The Future is…Soon?

A recent article I read from the Huffington Post ponders the incredible advances in computer technology that have occurred in the last half-century.  When it comes to games, our interactions with them requires a “significant intelligence of at least the artificial variety” when it comes to multi-player real-time immersive games.  Intuitively this makes a lot of sense, but it was interesting and a little unsettling to hear of these intelligences becoming more advanced to the point where now “computers can always win” at certain games like chess, checkers, or bridge.  Given the tremendous advances in both media and technology within the past fifty years, it’s very possible “future intelligent systems will then design even more powerful technology, resulting in a dizzying advance that we can only dimly foresee.”  The world of gaming has a symbiotic relationship with the world of science, which makes for an exhilaratingly uncertain century ahead.

Gaming Down Under

We’ve talked a lot in the past semester about how games have been adapted for use in the United States, but companies and developers in other countries are also finding ways to incorporate them into the education system.  In Australia, video games are being used for helping teach students physics at one local high school near Sydney.  Popular games like Angry Birds, Sonic Racing, and Formula 1 are all utilized more than educational ones, which aren’t as engaging.  This is a far cry from where the school (Merrylands High) was four years ago, when non-students rioted on the property.  There was not much context to that detail, but I assume that the repercussions of that instance did a lot to dampen student enthusiasm about their education.  Perhaps these games also provide ways to learn in a style that helps them stay involved in active learning, reducing the risk of delinquency or dropping out.  Overall, it’s an interesting to hear about what’s being done in this field outside America.

Learning about Cells?…Play this Game!

I would like to introduce a game I recently found.  The game is called Axon, and it is meant to have people learn about neuron development and types of cells.  The way the game works is that you begin with a cell and then have to continue clicking the small dots around you before the current circle’s energy runs out.  This is meant to also simulate how neurons compete with other neurons for resources, since your developing brain is a very competitive environment.  It is actually a very addicting game: the music is fun, the game is simple enough and it is very easy to continue clicking those little dots.  The best part of it is that at the end it tells you how long your neuron was and what kind of cell it can be.  These are not exact, but obviously more complex cells come at higher points levels.  For example, my personal best of 63,000+ points gave me a cortical layer 3 cell, whereas when you only achieve a couple thousand points you get a retinal cell, which is nowhere nearly as complex.

This game really got me thinking about how you can teach biology concepts with games.  I had previously played physics games, but never biology.  For this reason, it was very interesting for me to actually learn about a topic I had never considered much throughout school.  Link is here: http://armorgames.com/play/13108/axon

Childhood Obesity & Video Games

Childhood obesity in today’s society is larger than ever. With all the different fast foods, video games and parents being busy, the kids are not able to receive the proper nutrition. Every parent when doing a lot of running around and has their kids with them complaining that they are hungry pulls into McDonalds or the nearest fast food place to give their child a quick meal. That gives them what they want but without thinking twice about if it’s what they need. Parents nowadays are so busy that they are not home to cook dinner which leaves the children to order out or eat junk food and sit in the house all day playing video games. Without their parent being home they are not able to go outside and receive exercise, meaning the only exercise they receive is at school at recess. Is playing video games and not eating healthy causing the children to become obese?

By Tim Ingham for computerandvideogames.com

Video games have been named as a main cause of obesity in the young by a World Health Organization study.

One-third of children living in different parts of the world are obese, said the study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

It reported over 70,000 teenagers from 34 different nations are overweight or obese. It called a sedentary lifestyle – ‘spending three hours or more per day watching TV, playing computer games, or chatting with friends’ – is the main reason behind the figure.

Only 25 percent of the boys and 15 percent of the girls get enough exercise, said the report.

“With regards to physical activity levels, we did not find much of a difference between poor and rich countries,” said WHO official Regina Guthold, adding that “growing up in a poor country does not necessarily mean that kids get more physical activity.”

Violent gamers are bad gamers

I’ve played a lot of games, and I notice various patterns when playing with people. It should be obvious that people have a lot of different levels of competence, and there are different levels of maturity  as well.

I’ve noticed a connection for years: the best players are the more mature players. The people who are really good at video games tend to be more mature, and it only makes sense to me, since you need a lot of discipline to be good at a game.

What I never did, however, was make the connection. We talked about violent video games in class, and I have spent years defending violent video games. I never made the connection.

Someone else did. A study in Sweden suggests that the cause and effect of video games and violence is not just incorrect, but based on a hypothetical situation that doesn’t exist outside of the hypothetical. It turns out that being more mature and working with other people is a huge help with these games, and the people who play those games the most need a lot of maturity and good cooperation skills.

So not only is the link between violence and video games questioned, but the entire framework of that research is now under question. Can we put this entire issue to bed soon?

Story Design Challenge: Best Entrance Eve

Once a month, the Story Design Tips column is going to have a story design challenge. Whereas we usually use that space for tips about dialogue, world-building, plot, comedy, endings, and more, the story design challenge is the place where you can show us what you’ve got, get some feedback, and maybe get some exposure. The story design challenge is cross-posted on Gamasutra and GameCareerGuide. To participate, just submit your entry in the comments section of the Gamasutra blog post.

Let’s get to it.

Memorable Entrances

As a writer in games or any other media, you’ve got a few tools. One of them, which you can choose to use or ignore, is the first impression a character makes when she/he/it first appears in the plot.

A memorable entrance is a good way for a writer to try and establish his most important characters. Rather than think about what your plot needs, think about the most memorable way for your character to make an entrance. Find a way that is unforgettable and also shows who the character is.

What’s memorable? Think about the first time you saw Doc in Back to the Future. Think about Yoda’s first scene (in Chapter IV). Think about the first time you saw the terminator: the way he got his clothes and sunglasses right after he appeared. Think about Steve Martin’s first few minutes in Little Shop of Horrors. Think about the first scene of every James Bond film. Think about Indiana Jones’ first few minutes on screen in his first and second films.

The Rules:

  • Please don’t use anything anyone owns the rights to, even if you’re the one who owns those rights. Let’s have no variations on existing games, movies, or stories. That includes anything you or your company are working on at the moment.
  • Please keep your entry under 1000 words. 1000 words translate roughly to 4 double-spaced pages. That should be more than enough.
  • Winners will be announced on Gamasutra and GameCareerGuide on Tuesday, April 3rd. This means you have six days (Monday is the last day) to publish your entry.
  • Please publish your entry in the comments of this article. If you want to do it anonymously, use Gamasutra’s system to log in anonymously.
  • Important: When you publish your entry, send it to me simultaneously via email (at guyhasson at gmail dot com). That way, you make your entry public (in the comments), while ensuring I have your real email address if you win.

The prize: The prize that’s mine to give is a free electronic copy of my book, Secret Thoughts. It’s science fiction, recently published by Apex Books, and so far has gotten great reviews. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website, where you can check out the plot and the reviews. When you send your email, please specify the type of file you want (pdf, epub, or mobi). If you’ve already won a Story Design Challenge, all I have to give you is glory.

Link: http://gamecareerguide.com/features/1062/story_design_challenge_best_.php

the ties that bind them

Professor William Schmidt is working to change the way children are taught science in school. Science is one of the unique subjects where all the different “topics” are really all interconnected. physics, chemistry, biology all of these are intrinsically tied together as principles from one topic are vital to the workings of the others. All of them build off each other and yet are separated in school. children learn them one at a time, occasionally realizing along the way how they are relearning stuff they learned earlier. Schmidt proposes, in his 8+1 plan, that schools focus more on the concepts behind the world rather than on teaching subjects by the books. These 8 concepts are core pieces of all science subjects and were all discovered using 1 way using the scientific method. Instead of having kids memorize all these facts and stats about organisms and molecules, Schmidt wants them to focus on the concepts behind them focus on how atoms interact, form molecules which form cells which form animals.

source: http://8plus1science.org/ and http://phys.org/news/2012-04-students-science.html

One Laptop per Child: How to judge success or failure…

One laptop per child is a non-profit organization that works to bring low-cost laptops to children in developing areas of the world. Through these laptops they hope to “empower, engage, and educate” the children and help them to improve themselves. It seems a pretty straight forward idea, giving these kids all the worlds knowledge at their fingertips and let them see how the world works. With these laptops they could research all sorts of topics and improve their grasp of concepts they learn in school. And yet a standardized test scores do not show improvement. So this initiative has failed. ??? Can we really say that? One study done in rural Peru found an increase in students cognitive skills. That seems to be what OLPC set out to do. Give children access to information so they can figure stuff out for themselves. So the initiative has succeeded then?

It seems that just giving access to technology is not enough to drastically improve test scores and yet the kids got smarter. Seems like just another example where standardized testing doesn’t showcase what people want it to. It doesn’t show how children grasp concepts or understand principles, all they want is regurgitation of information. And yet these kids could have been using their laptops to study anything. But anything wont be on the test. So can we really say if OLPC is a success or not? It seems to me that we will have to wait until these kids grow up and become adults to see if they are able to improve their communities and make their children’s lives better than theirs. Maybe it will inspire these kids to graduate and get advanced degrees, start businesses, or maybe they will invent some new technology or develop the next instagram and sell their program for $1,000,000,000. We won’t know for a while since standardize test scores are gonna tell us if one of these laptops inspired the next Bill Gates down in Peru. Just have to wait to pass judgement on this program.

source: http://www.hackeducation.com/2012/04/09/the-failure-of-olpc/

STOP! Collaborate and Listen

Learning is evolving. The days when monolithic structures filled to the brim with books dominated the college skyline. Kids don’t go to the library for books anymore. It has be come a place to meet up with friends and classmates to study. Those rows upon rows of technical books aren’t needed. Most probably haven’t been moved in years. We have wikipedia now. I’m sure most students who read this can remember at least one time they wandered the floors of the UGLi or the Dude to find open tables, study rooms, or even enough open computers to work with their teammates. The bookshelves take up space that could be study rooms. Williams college is having this problem right now. http://alumni.williams.edu/roomlearn. Do they still need books? What does this new generation of learners want and need to become academically successful? e-readers? computers? or just a wi-fi connection? As technology gives people more and more access to information, what people really need is a quiet place to meet and talk to other people to work on their project.

Educational Video Games

At Hope College in Hopeland, Michigan, there is an online game for a conflict and communication class. There has been statements made because others are jealous that students get to play the game in class. It is an educational game for the class. The most interesting fact is that the students felt that the best games were the ‘serious games.’ These games were played amongst the higher level students such as the graduate students.

To read more about this then click on the link below:

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/04/09/college-students-find-serious-video-games-educational-fun

Game Based Learning: A Paradigm Shifting Opportunity for Innovation

Mike Shumake writes about game based learning in his article “Game Based Learning: A Paradigm Shifting Opportunity for Innovation.” Shumake explains that gamers are always interacting with technology and there is not a question of whether or not technology is now the socially acceptable way to hang out with others or have fun solo. Shumake continues to explain that his friend and brother play both computer games, Xbox games and board games in order to socialize with others and entertain themselves when playing alone. This observation gave Shumake an understanding of why games are so interactive and engaging for young adults. These observations gave Shumake the idea to apply video game based learning in the classroom as well. Shumake explains that game based learning is a “hot item” now in the classroom among new teaching techniques taught by teachers. The 21st Century Teaching and Learning Best Practices explains that game based learning is the top item for teaching in the classroom.

Shumake explains that game  based learning is not about the technology, it is completely about the game. When explaining games in education, he explains that education is important, however the educational aspect is not relevant if the game is not fun in the first place. The game has to be enjoyable in order to engage the students and if the game isnt fun, then the game is just as traditional of a method of teaching as any other traditionally used technique used by teachers in the classroom today. A lot of the time, the attention when creating video games is only based on the educational aspect and not on the enjoyable fun aspect that draws students into the games in the first place. Without the engaging fun aspect of the game, the educational game is useless and not anymore educational or engaging then using pen and paper and a drawing board.

Shumake led a team that tried to create a game based online course with a videogame company. He explains that his team assumed that while making a video game it had to be in a virtual reality and went into this project with no direction. Shumake explains that he faced many challenges including making the actual video game design with no skills or understanding as to how to create a video game. He also explains that his vision for the game resembled games that students were already familiar with, however they added an educational component. While struggling with the game design, Shumake explains that he also struggled with trying to fit the educational aspect into the game design and was unsure of how to incorporate education into a virtual design.

The issue explained by Shumake is that Video game based learning is expensive to design for the educational sector and it lacks flexibility and creativity. In contrast, Game based learning can be cheap to design and is fun with flexibility and creativity. After seeing these observations, Shumake changed his point of view and vision for his game design with his friend Adrian Dunston’s advice in mind. Dunston is Shumake’s avid game playing friend that understands the engaging and critical components of educational game design. After thinking through these observations, Shumake continued to approach his game design in different ways. Many of his ideas included creating a story line game design where the player chooses their own adventure. Each adventure would be planned out one week at a time as the story line progressed.

Shumake’s other ideas included using Facebook as an introduction utility to show the setting and situation of the game based learning design. He understands that students will know how to use Facebook, Twitter, Google Voice, Gmail, Google Talk, Evernote, Google Calendar, youtube, Soundcloud and others. Because of this, he plans to incorporate different technological media to bring students towards increasing engagement in the learning setting. Shumake also discusses other approaches that involve revealing more of the game, but only with correct answers from the player. This way the player is more motivated to continue the game in order to receive more game content thats new. He also explains that it is important to be flexible with game design and be prepared and open minded to changing the game, as well as the direction of the game as it develops. It is important for students to bring their own creativity to the stage.

In the article, there is an example of how it is possible to bring a creative component to the classroom that is connected to the curriculum. Shumake explains how creative role playing games can introduce a new topic involving World History, Language  Arts and Biology. The role playing game involves groups of students as the game playing team and the teacher as the architect. This allows the teacher to control the rules in a fun and interactive way where students are still able to learn. Role playing games can also be used in math where the students are dependent on the math in order to excel in the game. Shumake gives the example of World of Warcraft with gear weights, character stats and experience to show dependence on math in a game. In order to excel the player must understand math, however the math is heavily integrated into the game in a way that does not distract from the enjoyment of the game.

Another example where role playing is used is in world history. Shumake imagines the students role playing in a emerging civilization and then as they move through out the game they move ahead in time through world history. With each new time period, the students excel through the game and understand famous historical events and people. While experiencing the emerging new societies, the students come to understand problems that people of the past have faced and because the students role played the time periods, they are more likely to remember the issues and famous events that occurred in the past. This same idea can be used in biology to understand the evolutionary chain and ecological relationships. Shumake explains that this idea can be used in all different educational topics.

This article can be found here: http://gettingsmart.com/blog/2012/03/game-based-learning-a-paradigm-shifting-opportunity-for-innovation/

Ten Surprising Truths about Video Games and Learning

Have you heard a the ten truths about video games and learning?

According to Paul Gee, there are: 1) feed the learning process, 2)obviate testing, 3)build on experience, 4)redefine teachers as learning designers, 5)teach language through experience, 6)entice kids to love challenges,7)motivate learning,8)teach problem-solving,9)encourage risk-taking, and 10)provide valid learning model for schools.

There is a PBS documentary from Paul Gee on the website as well. The reasoning between the 10 ten truths by Paul Gee is quite interesting and if you’re interested then you should go to the website link below:

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2011/02/ten-surprising-truths-about-video-games-and-learning/

Call of Duty: Black Ops

It is my first time playing a first person shooter game and it is amazing. It was a little difficult at first because i never used an XBox. It  has always been a Playstation 2 or 3 etc. After getting use to the controls I found out that I am very violent in the game of COD. The first day I began playing, I was running around killing people and I found joy in it. I could not stop playing the game and remained on the console for plenty of hours. I really enjoyed the online play because you are playing with experts and some people just flat-out suck…like i did when i first began playing. I died so much in less than 10 secs from spawning. I am sure my teammates were pissed at me, but who cares. However, the best way I learned was from being defeated or killed in the story mode. It is like a walk through of the game, but very helpful. If you are just so skilled, you can go to the expert level and probably die from one shot. I didn’t want to play with easiest level so I tried normal which wasnt so bad, but it was challenging. I think the challenge is what kept me engaged and wanting to pursue through each chapter. I would love to  recommend this game. I am actually anxious to go buy Modern Warfare 3 and continue my COD journey on the Xbox.

-Aquashia Anderson

Do risk-taking video games cause teenagers to act out or is something else?

Critics have been back and forth about the consequences of video games. Some say that videogames are effective in a person’s choices of being violent while others say that videogames are ineffective. Some even say that video games are positive-correlated with people. There was a website talking about video games addictions and risk-taking. The author reported that video games heighten a teenager to take risk,. it records that video games include,

  • Substance abuse
  • Reckless driving
  • Gambling
  • Risky sexual behavior

They analyzed more than 80,000 people and feel that they are sure that video games and other media are the major reasons for teenagers to be violent, but is this the truth? What about the teenagers who barely interact with media or video games and are more violent than those who do play them?

After reading this article, I’m curious to how many people think that video games and media are the number one factor to blame for teenagers taking risk?

“College Students Find ‘Serious’ Video Games Educational, Fun”

Chicago Tribute came out with an interesting piece yesterday that works towards negotiating a lot of claims/debates that we have gone over in class about the learning potential of video games. It talks about students from different colleges across the country using video games in a lot of diverse ways for educational means. Further, the piece gets into certain issues that we touched on like where to draw the line on what is a game and what is just merely an educational exercise. Worth a read:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-201204101127usnewsusnwr201204090409collegegamesapr10,0,5225573.story

Cheating on Call of Duty:Black Ops

I tried to use cheat codes and skip my way through the game. It sucks! The cheats took all the fun out of the game and made everything so boring. Imagine having cheat codes to skip through your life. Wouldn’t you have wanted to experience every phase and enjoy the journey? Of course! That is how I feel about COD. Skipping through the chapters or intel only makes me feel less accomplished. I am no longer motivated to compete with the computer. All the excitement of losing or falling short is no longer there because there are now shortcuts to avoid suffering. You learn through failure, but you cannot learn through succeeding through everything you attempt. I wasnt able to know what weapons were for specific uses or just knowing how to use them in general. My thrill of the game was lost. I do not see how people would rather cheat their way through a game or life and feel like they have honor or deserve to be recognized from their efforts, when the real question is what effort? what did you do on you own?

Games are changing the world

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When Gaming Is Good for You

Robert Lee Hotz writes about when gaming is good for you and how video games can change a person’s brain for the better. Research has shown that gaming improves creativity, decision making and perception. Multiple benefits range from improved hand-eye coordination to vision changes that boost night driving vision. Another interesting piece of information regarding video games is that people who play games that are action based make decisions 25% faster than people who do not. With that said these people also do not decrease in accuracy while making these decisions. I find this fact extremely interesting and could definitely see how this is possible, as video gamers are constantly having different challenges thrown at them and have to make decisions quickly while playing. Research has shown that gamers make decisions up to four times faster than those that do not play games.

In addition, gamers also are better at multitasking due to various challenges and obstacles presented at once during a video game. Most people can only keep 4 concepts in mind at a time. Additional research shows that 42% of computer and video game players are women and they are  better at manipulating 3D objects. This was interesting to researchers because most of the time men are better at manipulating 3D images. The studies conducted observe adults overall. Although there are many advantages gained through game play, the article also addresses negative impacts associated with violent game play. Many studies show that violent video games show changes in brain function in young men after only a week of playing. The changes are associated with depressing activity related to emotional control.

There is also an association, according to the article and the researchers at Indiana University, between gaming and being overweight, introverted and depressed. Violent games often worry parents, however the advantages and disadvantages are both explained in the article. Hotz explains that gaming has become an expensive investment in the entertainment business. All game design, including educational game design is expensive. Other interesting facts about the income of video games includes computer games becoming a 25 billion dollars a year business and not only that but in 2010 gaming companies sold 257 million video and computer games. These figures were estimated by Entertainment Software Association. I believe this number of video game usage is enormous and much larger than i would have expected. Because video games are clearly widely used among students, educational video games with unique and engaging game design would also bring in this type of revenue as well. Educational video game design could definitely be another large source of income in the video game world.

Research has increased the amount of game play through mass experimentation discussing the neurobiology of learning. Many of these games have been played over 1 billion times since their creation. C. Shawn Green, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, explains that video games change your brain. He also explains that other interactive activities also change your brain as well. Learning to read, play the piano, and traveling are all examples that Green uses to describe how the brain’s structure is altered through games. Just as exercise builds muscles, Hotz explains, concentration strengthens neural circuits. “Games definitely hit the reward system in a way that not all activities do,” says Green. I definitely agree with this statement by Green because i think that immediate feedback is important for motivation when participating in interactive activities. The reward system in many other activities such as learning to play the piano is rewarded later on after a lot of practice. With games, there are rewards constantly because there are continuous challenges and different ways to practice and receive feedback quickly.

Joshua Lewis, an analyst at the University of California explains that “not enough attention has been paid to the unique and interesting features that video games have outside of the violence.” I agree with this statement because i think that the violence is just the surface level engagement. The deeper motivational and attention grabbing engagement is within the strategy and structure of the game. Structures that involve immediate feedback and multiple challenges that allow the player to succeed with room for challenge are the most successful. Behind the violence, many games could have any surface level design and attract students to play the game, especially in an educational way. I also found it interesting in this article that the average gamer is 34 years old. I also could not imagine anyone playing video games for up to 18 hours, however i guess they are just that engaging. It is crazy to imagine people playing video games that could educate them for 18 hours a week. Students would be able to retain so much more knowledge in an easier way and more practice with educational topics would be introduced.

Research specifically has discussed the effects of video games on cognition and behavior. Many game companies such as Blizzard Entertainment, do not comment on whether or not studies have been done on their games towards cognitive studies or behavioral studies. All computer games, however, do show changes in mental capabilities, specifically a child’s creativity. Studies now need to be compared to other mental activities such as solving math equations. Another interesting fact addressing standardized tests explains that one study for middle school students found that the more children play computer games, the more these children increase their standardized test scores. I find this correlation extremely interesting and would love to have heard more explanation as to why that is.

Although many video games had an effect on creativity, Hotz explains that using cell phones, the internet or computers for other purposes did not have an effect on creativity. Although this research has been done to discover the engaging aspect associated with video games, Hotz explains that education software has not been created so far as engaging as most action games currently are. Researchers question how important the violence in the video games are when creating educational video games. Up until recently, small groups of students had been experimenting new educational video games, now the studies are within the video games that are being distributed to students all around the country.

This article can be found here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263273943183932.html

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