Archive for the '688' Category

Level Up Your Gaming

September 27th, 2010

Lately I’ve been looking around for a new game. Like I really have time to play but the truth is that gaming adds a bit of spark to my humdrum existence. Sometimes I just like to get away from it all and play a bit.

One of the things I used to do was MUD. That’s a text based MMORPG where you don’t have pictures and such, but room descriptions and rapidly flowing text. I love those things, although they may be a bit dated now. I still think they’d be great reading interventions for middle and high school students. The one thing that MUDding does is give you lots of practice reading. My favorite MUD – Last Outpost – went off line after years of play. We even used it in the 688 Games course a few times.

Recently a house guest – somebody I met while MUDding – showed us Lord of the Rings Online. The service recently went to a Free-to-Play model and the free version works very well indeed at lower levels. A word of warning — it’s an adventure game and in order to advance you have to slay monsters (and sometimes kill animals, people, HUGE spiders, etc.). It’s not terribly violent but there’s certainly an aspect of violence that some will find offensive. On the upside, there is no player-vs-player violence. There’s enough action in the forests.

What I’m finding fascinating from an instructional design and educational gaming perspective is the meta-cognitive view of the game. This is a “level up” game – that is, you gain more skills and powers as you move up the ladders and earn more points of experience. You gain that experience by completing quests that – at least at the level I’m running at so far – involve a lot of running around from here to there and finding people/things that you are looking for. The set up involves race (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit) and a variety of classes (Hunter, Guardian, Minstrel, Champion, etc). The characters are enhanced with skills and traits to emphasize various aspects of their experience. Elves are agile, dwarves are not. That kind of thing. All told, an interesting and complex set up.

But the game doesn’t stop there.

On top of it all (or under it, depending on your perspective) is the idea of a profession. There are cooks and tailors, smiths and woodworkers. You can specialize in farming or forestry. As with the races/classes, these professions have things that they can do that others cannot. Food turns out to be an important asset that’s sometimes difficult to find. Having a cook means getting sustenance when you need it – like after that huge cave bear chewed your leg half off. Tailors can make armor, Foresters find wood and leather. Miners harvest minerals, and it all feeds into a larger construct of the mutually created world of LOTRO.

The interesting thing to me is how this relates to learning and education. You don’t go to school to learn to play the game. There is a very – and I mean very – brief new player intro where you pick up the basic skills of movement and interaction. There are occasional popups explaining some aspect of the game, its interface, or the experience when you first start out, but basically, you learn by doing – you construct your knowledge and understanding of how to play the game as you play the game. Playing is – literally – learning.

Before anybody gets strung out on the next round of High Stakes Political Gaming, I’m not suggesting that LOTRO is necessarily teaching anything about US History or Earth Science. There are aspects of it that are directly applicable to arithmetic and reading. You really do have to read a lot, and knowing a little math helps a great deal. In that aspect, it’s much more like life than a game.

The interesting aspect – for me as an educator – is how they manage to get all that stuff into a game. When you start, you don’t know a snow spider from a cave claw, a forge from a shopkeeper. You need to learn where to go, how to get there, what to do when you arrive. You have to differentiate among Non Player Characters (NPCs) and other people who are driving their avatars (toons) across the landscape. There are merchants, trainers, facilities, and a plethora of mysteries that all get illuminated as the story unfolds. And there’s even an encyclopedia for the game for when you need to look something up — like “What does Fate do?”

At the moment, I’m still unpacking it. The crafting (profession) aspect of it has features that make the game play much more intriguing, and provide a rationale for interaction beyond “let’s get together and kill stuff” that’s common in many other games. This idea of crafting is not new. I believe it was started by EverQuest and moved along into World of Warcraft (I’ve never played them so I can’t speak with any authority) but I know this isn’t a new idea in a game, but it’s still a fascinating implementation.

Still, as a replacement for my Last Outpost experience, I’m finding LOTRO to be a very satisfying replacement.

School as Video Game

September 16th, 2010

Go see what the questions are and visit for awhile.

The best thing about “Learning by Playing,” the most excellent feature in this week’s New York Times magazine, is not that it gives a fairly fair and balanced look at the potentials of learning games in the classroom. No, instead, it’s the willingness to ask big questions in a big, hairy mainstream publication that lots of people read:

via Weblogg-ed » School as Video Game.

If you haven’t already added his blog into your feed readers, go back and do it now.

What if we DID turn school into a video game? I’m looking at you, Mr. Walker! 🙂

Free to Play

September 15th, 2010

For those who may be fans of the MMORPG, Lord of the Rings Online is now free to play. You can still subscribe and get a nice bonus for doing so, but it’s very playable – at least a lower levels – for the free version. I’m impressed with the way that they’ve integrated the premium with the free to give those who have paid accounts just a bit more, a little something to make it worthwhile. Never having played it before, I dug in over the weekend and, I have to say, darn this is fun!

You need a good machine and a fast connection, but if you’re on SL, I suspect you can get onto LOTRO as well.

Find more at their website.

Play to win:

September 7th, 2010

It’s not just education that’s looking to cash in on the idea that the addictive nature of games has some potential.

Companies are realizing that "gamification" — using the same mechanics that hook gamers — is an effective way to generate business.

via Play to win: The game-based economy – Fortune Tech.

This idea that the best games trigger an addiction-like response in players is the crux of what makes games so interesting to educators. It’s not the “making it fun” because frankly some of the most addictive games are not fun. They are also not easy nor simple. Can we make reading addictive? What would the implication be if you had to pry books out of a 10 year old’s hand? What if your 11 year olds snuck off behind the barn so you wouldn’t see them doing math? How do we make learning as addictive as leveling up in WoW?

THAT is the question we’re struggling with this semester. Don’t lose sight of it.

New online Monopoly

September 10th, 2009

I remember Monopoly from my youth. We called it Monotony because of the interminable length of game play and how long it took to actually make it around to where you could move. In spite of that, we had a great time playing with all the little pieces. Here’s an interesting bit of news and I think the “Wednesday” referenced was yesterday!

But when I played the new online version this morning I was free from such a driven competitor. Monopoly City Streets, a link up between game owners Hasbro and Google Maps, launches on Wednesday for a four-month period. It enables one, in theory, to buy any street in the world.

via New online Monopoly game is streets ahead | Technology |

Go read the whole piece and maybe I’ll see you in the game.

The game site appears to be overwhelmed. Gee, I wonder why?

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

August 31st, 2009

Some of you will have seen this on Remote Access. Clarence’s comment is “A lot of teachers won’t like this.”

Pink has some really interesting ideas in this but the key one has to do with application of intrinsic motivation. We’ve been enamored of Maslow’s “drives-based” theory that we lose track that motivation has some other theories as well, including an instrumentality theory that really addresses intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in a meaningful way.

How do these three ideas – mastery, autonomy, and purpose – relate to education in general? How do we take advantage of this motivation as teachers? And, an important consideration for the Games class, how do you see these three factors feeding into what makes a “good” game?


(Thanks, Clarence. Great Find.)

The Average Gamer?

August 25th, 2009

The link to this article came across in the Twitterverse this morning and I thought it was worth looking at:

Debunking videogame stereotypes, but not necessarily in a good way, a new study into gaming habits has revealed that today’s average games player is not a pallid skinned, socially backward teenager but rather a 35-year-old couch potato prone to bouts of depression when not submerged in the escapism of virtual game worlds.
Via The Tech Herald

As we begin examining some of the so-called findings, it’s often important to look critically at primary sources. The title of this article is catchy, but not exactly accurate. Read the whole story to find out where the mis-leading bit is. And given the red-flag on credibility, one has to wonder what the original study has to say. The article itself doesn’t have a link to the primary … Wonder why.

Compare that story with this one from Yahoo. There’s still no link to the original story, but there’s a very different feel to reporting and even offering ancillary links to amplifying information.

It’s important to keep in mind that most research does not impute causal relationships, merely correlated factors. Do games make you depressed or do you turn to games to fight depression? Weight and depression are often linked but which came first?

Keep a critical eye on this kind of reporting. It’s seldom what it really appears to be.

Anatomy of a Good Post

August 21st, 2009

We’re going to be using the blogs as communications channel this semester and I’m asking all my students to write about things. It occurred to me today that I haven’t really explained what I consider a “good post” might look like. I’ve been modeling them for a couple of years now and, frankly, as instructional technique, it leaves a lot to be desired. So I’m going to do a kind of metacognitive wrapper around what I think of as a good post and explain the critical parts.

So a good post should start out with an explanation of what the heck you’re going to talk about. Now, I’ve done that in the paragraph above, but in a “normal post” I’d probably be talking about something interesting that I found in my aggregator. In that case, I’d start the post with a bit of an intro, then cite a bit of the original post, include a link so you can go read the whole piece, and, after the citation, offer a commentary on what I think are the take-away points. Something like this:

Clarence Fischer up in Snow Lake is one of those people who is constantly using these technologies in his daily classroom practice. He’s in a permanent metacognitive mode about how the tools work, how they influence his practice, how his students relate to them, and the social implications of how that use changes who we all are. Here’s an example from one of his latest posts

Web 2.0 technologies allow us to think about moving the latest, most up to date informtion both in to and out of our classrooms, but we also need to think more dynamically about the connections we are able to make, the networks we can forge and the people we can have the students in our classrooms meet.

via Web 2.0 – For So Much More Than Publishing | Remote Access.

He’s absolutely on the money here. We have to stop thinking that education is about content and start working on the idea that learning is more important than institutions. The problems arise only if we believe in an economy of scarcity and, as Clarence has learned, the real problems arise when trying to organize the avalanche.

Now if my post-citation commentary seems a little obscure, even dense, or perhaps even unrelated, maybe it’s because I’ve written about the whole piece and not just about the bit that I cited.

Or it could be that I think that he’s identified a valid issue with regard to content and that I’m extrapolating from his point on content to an observation about the systems within which that content is (mis)used.

Or it could be that I have my head up my butt and I really have no clue what I’m writing.

Or, perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle, and this whole metacognitive experiment in demonstration is actually an example of what I think might constitute a good post.

How might you tell?

Life in the MUD

November 3rd, 2008

Time flies when you’re having fun. Some of you have noticed that I’ve been in-world at Last Outpost for the last couple of weeks. Teaching in a multiuser environment — especially one so foreign — is a challenge. In this case, literally teaching in the (virtual) town square.

Playing in the MUD requires much more skill and attention than might be guessed from the initial simple introduction. Because it’s text based, there are several advantages to the environment.

First, it’s accessible to almost anybody with a computer and a connection. Even people who are blind or visually impaired can play. People on dialup can play. People with really old, slow computers can play. The barriers to entry are very low and for an educational environment, that’s key. Not just important. Key.

Second, it’s interactive. What you do has an effect in the game. Whether it’s picking up a weapon, donning your armor, learning a spell, or saving your companions, it’s reflected in the game. This is real interaction, not the pseudo-interaction “click here to advance” or “pick the answer that most closely agrees” level of question response. From the time you first stand in Town Square, everything you do has an effect on your character in the game.

Third, it’s multiuser. You are not there alone. One of the earliest computer games was “Adventure in the Colossal Cave” which is actually the antecedent of all modern MUDs. In that, the adventurer solved puzzles, slayed monsters, and explored the cave. From “Adventure” a whole series of single player games called Zork came on the scene and evolved in the early days of personal computers. Dialup networks gave access to similar single player “bbs games” and finally the MUD-engines were developed to provide a full multiuser, persistent game space.

Fourth, all the characteristics of an educational game are in play, except – perhaps – core content. Personally, I maintain that this is an artificial contrivance to make educators feel better about using games but that it cripples their ability to use them effectively — Grendler, notwithstanding. While many things that happen in the game are generated by random number selection, the reality is that the actual game play is almost entirely within the player’s control. If you make a mistake, the game will punish you. If you play well, the game rewards you. The occasional dispute between players — and the occasional interference from ‘pkillers’ who delight in messing up the game play of others — is certainly not random, any more than a fistfight in the back of the playground is random.

Fifth, it’s horribly time consuming. Going through the same instructions for everybody take time as each new player comes up to speed in their own way. Other players in the game are excellent sources of information and more advanced students regularly help those just starting out.

Lessons learned so far:
It doesn’t matter how much instruction, how many resources, or how well the ground is prepared, students don’t pay any attention to it. Several people have asked for more instructions on how to play the game, only to find out that the instructions existed already and they’d ignored them.

A corollary to that is that the game is, in fact, an instantiation of “exploratory learning.” You’re supposed to learn to play the game by playing the game.

One piece of instruction was missing. When following another, the screen goes into a “compact/brief” mode to cut down on the amount of information flowing. This is not necessarily a good thing for somebody trying to learn their way around. It’s easily reversed by typing “compact” to turn it off, and “brief” to reestablish the view.

The reflection papers from 688 were due last night, but the rubric wasn’t available until the evening. I’m looking forward to reading them.

iBrain Research

October 27th, 2008

In what might be the first legitimate inquiry into internet use and brain connections, this story showed up on my Reuters feed this morning:

He said a study of 24 adults as they used the Web found that experienced Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners.
Is surfing the Internet altering your brain? | Technology | Reuters.

There are some questions I have. The study is very small. The generalization is not clear to me. Is he seeing the increased activity because of the internet? Or is he observing the difference between expert and novice thinking? This is a significant question because it has long been established that novices and experts in any domain have different thought processing patterns.

So, is this finding relevant to internet or just another instance of somebody selling his book by tagging on some well-known snake-oil saleman?