The Many Faces of Video Games

I’m not going to lie, I love reading articles that contradict themselves.
There was an article in “The Australian” newspaper that began stating that video games can improve cognitive function, creativity…etc etc (you know the spiel by now).
Then immediately afterwards it cites that “video games can increase violent tendencies in adult males after one week” and that ” Video game play has been linked to obesity”.
First of all: REALLY?! Definitely disappointed in the Australian News industry– but anything to get a story, right?
Obviously with certain samples of participants, a study will find a link between video games and obesity– but then we are talking about selection bias resulting in a correlation– not causation. And by now we all now that the link between video games and violence is tenuous at best.

So the question I put forth is this: Why do newspapers do this?
The main answer I can conjure up is because they want to appeal to the public– their readers. Much of society is still subscribed to the moral panic of video games, shunning any evidence to the contrary in favor of avoiding a disturbance in they way the conceive of video games and their place in the world.
I don’t necessarily think that video games alone will change the world for the better, but I do think they can be useful in both a leisurely and an educational context. If trying it out won’t kill us, then why not give video games a fighting chance?
Just Saying….

Link:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/hours-of-playing-video-games-can-change-brain-for-the-better-us-research-finds/story-e6frgcjx-1226292234014

US Government turns to gamers?

So many of you might have encountered DARPA ( Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in a dozen or so video games– they always seem to be some pseudo faceless yet certainly evil organization that operates with very few rules. Needless to say, I found it very amusing to read this article about how DARPA is hiring the best game designers and even crowdsourcing gamers to help them with new projects.
Combine this with Jane McGonigal’s assertion in her book “Reality is Broken” (Seriously a great read) that the graduates of Quest to Learn will probably be among the most creative minds of their time– and basically you’ve got a reason to play video games: They foster creative thinking and might actually help you find a job.

I would love for this to be a reality, but I’ll definitely watch to see how it plays out before I put my grad school plans in the trash and play x-box full time

Link:

http://kotaku.com/5898342/us-government-turns-to-gamers-for-new-military-and-scientific-solutions

Competition, Gamification and the “Danger” of Being on Top

In attempting to gamify certain aspects of education, there’s inherently an aspect of competition involved, whether it is “against yourself” or against others. This can be both an excellent motivator, whilst also being a slippery slope that, in extreme cases, could encourage learned helplessness or create divisions within a group of individuals that were previously united. In terms of gamifying aspects of education, GOOD gamification should not result in learned helplessness– because then it has truly failed to provide any benefit right?
However, it could be argued that in a competition where groups are pitted against each other the idea that “your team can never win” can develop like a cancer, simultaneously forming in groups and out groups– “the us and them” of the winning and losing teams. This is usually the time when some writer will quote the tale of David and Goliath, or an entrepreneur will talk about how they made millions out of nothing– basically, people start telling stories about when the underdog actually wins against the odds.
I started thinking about this– about WHY the underdog wins in certain times and not in others (for it the underdog always won, they wouldn’t be an underdog)– and group morale seems to be a significant component in the success of the underdog. I’m not saying that it’s ONLY group morale, sometimes people just get lucky. Often times it’s due to an innovative unconventional strategy– doing something so unexpected or unpredictable that the opposition doesn’t REALLY know what to do or how to respond.
In the article below, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the underdogs and the outsider– and uses the David and Goliath Metaphor to boot.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/11/090511fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all

BUT, you can have the best specialists in a field and the most innovative strategies that still don’t succeed to that high level of achievement– wining the house, topping the leader board, hitting the jackpot.  If Ender’s Game is anything to go by, you can see that group morale and the support and encouragements of one’s team or “jeesh” can play a huge factor. Ender was certainly a great leader, not without faults, yet he knew how to build this aspect of group morale. To build a team.
Soldiers in the Army whose commanders are identified as the most effective leaders not only produce the most efficient results, but the soldiers under their command are also the happiest, the most likely to feel a true “sense of brotherhood” as well as a higher degree of perseverance when attempting to achieve goals.

So what does this have to do with competition, games and education? Well it seems almost too simple:

Good team/group morale + competition = perseverance +  achievement + positive psychological outcomes.

Fostering “good group morale” within a classroom could be a key driver in academic success– promoting students to work together, teach each other and learn from each other– while potentially mitigating the danger of some of the negative psychological pitfalls of adolescence via the creation of a group of people you can rely on. Definitely a more difficult objective to achieve with a group of adolescents rather than a group of military personnel.

On a side note, what happens to group morale when there is no challenge perceived? When you’re on top and there’s no enemy in sight?
Research indicates that group morale is at its highest/best/most effective when challenge is perceived, because a group will rally together to thwart the dangerous outcome.

Then the underdog comes in with a unbalancing strategy and claims the lead in the last 10 seconds of the game. Perhaps that is why the idea of being the underdog is not always a bad thing– technically you’re always being challenged, so your group morale is always high and your group is always (theoretically) on point.
Therein lies the danger of the top dog.

Social Media Background Checks- is everyone already screwed?

Many people in this class are graduating soon, either this year or next, so if you’re like me and today’s mention of social media background checks scared the life out of you, never fear– you aren’t already dead in the water.

After class today I started googling  social media background checks, and let me tell you, it’s pretty alarming to think about all the things we have put out into the world via the internet over just the past five years. They don’t just look at FaceBook and Twitter, they look at Tumblrs, YouTube and other things/sites you’ve joined affiliated with the email account you provide on your resume. (Trick number one– make a brand new gmail account for jobs/applications ONLY. No matter how “careful” you’ve been with the account you’ve had for the past 2-15 years, just make a new one. You can forward the emails from that shiny new account to your current one!)

So besides all the creepy sites offering to “remove” you from google searches or “erase your internet persona”, there is actually some interesting advice on how to “clean up your internet identity”. I’ve posted some links below, including the article mentioned in class that talks about Facebook predicting job performance.

Facebook and job performance
(http://moneyland.time.com/2012/02/22/your-facebook-profile-can-predict-your-job-performance/?xid=gonewsedit)

The basic message of it all is update your privacy settings. Seems simple right? The annoying thing is that sites like FaceBook alter things when they make a new platform for their site– I know that for a little while when they switched to timeline, ALL of my profile went public. Not so fun.

I love social media, so don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging everyone to be sneaky. Just internet activity conscious– it creeped me out to realize all the information I had inadvertently shared.

Oh and P.S. If you only read ONE of these articles, read the Gizmodo one about how the guy flunked his background check. It’s pretty funny and fills you in on the “need to know” stuff ( That I had no idea I actually needed to know!)

READ ME
http://gizmodo.com/5818774/this-is-a-social-media-background-check

Background checking Startup looks at social media activity

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/21/technology/social-media-history-becomes-a-new-job-hurdle.html?pagewanted=all

America’s Army and Today’s Lecture

So let’s just say that when it was mentioned during the guest lecture that we should google “Man imitates America’s Army. Saves life” …that I might have complied and googled just that. It’s pretty distracting to start sifting through and reading some of the articles about America’s Army and it’s success.
So to reduce your procrastination, I’ve attached the link below.

I also included the America’s Army homepage (I’m quite sure he said it was free to play?). It looks pretty damn cool.

On another note, I couldn’t help but notice the figures that Mr. Heneghan mentioned– using virtual/video game based tools saves an industry (medical, pharmacological, armed forces) MILLIONS of dollars in comparison to conventional/other training methods.
I kept sitting there and wondering “What in world is holding back these industries from jumping on these  tools?”

The best answer I could come up with holds one of the cardinal issues involved in decision making responsible– the Acceptability issue.
I’m guessing that Video Game based training would not be viewed as “training” by outsiders, but as “frivolous and mindless leisure time being wasted on child’s play THAT SHOULD be used learning how to do one’s job.”
Now that bigger and better games are being made (with actual success and statistical evidence to back it up), people are starting to turn their heads and say “huh…maybe it’s not such a bad idea.”

I hope that this shift continues, and that video games can be fully acceptable as excellent learning tools. I don’t think we are there quite yet…I mean, who in this class hasn’t had a friend/family member laugh when they realized that the video game you were playing was ACTUALLY prescribed homework for a REAL university course?

Personally, I know that some of these people were just jealous that they WEREN’T in this class. Those that were actually scoffing…well I guess it’s up to the whole class to prove them wrong.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

(now go play COD/ Skyrim/ *insert your chosen game here*) 
LINKS

“Man saves life with America’s Army”

http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2008/01/americas-army-t/

“America’s Army”

http://www.americasarmy.com/

Recommendation Engines and the Death of Adventure

We spoke about this today in lecture for a little while– how tailoring our interests automatically is potentially limiting us. So here’s a quick link to a blog post I read some time ago that talks about this topic. I know the author, so perhaps I’m biased, but I think he hits the proverbial nail on the head.

http://brettwelch.com/2011/01/13/recommendation-engines-and-the-death-of-adventure/

Who on earth is Alice?

Everyone, meet ALICE– a freeware program that teaches you how to write code almost without you realizing it. ALICE was the brain-child of the late Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, a man who saw problems in the way that “learning to code” was conceptualized by many subpopulations- particularly young girls. Alice 2.0 is the next generation of Alice where students play in a fairytale type world and learn to code simultaneously…and they enjoyed doing it. Statistically, young girls in the study were 44% more interested and motivated to code than they were previously. In addition, these students retained MORE of what they learnt.

I’m all for learning new skills and I always wanted to learn how to code (my brother is a software engineer geek), but like many others, I saw it as a pretty daunting task. Even from the get go there are so many questions you need to ask: what language do I want to code in? What exactly do I want to code for? etc etc. To all these questions, I’d quietly just think “Pffft, I just want to make cool stuff and seem like I know more about computers.” I would look at books and websites and try to figure out where to start…but then 10 minutes later I’d usually have put whatever resource I was attempting to absorb aside, and started to Sporcle or Skype or watch the newest episode of Californication. I couldn’t sustain my motivation.

ALICE helps sustain one’s motivation by helping you forget that you’re actually learning something. I sometimes find a similar phenomenon with learning new languages– if I present myself with an interesting way to learn it, I’m more likely to persist (like by switching the language on my favorite TV shows to Spanish without subtitles). As Gee mentions, motivation is a key factor in the sustained effort involved in learning something new and making an activity FUN can truly act as a motivational force.

Now don’t judge me for what I’m about to disclose, It’s mildly embarrassing to share this personal example of how a video game helped me learn a very basic skill SO much better. But here it is: honestly, I’m one of those people who has “issues” with map reading– I’m not the worst out there, but I have my moments even at the age of 21. I sometimes fulfill the stereotype of women being bad with directions. Thank fully I don’t fulfill the other pseudo-believed stereotype that women can’t/don’t want to play video games and allowed games like Assassin’s creed to help me understand how to orient myself within a map (without looking like Joey from Friend’s and actually stepping ONTO a paper map). I didn’t even realize I was getting better at directions and orienting myself spatially because I was having too much fun (and was far too frustrated) trying to utilize the map to complete my missions in the game.

So if anyone is thinking about learning how to code, you might want to check out ALICE or even code academy.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/09/computing-teaching-resources?newsfeed=true

As a parting comment, it’s intriguing to think about all the things we learn tangentially. Just stop for one second and think about how much you learnt about certain time periods from games like COD and Assassin’s Creed. I know I’m way too interested in the Borgia than I ever thought I would be. The power of tangential learning, right?

Learning and Technology– Why Sharing is Caring

We were all told as children that “sharing is caring” and that we shouldn’t be hoarders because it wasn’t “nice”. I’m sure that everyone remembers more than one moment where they were chastised for monopolizing the computer (back in the dark ages when computers were more of a rarity), or even for taking two cookies instead of one. In school and in University, we learn that psychologists have found that often learn best in groups. As a social species, interacting with each other and sharing information (in both the role of student and the role of teacher) is a way that knowledge spreads and is exposed to others. As technology develops, we do more and more of this “sharing” on the internet. We store our knowledge in technological devices and ease the load on our working memory in order to acquire MORE information. Just as Gee mentioned in the context of video games, we use quick menus to recall our mission in a game, we use  meters to monitor our health and we even use internet forums or wiki’s to help us in difficult parts of a game.
I’m playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood for class and I’m not ashamed to say that when I get stuck and find myself  running around in circles in search of my target (that is supposedly right below me according to my map), I jump on the AC:B wiki and search for the help of others. Sometimes I feel like it’s cheating– shouldn’t I be figuring this out for myself? Then I stop and realize that the resource wouldn’t be posted by other gamers if they didn’t want it to be used– to be learnt from and passed on to others.
I can’t help but draw a parallels with how my school’s perception of group work transitioned from an inexcusable taboo in middle school to a requirement in High school. Group work was no longer “cheating“, it was a method for achieving a greater quality of work. Maybe it was thought (in my school anyway) that we needed to develop independent though before we could be productive group members– who knows (there’s probably some validity in that), but if it is a cognitive development issue, then why are adults in the government attempting to suppress sharing? Now I bet you are all thinking I’m about to get up on my soapbox and rant and rave about SOPA and PIPA and ACTA etc etc– and I promise I’ll try not to. I’m just completely baffled by WHY excessive censorship would be seen as okay (if you have no idea what I am talking about then check this link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/23/if-you-thought-sopa-was-bad-just-wait-until-you-meet-acta/ ). I would be lost at times without Wikipedia, which under ACTA could be taken down and blocked without formal explanation. Many other sites could be removed as well– My Assassin’s Creed forum is probably among these (and yes, I’m trying not to worry think about how that would effect my progress in the game)

As technology is moving forward we share with each other more via the internet, we learn more from these other resources and we can be kept up to date with events worldwide. The cliff notes version of this post being: sharing is caring and it sharing promotes learning.

Just to be clear, I’m not denying that there are copyright issues with downloading illegal music or games, but ACTA seems to take it to a new level– a point on which many tech companies agree (Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, etc). Maybe it is just as simple as reminding ourselves and the government of those lessons our parents taught us oh so many years ago: “Sharing is caring. You might even make a friend and learn something new.”

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