to agree with the studies cited in this report that suggest learning chess at an early age improves the reading performance of children, strengthens their problem solving skills, and has a positive effect on concentration, memory and calculation. But, I do wonder about the impact of the competitive nature of the game, in which there is a clear winner and loser, on very young children.  Will there be children who will lose the vast majority of their matches the entire school year simply because some will be better players than others? In a video game, a child can compete against himself, and there seem to be multiple ways to measure success.

Would it be demoralizing for a six-year-old to consistently lose in chess matches in a mandatory school subject? Would this impact how he or she creates their own identity as a learner?

Do you think this is a wise move for Armenia? Would a similar program work in America?

I can only imagine the backlash if a video game version of chess, say the iPad one, was made a mandatory school subject.


Games as Art: The Flash Games of Jonas Kyratzes

One of the most interesting debates I’ve heard through the years is over games as art. Most people who have played great games can agree that the immersive experience of those games and the environments they create can have at least as much emotional impact as a beautiful composition of music or a well-executed artwork. One game design that speaks to me specifically as being wonderfully evocative is Jonas Kyratzes: 

The Book of Living Magic may be aimed at children and drawn in cartoonish fashion, but is surprisingly full of whimsy in the miniature stories that unfold, holding a surprising and excellent message at the end. Alphaland takes a meta-approach to existence and existentialism, using the framework of a game that unravels as the player continues forward. The Infinite Ocean is overly insulting and demotivating as the user questions the aftermath of AI in a futuristic space station. You Shall Know the Truth is the most overtly political and blunt games, representing the player as an agent investigating the apartment of a Wikileaks informant, learning of some of the leaks while destroying evidence (though the true joy and challenge comes in exiting the role).

Each of these games have educational value that exists outside of the typical “content”. The player is not learning of true history in the Book of Living Magic, but learns to appreciate history in the process. Alphaland may not hold the treatises of Sartre, but inspires one to dig deeper into the philosophies of life. The Infinite Ocean may not have the nuts and bolts of a computer but makes one interested in the possibilities of future intelligence. You Shall Know the Truth finds ways to give us startling political facts without dryly indicting or pushing memorization upon the player. In each of these games I felt both moved and educated in a unique way.


This is an interesting article about a video game that was used to help scientists uncover the structure of an enzyme. Gamers playing Foldit online solve puzzles for points, but in reality they are manipulating the structure of the protein. The lower the energy state, the higher their score.

Scientists used x-ray crystallography to verify the results and their findings were published online.