Designers: master one game, or else

In a new Gamasutra feature, Gameloft’s Christian Philippe Guay suggests some simple ideas for getting better at making fun games — by breaking them down into component elements.
“We have to be aware of what has been done before, as it is important to not repeat past mistakes,” writes Guay.

To design fun games, he writes, “I would suggest to any designer to take one game and spend enough time to master it. There are things that can only be properly understood once they’re truly experienced.”

“In reality, the more we master an experience, the more others become alike, because everything in this universe is based on the same principles. We realize that the same mechanics are used, but in a different context. By doing this, it becomes easier to create interesting gameplay mechanics or learn how to fix them.”

There is one important consideration, though, Guay does suggest.

“I tend to think that to study the greatest games of all time would help us to better understand how to make better games. However, those games are often so engaging that we might not see how to make greater things, because when we play them, we aren’t thinking critically about how they’re constructed; we’re experiencing them as players.”

The antidote?

“However, if we play the worst games, then everything frustrating will jump in our faces. Then we will see what needs to be improved, and that forces us to be creative and find how to fix those problems.”

The full feature, in which Guay breaks down fun into seven different layers to offer his take on the essential elements of game design, is live now on Gamasutra.

[link]

Check out this article I wrote…

…on a game called The Path, for a completely different but more official blog, The Analytical Couch Potato. Give ’em a like on facebook while you’re at it, if you enjoy the articles.

http://www.theanalyticalcouchpotato.com/2012/03/path-and-use-of-fairy-tales-to.html

The Role of Self Image in Video Game Play

After commenting about why I used to love playing Sims, I found this interesting article. It’s about your choice of games and motivations is heavily depends on how much the game can allow you to experience more personally.

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So why do you think you choose to play the games you do? NO! WRONG ANSWER! Well, actually, you’re probably mostly right about that, but an upcoming article in Psychological Science suggests that your choice of games and your motivation to keep playing them may have something to do with how well they allow you to experience something deeper and more personal.

In the article, Andrew Przybylski (who sent me an advance copy so I could read it myself) and his co-authors hypothesize that we’re motivated to play video games to the extent that they allow us to sample our “ideal self characteristics,” especially when there’s a large gap between our ideal selves and who we actually think we are. This could help explain why people are attracted to games in a way that’s unique to the medium.

Przybylski and his colleagues tested this theory in a couple of experiments in which they had gamers self-report their personality (using a standard “Big 5” personality measure) in three contexts:

1. As they think they are IRL
2. As the type of person would like to ideally be IRL
3. As the type of person they felt like while playing a certain game

They found that we apparently enjoy games most when they let us feel like an idealized version of ourselves (i.e., #2 and #3 above are similar), and that effect is greatest when there’s a big discrepancy with our ideal self and our perceived self (i.e., #1 and #2 are dissimilar).

So if I fantasize about being a loquacious, extroverted type of person, I feel better about myself when I’m able to play a game that lets me do that even though in reality I get tongue-tied in public. Or if I strive to be a more conscientious master of details and micromanagement, I might prefer a real-time strategy game over a first person shooter.

You may think this is a bit obvious, but I think some of the implications are profound for game designers, especially those working on role-playing games. We’re all probably familiar with the binary “Do you murder the puppy or do you help the puppy?” morality choices in some such games.

Many of my favorite games in this genre include choices or developments that were much more complicated than that. Taking Przybylski’s research to heart, effective choices in these games are going to be the ones that allow let players adopt a much wider spectrum of personality, desires, values, and judgments.

I won’t share any spoilers, but those of you who have made it to the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be familiar with a good example of this. It provides choices that allow you to have Adam –and through him yourself– weigh the importance of freedom, progress, purity, justice, honesty, and the like.

Similarly, many paths in Dragon Age 2 ask you to create a persona that reflects varying emphasis on loyalty, dogmatism, anarchy, and justice. And while there’s something to be said about “playing the dark side” in these games for fun, one could hypothesize that that kind of thrill comes most strongly from playing something equally complicated, just in the opposite direction from your ideal self.

But there’s more. I haven’t played Bioware’s new Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG yet, but from what I’ve heard there are some improvements to that game suggested by the above research. In keeping with the Star Wars tradition, the game lets you play on either end of the “light side” or “dark side” morality spectrum. But as is common with such systems, meeting certain thresholds of good or evil are required to use certain equipment and abilities. You get light or dark points by role-playing certain actions, so most players are on the lookout for ways to boost their standing.

The problem with this is that it may not only over simplify the role-playing in the game, but dangling a carrot from such choices the game may actively discourage players from exploring more subtle choices and consequences that let them feel more like their idealized self and thus motivate them to continue playing.

So, game writers take note. When you’re dreaming up your game’s stable of complex supporting characters, don’t leave the player character out of the action.

We all love trying on different hats in the way that only video games allow, but some of us have very oddly shaped heads.

[Jamie Madigan examines the overlap of psychology and video games at PsychologyOfGames.com. He can be reached at jamie@psychologyofgames.com.]

REFERENCES
Przybylski, A., Weinstein, N., Kou, M., Lynch, M. & Ryan, R. (in press). The Ideal Self At Play: The Appeal of Video Games That Let You Be All You Can Be. Manuscript in Preparation Psychological Science.

Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/40093/The_role_of_self_image_in_video_game_play.php                         

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.

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.

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.

Puzzle Shooters? (spoilerish alert)

Jump to the bottom to see the pretty videos, if you’re like me and have no patience…

I just wanted to point out some new games that have come out in the last two weeks that defy standard catergorization, by being creative and putting new twists onto an old game:  the FPS.  You see, I’m not really taken in by the “novelty” of being more real.  COD?  How is Black Ops REALLY that different from the first COD?  How are the newest sports games REALLY different from past ones?  How are the newest fighting games REALLY different from the old ones?  More real, more complex.  (Though I have to say that I found the insanity of the combat and storyline in COD:BO, to be rather… unrealistic, and the people I know who spent time in the Army agree.  I mean, really?  One or two people versus a hundred – or more?  I don’t think so. Special ops only works in real life when they don’t know you’re there!)  Anyways, one way that “new” game types are created is by combining genres.  In this case, FPS and puzzles, as in the two games below. 

In case you haven’t been inundated with the ads yet (I’m sure most computer gamers already know about this, at least) Portal 2 came out yesterday.  Portal 1 was what I have best seen summarized as a “glorified tech demo” in which the developers played with the idea of having a gun that can create a portal you can walk through on (almost) any surface, to (almost) any other surface.  It’s a FPS, but only in that you have a gun that shoots something – but not people, just portals.  In fact, in the entire game, you character is the ONLY human you see the entire time and then almost only through the portals (see about 1:25 in this vid where the character is literally chasing themself through some portals.  Worse than a dog chasing its tail!).  It’s really a puzzle game, in which the goal is to get through multi-dimensional mazes.  The premise is that you are a “test subject” in an Aperture Labs facility, and you learn more and more sophisticated ways of using the portals (and learning about 3D thinking, momentum, velocity, frames of reference, gravitational acceleration, etc.).  You then use this new knowledge and your convenient portal generating gun to escape from GLaDOS, the evil supercomputer AI that is trying kill… ahem… I mean test you.  Spoiler alert:  You DO escape (assuming you win) and leave GLaDOS in a sorry state.  (Destroyed?)

Nope.  Not destroyed.  Portal 2 brings us back to the lab, where we find ourselves as test subject AI robots, that can now work cooperatively to pass the tests… and then what?  I don’t know.  It’s also cool because there is a cooperative mode, where two people have to work together to get to the end.  Finally, there are challenges, for time, fewest steps taken, etc.  Motivation to earn them all, I would say.

Sanctum is the newest and most interesting Tower Defense game I have ever seen.  Again, the developers add the 3D FPS aspect to the game, and learn by trying the puzzles over and over again.  This game has a fair amount of “just in time” info provided, and again, in a first for tower defense, I believe, there is a cooperative mode.  There is also an “infinite” mode in which you try to last as long as possible against wave after wave of alien destruction, which of course is tied to the leaderboards… motivation, anyone?

Both games meet more of Gee’s principles than you can shake a stick at, opportunities for Flow, ways of “cheating” (or is it?), problem solving, identity issues, motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic), reflection, and enough other “educational” aspects that you could make a career of studying them… or at least until the next big thing comes out…

Ever wonder how some of your favorite classic video games got developed?

If so, check this article out:

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/04/the-secret-history-of-super-mario-bros-2.ars

It’s a great example of how the structure and design of a game can affect its playability and entertainment value. Can you believe it? Super Mario 2 was almost a vertically scrolling type game. Thankfully, this prototype failed miserably and we ended up with the version we all know and love. I also thought that this was a refreshing thing to hear about Nintendo:

“The rapid-prototype development process on display here informs Nintendo’s design philosophy to this day. The company doesn’t begin development with characters and worlds: It starts by making sure that game boasts a fun and compelling game mechanic. If it’s not perfect, Nintendo has no qualms about throwing it out.”

This seems to be somewhat of a “lost art” today, with hundreds of repetitive first-person-shooters, sports game sequels, and GTA knock-offs on the shelves. The industry seems to be much less concerned with making  games that are truly great (forget perfect), and more concerned with making games that people will buy. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the nature of capitalism, however it would be nice to see a return to the “let’s make a perfect game” style of design and development. What do you guys think?

Game Design Similar to Ender’s Game

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/03/the-enemy-gate-is-down-5th-cell-debuts-innovative-shooter-hybrid.ars

Jeremiah Slaczka may have never read Ender’s Game, but his game HYBRID looks a lot like the Battle Room from the famous science fiction novel. And although the game was not designed to be a “learning” game, it seems to owe at least some of its success to the application of learning principles.  5th Cell was looking for a new spin on third person shooters, something that could be differentiated from classics such as Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War.  The result was a shooter with a parkour-style movement and cover system emphasizing slower, more careful battlefield tactics.

The part of the article above that struck me most was that it took them a whole year to design (just) the movement system, but it only takes about twenty minutes for a player to learn, thanks in part to the simplicity of the controls.  To run across a room filled with whizzing bullets, from one point of cover to another, you simply point one of the thumbsticks in the direction you want to go and tap A.  Your player will automatically jump/flip/parkour-move over any obstacles in the way.  Oh, and if you double tap A you can fight on ceilings and walls.  The rest of the moves are simple one or two button combinations, too.  Sounds a lot like Gee’s Amplification of Input Principle to me.  And the gameplay seems like it utilizes Gee’s Multiple Routes Principle pretty heavily.  If you can fight from any surface of a room, including the ceiling, using everything and anything as cover, you’re going to have plenty of options.

I, for one, am excited about this game.  I think that although the game is not a learning game in the sense that it teaches any K-12 content, it still has the potential to teach gamers a lot.  Especially those of us that love first and third person shooters, but don’t know much about battlefield/movement tactics.  I can definitely see myself taking tactical concepts learned from HYBRID and applying them to my favorite shooters, such as Call of Duty and Halo.  And even though the tactics won’t translate perfectly – I don’t think the next Call of Duty will allow you to walk on ceilings – I’m guessing that my gameplay will still improve (Gee’s Transfer Principle, anyone?).

Videogames in every aspect of life?

To be honest when I saw this video (http://www.todaysbigthing.com/2011/02/15) I thought it was hilarious that someone could take a videogame quite so literally. But it got me thinking, videogames are useful for practically EVERY type of learning, even outside the classroom.

For example when Eric Klopfer was speaking today about how mobile learning can  be applied to many aspects of biology, it got me thinking about taking these types of games outside the classroom as presented by Jerry Heneghan.

Specifically, it would be beneficial to play games similar to MarioKart (minus the shells) so that beginner students can get a taste of what it feels like to be behind the wheel and truly learn the rules of the road before hand. Would it really be so crazy to offer simulations or games for soon-to-be parents to learn how to properly take care of a new born? Or maybe even use a videogame to teach new athletes the rules and proper formations for certain sports?

With my interest in medicine, I think that the benefits found in learning through videogames may be easily applied to doctor/patient relationships. What if a patient could play a game enacting the surgery they are to undergo? Or play a game like the sims which teaches them how to appropriately practice recovery exercises? The former sounds a bit morbid, but it seems that information is power. Often times when a doctor is explaining a complicated procedure to a patient, it is easy for the patient to become lost in the charts, one dimensional diagrams and stats. In my own experience as a patient, all I could picture in my head when a surgery technique was being explained was the game of Operation. What if patients could be walked through the procedure via a game to see exactly what steps will be taken to help their ailment? Or even further, what if they could compare procedures to see which fits their preferences best (ie, invasive or not)?

Besides, wouldn’t it be great to have a game for EVERYTHING?

Augmented Reality

So, Eric K. spoke about how we can use mobile phones to augment reality and learning.  There are other groups working on this, not necessarily from a K12 educational standpoint, but from an everyday use and just-in-time / need-to-know learning standpoint….

Games about Games

We’ve been thinking about what makes a good game design in our Gamestar Mechanic competition. In light of that, I’ve discovered this list of metagames. Some are just abusive like Desert Bus, where you have to drive a bus from Tuscon to Las Vegas for eight hours. Some are minimalistic like Don’t Shoot the Puppy, which is a game of inaction where you try to follow the instruction in the title. My favorite is The Onion‘s parody of violent video games, Close Range–a first person shooter where all of your enemies appear right in front of you. While most of them are amusing, they all challenge some element of game mechanics or design.

Your Identity (as Master Chief)

I recently came across an article interviewing Bungie‘s Joseph Staten about the creation of Master Chief, the protagonist of 3 of the Halo games and one of the most recognizable characters in video game history. Here’s the link:

http://www.industrygamers.com/news/be-yourself-or-not-halo/

I found it interesting that they specifically talk about the players identifying with Master Chief, that they intentionally left him as more of a blank slate so people would see themselves as Master Chief (I know it worked on me!). Remember Gee’s principle of Identity, that good learning comes from being able to take on new identities related to the task at hand.

The part about Cortana’s evolution intrigues me, too. She started off as a person in your ear, just telling you what to do. But by the end of the 2nd game (even the 1st game, to some extent) you saw more of a human side of her, and that in turn brought out more of the human side of John (Master Chief’s real name).

I initially thought that humanizing Chief more would make him less relatable. However, after I thought about it, I realized it actually made him MORE relatable, at least for me. If the character I’m playing as has no backstory, if he/she is just some nameless person with no personality, I don’t get as attached (this excludes games like Fallout or Oblivion, where you create your character and there is some minimal, general backstory). But when I see that the character acts more like a human, and I can get involved in their backstory (for example, that Master Chief was (supposedly) the last Spartan made him totally awesome, like he was badass enough to survive. I say supposedly because in the Halo books/graphic novels we learn that there are still other Spartan-IIs surviving, and an entirely new program of Spartan-IIIs). The fact that John shows his human side around Cortana, and they have an emotional relationship, made it easier to think of myself as Master Chief.

As a sidenote, if you couldn’t tell, I really enjoy the Halo series. I know there are a lot of people who despise and hate it, but it’s been one of my top game series for a very long time now.

Sure a gaming education sounds good, but where do we go from here?

In my recent trip to the Digital Ops, I was thoroughly intrigued with how certain types of games encouraged different types of behaviors in its players. The Ship was certainly a game that was solely played for individual gain. I found myself fumbling about trying to figure out the keys while being pummeled to death by another player with a mannequin arm. Though it seemed frustrating, I felt a certain determination to continue in the game, attempt to master the controls and most importantly – not give up. Left 4 Dead had interesting team components and was certainly a good model for team-work and leadership. All these characteristics combined made for a seemingly great educational experience in the classroom, that is, until I got overwhelmingly nauseated by the first person shooter perspective.

So far I have agreed with Gee’s principles, the learning theories and that video games possess various characteristics that make them an excellent tool for educating. I think video games allow for a sense of achievement, motivation, exploration and identity. But how can we revamp our education system to include games that every student will feel motivated to play? What games will feel fun for everyone and not just an extra chore? What is THE best game that will provide the best learning environment?

This argument feels as though we are back to square one. In my opinion there are various problems with our school system now such as lack of desire and motivation to learn by some students. How can we be sure video games would fix this problem? Additionally, our educational system is a rigid path of studying the facts and spending great lengths of time listening to lectures in the classroom. Obviously, our system now is not the best way to encourage learning for all students, but what is to say that gaming will? What about those (insane) students that may not enjoy video games? Or in terms of my experience, what if a student is nauseated by the perspective or set up of a game?

As with any problem, there is always a working solution. Video games may not be the one final solution for our educational needs, but it can certainly be of help to supplement what is already in place. We can only work with what we have so far but I think the idea of a correct game “fit” for students is an interesting concept for the future.

As a final point, I believe supplementing education with video games may have greater benefits than previously realized. A gaming education may provide a means for students with learning disabilities to better advance in their schooling. Gaming could have a great future for students with conditions such as blindness or deafness and even those with disabilities. Games may help in advancing critical learning for students of all backgrounds in the near future, we just have to figure out which games best fit the perfect learning picture.

3D Video Games???

A couple of days ago, I posted an entry about motion games and their new place in the video game world.

However, I was reading Entertainment Weekly and learned of the new phenomenon that is going to sweep the nation: The 3D video game. In case you do not know what I am talking about, see the article below:

http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/multimedia/display/20110119183622_Nintendo_3DS_Release_Dates_Prices_for_Europe_and_U_S_Revealed.html

This  3D thing is getting a little ridiculous. How much more do we need? Nintendo obviously thinks this could be a big hit but I am a little skeptical with prices as all 3D products are expensive.
Thoughts?

not exactly human

Seeing how we’ve looked at the involvement of learning in games, this TED Talk brings attention to a crow’s ability to learn. Not exactly video games, but it’s still a game with a reward system.

I think whats also interesting here is how ‘intelligence’ is defined. As seen in previous readings for this class, intelligence in education is equated to memorization of facts, and getting the letter grade. Here intelligence is clearly defined by the ability to learn, and adapt.

A New and Improved Classroom

I just recently read an interesting article that discussed the effect that video games has had on students interest in certain topics. The article, “Let the Games Begin: Entertainment meets Education” written by Jenn Shreve, begins with an anecdote of a western civilization class in which many of the students had to repeat due to prior failure. This new class, however, students were coming in “armed with strategies to topple colonial dictators” and “kids who didn’t know Pompeii from Plymouth Rock were suddenly mapping out the borders of the early Roman Empire.” The teacher notes that the reason for this newfound interest and success is directly due to Sid Meier’s Civilization III, a best-seller in the computer game industry.

The article then dives into what we have already spoke about in class, that there are not many, if any at all, truly successful video games that can be used to direct a class. There are software programs available, but a majority of those programs are unsuccessful and are very costly.

How to approach this problem?

One way researchers decided to approach this issue was not to develop games for students to use in the classroom, but instead have those students design the games themselves. One might see this as an extreme tactic, saying “how can you ever expect a student to design their own game unless they have background in that field.” Interestingly enough, this method was used on a fourth grade math class. The students were provided with some basic design software, and were told to develop a program that would help solve fractions. What the students didn’t realize was that an underlying motive of this method was that multiple skills were being developed. Those students were not only learning about fractions, they were also developing their computer skills.

River City

This article continues on to talk about something called River City. What River City is is a “Multi-User Virtual Environment for Learning Scientific Inquiry and 21st Century Skills.” In other words, River City is a simulation, with a video game feel, that incorporates information from many prominent scientific resources.

Quite simply, River City is a town that has been plagued by illness. The way the simulation works is students are broken into teams and are sent to explore, interact, and create hypotheses as to why the illness has occurred. Each time the simulation is run, it is followed by a teacher led discussion and therefore students can analyze what they experienced in a more formal setting. Eventually, at the conclusion of the simulation, the groups will present their hypotheses to the class, of which there are multiple correct answers (similar to Scot Osterweil’s reward for effort).

In conclusion, this article emphasizes the necessity for video games in the classroom, but not as a complete substitution. Like River City, video games that are educational should supplement traditional teaching methods. An important aspect of these games, as we’ve discussed before is used to close the article:

“And if everyone has a little fun along the way, better yet.”

Sources:

http://www.edutopia.org/let-games-begin

http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/muvees2003/index.html

A great game design essay.

Raph Koster’s essay on the fundamentals of game design is a classic, and a good read for everyone who thinks about design to encourage participation and/or learning. (That’s right, I’m looking at you!)

If you don’t know about Raph, he was the lead designer behind the classic Ultima and Star Wars Galaxies games, and is author of A Theory of Fun.

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