Have you heard about “gamification”?

Well, it seems that the interest in games is growing in different areas. Those leading activities that require people’s motivation to complete tasks that can seem boring, repetitive, or complex to solve want to take advantage of game features to engage and help to solve problems. For instance, marketing companies that need committed respondents for surveys, are giving them badges and other rewards to keep motivation high. What they do is to embed some features of game design in their activities, using game theory to achieve their goals. This is what is called “gamification” and as we have seen in EDUC222 is a process that has reached the educational arena. But for some people, the term seems too narrow, and using badges to engage people in participating in a discussion is just one part of all the possibilities that games can offer to improve opportunities for learning.

Check out this list of the 5 top sites about game based learning, and read critically! What do you think about gamification? Is this a fair term to describe what we have been discussing about video games and learning?

(Source)

Video Games Key To Ward Off Alzheimer’s?

I was looking through the Yahoo news and came across something I thought was so interesting!  A 100-year-old, Kathleen Connell, likes to thank Nintendo DS for her newly sharpened mind.  She is claiming that her Nintendo DS helps her memory stay in “good shape”, and before she started playing on her device she really had trouble remembering things.  One thing she was very proud of is the mental age she scored, a 64, on her Brain Trainer game, which is a really good score for someone aged 100 years, if you ask me. Researchers from the University of California say that they may have found a connection between certain activities that stimulate one’s brain and levels of a particular protein that is thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease.  Of course they are not saying it is just the Brain Trainer Game that stimulates the brain, however, this certain game does seem to work for Connell.  She speaks so highly of this device, one in which keeps her brain so highly active.  It would be interesting to find out more about the connections between video games and memory!

http://news.yahoo.com/100-old-nintendo-ds-addict-attributes-sharp-mind-062548385.html

Success does not equal happiness (Watch this!)

Today’s TED Talk is a perfect complement to the lecture on motivation. The speaker is a psychologist who studies “positive psychology,” and the talk is about how to make yourself more successful by making yourself happier. Usually we think about the world the other way around: If we succeed, then we will be happy. But in practice, often success leads to stress… if we get a good grade, we start worrying about whether we will get a good grade again. If we meet our sales goals, we get given an even higher sales goal. His field of research suggests that if we use proven techniques to improve our happiness now, we create a mindset that will make it easier for us to succeed.

Watch this now. It will make you happy.

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.”

Bioshock Infinite and “1999 Mode”

Having first developed the game System Shock 2 in 1999, the game developer Irrational Games is looking to “retro-fit” their newest  installment in the Bioshock franchise by implementing features of their first game.

The full article can be seen at this link.

The 1999 mode in Bioshock Infinite is intended to give more weight to player choices by emphasizing the permanence of which skills the player develops and which upgrades are chosen. Although this game play mechanic may not seem like such a big hurdle to overcome, the scarcity of resources such as ammo and money to buy upgrades forces players to choose a specific path; you cannot become a “jack-of-all-trades”.

Sacrificing the general readiness for a specific skill set, the 1999 mode forces players to conform to a method of play according to the choices they made early in the game. For example, if a player chooses to develop weapons use and upgrade the magnum specifically, it severely affects the ability to improve plasmid powers or even skill with another gun.

Due to the specific nature of the 1999 difficulty, players will often see a “game over” screen if they do not learn the proper way of playing the game that the developers intended for the player-specific path. On top of that? There’s no reverting the difficulty in this mode and the only way to go back is to restart the game under a different difficulty.

I get it. This mode was meant to be hard. But this also raises a couple questions. How can the player know which upgrades to choose that matches their future playing style without trial and error or even the luxury of failure? Have video games begun to coddle us too much? Bioshock Infinite looks like a promising buy if you’re looking for a game that’s willing to kick you while you’re down. And even if you’re not, it’ll be interesting to watch where this notion of “1999” takes us in future games.

Ambiance Up, Music Down

Click the play button below to listen while you read.

Listening to the sounds above may help aid synthesis of the following text (No video to watch).

I like immersion in games. In World of Warcraft, you were allowed to adjust audio sliders for music, ambiance, and combat/interface sounds. One of my favorite things to do would be to slide everything down except for the sounds of my character and the ambient sounds of the game world. It made the game feel much more satisfying as an emulation of reality (ignoring the fact that WoW’s art style is heavily stylized on purpose). There were wondrous environments to explore there, aided by the sounds of crickets, birds, tumbling wood, sand storms, or rainfall. One of my favorite parts of this was how it gave the game more emotion by removing noise, instead of adding it.

Life is often silent, and I can remember many occasions being alone in some thick forest, casting out the reel of my fishing line, and just listening to the hum of the developer’s vision. It’s art unlike any other. I think I could appreciate it in a big way because I also liked camping, hiking, and exploring. The game allowed you to experience that sense of exploration; most importantly, it still let a feeling of wonder fall on you, as though you were exploring it yourself.

There’s something to be said about the desire to make games more life-like. By making a playable environment with elements of reality, you’re essentially removing the physical or mental work that goes along with attaining those experiences while still providing the feelings of being there. Some games succeed at this more than others, usually with role-playing games capping the top of the list. Other times, fans have modified games that already contain elements of exploration in order to make the visual experience more pleasurable for the user.

Below are two such examples of fan-made realism (click the images for larger pictures). The left picture is from the Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA4) realism mod (link). The picture on the right is for a realistic Minecraft mod (link).

GTA4 Realism Mod   Minecraft Realism Mod

These games, and others that try to further immerse the player, are quite different in their original intents. GTA4 is a triple-A title about a man involved in gangs, violence, and money in a fictional city based on New York. Minecraft is an indie-made pseudo-dungeon crawler about gathering resources and building up your environment. Both of these games excel in turning the environment into a living world where the user is able to connect with people, places, and emotions.

Turning up the ambiance isn’t the only way to experience a game in more depth. It just serves as a lesson in that direction. Turning down the music can often even detract (i.e. don’t take the title as law). Trying to connect more closely to a game is something I would suggest to everyone at least once. It’s similar to the way you can get lost in a good novel or start crying during a compelling movie. Yet, it’s so much more experiential due to the medium. Experiencing a world, virtual or otherwise, in a new way is a great way to see life from a different perspective and to reflect on what it is about reality or virtual worlds that truly resonates with you.

Ten Surprising Truths about Video Games and Learning by Tina Barseghian

Barseghian discusses the points made by James Paul Gee at the Learning and the Brain Conference in her article, Ten Surprising Truths about Video Games and Learning. From our class readings it is obvious that Gee, a leading authority on literacy and education games, understands the connection between learning in the classroom environment in correspondence to video games. Gee questions our initial assumptions about learning and brain functions. Research has shown that experience and the memory we obtain through experience enhance our ability to progress and eventually succeed at learning, in the same way we learn to move forward in video games. Gee explains the ten truths about video games and why they are good for learning. The article summarizes the ten truths that were explained by Gee at the Learning and the Brain Conference. His theory is explained through the following truths; the first is to “feed the learning process”. Video games feed the learning process by giving feedback and to the player and allowing the player to understand the goal and how their mistakes interact with the game they are playing. The player should be motivated by the game when the game has immediate feedback that allowed the player to predict the outcome.

The second truth is to “obviate testing”. Gee believes that tests in schools are unnecessary and should be eliminated because of the way that video games allow the player to advance in a much more retaining way. The player in a video game will retain the information needed to get to the next level of a game because they have to do so in order to get to the next level. I definitely think this is an important point on Gee’s part, however I would also like to know how the same “playing by levels” would translate into the school environment. How would we replace tests with what we know about reaching new levels in video games? The third truth is to “build on experience”. This is Gee’s most obvious and most emphasized truth. From experience comes success by learning from previous interaction. The next truth I find interesting because it gives teachers a new position and allows students to look at teachers in a different ways. It forces the students to view teachers as the game makers rather than their boring teachers. This truth is called, “redefine teachers as learning designers”. This principle encourages teachers to design a lesson based on what they want to students to know. In this sense, the teacher would create an experience that would establish the outcome that the teacher intended for. I definitely like this truth, however I would have liked a further example from Gee explaining the type of Game Design a teacher would create.

The fifth truth to “teach language through experience.” This means that we need to use the same language in school that we are using outside of school and visa versa. In the same way that one forgets a language such as Spanish or French when they only use it in school, we need to use these language outside of school as well in order to retain the information. I definitely agree with this point that Gee makes, I believe it is important to apply what you learn to outside the school environment. Otherwise it is impossible to remember and eventually forgotten. Without this truth, most of what we learn in school is a waste of time. Why learn it if you cannot remember it? The sixth truth is definitely demonstrated in our education 222 class. This truth encourages us to “entice kids to love challenges”. We need to give students a reason to want to master the challenge. In our class now with the reading reactions, there are finalists and there is competition that is enticing because of the honor and points received in the class. There is also a theme to make the reactions more fun and interesting. Because there is a theme and a competition, this type of assignment resembles a video game and you want to play and be apart of it.

Gee’s seventh truth explains that students need to be motivated in order to learn. My question is how can we motivate them? School is often looked at as boring and homework is unappealing. What is the reward here and what type of motivation is Gee explaining? How is motivation achieved? Does there have to be an end goal or points earned in order to be motivated? The eighth point encourages us to “teach problem solving”. Gee suggests mixing facts and formulas through problem solving. This way the students remember the facts and formulas because they had to use them in specific problems in order to solve them. I definitely like this truth. I think that specific problems or situations involving facts are a lot easier to memorize the facts and at the same time learn how to solve the problem too.

The ninth truth can be applied to schools, but definitely not the workplace or a lot of areas beyond the classroom, in my opinion. This truth is to “encourage risk taking”. Although i agree that it is important to take risks, Gee explains that students should realize that the cost of taking risks is low in order for them to be motivated to take risks. In the classroom i think this is a good idea, however beyond the classroom environment i do not think this is realistic and taking risks often do have high costs. The tenth truth and the last truth is to “provide a valid learning model for schools”. This truth involves all of the truths. The learning model requires all of the nine truths that Gee has explained during the conference. By using these truths in-conjunction with one another, a school environment becomes a place where students are motivated to learn.

I definitely enjoyed reading this article and there are many truths I agree and disagree with. Many of the truths need examples which is ironic that more examples were not listed, as that is one of Gee’s truths to learn from example. 🙂

Here is a link to the article: http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/02/ten-surprising-truths-about-video-games-and-learning/

What Universities Should Emphasize and How Video Games are Ahead of the Curve

I just read an interesting article in The Times, written by the President of Harvard, about University Education.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/education/edlife/the-21st-century-education.html?src=me&ref=general

The Author hypothesizes how universities should change to reflect what are now the most important skills to have in the 21st century. Here is a summary (mostly verbatim from the article) of the changes he talks about:

  1.  Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it.
  2. An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration.
  3. New technologies will profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed.
  4. We understand the processes of human thought much better than we once did. Not everyone learns most effectively in the same way. Classrooms need to be more about “Active Learning”.
  5.  The world is much more open, and events abroad affect the lives of Americans more than ever before. This makes it essential that the educational experience breed cosmopolitanism — that students have international experiences, and classes in the social sciences draw on examples from around the world.
  6. Courses of study will place much more emphasis on the analysis of data.

I believe that video games play an important role in bringing eduction into the 21st century, because they often seamlessly incorporate aspects of these issues, or by their very nature do what academia needs to do.

Video games by their very nature are “Active Learning” (point 4), because of reasons we’ve talked about like being able to react to the player instantly and scale to the appropriate level of challenge.

But games also teach us about information processing (point 1). Most video games now have elaborate worlds containing thousands of different buildings, people and objects. However, the player can usually only interact with a fraction of each of these things. In playing a game, it is not necessarily important (or even possible) to know specifically what you can and can’t interact with. The important thing is knowing how to recognize what is user accessible, whether you’ve seen the specific thing or not. In the simplest example, in the game Mirror’s Edge everything that can be used for certain parkour moves is the color red. A more complex example can be seen in Skyrim. The world is covered in grasses and mushrooms and plants, but only some can be picked to be used as ingredients. There are also booby-traps that can harm your player. Knowing that ingredients and traps have unique characteristics differentiating them from their surroundings let’s you focus on things other than testing out every floortile or plants accessibility.

Collaboration is evident in the boom of multiplayer opportunities available to gamers today (point 2). Most players nowadays play games solely for their multiplayer aspect, for which it is always better to cooperate than not. Everything from playing the Halo campaign cooperatively with three friends, to playing a 12 vs. 12 domination match in Call of Duty, to organizing guilds in WoW requires collaboration–and teaches it in fun way to boot. The aspects required by this collaboration, often including people from all over the world, can also increase knowledge among cultures (point 5) (but the potential is often squandered on name calling).

Wow, this is a long post. Ok, well, that was a few of the changes important for education and how they relate to gaming. If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations.

Starcraft in learning and research

These are slightly old, but I found these articles again recently:

University of Florida has had a business management class for the last few years that uses Starcraft to teach business management skills.

Starcraft 2 may pass chess as the most analyzed game used to try and understand human cognition.

I don’t play Starcraft myself (I prefer turn-based to real-time strategy for the most part), but I have played enough Starcraft to have a basic idea of the complexity of the game. The fact that it not only can be used to understand very large, complicated systems, but also can help study any and all cognitive processes just shows that video games have nearly unlimited learning potential.

Gee’s Tri-partite Identity: Where do silent protagonists fit in?

After reading Gee’s book, What videogames have to teach us about learning and literacy, I was genuinely interested in his account of the tri-partite identity in video games. He explains that this identity consists of:

  1. The player that controls the character
  2. The character that is controlled by the player
  3. How the player actually plays the game as the character

Reflecting on this explanation, I found myself curious as to how the silent protagonist, a recurring type of hero in games, fits into this identity. A silent protagonist is basically a main character who is never seen or heard speaking by the player (even though other characters’ actions may hint that the protagonist can speak – see www.giantbomb.com for a more detailed definition). Some examples of silent protagonists from my experience playing games are Crono from Chrono Trigger and Gordon Freeman from the Half-Life series.

The protagonist’s being silent doesn’t affect the first part of the tri-partite identity listed above – the player’s characteristics are his or her own, independent from the game he or she is playing. But clearly, it directly affects the character being controlled, since the character’s personality and motives are not explicitly provided. We can get some sense of the protagonist’s persona by the way other characters act toward him or her, but we are left without any explicit idea of what he or she is thinking. This seems to leave the protagonist’s thoughts and motives to the player’s imagination. I think sometimes we even start to see the second and third parts of the tri-partite identity blend together. How the player chooses to control the protagonist sculpts the character.

However, I don’t necessarily think this is true in all cases. In fact, www.joystickdivision.com tries to explain how Jack from Bioshock, Link from the Zelda series, and Gordon Freeman each seem to fit differently into the mold of the silent protagonist.

I’m curious to know others’ opinions on how these characters fit into Gee’s explanation of the tri-partite identity. Does the silent protagonist really start to blend the second and third parts of the identity? Or do we simply need to understand the character’s personality from subtle hints in the game? Or do games with silent protagonists just need to be thought of on a case-by-case basis?

Eliminating Assumptions

I’d like to share a link to an 80-minute long video titled Eliminating Assumptions, from one of my favorite E-Casters: Sean “Day[9]” Plott (think John Madden, but for nerds).

http://blip.tv/day9tv/day-9-daily-400-p1-special-episode-eliminating-assumptions-5888689 (split into 4 parts)

A modicum of knowledge about Starcraft 2 can be useful when watching this, but is definitely not required.  I’m going to focus on a few key points from the lecture (and throw timestamps of the relevant section in parenthesis) and how I believe they can relate to EDUC 222 and learning in general.

1. Knowing Secrets -> Skill Process -> Understanding (Part 2, 0:00-9:30)

The “standard method of teaching” in higher education is for a teacher to say (and this is paraphrased from the video), “I am going to have an exam on the Cherokee Indians,” and students will then answer a series of questions about the Cherokee Indians based on material presented throughout previous lectures.  However, Day[9] makes the argument that it is not the memorization of facts that leads to skill, but rather the process of learning, understanding, and building on a knowledge base that leads to true understanding.  This idea was reinforced for me when Prof. Fishman stated that rote memorization, while effective for standardized tests would actually turn students off from learning.  This has massive implications for how things are taught.

The best example I can think of is teaching students multiplication: I have (not very) fond memories of filling out hundreds of pages of worksheets full of multiplication problems in a Kumon class; to this day millions of young students are forced to learn their times tables, from 1×1 to 10×10.  This method can be contrasted to the “take existing knowledge of addition, build upon it (2 + 2 + 2 = 6 = 2 * 3), and expand understanding of mathematics, which I believe is far more engaging and I would argue is more effective than rote memorization.

2. Broad Variety of Knowledge -> Skill Depth > Breadth (Part 2, 9:30-19:30)

Through some pretty insightful analysis of a single game of Marvel vs Capcom 2, Day[9] shows how being extremely well practiced in a few specialized skills trumps being generally good at many.  In his words, “A Player who is excellent at one strategy, is an excellent player.  A player who is decent at 100 strategies, is [only] a decent player.”  While this statement may not hold true if you want to become a world champion at Jeopardy, I believe it has strong life implications and is a key in shaping the course of your learning.

I was taught by a mentor that a key to success in life is to pick a few things and become very good at them.  Obtaining mastery over a few skills will lead to you becoming unique and a respected expert.  For example, if your passion is to learn everything there is to know about Cryptography, and you also choose to practice and master the art of public speaking and presentation, then you are now the world’s foremost speaker on Cryptography.  I believe this has already been applied to higher education in that people specialize into specific fields, and within those fields can specialize further.

3. If it aint broke, don’t fix it You can probably improve what currently works (Part 3, 0:00-9:25)

The problem with many things in schooling and education is that they are not considered problems.  The mindset of “this system works, so why change it” will instantly shut your mind off from innovating and thinking of potential improvements.  One example of a “working system” is grading in college classes.  It is an accepted norm that during your standard college course, you will have “x assignments worth y points”, and your grade will be determined by points earned / all points possible.  I am intrigued by how Prof. Fishman is attempting to improve this system by removing the “all points possible” aspect.

Women and The Sims

When I first started reading the Gee book, he mentioned that women made up the majority of The Sims players. As both a woman and an avid Sims fan, this made me wonder why? I have been playing The Sims since the original deployment of the game in 2000. I have all the expansion packs for The Sims, five of the expansion packs for The Sims 2, and I have The Sims 3 installed on my laptop here at school and The Sims 3: Pets for PS3. Whatever it is that has women hooked on the game has sure got ahold of me.

After spending the weekend trying to figure out how they got my attention and STILL hold it, I figured out what that game has that many other do not. It allows me to play God. Moreover, it permits me to play God in my own life. I can set up a sim that looks like me and has my name and have myself marry whom ever I wish. I am then allowed to live out my life in whatever way I wish – even in ways that would never be possible in real life. Though the object of my affection has changed throughout the years, the Sims always allowed it.

Girls always want to plan and fantasize about their future, even at a young age. The Sims is an outlet to live out ones entire fantasized life whereas without it the best one can do is imagination. That is what I have decided is the main reason The Sims has held my and so many other women’s attention so long. We can live out fantasies and not have to worry what anyone thinks. Do any other Simmers have any other reasons they love the game?

The Main character Who Died and Never Came Back to Life

On page 79 Gee compares movies and video games, noting that in video games the character you’re playing as cannot die and stay dead, or else “the game would be over before its ‘ending’”, whereas in a book or movie the character can stay dead, causing considerable sadness or other emotions. However, I’d like to contest the notion that video games are exempt from this.

In perhaps my favorite game of the past decade, the main character is murdered near the end of the main story. Because this is an open world game, which does not “end” per say, the player is now forced to play as the son of the main character. While Gee denies this possibility of the death of a main character, at the same time he expounds upon the importance of projective identities (p.63), and the impact that virtual identities can have on real world identities.

Indeed—I was terribly impacted by this death my virtual identity. Although the son has the exact same in-game abilities as the father, I completely lost the will to play upon the main characters death. It’s not that there was nothing left to do in my game world. There were still side missions I had yet to complete, and the gameplay was the exact same as it had been moments before the death, yet now that I could not adventure as the virtual identity I had shaped through my projective identity, I had no will to play.

However, I do not think that this ruined the game. In fact, I think this was the most brilliant part of the game. Never before had I been so attached to the character I was playing as, and killing off the virtual identity I had helped shape through all my hours of play made me realize that even more so. Up until that death, I had never felt sorrow from playing a game like I had from reading a good book or watching a good film.

This game convinced me that video games are ready to be as deep or rich as film or literature, and that it’s possible to create strong emotional feelings for a virtual character. Moreover, it demonstrates that games CAN annihilate main characters without the game “ending.” And though I was unmotivated to invest myself into a new virtual identity, perhaps other players see this as an opportunity to start fresh and see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Videogames in Schools

In class we have been talking a lot about bringing videogames into the classroom to make education and learning more enjoyable.  I think this is a great idea and would have liked to see this around when I was in school.  I remember being in elementary school and having to read a book and then go on the computer to answer questions about the book.  At the time it seemed like a cool way to answer questions rather than having a piece of paper and handing it in to the teacher.

I don’t have the solution to the problem or new video game ideas but rather I just wanted to get some thoughts out there and see what ideas and/or thoughts that people had.  I don’t know if a video game could be created for each subject in school so that every class could play a video game to learn but I think a video game can be more than just teaching children the material in a certain class.  Video games can have positive effects and teach children things that may not be taught in the classroom.  Video games can be a morale booster if nothing else and help student get through a tough day.  Ideally, they will help kids learn educationally but video games can also contribute to teamwork exercises that deal with collaborating with others and working towards a common goal.  These are important characteristics that are not necessarily taught in school.

I may be leaving other aspects out but that is all I can come up with right now.  I wanted to throw the idea out there that video game play in educational settings can be used for much more than learning math or science.

Moment of Awe at the Wrathgate

The ominous Wrathgate
When you first pick a race in World of Warcraft, an introduction plays that describes the race’s background. If you choose the undead (the Forsaken), it is a bit… unusual. While most horde races talk about uniting against the tyrannical alliance and securing their place in the world, the undead claim that their alliance with the horde is simply one of “convenience;”  they would strike down anyone in their path to “ensure their dark plans came to fruition.” (link)

By the time the second expansion came out (Wrath of the Lich King), nothing ever came of this. You get the feeling that the undead don’t really care about anyone but themselves, but it isn’t necessarily apparent in the story line. You couldn’t ever go out rogue from the Horde and start killing anyone you choose. Their weak allegiance was just a neat fact in the background. I always enjoyed this aspect of them, always ready to backstab someone to become more powerful. And it wasn’t just an evil thing; the truth was that the Forsaken had an awful curse placed on them and their past, and they had a strong sense of loyalty to their own kind. Alas, throughout Wrath, and after the past two games, I had largely forgotten about this aspect of the undead’s past and had come to expect nothing more than fun lore. That was, until the Wrathgate…

Never before had I seen a cinematic begin after completing a quest. It was completely unexpected and blew my mind. Suddenly I was questioning what would happen with the undead race: would they break off? What would happen to the factions? It was this moment of awe that sucked me into the moment, story, and environment. I was so excited for what was to come unlike any other moment I had ever played WoW.

What was it about that moment that blew my mind so much? Partially, it was the surprise: again, I had never seen such a cinematic midway through WoW. Partially, it was excitement, in that it was a great plot twist with possible game-changing consequences. But I think most of all, it was that I was so into the story: suddenly, the actions I did had impact on the environment. In Wrath, the world around you now changed as you did quests. As you fought your way up to Arthas, the main boss of the expansion, you would slowly slay his armies and establish outposts along the way. The Wrathgate was the first step in the process, and easily the most memorable.

The undead didn’t end up switching factions in the end. It turned out that a rogue faction of them had broken off in an act of vengeance against all others. I was a little disappointed in this fact, but the moment was still strong as ever in my mind. The ability to affect the player so personally in such a large massively multiplayer game is something I believe Blizzard, the creator, excels at (and is constantly getting better at). To this day, it’s one of the strongest moments of awe from a video game that I have ever experienced.

Kid Goes Crazy About His Game

I am pretty sure most of you have seen this video already, but I looked at a recent post, and I have not seen it. Personally I find it very funny, but I think it can also be an educational video.

I thought it might be a good idea to post it here since we were talking about World of Warcraft in class and how it can help you to get certain skills required to get a job. Here is a video which is not going to support this argument, but will be more of a reminder for every one to take breaks while playing their games during the semester. I think that the kid from this video might be a great example of someone who forgot to take breaks while playing his favorite World of Warcraft and completely forgot about the real world. It is easy to tell that the boy really lost control over what is going on. I think that he does not understand the problem he has. The problem is that he is not able to distinguish the difference between his real personality and his game character. It is probably the effect of not taking breaks from the game and also the fact that apparently his parents reacted too late to their son’s addiction to that game. I believe that one of the best methods of learning is to learn from someone else’s mistakes rather than committing them yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijNohhowplI

Books vs. Video games

I was browsing Google Reader when I came across this:

http://thedoghousediaries.com/3362

Titled, “Reading Technology”, the comic compares books to video games in a humorous way (siding more in the side of books, while Professor Fishman had provided the satirical description of books to get rid of negative viewpoints of video games). Just thought it’d be a good laugh as we continue to observe and learn about the battle of books and video games in the educational field. 🙂

Choosing a Video Game

I don’t know how the whole selection process has been for you guys in terms of choosing a game for the semester, but it has seriously been a huge task for me. I went back and forth and back and forth with games so many times and finally decided on one, but now that I have been reading Gee’s book, I have started to have second thoughts again. I really resonated with what Gee said when he was talking about “projected identities” in video games. I really wanted to try this out and see if I really felt how he described in the book so I bought Skyrim and started playing and had the hardest time putting the controller down. I felt very much a part of the game, as if I were actually there. I’ve played plenty of RPG’s before but I was never fully aware of this feeling or really made much of it. It is for this reason that I am starting to debate whether or not I made the right choice in my video game for the semester. I chose FIFA 12 mainly because I wanted to learn about soccer (a sport that I know incredibly little about) and also because I wanted to have a game that could invite my roommates into playing. However, I played FIFA right before Skyrim and it was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the moment I turned Skyrim on, I was transfixed on the screen along with my roommates. We sat in the living room for a good four hours straight and loved every minute of it. After I finally was able to tear myself away from the screen to go out to dinner with some friends, I started to reflect on my experience and I thought more about what Gee was saying in his book. What if school was that exciting? What if we could create an environment that would motivate students so much that they would have to be torn away from their studies to eat? I’m excited to read the rest of Gee’s thoughts on this, but I just thought I’d share a little bit with everyone about my personal experience with the text this weekend.

Josh

Choose Your Own Adventure

When Professor Fishman asked us to pick a game for the semester, I began my search in the Mario Universe, hoping to find a highly entertaining but challenging game to keep me occupied and engaged. I casually mentioned this to my boyfriend, who then got all excited and asked me to try out Mass Effect and to consider it as my game for the semester. (Did I mention he’s been trying to get me to play it all summer? As a female gamer, I’ve always been more attracted to cutesy games and games in which I know that I can shoot randomly in all directions with other more experienced gamers will keep me safe- thank you, Halo.) I finally gave in and sat down to play it, and then realized, about 15 minutes into game play, that this video game was pretty much like a virtual “Choose Your Own Adventure” Book, where your actions and your choices of conversation will eventually “mass effect” the ending of your game play and how things will turn out (how clever.)

Now, I was a huge reader when I was a kid (and still am), and I especially loved the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Sometimes I would actually follow the rules and turn to the right pages, other times I would cheat by finding the ending I liked the most and working backwards, and there were some times when I would just outright read random pages to entertain myself. Coupled with the first few lectures in which Professor Fishman introduced the idea of videogames in education, and the whole “books vs. videogames” argument, this piqued my interest. I went to the website of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and was actually surprised.

http://www.cyoa.com/pages/history-of-cyoa

Who knew that these series of books were entirely based written by a man who developed video games?? Apparently, he recognized that there were RPG elements in these adventure books and decided to run with it. With people praising the entertainment and education of these books, would they continue to rave about the educational value if they knew that all these books had been really based off of video game elements and a developer? With video games coming under increasing scrutiny in the educational field, I wonder if people would actually try to have more books written in a “video game” form.

Females in Video Games (And a Random Rant!)

As I was writing my Game Selection Paper, I was thinking about the tripartite identity mentioned by Gee and by Professor Fishman in lecture, about the identity of the player in the real world, the character in the virtual world, and the blending of the character and the player into an integrated identity. I chose a role-playing game for my video game for class, and one of the things that I am most interested to learn this semester is how developing the blended identity between the player and the character in the game facilitates learning and motivates the player to try new challenges in the game and encourages the player to play the game differently. However, I realized that this is going to be a slight challenge in the game that I chose for class. Although I have played other characters in similar games with the same challenge and have still formed a connection with the character, the main character in the game that I chose, Final Fantasy Tactics, is male. I am female, and I wonder how this impacts my connection with the character. Would I be able to connect with the character on a different level if the character was the same gender as me? It will be interesting to consider how I may have played the game differently this semester if the main character was female.

Considering how I connected with a character in a video game who is a different gender with me made me consider gender dynamics in video games in general. Although the number of females playing video games is only slightly smaller than the number of males playing video games in general, many gamers assume that other games are mostly male. One of my favorite games currently is Minecraft. (To read more about Minecraft and consider getting it because it is awesome and will take up all of your freetime, visit: http://www.minecraft.net/). I was on a forum about Minecraft and was discussing one of my current projects with another player. At one point, I mentioned that my boyfriend was helping me to design the roof for the giant cathedral that I was building, and the player paused for a moment before typing, “Wait…you’re gay?” According to current research, only ten percent of the population is homosexual; fifty percent of the population is female. Why did he pick the less likely of the two options? One of my closest female friends is an avid World of Warcraft player and she has stopped telling other people that she is interacting with that she is female because she either gets, “Wow! You must be really good if you are a girl and play this,” “You must be pretty bad. Girls aren’t good at WOW. You shouldn’t raid with us,” or receives an offer for a date or a certain popular derogatory message (I imagine many people are aware of the phrase that I am thinking of.) Even video game designers appear to assume that most gamers are male when designing protagonists. There are few powerful, independent female protagonists in video games. The main example that I can think of is Samus Aran from Metroid. Although women do exist as main characters in other video games, such as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and Alex Roivas from Eternal Darkness, these women are often highly sexualized and may not have well-developed, independent characters. As a female gamer, I would like to have more independent, powerful women to play as and experience games through. Does anyone see a shift in this perception of female gamers occurring? Does anyone have any recommendations of games with a strong female protagonist that I could try? Does anyone have any other feelings on this subject?

Although this is not exactly video game related, I believe that this two blog posts from Epbot (one of my favorite blogs; the woman who writes it is so spirited and funny!) is also highly appropriate to this topic:

http://www.epbot.com/2011/12/three-cheers-for-little-girl-spock.html

http://www.epbot.com/2010/11/geek-girls-activate.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+epbot%2FfOpU+%28EPBOT%29

I don’t understand why there are people who tease others for their choices in entertainment or in their interests. Whether it is as a female gamer, a girl who wishes to dress up as Spock for Halloween, a boy who decides that he wants to dance ballet, or anyone else who chooses to defy societal norms is alright. Sorry that this post started as “I want more strong female protagonists in gaming!” and ended as “Let’s accept and support everyone!” I think that this is an important message that this class will teach us, though. We are attempting to understand and potentially pioneer a new method of learning. There will be stigma associated with it, just as there is currently stigma to a certain extent against females who play video games, but we must work through the stigma and fight for what we believe works and is important. This is an important lesson in perseverance, whether in learning, in changing the world, or just in finally beating the final boss of that one horribly hard game.

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