Article on Technology and Youth

This article is pretty interesting about the changing world that today’s youth are being brought up in. In a recent survey, 14% of kids age 4 or 5 could tie their shoes, while 21% could play or operate at least one smartphone app. It seems that kids are able to operate pretty sophisticated technology at very y0ung ages. This seems very promising for educational game designers because it seems their products are very attractive to kids and parents even before these kids enter formal schooling. But it also brings up the question of when kids should be introduced to technology. Its a little bit strange that before kids know their address, can tie their shoes, or know to call 911 in an emergency, that they are able to operate computer games and surf the web. It also points to the content that young kids are exposed to through technology at such an impressionable age.

Unspoken rules of video games

Video games seem like something to play casually and to relax and enjoy yourself but this is actually not as it appears to be. Much like any relaxing activity such as bowling, golf and fishing; it gets turned into a competitive event. Video games are much the same thing. Pro-circut events like MLG have come out that has made competitive gaming a sport. Major games such as Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty are featured and pros from all around the world come to compete at these events.

In the video game world a schism was created, a rift that divides gamers and casual players. Gamers expect people to abide by the unspoken rules of video games. These unspoken rules keep people from using cheap weapons and tactics which would otherwise make the game unbearable if all were to use them. Specifically tactics such as camping and the use of high damage weapons such as rocket launchers and the type. Friends of mine that attend MLG events yearly would rather die (in game of course) than to knife someone in COD unless they were out of bullets.

Have you ever been playing a game like Call of Duty when everything is going fine for the first couple of games with a group that you are currently with. No one is using shotguns, RPGs or anything of the short. All of a sudden one guy comes in and all he uses is a shotgun; the next thing you know everyone is running around knifing people, using noob tubes, camping in corners and the whole game goes into a downward spiral. Explosions are going off everywhere, glitches are being exploited and no one lives for more than a few seconds. It’s just an overall very unpleasant experience and it just takes one guy breaking the unspoken rule to turn the game upside down. The problem with this unspoken rule is that it really only applies to higher caliber players that are more or less competitive. The people who are causal players and just there to have fun could care less about these rules. This usually leads to the all too well known trash talking about how someone is a noob and so on and things become heated.

Hopefully since online console gaming is a pretty knew phenomenon there will be some control for this in the future. Maybe individual lobbies can be created with more strict rules for competitive gamers as well as a lobby for casual gamers where everything goes. I see that there are already certain rules being put into place for certain games where certain weapons are not allowed to be used in certain lobbies, people are not allowed to enter other lobbies if their aim assist is on and so on. Hopefully more of this will become prevalent and each gamer can find a lobby that fits their satisfaction.

Mario Kart: Evaluating the Phenomenon

So I read one of the blogs posted earlier this week regarding videogame playing in dorms and it really got me thinking about my own experiences. Speaking as someone who has lived in the dorms all 4 years of his collegiate career I have seen videogames do everything from create a friendship between two people who one would think would never be able to relate on anything to damn near destroy friendships that have endured years of issues. I have played many different games in the dorms, everything from Fifa to Halo to Wii sports but I must say that the most transcendent game I have encountered would undeniably have to be Mario Kart. Now granted with the recent advances in technology, Mario Kart is available on many different consoles but I’m old school. Mario Kart on N64 is the best version ever made. It never fails, every time someone moves in with Mario Kart on N64 handy, people from all over the dorm gravitate toward their room to take part in the inevitable madness. This is something that has always made me smile because it is absolutely intriguing to see how my residents and res-hallers all over the country can play 20 games on an XBox or PS3 but own an Nintendo 64 for one reason, Mario Kart. Granted N64 has made some other valuable contributions that have stood the test of time as well such as 007 Golden Eye and Super Smash Bros. I have never seen a game as revolutionary and boundary crossing as Good Ol’ Mario Kart. I know that I am not the only person who can relate to this and if you are so unfortunate to be one of the unlucky few who cannot, invest in Mario Kart, a N64, and a few controllers and watch the magic unfold!

smartphones vs. videogames

The president of Nintendo told video game developers that smartphones were driving a trend toward lower quality and economically unsustainable video games.  The surfacing of low-cost video games for smartphones has led to a major shift in the way that many people experience video games.  In addition, the popularity of casual smartphone games like Angry Birds is particularly threatening to companies like Nintendo.  Video game console makers have looked to distinguish themselves by creating devices that do things that phones cannot.  Nintendo’s biggest response has been the 3DS, a portable 3D gaming device that does not require glasses.  What do you think of the experience of gaming on lower quality games on phones as compared to video game consoles?

Donate Used Video Games for a Great Cause!

Do you have used video game cartridges or systems sitting around collecting dust?

My friend Ian is putting on a used video game collection in support of Mikey’s Way Foundation, a Connecticut-based, non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with cancer deal with the fear and boredom of treatment.

Collection Boxes will be located in the Union, the League, and the Athletic Center, until this Saturday, March 26th. All games donated will be recycled, with the money from this recycling going toward the purchase of new electronic games for pediatric cancer patients. Please consider donating, and help spread the word via the Mikey’s Way Used Video Game Collection Facebook event.

Games From My Childhood: Civilization 3

I was recently digging through my desk at home when I came across the badly beaten and scratched but intact case holding Civilization 3, my favorite computer game from when I was younger.  For anyone that hasn’t played Civilization and/or hasn’t read someone’s game poster (shame on you), Civilization begins with you selecting a country (you play as the famous leader of that country–Lincoln, for example, represents the US) and starts with a nearly blank map and a settler.  From here you begin to build an empire, accumulate wealth and culture and wonders, build an army, meet other countries, and eventually destroy those countries.  Each turn advances you further into the future, with the end date at 2050 (Nostradamus?).  As you discover resources and expand your scientific research, you can upgrade your units and even build new ones relative to the time period you’re in.  An example of this is the military units you are allowed; you start with a basic warrior and end producing jet fighters.

Civ 3 was made in 2001, and it shows.  The graphics are extremely dated and simple, and it contains almost none of the modern aspects we now see in video games.  But that didn’t matter to me.  I loved this game because it was brilliant.  I could play for hours and not realize it.  Most of all though, even beyond the pleasure I gained from playing the game, was an affinity for history that I developed because of this game.  In the game as I met characters and discovered their cities, I became curious about the true history of those places and began looking them up on my own.  Without even realizing it, I was playing an educational video game.  And I didn’t care.

Years later, I found that Sid Meier (the game’s producer) is still hard at work, and has now developed Civ 5. Of course, I downloaded it immediately.  The graphics, the gameplay, and the countries are new, but the curious educational aspect is still very strong.  For anyone who has ever wanted to take history into their own hands, to build empires, build armies, wage war and accomplish world domination, this is the game for you.  But if you can find it, and you have a PC that will still run it, find Civ 3 and play it.  I promise you it will be the memory from your childhood you wish you had.

The Angry Birds User Experience

My specialization for the degree I’m pursuing is Human-Computer Interaction. This means that I’m studying user experience and interaction design. Because of this, I found this piece on the user experience of Angry Birds interesting indeed.

Why is it that over 50 million individuals have downloaded this simple game? Many paid a few dollars or more for the advanced version. More compelling is the fact that not only do huge numbers download this game, they play it with such focus that the total number of hours consumed by Angry Birds players world-wide is roughly 200 million minutes a DAY, which translates into 1.2 billion hours a year. To compare, all person-hours spent creating and updating Wikipedia totals about 100 million hours over the entire life span of Wikipedia (Neiman Journalism Lab). I say these Angry Birds are clearly up to something worth looking into. Why is this seemly simple game so massively compelling? Creating truly engaging software experiences is far more complex than one might assume, even in the simplest of computer games. Here is some of the cognitive science behind why Angry Birds is a truly winning user experience.

The article goes on to discuss at length the ins and outs of the user experience of playing Angry Birds. Now if only someone could tell me why the pigs stockpile ham (it’s so disturbing).

Good vs. Bad “Gamification”

A few weeks ago in class, I introduced you to the idea of “gamification” and “game mechanics.” As with anything, there’s a good and a bad way to approach this idea. Here’s an excellent little blog post that digs into the topic, and explains why “true” game designers hate the gamification trend so much (they really are just hating on the “bad” gamification).

The End of an Era

I had no idea that this was today (actually, now it’s yesterday). Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the release of the Game Boy Advance in Japan. Why is this such a big deal? It basically marked the end of the Game Boy era. Nintendo would release two more Game Boy systems (the Advance SP, incorporating a smaller frame for smaller hands and a backlit screen and then the Game Boy Micro) but the Advance was the last big handheld system before the DS’s release.!5784259/ten-years-ago-today-the-last-game-boy-was-born/gallery

I remember buying my ticket that guaranteed me a GBA on launch day in the US, and then going to Wal-Mart that morning to pick it up and get my first game (Castlevania: Circle of the Moon) and being so incredibly excited in the weeks leading up to launch. I thought I’d share that bit of nostalgia with you all.

Dorm Gaming

We’ve read about the important social aspect of games and talked it about in class. There are online game communities, people get together to play and talk about games, etc. As such, it is not surprising that videogames are an important part of dorm life. Last year as a freshman, Super Smash was an important game for everyone to know how to play  and a lot of my male friends played Fifa. Super Smash time was an important study break for everyone. We would gather in a dorm room and losing players would pass of their remote to a waiting player. There were always two types of players: 1. The button mashers, who didn’t exactly know how to play, but eventually figured out a few moves and would otherwise just press a bunch of buttons (I was in this group) and 2. The people who actually knew what they were doing (i.e. the boys) Everyone in the room, not just the current players, was deeply involved in the game, suggesting moves to try and cheering for their favorite character (or person) often good-naturedly rooting for the demise of the reining champ.

Apparently, scenes like this have been common for many years, longer than I would have thought. I recently read an article about technology’s appearance in the dorms. Specifically it discussed a videogame tournament in South Quad in 1992, but before that, during 1980s was when videogames and other technology began to embed itself into dorm and student academic life. As the generation that grew up on videogames moved to college and into the dorms they brought their technology with them. One room in South Quad from 1991-1992 had “two telephones, an answering machine, four electric fans, two digital clocks, a shared sound system with CD-player and tape deck, a microwave oven, a refrigerator, a hibachi grill, two televisions, two VCRs, and 196 VHS videocassettes with a computer-printed alphabetic guide.” (It seems the roommates did not coordinate as to who would bring what…). In addition during this time personal computers were becoming more common. Here is the article:

A possibly interesting talk on “Second Life” today at UM

There is a talk taking place at UM today, on the virtual body in Second Life. My guess, on reading the announcement, is that it is intended primarily for professors and graduate students and not for undergraduates, since these colloquium seres tend to be aimed at professors and graduate students. At the same time, I’m sure they won’t turn away any undergraduate student who shows up.
In any event, it is interesting to know that anthropologists are thinking about such things as Second Life!
The announcement is below.
The Colloquium Series in Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology and the
Program in Science, Technology, and Society welcome

Tom Boellstorff

Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine

Editor-in-Chief, American Anthropologist

Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg

Monday, March 21

4 PM

411 West Hall

Virtual worlds are places of online culture in which persons appear as “avatars.” How might these socialities transform understandings of the body, online but also offline? Bringing together ethnographic research in the virtual world SecondLife, anthropological work on embodiment, and insights ranging from phenomenology to Greek philosophy, I work toward a theory of the virtual body. Emphasizing that avatars are not merely representations of bodies but forms of embodiment, my framework is centered on the constitutive emplacement of a body within a world.

Prone to FPS motion sickness? Then don’t watch this!

What if Mario were a first-person shooter (FPS) game? These animators let you find out.

Moral Combat: Why do liberals play computer games like conservatives?

Here’s an interesting bit of musing on something I hadn’t thought much about before. When a game is blatantly political or take a blatant point of view (the Rapture-themed games where you have to run around saving people come to mind), at least I know where it is coming from. But do games in general encourage or shape political thought? Do game designers have an agenda?  Hmmm….

Mature Games!5782792/just-5-percent-of-games-were-rated-m-last-year-says-esrb

According to the ESRB, only 5% of all games last year were rated “M” for mature. Over HALF (55%) were rated at E for everyone. I find this interesting because almost everything you hear about games is how bad they are, how much violence they have, etc., when a lot of games are actually rated lower than M.

There’s also been a battle going on in Australia over “mature” games; Australia currently has no game rating for 18+ (they only have an MA15+ rating), so games like Mortal Kombat and Manhunt get banned because they can’t be classified under the Australian rating system. Other games, like Left 4 Dead 2, the GTA series and the FEAR series, have to be modified to reduce the violence/gore/language in order to be rated.

There’s currently a battle going in in Australia over this: the federal government may step in over the Attorney Generals or the State Representatives to get an 18+ classification approved.

I’ve been reading about this issue for a while just because of the gaming blogs I follow, and it’s nice to see Australia’s federal government stepping in to actually do something about it.

Students running their own schools

This past Monday, the New York Times had an interesting op-ed article titled “Let Kids Rule the School”, which caught my eye. The article’s author, Susan Engel, writes:

I recently followed a group of eight public high school students, aged 15 to 17, in western Massachusetts as they designed and ran their own school within a school.

Apparently, the students in this program “designed their own curriculum,” and “critiqued one another’s queries, but also the answers they came up with.” Of course, this reminded me of Ender’s Game. The author of the article concludes: “We need to rethink the very nature of high school itself.”

The article also reminded me of a book (which I have seen referred to in several places over the course of the past year or so, but have not yet had a chance to read): The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, by the French philosopher Jacques Rancière. The book seems very interesting, and I mean to read it this summer, when I have some free time. This short wiki page about the book suggests that Rancière’s argument in the book is that “all people are capable of learning, without explication by a teacher.” While the total absence of a teacher may be rather extreme, are not initiatives such as Quest-to-Learn pushing education in this direction, at least to some extent?

On a (only somewhat) related note, there is the Ann Arbor Free Skool (sic), which consists of groups of people teaching, and learning from, each other. And apparently, in the 1970s, Ann Arbor Public Schools did some  experiments on its own in this direction, opening a school that ran on the basis of a “schools-without-walls” philosophy, in which students assumed responsibility for their own learning. But the legendary UM campus personality, arwulf arwulf, who himself was a student in that school, says that the experiment “didn’t work out for everybody.”





Scvngr Shakes Up SXSW

I found this post on, of all places, a social networking site. It discusses how the “Chief Ninja” (aka Seth Priebatsch, the 22 year old founder of Scvngr) is changing the world using his innovative social networking game, which adds a “social layer” to society.

Aviv has a website!

That boy from the nytimes video (Aviv Porath) has his own website!

He started it when he was only 9 and apparently that emmy was only one of three his father has won for soundmixing, (I think for videogames). I don’t even know how to make a website right now, but he made one starting when he was 9!

More Games and Military

I recently came across an article about video games helping veterans control their combat dreams. Note that these soldiers aren’t diagnosed with PTSD. The article says that the “higher-gaming” group, veterans who played “hardcore” games (Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption, etc.) and played more often, often felt more in-control of their dreams, that they were less intense, and that they could fight back. Their lower gamer category (people who played less often and tended to play more casual games) often felt more helpless than their higher-gaming counterparts.

It’s an interesting article about how games can be applied for something other than entertainment (not necessarily learning, but definitely an important application) and I hope you all take the chance to at least skim over it.

Creating New Games in Defined Spaces

I know a lot of you know the Halo series. The Halo series (and the entire universe, because as a huge Halo fan, I’ve read all the books and comics and tried to find out as much as I can about it) is one of my favorite game series, not just because of the story or the gameplay, but also because as of Halo 3 Bungie (the game’s developer) added a creativity aspect to it.

They called it Forge. And not even Bungie knew how it would redefine Halo multiplayer.

At first, people used Forge to simply create new maps for the preset gametypes built into Halo. Then something amazing happened. People came up with their own game types. I remember the first time I loaded up a race track map and thinking “This is amazing!” The game was never meant to support a game like that but the players added it themselves.

This happened to some extent with Halo 2; players created their own “zombies” gametype that Bungie actually added as a game preset in Halo 3. However, this is not nearly on the same scale as Forge which lets players not only the game settings (spawn, lives, team traits, etc.) but also the map itself (spawn, items, weapons, basically everything but terrain).

One of the biggest Forge games is Grifball, a game created by the guys over at Rooster Teeth (creators of the popular Red vs. Blue machinima) as a joke (Grifball is referenced a few times in the series) by modifying game settings and a map to be what they needed. The game took off, and Bungie made it a playlist in Halo 3 and then a built-in gametype in Halo: Reach.

Speaking of Halo: Reach, Bungie outdid themselves with Forge; Forge 2.0, as they call it, takes a lot of features the community “hacked” around (improvising ways to get items to mesh together is just one example of something the community did that ended up as a feature in Forge 2.0).

Something that I’ve been watching for a few months now is called Achievement HORSE (run by the guys at Achievement Hunter, one of the parts of Rooster Teeth) and is the main point of this post.

Achievement HORSE started as a goofy idea between 2 of the guys in the office; what if they both made a few maps with some well-defined goals (make a mine explode after driving along a treacherous track, for example) and played HORSE (like the basketball game). The result was a highly entertaining and creative video featuring two of the guys in the office (Geoff and Jack) that immediately gained a following on their site; within a week they were getting emails from people who created maps for them to use in making the competition videos (Jack and Geoff always filmed the games so they could post them online) and now they have so many submissions that there’s an enormous lag between submitting and them even looking at your map.

This game is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen done with a video game. They took a concept not even remotely built into the game or related to Halo and, with the Forge tools, created their own gametype that is taking off on the internet. The Forge tool in general is amazing just from its map-editing standpoint; I love loading up their huge Forge World map and just building something, whether it’s an actual game space or just something pointless but fun. Things like Achievement HORSE elevate Forge even more! I can guarantee that Bungie never expected people to be playing Horse in Halo (like they didn’t expect people to make art or Rube Goldberg machines), yet people DID. That’s what’s so great about Forge and the Forge community: they took a tool the developer gave them and did things nobody expected.

I love Forge and am proud to be a part of the Forge and Halo communities. It’s a great and unconventional way to express yourself in the Halo universe and game setting.

Two Great Videos about Education and Motivation

When we were discussing Ender’s Game in class last week, my team touched upon the idea that Ender completely rethought everything about the game.  He didn’t say “what new formations can I create”, he said “formations are stupid” and analyzed every aspect about the game, discarding ideas that other people took for granted.  In applying this to education, it occurred to me that we should do this with education: why do we set up a classroom the way we do?  Why do we use powerpoints and lectures and tests?

I’m housing an exchange student from Austria this semester (a cultural education in itself), and he introduced me to RSA Animate, which animates lectures by the RSA, and are completely addicting.  I found two I thought were relevant to what we’ve been talking about.

The first is about reforming education, and talks about how schools seem more like a factory these days, the increase of the diagnoses of ADHD, and how culture plays a role in our education.

The second focuses on how people are motivated.



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