AERA Releases “Ed-Talk” Videos and Research Fact Sheets on Important Issues in Education and Learning

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 7—The American Educational Research Association (AERA) has released 31 “Ed-Talk” videos that feature leading education scholars discussing cutting-edge research on a range of important education and learning issues. The videos, which are each roughly six minutes in length, are designed to convey key research findings crisply, quickly, and compellingly.

The videos are accompanied by 31 research fact sheets that the scholars developed to provide the underlying findings and cumulative research that frame the Ed-Talks.

The 31 Ed-Talks headlined AERA Knowledge Forum events earlier this year. Held as part of AERA’s Centennial year programming, the Knowledge Forum created an opportunity for leading education scholars and policy leaders to engage in an open, in-depth discussion of research on education and learning using Ed-Talks as catalysts for a series of compelling conversations.

Thirteen of the Ed-Talks were given at a forum held in February in Washington, D.C., on significant research clustered around three themes—how people learn, how we can optimize learning, and how we can foster equitable outcomes.

An additional 18 Ed-Talks were presented at AERA’s 2016 Annual Meeting in April, also held in Washington, D.C. These sessions touched on major issues including education equity, the use of research in policymaking, student learning, opportunities for disadvantaged students, and inclusive education practices.

“The AERA Knowledge Forum was driven by the aspiration to make visible and accessible high-quality education research that is relevant, powerful, and useful for addressing challenging issues facing practitioners, policymakers, and the public,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “By broadly making public the Ed-Talk videos and fact sheets, we are not only sharing a critically important research base, but also helping to expand the public’s knowledge and inform the environment in which decisions are made about policy and practice.”

The Ed-Talks and fact sheets—along with scholar bios, a list of funding agencies that made possible the research covered in the talks, and more—are available in the Knowledge Forum section of the AERA Centennial microsite.

To view the 31 Ed-Talk videos click HERE. To read more about the Knowledge Forum scholars and download research fact sheets click HERE. To learn more about AERA’s Centennial programming, including upcoming events, click HERE.

Game Time

How the power of games inspires solutions to today’s biggest challenges

By Lara Cole

For Sasha Barab, professor of innovation in ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and professor of education in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, it’s “game on” as he and his team create virtual solutions to society’s challenges.

“We develop games, apps, and platforms to immerse learners in what it’s really like to be a scientist, a doctor, or an engineer by investigating real-world problems in a virtual world,” Barab says.

This type of learning is called transformational play, and it’s much different from memorizing facts for a test. In a game world, the power lies in taking on the role of protagonist and making choices that have consequences. It helps people learn and grow in a context where they can fail safely and come to appreciate themselves as people who can have a real impact in a world—albeit a virtual one.

ASU Impact Magazine game time

The center recently launched My LifeLabs, its newest venture to unlock human potential through a growth and impact platform, thanks to grants from Intel, the National Science Foundation, and donations from entrepreneurs.As cofounder and executive director of ASU’s Center for Games and Impact, Barab has been harnessing the power of game-infused learning for five years. Grants from the Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, and seed funding from ASU, gave the center its early springboard.

“ASU has the entrepreneurial spirit to manifest designs that can be researched and scaled to make positive change in the real world,” Barab says.

Now that’s a game we all can win.

Games Add Competition, Urgency, and Fun to Nonprofit Fundraising

With technology already an integral part of daily life, nonprofits are seizing new opportunities to incorporate elements of interactive games into their volunteer programs and fundraising campaigns.  Some charities make games their mission but some charities simply incorporate the qualities that make games appealing, like competition and a sense of urgency, into their fundraising strategies, says Dale Nirvani Pfeifer, chief executive of GoodWorld“We really believe nonprofits need to make giving fun,” Ms. Pfeifer says. “Make people feel they’re on a mission with you and the charity is cheering you on.”

Merely incorporating elements of games into a campaign rarely creates awareness or prompts changes in behavior, Ms. Pollack says. So she recommends creating fully immersive experiences that can raise both awareness and funds.  There’s a lot of money to be gained by tapping into the gaming industry, which in 2015 had total revenues of $23.5 billion, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

“Games can really give you a position of empathy,” says Kathryn Dutchin, interim associate director at the Center for Games and Impact at Arizona State University. “They are opportunities to sit in the shoes of others and gain perspective.”

One potential drawback: True games can be expensive to design, ranging from $25,000 for a very simple mobile app to more than $3 million for a game with detailed animation and many levels of play,   “We have big dreams of diving into the gamification world,” Ms. Schutes says.

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.


Article was originally published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy

ASU selected as nation’s most innovative school for third straight year

Arizona State University tops the list of “most innovative schools” in the newly released U.S. News & World Report college rankings for 2016.

“Most innovative” is a new category for the widely touted set of annual rankings by the news magazine, which compares more than 1,500 institutions on a variety of metrics.

ASU topped the list based on a survey of peers. College presidents, provosts and admissions deans around the country nominated up to 10 colleges or universities that are making the most innovative improvements to curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities.

Though, it’s not just college officials who are noticing ASU’s innovative atmosphere.

Photo Archive/2014/08-August/Wrigley-Hall

Photo Archive/2014/08-August/Wrigley-Hall

“ASU provided us with so many opportunities to excel in entrepreneurship and other projects,” said Jared Schoepf, who was on a team of undergraduates who launched a startup called SafeSipp, which designed and produces water-purifying devices for developing countries.

“We went to several competitions and we realized that ASU gave us that upper edge to compete.”

After ASU, the four most innovative universities were Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Maryland – Baltimore County, Georgia State. Half of the 28 universities on the list, like ASU, are public.

ASU has launched several unique programs in the past few years, including several focused on widening access to higher education, which is a mission of University President Michael Crow.

Last year the school announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a partnership with the coffee company that offers full tuition reimbursement to Starbucks employees who pursue an online degree through ASU. And this fall saw the debut of ASU’s Global Freshman Academy, in which students can take online classes and decide after completion whether they want to pay for the credits, which are offered at a rate of $200 per hour.

ASU is also exploring better ways to teach. Several hundred freshmen are participating in a new project-based learning pilot this year called ProMod. The program combines instruction in general education and students’ focused areas of study while they tackle real life problems. Faculty are researching whether the students are more likely to complete their degrees than students who take classes delivered in the traditional way.

Sometimes innovation comes in the form of foresight.

The W.P. Carey School of Business, which maintained its top-30 ranking for undergraduate business schools in the magazine’s listings, was among the first to create a master’s of science in business analytics, in which graduates learn how to harness the power of massive amounts of data. The program, which was started in response to industry demand, has tripled its enrollment in the two years it’s been offered.

“Ranking in the top 30 for the past decade is a testament to the ability of faculty and staff to focus on individual student attention and program excellence at the same time,” said Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business.

For students, the approach to innovation can be both academic and practical.

“It’s spectacular what they allowed us to do,” said Schoepf, who is now pursuing his doctorate in chemical engineering at ASU.

Schoepf and his team launched their product as part of the “engineering projects in community service” course at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He said they won several grants totaling more than $50,000 to launch their product, including rent-free manufacturing space provided by ASU.

Among the other U.S. News and World Report rankings, ASU was 8th in “best online programs” and 16th for faculty commitment to teaching undergraduates. ASU also appeared on a list of 92 universities touted as being “A+ schools for B students,” where “nonsuperstars” can thrive. That list was presented alphabetically, not ranked.

But creating a culture of innovation is more than starting separate programs across the university.

“You do need to create a sustainability of innovation across the breadth of the university – a little pocket here and a little pocket there just doesn’t do it,” said Dave Guston, founding director of ASU’s new School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

He credits President Crow with fostering a foundation for innovation.

“The faculty members feel very comfortable crossing boundaries and engaging in collaborations that at other institutions would be treated with something between indifference and hostility.”

Guston said that culture of innovation has helped recruit faculty to ASU.

“Basically, the faculty we’ve brought into the new school are coming specifically to do things they felt they were not able to do at their home institutions.”

Original story here

Mary Beth Faller,
ASU News

New E-Book on Power of Play

A dialogue exploring the potential of multi-user videogames for bringing about academic and pro-social ends

The Power of Play in the Digital Age CoverThe Power of Play in the Digital Age
FREE | 88 pages
For Apple iBooks (Free)
For Amazon Kindle ($2.99)

This book started as a paper exploring unexpected tensions of freedom vs control which emerged out of our idealistic/activist design experiment, Quest Atlantis (QA)—a 3D multiuser virtual world with a rich backstory that supported the learning of over 100,000 elementary and middle-school students on five continents. This project, designed with generous support from the National Science Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explored the potential of multi-user videogames for bringing about academic and pro-social ends. Balancing between hope (myself, the idealistic academic) and cynicism (Craig, the philosophical project manager), we opened up a dialogue about the potentiality of media, fantasy, kid culture, and adult role-playing in reactions to QA’s early implementations and data. Coupled with a graphic artist (Craig’s childhood friend, Kit) whose work ranges from major corporate accounts to participatory social commentaries, this little project ballooned into an exploration of the philosophical tensions that riddled our attempts at prosocial and kid-centered education residing at the intersection of education, entertainment, and our social commitments.

Aware of the mass and confusion of messages offered to children in our contemporary society, critical theorists such as Giroux, McLaren, and Lather have asserted that the new ‘educators’ in the 21st century are those who possess the vision and finances to use mass media. These theorists argue that the implicit challenge is to become educators in this new sense – engaging our children’s tendencies toward entertaining, dramatic play – as well as to remain true to our purposes of helping children develop practical, meaningful, and life-fulfilling skills. It was with this provisional understanding that we developed a virtual play space designed to create a compelling learning context for kids.  So, it was through in reflecting on the tensions in supporting thousands of kids and teachers around the world that this book emerged. While most of our other work is more “academic,” finding homes in peer-reviewed academic journals, this book was meant to address a more diverse and a more personal audience. It is our belief that all of us are, at some level, educators and that as a society we have forgotten the importance of play as an important component of the educational process. With QA, we set out with a lot of idealism and energy.  We’re pro-kid.

Quest Atlantis Legend Video from Center for Games and Impact on Vimeo.

Because our experiences have been so visceral, so visual, so aesthetically-oriented and complex, we used the ‘design’ of this piece to embed the reader in an experience that is both playful and sometimes difficult.  In this way, we have tried to create a ‘playful’ book that the reader experiences—not simply reads. We have tried to do this by developing a heavily designed e-book that invites our “adult” readers into a phenomenological space with at least the flavor of the core tensions associated with learning through play and videogames. While designed for printing, we have found that the e-book offers a meaningful experience for those with whom we piloted the content.

This book is written for curriculum designers, curriculum educators, K-12 teachers, parents, and the interested public who want to understand more about the power and challenges of play in general and videogames in particular. We hope that this book will serve as a catalyst for interesting conversations about the power of play and new media in this digital age. We hope the reader will also develop a richer respect for why videogames have become one of the dominant play media of our time, and for the importance (and challenges) of harnessing this power to do good. We especially hope that this book will inspire parents and teachers to appreciate the educational power of play.

The Power of Play in the Digital Age Cover

The Power of Play in the Digital Age
FREE | 88 pages
For Apple iBooks (Free)
For Amazon Kindle ($2.99)

CGI Partners with Intel to create the Next Big Thing in Professional Development

The Center for Games and Impact at ASU has partnered with Intel to innovate around their online teacher professional development courses.

Intel, a leader in online teacher PD has trained millions of teachers around the globe through its Engage program. ASU Center for Games and Impact is a leader in investigating, innovating, and cultivating games for impact.

By applying research from the learning sciences powered by game mechanics and principles, the Center is working in deep collaboration with Intel to develop a model, curriculum, and platform to provide teachers a learning experience that goes beyond traditional online learning, and promotes collaboration and practice in the classroom with the ultimate goal of impacting the millions of students that teachers interact with each year.

pba-rewardThe first journey to be released, “Designing Projects for Impact”, puts the teacher in the role of designer, using project-based approaches that foster leadership, team work, curiosity, and 21st Century skills, to build deeply engaging learning experiences for their students. This journey is scheduled to begin Beta testing Fall of 2015.

Contact Kathryn Dutchin or Anna Arici for more information.

RebelHold joins the Center for Games and Impact in building Innovations

rebelhold-logo_logo3RebelHold, a local startup focused on bringing engineering and design solutions to stakeholder needs, has joined the Center for Games and Impact to engineer innovations for a better tomorrow. The initial development builds on the work of the Center with numerous stakeholders such as NSF, Intel, Gates, MacArthur and others creating learning experiences to raise Digital Empowerment of young African women, to inspire Latino youth to pursue STEM careers, and to engage students in the Scientific Process.

Beginning as a consultancy, the Center and members of RebelHold are collaborating to build a learning and growth platform to invite, enable, and release the potential of all of us to do great things. From the Center’s perspective, the connection to the users’ needs is as important as the technical details, and RebelHold brings a level of social commitment and interest in enabling users that is often difficult to find in a technology team.

It is this focus on the human potential that makes RebelHold an ideal collaborator in this effort to realize an innovative vision supported by a scalable technology suite. Add to it their strong engineering capability, their design sensibilities, and commitment to local ecosystem empowerment, and we have a powerful recipe for engineering a better tomorrow.

Look for updates on this exciting project in Fall!

Jason Goldberger
Michael Christenson II, has spent the past couple of decades developing businesses, engineering technical solutions to meet present demands, and working with communities to provide stability, ownership, and growth. Included in his most recent successes are an IoT platform used by Intel, IBM, Citrix, and Microsoft, a micro farming platform built to automate individual plots, increasing and leveraging knowledge of global growing conditions, and the continuation of his Mentorship business model as CEO of RebelHold. With a deep interest in the academic and economic success of students, Michael brings to the Center his understanding of life after schooling and a hands on approach to enabling others to build a better world around them. Jason Goldberger, joins the Center as part of the RebelHold collaboration. As Senior Game Programmer, Jason is responsible for engineering game interaction mechanics and for providing users with smooth, easy-to-use gaming experiences. He enjoys engineering the “full stack” from back to front end, approaching complex problems as systems to be abstracted. Jason is a former soldier (8 years U.S. Army), an avid gamer, and a passionate open-source software developer with 191 contributions to the community in the past year. Jason also has growing interests in machine learning, AI, robotics, and Internet of Things technologies. Ryan Hurst, has an International Relations academic background focusing on International Economic Relations, Global Environmental Policy, and Sustainable Urban Development. An American University (BA, MA) graduate, Ryan spent a number of years working in Washington, D.C. as a Contractor for the U.S. Department of State, Congressional Intern, and Obama Organizing Fellow. After working in large institutions, Ryan began to desire the flexibility and scalable impact made available through open source web technology. As a result, he learned how to program, design, and develop innovative web-based business models. Now, Ryan finds great joy in helping innovators translate their visions into executable strategies and designs. More than anything else, though, Ryan is a proud husband and father.

FoldIt: Puzzles to Save Mankind

This post is by Deena Gould, graduate student fellow with the Center for Games & Impact.

Foldit is the classic discovery game. An intriguing scientific problem is turned into a playful challenge and suddenly thousands of ordinary people begin contributing to the solution.   Even before Foldit was released in 2008, I was intrigued by the puzzle of protein folding. Since proteins are involved in almost all cellular processes, it seemed that their importance and prevalence would have led us to know more about how they’re formed? Why is it so hard to figure out the shape of the protein if you know the sequence of its amino acids? Would the Foldit game help me understand more about protein folding? Could I contribute to solving puzzles that had eluded scientists?

Foldit player screen with protein puzzle

Foldit player screen with protein puzzle

Game Play

In Foldit, the challenge of figuring out the shape of the protein given the constituent components was turned into a 3D digital jigsaw puzzle. The player turns and twists a protein model to simulate and find the most favorable interactions among the chemical groups. Overall, Foldit reminds me of the Rubric’s cube puzzles that my mother used to love. In Foldit, you quickly learn to make the protein as compact as possible, avoid empty space, and avoid having components clash. Tools with funky names like “shake” and “wiggle” show you how to fix the clashes, improve the backbone, and reassemble the side chains. Juicy feedback in the beginning stages keeps you believing that after just a few more puzzles, and with a little luck, you might be able to unlock some secrets and save mankind from horrible diseases.

Feedback in Foldit

Feedback in Foldit

The immersive problem-solving environment enables you to continue improving your skills and coaxes you into trying more challenging puzzles. When you learn that the models you manipulate represent actual proteins that scientists have posted for the community to solve, the game feels real. There are competitions and there are collaborations. I used the in-game chat feature and found that even on a Saturday night fellow players were happy to help me learn to use the “rubber band” feature to change the strength of atomic repulsion. There is a chat tool that allows players to upload a screen-shot useful to discussions between mentor and mentee or peer collaborations.

Game Design

How does someone design a puzzle game if they don’t know the solution to the puzzle? Foldit uses a molecular modeling program based on current knowledge about biochemistry to provide feedback to the players and score the puzzle solutions. Feedback is based on measurements of how chemically stable the folded structure would be based on having the lowest free energy or most favorable set of chemical interactions. Higher scores are awarded for keeping repulsive forces apart, compacting the molecule, burying the hydrophobic chains, and creating or maintaining hydrogen bonds. This seemed like an interesting way to design a game with “real challenges”.

Game Impact and Research

The opportunity to be a “research collaborator” is a powerful motivator. In Foldit, players can actually help create new knowledge that scientists use to build drugs that benefit humanity. When scientists know how a protein folds, they know its structure and can begin to understand its chemical processes that cause or prevent cell malfunctions. So when Foldit players contribute solutions to protein puzzles, they may be generating new knowledge useful to the creation of drugs that interact with the protein and alter the chemical processes to prevent or reverse diseases.

I had heard about the 57,000 Foldit players credited with scientific authorship in the publication Nature, so I decided to look it up. The Nature publication reports that the collective power of many players’ protein puzzle-solving provided useful results that were equal to, or better than, the computer generated simulations scientists had been relying on previously. Since there is a huge landscape to search for optimal protein folding, using the crowd-sourcing contributions of many people has been genuinely beneficial.

Prior to reading the Nature publication, I was a bit skeptical about the authenticity of the impact of Foldit’s crowdsourcing. How were the players able to do something that the computer algorithms couldn’t do, or do it better than the algorithms, if the game rules that gave the players feedback were based on these computer algorithms? The explanation is that human players were much better than computers at generating solutions that require divergent thinking about how to work through molecular instability in unique and creative ways. The publication also reports that good Foldit players have a greater intuitive sense for 3 dimensions and spatial reasoning than the computer. This information about human learning, human cognition, and artificial intelligence is as interesting and useful for advances in society as the players’ scientific contributions to protein folding.

Systems Thinking

The idea of using a lot of people to solve protein-folding problems can be just as intriguing as actually solving the biochemical riddles. Foldit has demonstrated that a multiplayer video game can be useful for scientific problem solving.   How far could the intelligence of collective human game playing take us as the corpus builds over time? Will new systems-level properties emerge? How will new technologies change the way we think about the creation of knowledge?

Cooper, S., Khatib, F., Treuille, A., Barbero, J., Lee, J., Beenen, M., Leaver-Fay, A., Baker, D., Popovic, Z., & Foldit players. (2010). Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game. Nature, 466: 756 – 760.

Breaking it down: Start using data to power up personal change

Playing for Health: The Games & Impact Cycling Team is blogging, and racing, their way to better health and wellness. The team’s first race, the 2014 El Tour de Tucson is 5 days away and you will be able to track their progress on social media on the CGI Facebook and Twitter pages. Check out the team’s introductory post here

We live in a data obsessed culture. At any given moment you can check your credit score, find out if your child has turned in an assignment, log the nutritional profile of your lunch, see a report of your sleep quality, and check the stock market all from your nearest web browser or smart phone.

But, what do you do with the overload of information? It is easy to get lost in the data, wading through a jungle of numbers without a real sense of what they represent. Data can be more than a quick temperature read, more than something that seems positive or negative without a sense of long term implications. Used as component of your personal tool kit, data can be a very powerful tool on the road to making a change.

Data from the last Games & Impact Team training ride before our race. This is an example of how the Runkeeper app presents the workout map, elevation, and speed information.

Data from the last Games & Impact Team training ride before our race. This is an example of how the Runkeeper app presents the workout map, elevation, and speed information.

What types of goals can benefit from data collection? All of them! Of course, health and fitness related goals are some of the first to come to mind. Fitness tracking devices and apps are becoming standard on newer phones, and some companies are offering them to employees to encourage healthy behaviors. With any change you have in mind, there your starting point and your desired result. The progress between the two can be planned, realized, and measured.

Let’s break it down:

The Goal
Creating your goal is perhaps one of the most important steps to success.The key to a good goal is determining what success looks like for you. Perhaps you want to reduce stress. Great! So what does that look like? Maybe that means you want to spend 5 minutes breathing deeply each evening, or take a yoga class, or spend one evening a week with friends. Thinking about a fitness goal? Frame your fitness goals in terms of what you would like to be able to do, in my case, I want to be able to cycle 55 miles in a day.

The Plan
Successful projects start with a plan. Think of your plan as an iea of the steps needed to get from A to B and resources you need to accomplish each step. It is helpful to assign the steps to a timeline or schedule to help you keep track (collect data) on your progress. It is also helpful to be flexible with yourself as you go along. When I jumped back on my bicycle for the first time in a year just a few months ago, I was riding 7-10 miles at a time. I knew that in order to accomplish 55 miles, I would have to add a few miles to the total each week. I threw in a few rounds of hilly rides to build strength, and I had a fairly simple, reasonable training plan.

Do It!
This is the part where you have to dive in with both feet. It is easy to become trapped in “paralysis by analysis”, meaning you spend more time planning, mulling, and tweaking the plan, that you never getting around to the doing and the learning by trial. You will never really get any data to improve the plan until you test, so once you have a reasonable draft of your plan, move forward and try it! You may discover right away that there are pieces of the plan that need to be revised, the point is to that getting started will help you build forward momentum.

You will want to use some method of tracking to help you gather data about your progress. This can be a fitness tracker that you wear, a website that lets you log activities, or simply a spreadsheet that you create. We will talk more about some of the methods we are using later and you can see an example of the Runkeeper app in this post (pictured above, left). Right now though, the form is less important than the function, whatever you choose should be something you will use consistently.

Tweak and Improve
Once you begin tracking your progress, it is time to review where you are at in terms of your longer term goals. If you are meeting the progress points on your timeline, take a moment to celebrate your early successes! If you find yourself off schedule or just not making progress, take a bit of time to review the data you have collected and have an honest assessment of why you are off track. Are there factors that are interfering with your ability to consistently follow your plan? It might be that it will simply take longer to achieve your goal, in which case adjusting your timeline might be the right move.

Congratulations, you just used data to inform your plan design! Most plans will yield better results when tweaked and adjusted over time, don’t be afraid to experiment, but if you are making steady progress, don’t be afraid to stay the course.

Tracking data has been an important part of training for the Tour de Tucson with the Games & Impact Cycling Team, what data can you track to help achieve your goals?

The Cake is a Lie: Easter Eggs in Video Games

What is an Easter egg?

I finally understood what all the fuss was about. In addition to finally playing through Portal, I finally understood the reference to “the cake is a lie” throughout video game and internet culture. As I walked through the room where “the cake is a lie” is plastered on the walls I felt that my status in the video game internet community was elevated. Not only did the Easter egg add some fun narrative to the game, it also made me feel like I belonged even more in the video game internet community. I was now able to contribute to the discussion.

Deep in the world of Portal, you find “the cake is a lie” easter egg.

Deep in the world of Portal, you find “the cake is a lie” Easter egg.

In video games Easter eggs are the “hidden properties of games that can be revealed by button combinations or by accessing remote areas in the game or on the disc itself,” says Colin Oguro, writer for Gamespot in his post on The Greatest Easter Eggs in Gaming. Easter eggs range from new and different ways to play a game, hidden music tracks, to visual oddities that a player would have to connect to a backstory to truly understand, just to name a few.

When designers put Easter eggs in games they do so for a few reasons. Easter eggs can identify the game as the designer’s creation. Easter eggs might also aim to create an emotion in a player and these emotions have an impact on the player’s experience with a game.

An Easter Egg for the Game Creator


The first recorded video game Easter Egg in the game Adventure. Programmed by Warren Robinett in 1979 while working for Atari.

In Atari’s 1979 game Adventure, programmer Warren Robinett implemented one of the first Easter eggs in a video game. In an interview, Robinett says to get to the Easter egg the player has to find the gray dot. After finding the gray dot, he said, “[y]ou had to take the dot and use it to get through a side wall, below and to the right of the Yellow Castle, and then you got into the secret room, which had my signature in it: ‘Created by Warren Robinett.’”

At that time Robinett’s company did not credit programmers in a games packaging or materials. Robinett said that this influenced his decision: “Yes, this was part of the motivation to put my signature in the game”. Robinett implemented the Easter egg as a way to claim his work and make a statement to Atari.

Robinett risked losing his job in making this statement to Atari. Programmers and designers who work for large companies still face this risk when they put their own personal touch on their games. However, they still risk their job because they feel the risk is justified.

An Easter Egg for the Game Player

As I mentioned earlier, besides identify a game as a designer or programmer’s creation, Easter eggs can to bring about a emotions for players. Rebecca Hoffman, graduate fellow at ASU’s Center for Games & Impact shared her experience uncovering an Easter egg in the game Math Blaster: 3rd Grade. By beating levels on a certain setting, Hoffman found out that she could unlock a clues. Then, she used these clues to find a room with a large amount of gems (which help players to track their scores).

“So I figured out this code and it was the most gratifying experience because I felt like I really solved something”, Hoffman said. This success drove her to return to the game repeatedly, “I remember continuing to go back and play the game over and over again, just so I could keep unlocking the Easter egg because it was just so worth it and it made it so much fun.”

The Impact of Creating Easter Eggs

Some games, like Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, knowingly acknowledge the existence of easter eggs. In this case, saying that there are no Easter eggs is an Easter egg in itself. Creating a bond between the designer and player.

Some games, like Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, knowingly acknowledge the existence of Easter eggs. In this case, saying that there are no Easter eggs is an Easter egg in itself.

Future game designers can draw on experiences like Hoffman’s when developing their own games. Game creators can emulate Robinett and leave an identifying mark or object in a game. Sometimes, these Easter egg moments grow into something much larger, as is the case with Portal’s “the cake is a lie”. By surveying the history of video game Easter eggs, listening to player feedback, and taking stock of my own experience, I see that Easter eggs can add new layers of meaning to the experience during, and even outside of, playing the game.

For more about Easter eggs in video games:

What examples of Easter eggs have you found? What Easter eggs did you find impactful? Please share stories about discovering your favorite video game Easter eggs.

Ben Pincus is an Innovation Lab Manager and Designer with the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab. You can find out more about Ben at or follow Ben @benthegamemaker on Twitter.

Gamestar Mechanic and Collaboration

Gamestar Mechanic is not just about one person sitting at a computer creating their own game, although it can be. A big part of the Gamestar Mechanic experience is the interaction with other people. Since the most common application of the game is in a classroom setting, the player is rarely creating by themselves. The student has their teacher, classmates, as well as other creators online to comment on their creation and give feedback. This turns creating a game into a group event, as opposed to an individual one.

Looking to use Gamestar Mechanic as a collaborative project with your students? Check out this video!


Instant Feedback

One of the great advantages of playing this game with a classroom full of students is the sheer number of game critics that the designer has at his/her fingertips. When a designer makes a mistake, or when a designer does something great, their peers are there to give feedback. This can bring about a sense of accomplishment when a designer succeeds and an understanding of what to improve on when the designer makes a mistake.

Critiquing Others

Not only can the designer get feedback from other designers, one can give others help on what to do. This does not only help the designer getting the feedback but, in the same way that teaching someone else gives you a better understanding of the topic, one can get a better understanding of game design by helping others. When used in a classroom setting, teaching other students can help to empower the designer and gain confidence


Become Part of a Larger Community

Gamestar Mechanic has created the space for a community to develop. In this community, designers are able to review other designer’s games. In a similar way to the classroom setting, this is on a much large scale. The designer can publish a game and watch as the reviews are posted. The designer can then take what the reviewers say and either modify their existing game and republish it, or use that information when developing their new game.  It is not just player designers who are able to review games, at a certain point in the Online Learning Program, developed by E-Line Media around Gamestar Mechanic, actual industry professionals are called upon to look at and critique a amateur designer’s game.  This does not only offer the amateur designer valuable information about how to improve their game, it offers them a look inside the mind of industry professionals and can build a relationship to the benefit of the amateur designer for future opportunities.

Have you reviewed a game or had your own game reviewed? Tell us your experience in the comments below!

Gamestar Mechanic: A Game about Games

Critical thinking, problem solving, and imagination important skills for kids today. Gamestar Mechanic, December’s game of the month, produced by E-Line Media, encourages players to use these these abilities to get through the game. At its core, Gamestar Mechanic is a game about games. In the first half, players learn how to play by being taught simple mechanics, such as how to move, how to identify objectives, and how to avoid enemies. The second half of the game is about designing games. Starting off with simple objectives and moving on to more complex ones, the player is introduced to the world of game design. The second half of the game shows that game design is not as scary as one may think. Instead of “lessons”, students play “quests” in which rewards are given that the player can use to build their own levels and games.

Gamestar Mechanic Designing a game

For more information about Gamestar Mechanic, including links to resources and content, visit our Gamestar Mechanic page!

Gameplay Quests

As the gameplay quests get more difficult, one must use critical thinking to solve the level. In some levels, the sides of the screen interact with each other, similar to Pac-Man. One can run through the side of the screen and come out the opposite side while avoiding enemies and collecting enough points for the door at the end of the level to open. When thinking outside of the box, the level becomes easy. Gamestar Mechanic’s first handful of quests are about how to play games. From the very simple, such as how to move one’s character, to the more complex, such as the best way to accomplish known objectives, the game gives quests for the player to accomplish in order to understand these concepts. The story is centered around a character named Addison who joins the league of game designers at Factory 7. Addison must first learn how to play games before designing them. In each level, the player is given specific instructions about what is to be accomplished, from making it to the end without losing all of your health to getting 30 points to unlock the door at the end of the level.

Playing a published game Designing a platform game    

Design Quests

After one learns enough about gameplay mechanics through playing the levels, the design quests start to pop up throughout the story. One is free to solve them in complicated ways, which may involve many passageways and other difficult objects, or in simple ways, such as getting to the door the quickest. Unlike the gameplay quests, the end goal of getting through the design quests is learning how to create a game using the design mechanic. If done successfully, one will be able to use all the mechanics encountered in the game to let their creativity flow and create a game that they are truly proud of. Through this creation process, the player learns about the general way that game design works. One can then have enough information to pursue game design education if one finds it interesting.

Educational Experience

Gamestar Mechanic was created as an educational tool to teach students about games and game design. On the Gamestar Mechanic site, teacher resources are numerous. The site hosts videos which talk about the game and the community built around it as well as an overview of how students benefit when they learn about game design, among other things. Not to mention the game was created in such a way as to make it extremely easy for a teacher to implement in the classroom. By dividing up all the quests into subsections, the lesson plan for the teacher can become streamlined and less stressful.

Sharing Your Creations

E-Line Media has created a community around their game within which designers can discuss design ideas, and even play each other’s games. In their “Game Alley”, one can browse the available games that other designers have published, play each others games, and can review the game of another. This adds a sense of accomplishment for the game designer who created a game that has a high review score even long after they designed the game. One of their creations, something which would not exist if it were not for them, was played and enjoyed by another to such an extent that a high review score was given.

Stay tuned all month for weekly blog posts about this great game. If you are a teacher try to think about how you would use Gamestar Mechanic as a tool to teach your students.  

Have you played Gamestar Mechanic? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

The Importance of Political Games

With the Presidential Election only just a month away, it is important to look at the impact of political games on the election as well as how people learn about the election process. While political games of the past have been little more than new renditions of old games which include the faces or views of current politicians, there is a type of political games now gaining popularity. This new type of games emphasizes the election process itself, instead of taking the side of one politician or another. It seems that political games are moving away from, for example, having the player be Mitt Romney and shoot down pieces of paper with the word “Obamacare” on it. Political games are important for citizens in a democracy because of what citizens learn through playing the game. By educating citizens about the democratic process, voters are able to make informed decisions when they go to the voting booth. Since we are given so much power in a democracy, we should use that power intelligently, and vote for things which are truly in our best interest.

Potential presidential candidates have tried in the past to create games which further their political interests by being for, or against, certain political views. Indeed, this model still exists today. One only needs to go to to see the adaptation of Nintendo’s Super Mario world into a politically motivated game designed to get votes. With the same graphic style and game play as the original, Super Obama World simply places Barack Obama in the place of Mario and replaces the original story and game play elements with things that related to the candidate. Being more of a political advertisement, this game doesn’t educate the player about the political process.

In addition to educating the player about the political process, political games should be about educating the player about the issues that are at stake and letting the player make a conscious decision. That is why many of the quality political games are tailored to be used in a classroom environment. For example, the game suite iCivics, at, has many flash based games which help students learn about the government and its processes. There is a section on the site for teachers, and all of the games are completely free.

For the rest of this month we will take a look at some of the political games that are more designed to inform, rather than place an opinion about a candidate subconsciously into the players mind. What is even more desirable about these games which place an emphasis on the education of the election process is that, for the most part, they are quality games that are free.

It may be difficult to say exactly what the desired goals for political games are. Should they be created in order to subconsciously implement an opinion about a candidate into a potential voters head? Should they be created in order to make money? Or, as I believe, political games should be created in order to help the player make conscious decisions about issues that effect her/him most?

What do you think the role of political games be? Should political games be just glorified political ads, like Super Obama World? Should political games be used in the education process to help people learn about the political process? Can these two types of games co-exist? Let us know!

Why Games?

Computer and video games have emerged as one of the most powerful mediums of the 21st Century, generating billions of hours of highly engaged entertainment and surpassing even the film industry in terms of revenues. A growing body of research is also highlighting the enormous potential of games to drive meaningful and measurable learning, health and social impact (see 12).

Throughout the world a broad cross-section of leaders from academia, philanthropy, public and private sectors are eager to harness the power of the medium to create more engaging and effective education models, foster healthy living practices, more efficiently train employees and, engage global youth in the critical issues facing a highly-connected, fast-moving 21st Century world.  Games immerse learners in new levels of interactivity, personalization, engagement, community and complexity driving new and innovative 24/7 play, learning, social interaction, and entrepreneurial models across schools, industry, government, philanthropy and universities (1).

Recognizing the enormous potential of digital games, many leading foundations, academic institutions and government agencies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to harness the power of the medium to further their learning, health and social impact goals.  These investments in research and development are beginning to yield very positive proof-points through pilot implementations.  Unfortunately, however, the majority of these pilot impact game projects have not reached and engaged their target audience at significant scale and even fewer of these projects are financially sustainable.  

There currently exists a significant gap in design, development and publishing expertise within the ecosystem of impact games. There is currently no university hub that focuses on the intersection between the commercial computer and video game industry, the philanthropic and public interest sectors and academia. To fully realize the enormous potential of the medium, there needs be stronger, more innovative public-private partnerships across the commercial game sector, academia and the growing impact games community, as along with more rigorous design, development and publishing methodologies for impact games. With the amount of investment being used to grow this sector, it is our opportunity, if not responsibility, to ensure that this emerging discipline evolves in a manner that best serves the needs of society. The time is ripe and the location is ideal.