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).

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.

Be a Gamer, Save the World

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704590704576092460302990884.html?KEYWORDS=be+a+gamer+save+the+world

This article was in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago about the benefits of video games. [Editor’s note – this article is Jane McGonigal in her own words.] Throughout the course so far, Gee and others have argued that the problem solving nature of a good game are beneficial regardless of the actual content of the game. I think this article would agree with that concept; however, the author takes it one step further. She recognizes how videos games are an intrinsic part of modern society, noting that the number of hours world-wide gamers have spent on World of War Craft amounts to 5.93 million years. She then goes on to discuss notable studies that use video games for real life problems such as folding virtual proteins to help cure cancer or Alzheimer’s, or another game that allowed gamers to design and launch their own real world enterprises. She argues that games can be used to solve real life problems through careful design and programming. Already we have seen that games can help us with math, problem solving, flight simulation and several other skills, yet by continuing this trend video games will permeate many other aspects of life. I think that by carefully expanding video game s to more educational concepts, learning can be seen more as fun then actual work. Either way, the adoption of video games for education use will be interesting to keep an eye on in the coming years.

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).

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.

From a good source

The National Research Council and the National Academies Press are your go-to-guys for careful non-biased research reports on the state of the world.  Just a few weeks ago, they released their report on the potential of video games for science learning.  You can read the whole thing online.

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