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


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.

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.

Apple and Education part2

On Thursday, January 19th Apple announced their plan to introduce technology into the education process. Since Apple is producing an iPad, which they advertise as a product that is revolutionary, it is not hard to figure out that this product is expected to revolutionize education. The key point of their presentation was to introduce the interactive textbooks designed exclusively for an iPad. These books can be purchased directly from the device, which is very convenient compared to ordering textbooks from Amazon and waiting for them. They should also be cheaper, but since the service just started there is not much of information about the average price of textbooks. Furthermore, the biggest advantage is the book itself, since it is interactive. This means that besides the text, the user gets access to videos, animations, 3d models and other cool stuff one can play with right inside the book. It sounds pretty cool to me, so I will be waiting to see if these books will really find the place in the real world. However, from my point of view the most interesting point of their announcement is iTunes U. This simple app is supposed to be something like Ctools, but better. It should give us access to our classes, textbooks, gradebook, videos, podcasts, announcements and notes that we were taking either in class or in the interactive textbook.

Everything sounds pretty exciting if you like the newest technology in the classroom, but there are also some disadvantages of these new books. Their sizes are up to 2Gb, which might be a lot when you have a 16Gb iPad and a couple interactive textbooks loaded.

Books vs. Video games

I was browsing Google Reader when I came across this:

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. 🙂

Apple and education

Today I have read that Apple has sent out invitations for one of their events. The company slogan for the event is “Join us for an education announcement in the Big Apple”. It will be hosted at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City on Thursday, January 19. There are rumors that the event will mostly be about textbooks and their digital distribution. The New York Times reporters claim that there will be no new hardware announcements.

It seems to me that we will soon have access to most of the textbooks through iPads. I think it can be  great information because  it will help to reduce the cost of textbooks, which are very high. I would prefer to pay more money for an iPad, a one time cost, and then save money on the textbooks. Also it can increase the chance that more people see the iPad as a device that can combine gaming and educational functions. This will definitely lead to developing more educational games and software not only for the iPad but also other mobile devices.

What is more, it could be a great solution for all the students who have troubles getting their textbooks at the local bookstore. Can you imagine a better way of getting a textbook you need to do your first homework than just downloading it on your iPad straight from the Apple Store? Well, I can’t, and that’s why I am excited to see what Apple will show on January 19.


Portal 2 as Written by Great American Authors

Videogames already have some pretty good writing, but what if they were created by not just good writers, but great writers? Here is a blog post that imagines that for Portal 2:

Got any rewrites of your own? Add them in the comments!

Thank you Duderstadt!

I am not sure if any of you have been to the Duderstadt lately, but they recently set up a table on the second floor that has books about video games. I found a couple we had read in class, and some were more specific and focused in on particular video games. I checked out a philosophy book on Zelda, because I am playing Zelda: Ocarina of Time as my game of choice for the semester. It’s called The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link Therefore I Am. It is great to see that the University of Michigan has so much literature on the topic!

The book starts out with a quote that says: “Are video games as significant a cultural phenomenon as Shakespeare plays or Mozart symphonies?” After taking this class and playing Zelda I’d like to say yes. And this is coming from a girl that loves and respects both Shakespeare and Mozart. I believe that video games have the potential to change our current education system in the same way that Shakespeare changed literature and Mozart changed music forever.

The conversations we have exchanged with both Karen Brennan and Quest to Learn have shown me that video games are already being used as more than just recreation. Though my brother and his playing of League of Legends doesn’t seem all that productive, it at least provides him with an outlet from what is already a highly stressful ninth grade. However, I hope that what is now an escape for him could be integrated into the school system not just in the states, but internationally as well.

I’ll keep you posted with any other insights from what is turning out to be a really interesting book!

Virtual Worlds in Novels, Movies, and TV

second life class meeting

Now that we’ve had our class meetings in Second Life, this would be a good time to talk about virtual worlds in novels, movies, and TV (‘cuz that’s how I roll). Long post after the cut.


Students running their own schools

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

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

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

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

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





The Diamond Age (Or a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer)

When we were talking about novels that featured augmented reality, Anthony brought up one of my favorite novels in the comments: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age (Or a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer). In it, a girl named Nell gets a world class education through the use of an interactive book (the illustrated primer of the title). I’ve been thinking about The Diamond Age a lot as we’ve been talking about Ender’s Game as both use video games as teaching technology. They also both use tablet-style computing of the iPad variety (Ender’s “desk” sounds a lot like an iPad to me).  Most significantly to me, they both incorporate direct interaction with another person in ways that appear to be simulations (the bit at the end of Ender’s Game where it’s revealed that one of the Bugger queens was trying to communicate with Ender through the psychological game). These interactions are part of what makes the experiences rich. Particularly in The Diamond Age it appears to be a statement about needing interpersonal interaction regardless of how complex and immersive a given simulation might be (or at least that’s always been my interpretation–if anyone else has read it and wants to weigh in, I’d love your take on it).

Speaking of The Diamond Age and teaching technology: I saw video of the PhoneBook product below from Mobile Art Lab for the first time a few years ago. As these videos were going around, a lot of the comments mentioned that it made viewers think of The Diamond Age. In fact, when I was searching for a video to add to this post, I looked for “diamond age iphone interactive book” and got one of the videos as the first result in a Google video search:

Some of the gameplay still seems to be of the spinach sundae variety, but it’s still pretty cool.

Incidentally, I realized today that I first read both of these novels when I was a junior in college, which is kind of fun since so many of the people taking this class are juniors and seniors. I’ll talk about Stephenson more when we get to Second Life (you can’t talk about Second Life without talking about Snow Crash).

Rapid Reaction Ender’s Game: Games vs. Reality

Funny that you question if video games are becoming too real. I have always thought that with games that are supposed to mimick real life situations, having authentic qualities is important. While I’m still not sure if I see what the problem is with having ‘too real’ of a game, the book Ender’s Game deals with the interplay between games and reality. I don’t want to spoil any of the book for those of you who haven’t gotten to it yet, but immediately after finishing it I thought of how poignant the virtual games were in the young battle school children’s lives. The virtual battleroom consume vast amounts of Ender’s time -pushing him to his physical and mental limit. It shapes his relationships with his fellow classmates and isolates him from the rest of the school. In the end, Ender cannot even tell the difference between games and reality…I know this might be slightly immaterial to what we will be studying; however, Card’s emphasis on the interaction between the virtual world and reality is an important theme in the novel.

For The Win

I’ve mentioned Cory Doctorow a few times before, but if you are playing World of Warcraft of any of massively multiplayer online role-playing game, you must read Cory’s second ‘teen’ novel, For The Win. Don’t be fooled by the ‘teen’ label, this is a great novel, with complex characters, a fast-moving plot, and a deep exploration of the world behind MMORPGs, the people who play them, and the hidden (and not-so-hidden) economies that they rely upon and create. This is essentially a story of the struggle between have-nots and don’t-cares, and the corporate powers who try to manipulate both for greater profit. And of course, as with all of Cory’s books, you can find them in fine bookstores as well as online in a variety of digital formats which you may download and read for free on Kindles, iPads, or whatever floats your boat.

Augmented Reality in Fiction

We’re talking about augmented reality games in class this week. We’re also going to be discussing Ender’s Game soon, which is a novel that explores themes relevant to this class. In that spirit, here are four novels from the last decade that feature augmented reality as themes or important plot features.

The first is William Gibson’s Spook Country, which features augmented reality in the form of locative art. These are art installments, tied to a place by GPS technology, that require a virtual reality rig to access. In the novel, the installments are about augmenting the experience of visiting a given space.

Spook Country is a great novel, but it isn’t about games. The next three are.

Rainbows End Cover

Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End is about games and education. The protagonist is Robert Gu, who at the start of the novel has been cured of Alzheimer’s disease. He has to relearn a lot and to learn many new things including wearable computing and augmented reality interfaces. His granddaughter is well-versed in these technologies and uses them for school and play. Their different takes on the same technology are interesting in terms of what we’ve been discussing in class. Another compelling idea in the novel is the idea of belief circles, which are competing virtual realities.

Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and its sequel, Freedom(tm), are techno thrillers dealing with network security. The second novel in particular is relevant to our interests, as it’s about a shadow U.S. economy that takes the form of a Massively Multiplayer game. People earn reputation in the system, which translates into power. They access the system using wearable computing. It’s life itself as an augmented reality game.

Rainbows End is a novel that takes place in the future, but both Suarez’s novels and Spook Country take place in the present. It’s fascinating to watch the interplay between how available technology plays out in fiction and how fiction influences technology.

Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning

Video games are the future of learning

In their book Playstation Nation, Olivia and Kurt Bruner present “complex” video games as anaddiction waiting to happen. They point to the complexity of the games and the game developers’ attempts to engage us as a deliberate strategy by video game developers to get players addicted.

It is, of course, those same things that make video games so much fun to play and enable us to learn while we are playing. In his book Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning, Marc Prensky discusses video games as a conduit for our children to learn in a way that just wasn’t available to previous generations.

– More

A striking metaphor in a book review in the N.Y. Times: Does it bode a mainstreaming of video-game culture?

A line in a book review published in this past Tuesday’s New York Times made me realize how mainstream video-games are gradually becoming, as the reviewer used a pretty arresting gaming metaphor to make a point. (The book in question was: Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and it has nothing to do with video games.) Coining the phrase “first-person thinker” by way of analogy with “first-person shooter”, the reviewer wrote:

You climb inside her [the author’s] skull as if this book were a first-person thinker video game: Call of Duty: Memoir Academy. Ms. Rhodes-Pitts makes her meta-processes part of this story.

Ten years ago, such a line in a mainstream book review would have been quite unthinkable, I believe. Perhaps this mainstreaming of video games, as it penetrates even the higher reaches of literary culture (as shown in this line from a book review in such a venerable newspaper as the New York Times), bodes well for the eventual acceptance of the video-game metaphor in mainstream circles, including education policy?

Are Video Games Good for Society?

There is an interview with Jane McGonigal on today. For those of you who haven’t heard of Jane, she’s a game designer with an awesome approach to being… well, awesome! She explores this in a well loved TED Talk (posted here for your viewing pleasure), and in a new book that is now available called Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

More on play

If you enjoyed Scot Osterweil’s discussion of play from today’s class, here’s something else to check out:

Stuart Brown founded the National Institute for Play, and he’s the author of the book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul (which is on sale for less than $7 on Amazon right now!).

A great read.

If you’re looking for a great read about video games, check out Tom Bissel’s book, “Extra Lives: Why video games matter.”  The book is a combination of memoir and reportage on video game culture (and addiction). The first chapter, where the author explains his infatuation with Fallout 3, is a tour-de-force.

Here’s a Newsweek summary/review of the book.

Bissell also gave a great interview about the book on NPR’s On the Media (this blogger’s favorite radio program).