Online Gaming Illegal for Sex Offenders

The state of NY just recently agreed to put a plan into action that necessitates registered sex offenders to provide their “online identities” to the proper authorities in order to place a ban on their online gaming usernames. In other words, a sex offender is no longer allowed to play any games on Xbox Live or PSN, mostly for fear that the online communication component will enable them to prey on potential victims. This decision is pretty interesting, especially when you consider some of the inherent issues with sex offender laws in certain states. ESA, a trade association for major video game makers seems to support the decision, saying that they welcome any sort of movement to make online game play safer. You can’t really argue with that logic. As video games become more and more advanced in the future (i.e. Kinnect’s webcam and other communication features), we are sure to see more of these kinds of decisions/debates.


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


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: ). 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.”

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.

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.

Moral Combat: Why do liberals play computer games like conservatives?

Here’s an interesting bit of musing on something I hadn’t thought much about before. When a game is blatantly political or take a blatant point of view (the Rapture-themed games where you have to run around saving people come to mind), at least I know where it is coming from. But do games in general encourage or shape political thought? Do game designers have an agenda?  Hmmm….

Mature Games!5782792/just-5-percent-of-games-were-rated-m-last-year-says-esrb

According to the ESRB, only 5% of all games last year were rated “M” for mature. Over HALF (55%) were rated at E for everyone. I find this interesting because almost everything you hear about games is how bad they are, how much violence they have, etc., when a lot of games are actually rated lower than M.

There’s also been a battle going on in Australia over “mature” games; Australia currently has no game rating for 18+ (they only have an MA15+ rating), so games like Mortal Kombat and Manhunt get banned because they can’t be classified under the Australian rating system. Other games, like Left 4 Dead 2, the GTA series and the FEAR series, have to be modified to reduce the violence/gore/language in order to be rated.

There’s currently a battle going in in Australia over this: the federal government may step in over the Attorney Generals or the State Representatives to get an 18+ classification approved.

I’ve been reading about this issue for a while just because of the gaming blogs I follow, and it’s nice to see Australia’s federal government stepping in to actually do something about it.

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.”





Games On the Front Lines [Kotaku]

This is a really great article on how our troops are using video games in Afghanistan and Iraq during their off-time. I wasn’t aware that soldiers were allowed to bring gaming devices/laptops overseas, but it makes sense so that they don’t lose their minds from boredom.

One of the Marines interviewed actually said playing Call of Duty 4 made him think more about the fact that he was taking a life from his Humvee; he couldn’t really see the death from his gunner position, but when playing CoD you’re often in a direct line of sight of who you’re shooting.

There are some really great stories and anecdotes in this article and I highly recommend you all to take a look at it.

Games on the Front Lines (via Kotaku)

Moscow Airport Attack like Call of Duty?

Last week a suicide bomber slipped into a crowd waiting for international passengers arriving at Moscow’s newest and busiest airport, setting off a huge blast that killed 35 people and highlighted another weak spot in security for global air travelers.  This attack was one of the most tragic events to happen to Russia in recent history and their president, Putin has vowed revenge when they find out who was behind the attack.  The blast also wounded 180 other people and was aimed at killing foreigners.

The scary part about all of this is that video games put us in these types of situations every day.  Every time we play a first person shooter we are entering into a reality where things like this are normal.  Most gamers know that reality and a video game are completely different but there are surfacing reports that are aimed at blaming video games for this attack.  I find this pretty outrageous, clearly this was a terrorist attack and I highly doubt they were inspired by the likes of Call of Duty.  However, the claims do offer a bit of a debate.  In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, players are put into a mission that includes the killing of civilians as an objective.  In the mission “No Russian” the player goes on a terrorist rampage, helping to massacre civilians in a fictitious Moscow airport.

While I don’t personally believe that this is enough to connect the attack that happened at the airport to the game scene that is depicted in Call of Duty it is interesting point out the differences.  Obviously in the game play you are using a gun and not a suicide bomber which I believe is a clear difference.  If the terrorist had planned on emulating the game he would have attacked in ways reminiscent of those used in the game.  The game scene has long been controversial as such a popular game has included an act of terrorism as part of the plot.  However, people should realize that video games are not to blame here.  This was a planned terrorist attack by a terrorist group and the hunt should be on to find the group and bring them to justice.

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?

Jeffery Sachs, Video Games and Social Change

Here is an interesting read on Jeffrey Sachs’s (Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University) stance on social change as we evolve to meet the standards of the future.  Sachs was recently at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy to discuss ‘Sustainable Development Politics, Policy and Priorities.”  Here is a link to the original blog post, where a video of his speech can be seen…

Through his discussion of economic convergence, Sachs pointed out concerns over future population and economic growth, specifically way in which current economic models neglect to consider boundary constraints in development. For instance, these models should take into account the available technological capacity to support economic and population growth. Sachs demonstrated through his discussion that not only do we have a very good idea of the environmental thresholds of the planet, (Rockstrom et al, Nature Magazine Sept. 23, 2009 “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity”) but we also have many technologies available to make the appropriate changes to reverse and/or prevent future damage.

This lecture ended with what I felt was just the beginning of another discussion, one which focused on the national sentiment toward climate change and environmental policy. By and large, as cited by Sachs from the Pew Research Center’s survey on climate change, certain societal groups within the United States have moved away from the belief that human activity is a primary cause of global warming and that global warming is a result of natural climate change. This may not be new news, however, it does bring up the point that in order for large social change with implications for poverty alleviation to occur, there must be a certain degree of social/political will involved.

The issue deepens when considered in the context of today’s society or perhaps more importantly, tomorrow’s society. In a recent interview on the NPR program, “On the Media,” program host Brooke Gladstone interviewed Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, a game design and development studio. Schell said he sees changes in society this way:  “… the twenty-first century is going to be a war on the attention of humanity; where a civilization focuses its attention, that’s what defines what the civilization cares about.” The connection to Sachs’ discussion of environmental change and sustainability is direct: How can we maintain purposeful and productive interest in sustainable development practices within a population, society and world that is growing exponentially and moving from one new activity to another at an increasing pace?

The discussion with Schell during “On the Media” focused on the integration of meaning and purpose into video games. This idea was discussed as an opportunity to engage a specific population with a unique skill set (i.e., gamers) in work solving larger societal issues. The suggestion of Schell and Jane McGonigal, who also is interviewed toward the end of the program, is to engage the millions of gamers who already operate in collaborative environments, in tasks that are relevant to today’s issues, thus potentially translating their behavior/skill sets into real-life contexts. Video gamers represent a large population of individuals who are simulating life experiences while also developing practical skills such as decision making and task management, usually performing these tasks at once. McGonigal goes so far as to list traits of gamers that make them prime candidates for future meaning-infused gaming and an unprecedented human resource for problem solving. These qualities include:

  1. Urgent optimism: Desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope for success
  2. Ability to weave a tight social fabric: Building up trust, spending time with individuals, developing bonds and working toward social cooperation.
  3. Blissful productivity: We are happier working hard than when we are relaxing if we are given the right work.
  4. Epic meaning: Attached to awe-inspiring missions and innovations and working to create information resources that help us to understand our world better.

All of these elements, McGonigal argues, add up to the belief of many gamers that they are individually capable of changing their virtual world (Listen to her TED talk here). The remaining issue is then to transfer this energy from the satisfaction of online gaming communities to real-life issues like Sachs’ description of environmental sustainability and poverty alleviation. McGonigal’s argument, and Schell’s for the most part, both center on the realization that gamers don’t feel the same way about solving problems in real life as they do in game settings. Their objective is to catalyze the problem-solving capacity of this population into new circumstances that are socially relevant.

What they’re banning in…

Did your mom tell you that you can’t play Call of Duty? Could be worse… it might be your government telling you that you can’t play your favorite game.