Archive for October, 2011

The Game

The augmented reality readings this week got me thinking about one of my favorite movies of all time, The Game. [Spoiler Alert] The movie centers around a rich, isolated businessman (Michael Douglas) and events which transpire to turn his comfortable, secluded — if sad — life upside-down, spiraling out of control until he is marooned in Mexico, bankrupt, shot at and accidentally murders his brother to jump to his own death. But, in fact, neither he nor his brother die. This entire plot is a part of a game, unknown to the viewer, or to the main character, a game which is paid for by his brother and which profoundly alters the way in which the main character perceives life. What comes out of this in terms of our learning is first the way in which the game is profoundly immersive and engrained into his life. There is a long series of tests which the main character must endure under the guise of a “birthday present” to set-up the game for him. In terms of learning educational software it speaks to the difficulty of tailoring games for a vast array of learning styles and individuals. The augmented reality game in the movie is also a social experience, dependent on multiple actors and individuals, but also more fruitful for it. Also, perhaps most markedly, it is the profound ability of the augmented reality to reduce the risk of failure, to allow the character to kill and die, and be washed of both murder and reborn, that speaks to clearly to the advantage of games to alter us in deep levels without as much risk as the real world. Overall, it’s definitely worth a watch.


Judging Playful Historical Thinking

[Please forgive my third reference in three posts to the blog Play the Past, but I find their work immensely useful for our class.]

Ostensibly, our class is not so much about videogames but about motivation in learning. Videogames happen to be the pièce de résistance for motivation amongst young people, thus our course of study. Even so, what we have failed to discuss in class is making education more playful. This idea was hinted at WAAAAY back in our first reading, but we have not really returned to it in force. Our discussion of the reading responses in the last class gestured toward this idea, and I think that if Barry had his way, we’d all approach the class in a playful manner.

Andrew D. Devenney wrote about playful historical thinking in his recent guest post on Play the Past, and his almost complete abandon regarding play in formal classroom settings mirrors many of the things that we are attempting to do in this class.

For starters, the competitive nature of some of the assignments rings a bell, both in terms of our experience but also in terms of gameplay. Second, Devenney’s idea of collective learning and assessment hints at the importance of crowd-sourced knowledge (e.g. Wikipedia) in 21st century society, but I think that Barry has yet to employ this type of radical play within class. Third, the creation of personalized representations of course knowledge manifests itself weekly in our class, and our final projects should also be of a kind as well.

Videogames should not just teach us about how to motivate students; it should also teach us about fun and novelty. Even though the deepest analysis failed to win the reading reaction voting every week, that doesn’t invalidate the winner. In fact, it should tell us something about learning that may be just as important. If you can’t entertain us, then maybe you don’t have anything important to say.

Norden Bombsight

It’s interesting to consider Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on the Norden bombsight in terms of the readings we’ve been doing in this course. There is a constant emphasis that current considerations of how to improve conditions in the classroom focus on the form of tools, methodologies and curriculum, while ignoring the great differences between teachers, students, classrooms, backgrounds and history. Like the Norden Bombsight, investment in technologies in and of themselves, without considering the placement of those technologies in a given context, will lead to failure to improve education. This is very much the rational behind User Experience Design, that no matter how considerate or experience a designer is, s/he will benefit from placing technology in the hands of the user and watching them interact with it. The greatest asset to a reformer or designer, then, is something more fundamental than education or experience: empathy. By being able to empathize with a student in a given situation, one can quickly see that the most marvelous of interactive learning games will not appeal to someone who cannot place themselves in the role of a person who wants to interact with something in school. If students are too hungry because their families cannot afford food, it is unlikely that even the most brilliantly planned lesson will impact them. Perhaps, then, rather than designing and letting that design trickle down, design should start from the bottom up: talking to teachers, students and administrators, and tailoring tools for given situations.

Ender’s Game Movie

So, apparently, Gavin Hood will be directing the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game set to be released in 2013. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, as there is going to have to be a lot of CGI work pertaining to pretty much all of the major scenes of the book. As much as I loved the book, and even though CGI is extremely advanced right now, it might be a good idea to hold off on the movie until CGI is actually more advanced.

While I do have some hesitancy, I still can’t wait until it’s released. It should be quite an interesting watch. Oh, and there’s an open casting call for all the major characters…too bad we’re all too old to audition.


Learning Interface Design

I came across this article on UX Magazine the other day. The author introduces the idea of Learning Interface Design, a subset of user experience design that focuses on constructing interfaces to better aid learning. The article doesn’t go into much detail, but it does raise the notion that it is important to have Learning Interface Designers crafting applications – whether they be online university courses, elementary school spelling apps, educational games, or a whole host of other related interactive systems – with educational theory and psychology in mind. The author also briefly mentions the need to test such interfaces. It would have been nice to hear a little more on this topic, but it still got me thinking about the Learning from Serious Games? reading from this past week, in which Richard Clark describes what has been, in many ways, an abysmal attempt at studying the effectiveness of educational games as learning tools. While looking at interface design for learning is certainly tilted toward user-experience, it nonetheless ties in to game design. Of course UX research is decidedly different from formal, peer-reviewed, academic research, as we discussed in class, but I found it encouraging that the notion of creating an entire subfield of designers/researchers was raised like this.

Which Ender’s Game?

In Ender’s Game, most of us would look at how the simulations and mock battles helped Ender to learn command and strategy. But I think the most powerful game of all in the book is actually the immersive role-playing game with the Giant. This game is unique in that although the landscape, objects and characters are fictional and fantastical, there are inherent links with the player’s background and experiences (eg. the image of Peter).

Instead of taking on a fantasy role, Ender plays the game as himself. There is no tripartite identity as mentioned by Gee. Hence, the whole game is about Ender’s own psychological development and allows him to explore his own identity, emotions and character. I would contend that this game is largely responsible for shaping Ender into who he was. It may also have been an emotional outlet that helped prevent him from going insane.

The great amount of violence in the game probably had two outcomes. Dying in multiple ways and so many times might have accustomed Ender to his own death, and so he did not really fear death. It might also have desensitized him to violence, and might have contributed to his killing Bonzo somewhat as a reflex.

The game also had a focus on problem-solving (for survival mainly). Allowing repeated tries probably helped the players to have more perseverance, and the possibility of multiple and personal solutions could have encouraged creativity. Like so many 3D role-playing games, there were also minute details that the player had to notice in order to succeed at tasks.

All in all, the Giant’s game probably contributed to Ender becoming a more cold-blooded, fearless, persistent, creative and perceptive commander, as his trainers would have wanted. Although such outcomes are hard to measure and attribute to the effect of playing games, many educational interventions also face this problem, and like games, perhaps it is sometimes sufficient to look at just the intended outcomes and create a possibility space for learning to occur. The rest, is up to the player or student.

In honor of this week’s reading reaction theme…..

Who said HAL wasn’t real? Just set this up in your house this weekend, invite some people over, pop in your iPhone 4S, and scare the crap out of people!

Happy Halloween 🙂

…at Play the Past.

Take away quote: “Unlike many educational games which force content, Assassin’s Creed has integrated the content into the game play. This is the biggest lesson we can take from this series.”

Immersive Gaming

In my reaction reading this week (in the voice of a bugger), I talked about how the Battle School in “Ender’s Game” broke down the barrier between what reality and game for Ender and his fellow child-soldiers. Well, it looks like this idea of full on “immersive gaming” isn’t fiction. In the video above, “The Gadget Show” builds a Battlefield 3 simulator that is just a hair away from actually being in a real war (it shoots paintballs at you when you get shot in the game!).

Does immersion add to what you could possibly learn from a game? Like they mention halfway through the video, the guy playing the game seems to experience real fear when thrust into the heart of a firefight. The true experience of fear is something that is very difficult to achieve with standard gaming (sitting in front of a TV with a controller). The level of augmented reality used in this simulator is key to achieving this, and I think it’s something to think about going into next week’s class.

I don’t know about you, but I want to jump into that simulator right now and squash some buggers!!

I stumbled upon this article today, talking about a video game company that is developing a first-person shooter game that depicts the hunt for and killing of Muammar Qaddafi. This same video game company released a similar game of Osama Bin Landen’s death. My wondering on this topic is where the line is when it comes to incorporating news events and video games.  We talk about incorporating real-life events into games, I’m thinking specifically about Sid Meier’s Civilization game expansion packs that have added scenarios that mirror real-world situations.  For example, you get to play the part of Alexander and help to build them empire as he did, or you play the part of Gehngis Khan and command the Mongol hordes. Both of these characters slaughtered citizens, soldiers and razed towns on their way to power, how is this any different from Qaddafi and why are we, as an American society, put off by this?  I also look at games such as Left for Dead, Halo, and other first-person shooter games with fairly graphic material, why is it wrong to incorporate real-world events into these games, so that maybe the players have a deeper understanding of the curent events of the world? If we are making an epistemological change in education with a richer integration of technology, should we be used real-life situations such as this to help students better comprehend situations and events such as this?