Category: About Games

Bastion on sale for the next 15 hrs




Why Second Life failed.

Well isn’t that convenient – I just came across this article on Slate (thanks to Facebook’s auto-sharing “Washington Post Social Reader”) about why Second Life has failed:¬†

Getting straight to the point, they argue that Second Life doesn’t have one true job that it excels at. Unlike Google which we need for quick & effective searches, the iPod that gives us on-the-go access to our vast music collections, or even Square that gives us an easy, inexpensive way to collect money in the offline world, Second life is “like a job candidate with a fascinating r√©sum√©‚ÄĒfluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze‚ÄĒbut no actual labor skills.”

Second Life needs to be like a “breakfast milkshake for commuters” – it needs to exist for a specific purpose, i.e. “supply[ing] a breakfast that is filling and nonmessy and cupholder-compatible.

Do you use Second Life for a specific purpose, or do you find it to be a hodgepodge of all these different experiences and purposes, which therefore dilutes your experience?

The Answer to the Ultimate Question

No, it’s not 42. And besides, the ultimate question isn’t “What is the meaning of life?” It’s “Why are people so damn addicted to Angry Birds!?!?”

Charles Mauro, a human factors engineer, looked into this big question himself. What compelled him to explore the Angry Birds phenomenon is in the numbers: Worldwide, people spend 200 million minutes a DAY flinging bad-tempered fowl at green helmeted swine. That translates to 1.2 billion hours per year. To put that in perspective, a total of 100 million hours has been put into creating and editing content on Wikipedia, since its inception. Mind. Blown. (And all hope humanity lost)

So, what did Mr. Mauro conclude? Why do we spend our time like this? It has to do with the game’s simple interaction model. But it is not simply that the UI is simple; it is both simple and engaging.¬†Why? Because of “the carefully scripted expansion of the user‚Äôs mental model of the strategy component and incremental increases in problem/solution methodology.”

He also goes into many little details that make Angry Birds unbelievably addicting: (continued after break) Continue reading

Two great stories on On The Media

On The Media from WNYC & NPR is my favorite radio show. Ever. Week after week, I find thoughtful and provocative pieces that help me make sense of the whirlwind of media swirling around me. Often, I’ll hear some event reported during the week, and think, “I hope OTM does something about this.” And more often than not, they will.

This week (September 30 broadcast), they hit it out of the part with two stories that will engage thinkers on video games and learning.

First, give a listen to a piece about how online gamers playing a game called Foldit helped crack a challenging problem that has puzzled scientists for more than 10 years… in just 10 days. This piece is great in part because of the way it considers different kinds of players with different kinds of motivations, and how they needed to¬†accommodate all of them to produce a big (dare I say “epic”) win.

Next, hear a great update from Jane McGonigal about her game called Superbetter, in which she gives more details about how the game saved her life, and an OTM producer takes a 6-week challenge to see if it can improve his. Stay tuned.

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.


The voluntary nature of gaming and school

Didn’t have the chance to add to the discussion in class today about this topic. Hope what is below makes sense.

I feel that the voluntary nature of gaming is implicit in its definition – a player has to voluntarily submit to a set of rules in order to play the game. An informal contract is in play here, where the gamer agrees to follow the rules in return for whatever he/she wants to get out of the game. The rules can be violated, voluntarily or not, but in which case the contract becomes invalid, and the player’s objectives cannot be achieved (unless cheating is involved heh heh).

Like it or not, I think that going to school is voluntary as well. What then, does a child want to get out of school, in exchange for submitting to its rules and regulations? Not many students would be so mature as to say that their primary aim of schooling is the acquisition of knowledge or improvement of self. I would hazard that their motivations would run the range of: making parents happy, trying to secure a better-paying job in future, the social life and friends in school, etc. Is this where schooling differs from gaming then, that students’ objectives of “playing” school often are not what its designers (or administrators and staff) intended?

Or is this also true of some games… =)