Category: Gaming

Mini Games… are there any left to make?

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By , August 4, 2010 2:22 pm

Well, I’ve been at my new position at Athabasca for only a day and a half and I’m already getting into the groove of things… or so I would believe. Why do I say that? Well this is a new venue, but I’ve got an old problem to deal with. A prof wants interactivity, I’m going to suggest mini games, prof will say “cool”, but then find that for every game that is presented, s/he’s already “seen that one”. So what are we to do?

Well I’m not sure. I’ve been reading some of the new material on the subject from Epistemic Games (Graesser, Olney & Cade, 2009; Graesser, Conley & Olney, In Press) as well as Frazer, Argles &Willis (2007) and the venerable Mark Prensky, and it all seems quite compelling – we have the systems and the background to do amazing things! But… we don’t.

It comes down to how much time can an individual or team put into rolling their own game out (either a copy or a new concept) when in reality, the game is only going to be one small piece of the instructional puzzle. If the game is in reality, an engine, then you might be able to commit more resources to it and use it across multiple situations, but then it likely is going to suffer some for that compromise. Now, if we accept that these games will have compromises built in, but then understand that they are not really for direct instruction, we might be able to think of them more as distractions (Prensky). So if we can cook up a quick little game that is able to give a student a “brain break” while learning “directly” about a given topic, the break only needs to be superficially related to have some manner of impact. And not always on the pedagogic side, but perhaps more on the engagement side.

If we start to get “bang for the buck” there, then we can start into cooler things like tutoring systems and the like, but in the mean time, there is another way to deal with many of the topics that one might want to explore using some new fangled pedagogy – good old COTS (commercial, off the shelf) and some creative thinking…

Save the world! And learn a few things doing it

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By , March 5, 2010 4:29 pm

EVOKE trailer (a new online game) from Alchemy on Vimeo.

I spotted this in OLDaily and it certainly looks interesting. It also has a supporting site. I might just have to find a way to make time for it.

Rapid “digital” Game Creation helps kids

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By , January 25, 2010 1:48 pm

I forgot if I found this through RSS or Twitter, but here it is:

Rapid digital game creation for broadening participation in computing and fostering crucial thinking skills
Nikunj Dalal, Parth Dalal, Subhash Kak, Pavlo Antonenko, Susan Stansberry
International Journal of Social and Humanistic Computing 2009 – Vol. 1, No.2 pp. 123 – 137

I haven’t been able to get to the article as the library system is having issues right now, but according to the abstract and the lay articles that it’s generated, the use of non code based creation systems is a good thing for kids of all ages. This seems to be a no brainer, but thankfully there is now research to back it up. If you give people access to generate content in an media that they are comfortable with, you are more than likely to see good things come about. The important thing here is that the researchers have removed that complicated UI layer (like I was talking about in the last post) and have allowed the creators to work in an environment that more closely resembles the finished product.

I was thinking over the weekend about photography and how previously, you almost needed to be a chemist to get the most out of your images and thinking about how removed that was from the actual act of photography and how “digital” has changed that. Now someone takes a shot and can use it immediately and often with the same device that created the image, no black box required. Systems like the Rapid Dev environment would seem to do the same thing. People build in an environment that mimics the environment that they are going to experience when the project is finished effectively this research tells me that maintaining the “vocabulary” certainly helps when you are trying to get people to explore. If all you are wanting to get out of a game that you create is move A from 1.1 to 1.2 and have it explode, you don’t need to worry about the physics of collision detection and optimizing the math behind the path finding. Just like when you snap a picture, you want to be able to take it and share it quickly – you don’t want to deal with fstop and the rest – after all, the camera likely has hidden that from you. If however, your camera tells you all that, you have a vocabulary that then makes sense when you use tools that can then go and manipulate those settings.

Mini Games

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By , December 22, 2009 12:18 pm

I spotted this on OLDaily – and looking at the conclusion…

Mini-games are fast becoming an effective and relevant method to deliver game-based instruction. They should no longer be considered as just simple quiz-style games embedded in a conventional course to break up the monotony of the information. While they certainly can be included in a web-based course, they can also be delivered in the context of a larger game or simulation, or combined with other mini-games to build a training experience with greater depth and breadth than was previously possible. Furthermore, mini-games have become sophisticated enough to stand on their own as a legitimate method of training and education.

… I like the idea of stringing these small chunks of novelty together into a larger whole. Entertainment oriented games have been doing the mini game thing for a while and even though Nintendo has made a mint on it, I haven’t really seen much from people doing educational mini games. Of course, this might be semantics – we might have strung together a farm sim with a peace maker game and used it to deliver concepts in a course before but I don’t think I’ve seen anything calling these individual object “mini games” yet. To borrow a term from my Education training, the mini games are essentially manipulatives then that help students “play with the idea”. While doesn’t seem convinced by the cognitive grounding, I think it makes sense – if you take a bit of a K-12 view of the games.

The Great Flu – the game

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By , August 17, 2009 2:47 pm

With all the interest around viruses of one flavour or another going around, it’s timely to see a Flash game on the topic. The Great Flu is a somewhat advanced (Grade 6/7 and up) look at what is behind the spread of an infection and what can be done to prevent or beat it back. I haven’t been able to do either yet.

The power of the token economy

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By , May 26, 2009 9:48 am

I’m sure you’ve seen one of those posters quoting ” – everything you need to know you likely learned in kindergarden – ”

One of those things is that part of the world works because you have enough coins/stars/stickers. These are part of the token economy that is present in elementary school classrooms. Kids earn coins/credits for doing things for the classroom or for completing personal goals. This seems to fall off through secondary and post secondary education. But then it comes back in adult education with adults working as hard for stickers or coins as they ever did when they were kids, harder now that they have an appreciation for the concept of value. So when I saw this article on the use of tokens to help deal with email, I just had to laugh.

In fact, games can be so addictive that it’s like playing with fire: The trick is not to accidentally overmotivate users.

This spring, Dennis Crowley — a New York software entrepreneur — released “foursquare,” a “location based” social-networking application that tracks any public place you visit (like a bar, restaurant or coffeehouse) and reports it to you friends. Crowley wanted to encourage people to go out a lot, so he added game-like elements: You get “points” for visiting multiple spots in one evening, for example, and badges for roaming far from home. Travel a lot and you’ll be at the top of the weekly leaderboard, with hipster bragging rights. It worked — almost too well. Some people got so obsessed with racking up points that they began checking in dozens of times a day, frantically marking even a brief visit to Starbucks.

“We created a monster here,” Crowley says ruefully, and he’s reprogramming the game incentives to calm people down. Games are powerful; now it’s up to designers to use them for good.

These economies seem to work best when there is a considerable duration for the people involved to collect and then spend the coins. A single university or highschool term doesn’t seem to be enough time to really get people to buy into the system. I’m sure there are many examples where these economies get going and thrive in 12-16 weeks, but they are likely fewer and further between. Some people might argue that grades are the same as credits, but the problem is that the student can’t spend grades, and while there is a leader board, there are no (or few) extra opportunities to catch up if you are behind, nor are there opportunities to manage your risk. I’m sure if an instructor was able to deal with the administrata involved in linking grades to credits and opportunity creation (with bonus marks being a cludge), it could work, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. The easier way to do this might be to stop thinking about courses as descrete units and start really thinking about them as stages in a journey (easier said than done, I know). This might also have the side effect of helping improve knowledge transfer between courses… but that of course is another discussion all together – I’ll just say that if instructors and the system in general doesn’t model the transfer of knowledge between classes/courses… why should students make the effort to do it on their own?


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By , April 17, 2009 11:18 am


Whoa… this was a medatative, zenlike game experience and if there is an embodiment of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory, this is it. My brain feels massaged after playing this. The dynamic difficulty and intrinsic reward structure of the game makes it very addictive. It would be amazing if we could structure classes like this – small steps, intrinsic rewards and “authentic risk”. But with the current model of mass education, it will not likely come to pass for anything outside of graduate studies.

But if you think about grad studies as the pursuit of an academic hobby (an odd pursuit of pleasure for sure), one would likely not be stretching too far to think that any sort of hobby or life long learning pursuit has this flow like quality. If learning could be a hobby for everyone, I don’t think education would have any of the troubles that it has right now. But the problem is that it is not. We are still thinking that learning is a process that happens within the student as a result of an external process.

If we rethink education as being something that makes society better, rather than a means for gaining employment in a defined field, we might be onto something. We will be able to make changes to the tools that are used as they become relevant (take a look at the analogue/digital transition in photo/video/print) and keep students interested in moving forward to their own future, not a common future that they might not want to be part of.

Crayon Physics

By , January 7, 2009 9:48 am

One of the things that I enjoyed when taking physics courses was drawing the little diagrams to help explain the problem that I was trying to solve. This is a technique that is good for all manner of disciplines, but it seems to have been adopted best by Physics. So when I saw this game, I was pumped.

Crayon Physics is more an “Incredible Machine” game or a “Little Big Planet Lite”, but it certainly looks fun. If I were a Jr. High/Middle School Science teacher, I’d be all over this game to help get students “into” doing the diagrams that will carry them through their careers in Science and perhaps even in other disciplines as well.

Crayon Physics Deluxe from Petri Purho on Vimeo.

2009 Predictions

By , December 18, 2008 4:51 pm

Whoa… 2008 saw me put up almost a thousand posts, not to shabby. But I think that would have been higher if I wasn’t able to tweet at least a few of the things that would have otherwise been given a one liner post. And as I see the calendar is almost ready to show 2009, it’s time to look forward to 2009 and look back at what I predicted at the start of 2008 (ok, late 2007) to see what I got right in my predictions. So first, the looking forward:

  • Rise of mobile data/3G in Canada – we see mobile data as being very important everywhere else on the planet and come 2009, we’ll be less than a year away from Vancouver 2010. This means that we’ll have all manner of international handsets roaming around on the various networks starting in 2009. To make them happy, Canada’s mobile data network and rates will have to improve. But at least our data speeds are not that bad right now. Having more players in the wireless market will certainly help as well. It also seems that the telcos are pricing SMS rates way too high and this is going to lead to people using generic data instead – IM or other means of chat.
  • A change in form factor preference – Everything seemed to be getting smaller and smaller all the time, hence the rise of the netbook. But it doesn’t look like netbooks are doing so well (especially with smartphones rising and pico projectors not far behind). I’m thinking that the iPhone is going to get some pretty cool accessories that will allow it to connect to all manner of additional devices.
  • Mobile UIs – Part of this change in form factor preference is going to be a marked improvement in the way that mobile UIs are constructed and the way that data is presented on a mobile screen. This is key to getting people away from thinking that they need to see everything on the small screen the same way that they do on the desktop. If this doesn’t happen and netbooks manage to get 3G modems and long battery life, this point might be mute. We might see an early example of this idea looking at how various SNS have “just enough info for the road” via their mobile portals, the trick is to do the same thing for the office/classroom.
  • Technology abandonment – I think we are going to see a drift away from little tech gadgets (aided by the economic situation) and a move toward more “appliance like” technologies – TVs that handle downloads, photos etc. With so many gadgets and UIs, people are only barely scratching the abilities that are available – though this is likely as not a reflection of just how many “features” get tacked onto a gadget. To go with this, there will likely be a trend in gadgets to better fit the broad spectrum of users as opposed to the early adopters. We saw a bit of this already with things like the Selphy printers.
  • Photo/Video convergence – With the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5DMkII there is even less to compromise between systems to create quality images, moving or not. Of course this does not mean that the average level of content produced is going to be any better, just that there are now fewer compromises. This new breed of devices is going to make broadband sharing even more important as people will find value in their relationships as opposed to their material wealth as a result of the economy (who am I joking?? It just sounded noble). As these files are also increasingly “ready to go” and disc is cheap and sharing easy, there will be an increase in personal story archiving.
  • Rise of mLearning and mobile linked services – Services like Evernote allow mobile devices to become sensors for less mobile or desktop devices, this setup allows people to capture their world and then bring it back for further reflection and processing. We already see quite a bit of this with the mobile versions of SNS. This will get rid of the “edit on small device” problem and as many of these services are already web based, they are likely to be cross platform. This will certainly help people get used to the idea and as acceptance spreads generally, it might find it’s way into classrooms as teachers start to think of mobile devices as collection and communication tools as opposed to annoying toys.
  • Net neutrality and Copyright – boring topics that will come to the floor as changes here will impact the “utility like” perception that many people have of their broadband connection as well as the feeling that they should be able to do within the walls of their home what they want with that which they pay for (EULA be damned!).
  • Microblogging going more mainstream and perhaps becoming the search jump point – I’m starting to think that the Semantic Web might turn out to be Web4.0 and not 3.0. I think the “realtime web” is going to be an important step between the semisolid web that we currently have in Web2.0 to the fully fluid, intelligent (knows before you do) web that some might argue that a semantic web might be. Some might call this Web2.5 as it is leveraging 2.0 technologies… but I think this is a definition that will only be seen years down the road. I can certainly see Google and others putting twitter or, more likely, updates (tweets are not “creative commons” where as dents are) right underneath the sponsored results so that a searcher will be able to see just how relevant the results are to their original query. This will also make advertisers much more responsive to what the consumer needs are, maybe allowing Google to charge more for that slot.
  • “This is me” – hopefully via OpenID, but more likely under one of either Google Facebook’s systems, a single account system will become more widespread. You choose which provider you trust the most and keep all your account info there. I don’t mind having accounts scatterred everywhere, but every now and again, I feel that nagging… why do I have to create another account! I just want to see what there is here! If I’m feeling this, I’m sure there are many more folk… and a great number of them who are less tech savy/patient who are not using some of the really cool tools out there because they can’t be bothered with yet another account. I’m thinking the way to get this to abolutely boom is if a bank would start using this system. Granted you’ll then have a very vulnerable point of failure, but then again, if not the banks, who else out there is motivated to create some manner of “next to iron-clad” system to protect credentials. With this, I can see there being better ways to update the various SNS out there and to interact with them at the most basic level. The walled garden model of the SNS is fine as a means to contain specialized tools to manipulate information, but the inputting of the raw info (thinking status updates) should be much easier to do from a single point. Socialthing, and hellotxt are certainly a start along this path. This might end up being really important if there is a new “cooler” SNS that emerges and people are wanting to transition from one to another. Otherwise this will be a tools for those of us who have more than one place where we play.
  • The depression/recession/retrenchment – This is going to likely change things around as to how people think about upgrades  and on how fast companies update models – just look at what is happening to the auto industry. I think we might see the lowest replaceable unit return to something less than the entire machine for computer systems if the troubles continue. I know this is already the case – your Win/*nixtel box looses a power suppy and you can get another – but finding one that will fit a Dell/HP what have you might be a chore at your local computer shop. This is one idea… the other is that we might not see the same number of new models this year as the old models get blown out at bargin prices (ever dropping if deflation takes hold).

So lets see how I did from last year:

  • SNS (Ads, Buyout, search) – I kinda was right here. There were no buy outs (though there was certainly value given to Facebook and others)kinda, buyouts didn’t really happen, but Facebook was given a value. Social search, which I’m again thinking about didn’t really find a popular vector, but they may have now.
  • LMS changes – Blackboard did integrate a building block for Facebook, and with BB Connect, there has been some appreciation for the social element of student life online. Other systems likely have similar modules. BB has also started to look into a mobile friendly version for BB NextGen.
  • Technology literacy continuing to lag – I can’t really tell this as much any more, not being in the Faculty of Ed. But I can tell anecdotally that based on one course that has a representative sample of all Science disciplines that literacy is serviceable for most web services and for the creation of basic content, it actually is not too bad. But I wonder what the skills of those that didn’t make it to university are like. I’m betting it’s not as high. It also doesn’t help as schools (I’m looking your way Edmonton Public) are wasting money on SmartBoards rather than PD and projectors… model for students!
  • Technology fractionation – this seems to have happened as more niches to “drop in a gadget” have opened up. But at the same time, there are many more gadgets that have  been abandoned because they are “too hard” or they got set the first time and then forgotten (think about how many times one updates the photos on thier picture frame… and how often they even get turned on). The interesting example here seems to be the phone (which now refers to the cell and not the land line – those still exist!) where people seem to be looking for new features as they find a need for it. Some people grow into their phones, others find the basic talking stick and are happy.
  • HD media wars – Bluray won… what can I say? But what is really shocking is how fast prices for players have fallen below the PS3 and/or $200. Now, at least in my house, the only reason to buy the DVD is if it is going to be used at school. But even there, DVD players, disposable as they are will likely start to get replaced by BD players.
  • Net neutrality – Got this one, both Canada and the US saw this come up in the news as the “management of the network” vs the “management of the content” debate rages.
  • Blogging – Almost got this one. Not everyone started writing, but people certainly all started to dump all manner of bloggable content into  SNSs and microblogging via status update seems to have exploded quite nicely.
  • Canadian data rates – Well, it took most of the year, but they did come down and look to keep falling as new entrants come online. The only rates that didn’t fall are those for SMS (think twitter stopping SMS updates to Canada – I really hope Google doesn’t get stung by the rates such that they stop the service here as well).
  • Casual gaming – yup Wii was on top all year. Interesting games and an accessible interface makes up for technical specs as people happily bowl, golf and get fit with the little white box.

So for education… what does this mean? Maybe the Wii will see it’s way into more schools as other institutions bring it online for therapy, personal archiving will help the push for more digital storytelling as the tools to create these stories become far easier to use (though we are still saddled with the problem of assessment). The stories around net neutrality and copyright will find their way into schools – who are very controlling of their networks (rightly or wrongly) and where copyright is already a muddied topic. People will also become annoyed when their children have timelines imposed by “the law” on content that they download from school… this is likely going to deter more teachers and instructors from doing anything online as it won’t be worth the legal hassle and depending on the content/service level/what-have-you might disadvantage students trying to access material from home/off campus. This was the reason why teachers didn’t use the ‘net back when I was going through my B.Ed. but back then it was a dialup/broadband debate, not traffic shaping.

Turning to microblogging, if teachers/instructors turn their students loose there before sending them off to Google for research, they will very quickly find a community that is interested, at least peripherally, in that topic. And they might find that there are resources that are linked there that are far more useful than what the search engines pull up because there are “experts” (accredited/pro-ams/geeks) who are sorting the information as opposed to algorithms.

So this is one of my last posts for the year (expect a couple of POW). If you read all this and I don’t hit your eyeballs until the new year – all the best to you and yours and if you only read me on RSS – drop into the site in the new year, there might be a new look.

Hooked on games

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By , November 28, 2008 11:58 am

Instructors who look to games as models for designing their instruction look to the risk/reward ratio of games as something that they want to emulate. But the detractors will often say “but the easy games are too easy and the hard ones are too hard – what good is that for anyone?”. It might very well be that the detractors are correct that there is a wide span of difficulty, but this is as much a reflection of the great range of quality that exists – just as there are easy intro math courses as well as “killer” intro math courses, and of course to throw a monkey into the mix, different people will react differently to the same course.

With this in mind, I found a couple of articles that talk about how difficulty is designed in games and looking at these, even in passing will certainly help those who are interested in getting into game based learning and maybe thaw some of those who are thinking that using gaming as a model for instruction is nuts.

First, Wired has an interview with the creators of Bejeweled, talking about how casual games hook players. The elements that are transferable to instruction include:

  • create order
  • search and discover
  • let go of conscious thought

So while the first two are rather obvious when putting together a lesson, the last one isn’t. But if you think about it, this really means the ability to practice something – a physical or mental skill – until it becomes second nature. But the problem here is that practice does not make perfect, it makes pattern. This is where a second article from Gamasutra about making “hard hard” comes in. Points from that article:

  • exercises should allow students to see every step at their level and then be able to take responsibility for errors
  • have a path that can be followed through the instruction without an “epic fail” experience
  • manage “safe” questions or “gimmes” that allow for students to check their work before “leveling up”

But just as creating higher difficulties in games is an investment, it is also the same in instruction and the down side of the experience is that many teachers are not going to have time to think about this when they are collecting questions for a homework exercise. It is more likely that they will grab a few from each “difficulty” bin, paste them to a document and fire it out the door. So until we have a solution to this, I think this will have to be one of those ideas that you can suck in and let simmer.

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