AERA Brings Scholars and Thought Leaders to February Knowledge Forum

February 2016

AERA town hall panelistsThirty-one accomplished scholars and a complementary group of national thought and policy leaders met at the AERA Knowledge Forum, February 18-19, in Washington, D.C. A first-of-its kind event in education research, the Forum aimed to connect the science and scholarship of education research to policy and practice emphasizing the value of diverse expertise.
The February 18 event was a “retreat-type” opportunity to examine the knowledge base and potential modes of knowledge utilization. The February 19 event enlarged the conversation to include education policy leaders from the executive branch of government in a roundtable hosted by the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC).

The convening on February 18 featured 13 rapid-fire TED-like talks (“Ed Talks”) on significant research clustered around three themes—how people learn, how we can optimize learning, and how we can foster equitable outcomes. Each cluster was followed by in-depth small group discussions, led by 6 other scholars, partnered with thought leaders, to consider the position and potential of research from the vantage of thought leaders’ roles and need. The Ed Talks served to catalyze these compelling conversations.

The Ed Talk topics and presenters included:
Cluster 1: How do people learn in today’s information and technology-rich world?

  • Learning with an Emotional Brain — Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, University of Southern California
  • Re-Educating the Mind — Patricia Alexander, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Games, Learners, and Innovation — Sasha Barab, Arizona State University
  • Designing Learning for Equity — Na’ilah Suad Nasir, University of California, Berkeley

Cluster 2: How can increasingly diverse schools and classrooms optimize the learning needed to navigate the world?

  • Supporting the Development of Children’s Mathematics — Megan Franke, University of California, Los Angeles
  • The Promise of Advanced High School Mathematics Coursework — Chandra Muller, University of Texas, Austin
  • Identifying and Reducing Racial Threat in Face-to-Face Encounters — Howard Stevenson, University of Pennsylvania
  • Social-Emotional Learning Approaches: Prevent Bullying and Promote Positive School Climate — Dorothy Espelage, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Cluster 3: How can policy and practice foster equitable outcomes for all students?

  • Inequality and Academic Achievement — Sean Reardon, Stanford University
  • High Quality Pre-K: Taking the Road Less Traveled — Steven Barnett, Rutgers University
  • Achieving True Integration in Education — Prudence Carter, Stanford University
  • Understanding the Racial College Completion Gap: Demography, Data, and Stakeholders— Stella Flores, New York University
  • School Accountability: Time for a New Approach — Helen (Sunny) Ladd, Duke University

Building on the talks and breakout groups, a town hall meeting co-facilitated by thought leaders and scholars called on participants to consider new models and institutional strategies to make research more useful and accessible and the strengthen the connection between high-quality research and policy. The town hall discussion, moderated by Jeffrey Henig (Teachers College, Columbia University), included panelists Shirley Malcom (American Association for the Advancement of Science), Laura Perna (University of Pennsylvania), Russell Rumberger (University of California, Santa Barbara), and Thomas Saenz (MALDEF).

The February 19 event featured education research scholars and high-ranking Obama administration officials meeting to engage together in “Bridging Education Policy and Research.” The DPC roundtable, held in the Old Executive Office Building, was hosted by Roberto Rodríguez, deputy assistant to the president for education. Building on the insights and conclusions from the first day of the Forum the roundtable featured scholar presentations and moderated discussions around three topics—New Designs for Learning and Innovation, Promoting Diversity and Conditions for Inclusive Learning, and Addressing Gaps in College Access and Success.

“Spark presentations” were given in each of the topic areas, respectively, by Sasha Baraba (Arizona State University), Prudence Carter (Stanford University), and Stella Flores (New York University). Moderators included Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University), AERA President Jeannie Oakes (UCLA), and Laura Perna (University of Pennsylvania).

Roundtable participants from the Obama administration included Ted Mitchell, under secretary of the Department of Education; James Kvaal, deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Tom Kalil, deputy, director for technology and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and several other officials representing the civil rights, P-12, and higher education areas of the Education Department and Domestic Policy Council.

Read full article here.

School for the Future of Innovation in Society

What does the future hold? David Guston, Founding Director of SFIS, encourages scientists and citizens alike to shape a desirable tomorrow. How? Through the development of innovative ideas that address both existing and foreseeable real-world problems.


As Founding Director, what motivated you to establish the School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS) at Arizona State University (ASU), USA?

My ASU colleagues and I have been working on the societal aspects of science, technology and innovation since the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) moved here in 2004. CSPO was initially created by Michael Crow, when he was Executive Vice Provost for Research at Columbia University, to be Columbia’s science policy think tank in Washington, DC. After Michael became President of ASU in 2002, he made CSPO Director Dan Sarewitz an offer he couldn’t refuse to recreate the centre at ASU – and then Dan made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to join him.

So, in one sense, the founding of SFIS is the culmination of activities that we’ve been engaged in for more than a decade at ASU – just formalised in an organisation that is more recognisable as an academic unit than CSPO was. Over the years, we’ve hired new faculty, instigated the creation of new graduate programmes – namely, a doctoral programme in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology and the Master of Science and Technology Policy – and generated a lot of new research, especially in the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU, which the US National Science Foundation funded with an initial $6.2 million, five-year award in 2005 and renewed for $6.7 million in 2010.

But in another sense, SFIS is a brand new beginning because, first, as an academic unit reporting to the Provost, we are in greater control of our own destiny and, second, as a school embracing ASU’s particular mission of access, excellence and impact, we are taking on new challenges like creating an undergraduate major and minor. Like ASU’s School of Sustainability, SFIS is a school created from a problem in the world, rather than from a centuries-old tradition of scholarship or the coalescing of a professional community. For us, that problem is the complex and sometimes ambiguous role of innovation in society, and the role that we all have in making our own futures.

How is SFIS preparing students to build upon the incredible accomplishments of science and technology in years to come?Incidental_SFIS2

Our students pay a lot of attention to the so-called emerging technologies – like nanotechnology, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and so forth – that are characterised by high stakes, high uncertainty and what I like to call a ‘politics of novelty’, in which it is essentially impossible to say whether synthetic biology, for example, is not novel because it merely extends a millennia-old practice of husbandry and agriculture, or that it is novel because it introduces species that not only have not been, but could not have been, crafted by evolution.

With emerging technologies, we’re operating without much data and with multiple kinds of uncertainty, so the risk paradigm really falls apart. We’re teaching our students to pursue a vision of what we call ‘anticipatory governance’, in which they work toward three capacities. The first is understanding or generating anticipatory knowledge of plausible futures with an eye toward what can be done today to help better establish the path toward more desirable futures. We’re teaching them about upstream public engagement, in which substantive, two-way dialogues can be created between lay and expert communities at a point in time at which the differences between the two are minimised due to those great uncertainties. And we’re teaching them how to integrate knowledge across the traditional two-cultures divide, and not just work in, but lead, cross-disciplinary teams aimed at real-world problem solving.

But our students are also interested in legacy technologies – think in particular about large-scale systems like energy, water and food – in which contemporary innovation certainly plays a role, but the key factor is the interaction of numerous social and technical subsystems that have evolved over decades in complex ways. At SFIS, we challenge our students to think about how social change (like behaviour with respect to energy use) and technological change (such as smart metering of affordable roof-top solar panels) interact such that it makes little sense to speak of one without the other. In other words, we teach them to analyse socio-technical systems. We also focus on knowledge systems; that is, the connections among the various ways in which knowledge is produced, validated, disseminated and consumed across society. And we teach them in both national and international contexts, such as through our Master of Science in Global Technology and Development.

Read full interview here.

ASU STEM Career Camp Summer 2015

Talking to children about careers in gaming

Jake Martin shares on his role as a game design consultant for the Center for Games & Impact.

This week the Center for Games & Impact team spent a day with a group of middle school children as part of their summer STEM career camp experience. The students were interested in what it takes to get started in a career in game design and development.

The morning started with sharing about how games are fun and entertaining and can also be used to teach complex information as part of the game experience. The team gave the students an overview of their background, education, and experiences and then they played the award winning Atlantis Remixed: The Mystery of Taiga River, a 3D immersive game designed to teach students water quality science concepts by taking on the role of scientist and solving the mystery of why the fish in Taiga River are dying.

“Our team took care to bring diversity to the kids’ understanding of the gaming career world,” said Dr. Anna Arici, director of the Quest2Teach project at Arizona State University Teachers College. “The kids were very interested to hear about the different ways the members of our team have put together successful careers in making games from project management, development, producing, art, and marketing.”

career camp students playing video game

Campers play ARX: The Mystery of Taiga River and see first-hand a game designed by the Center’s team and how games are fun and educational.

Questions from the campers centered on what kinds of skills and activities the Center’s team focused on when they were middle and high schoolers. There were also lots of questions about how to get started in coding and art for games.

Here are some resources for you, and the children in your life who might be interested in careers in gaming, to get started on this summer:

CGI awarded ETS grant for game-based assessment project

Transformational Play

Games can be designed to enable players to step into different roles, confront a problem, fail safely, make meaningful choices, and explore the consequences.

The Arizona State University (ASU) Center for Games & Impact (CGI) has been awarded a grant with Educational Testing Service (ETS) to explore the affordances of game-based assessments, with a focus on informing future design and development of interactive computer tasks for National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments.

“In our project, we will build a new game-based assessment item using Unity3D technology to engage learners within in a 3D role-playing game scenario that they are invested. Here, they will be demonstrating what they are able to do by working through a game scenario in which they are making decisions, receiving scenario-based feedback, and having opportunity to optimize their decision.” said Sasha Barab, Professor and Pinnacle West Presidential Chair in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, and Director of the ASU Center for Games & Impact.

3D World Image for ETS Blurb

Student learner navigating 3D environment.

The game-based assessment system proposed would reveal more than an individual’s ability to identify a right answer; instead, it would provide data on the individual’s ability to use what they know to solve a problem in which they are invested, as well as their ability to leverage and optimize their performance using consequential feedback from the scenario. This will allow learners to reveal a greater range of ability, at the same time making the test-tasking situation a positive experience for all.

“The Center’s hope is that this is the first stage of an initial set of game-based strategies focused on enhancing the quality, meaning, and enjoyment of large-scale assessments,” added Barab.

Project development will begin in late spring and will continue through 2015.

The Center for Games & Impact (CGI) mission is to investigate, innovate, and cultivate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges with the goal of unleashing the unique power of videogames to create sustainable solutions for society’s biggest social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges.

PBS Kids’ new online world launches (via USA Today)

Prof. Reed Stevens Talk “Cyborg Learning” on 4/23 at ASU

RSVP below to join us to hear Professor Reed Stevens talk, “Cyborg learning: How our increasingly mobile and networked lives transform the possibilities for learning and education.” This event is sponsored by the Center for Games & Impact, ASU Teachers College, and ASU Learning Sciences Institute.

Description: In this talk, Professor Reed Stevens will borrow the provocative trope of cyborg—a functioning system part human, part machine—to explore what are superficially acknowledged but theoretically and empirically underdeveloped issues for learning and education.Drawing on ideas from distributed cognition and actor network approaches, he will argue that “there’s an app for that” and “just Google it” barely scratch the surface as metonyms for both what and how our lives are being reorganized by our cyborg learning experiences. We explore, work, navigate, search, connect with each other, and play in an ever increasingly media- and information-saturated world. Furthermore, our cyborg learning experiences are thoroughly mediated, as he will show from a decade-long program of research on everyday youth media practices. Taken together, these phenomena have theoretical and methodological implications for research on learning and cognition. Finally, the reality of cyborg learning has massive, uncomfortable implications for 19th and 20th century models of schooling, which obdurately persist. These implications will be considered and possibilities of designing for cyborg learning will be presented.

Event Details:

  • Date: Thursday, April 23, 2015
  • Time: 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM (MST)
  • Location: University Club At ASU (Heritage Room), 425 East University Drive, Tempe, AZ 85281 (click for map)
  • Notes: Refreshments will be served. Click here to view the event flyer.
  • For more information on Dr. Stevens work visit:

Reed StevensSpeaker Bio: Reed Stevens is a Professor of Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. As an ethnographer of everyday experience, Stevens conducts field studies exploring how learning, thinking, and joint action are comparatively organized in range of cultural settings. A leading goal of these studies is to understand the ways that individuals, groups, and standing cultural practices organize and sustain productive activity and, in particular, how people learn together. In the past two decades he has conducted field studies spanning classrooms, professional workplaces, homes, and museums. Topics of prior work have included: STEM learning in and out school, designing by young people and by professionals, learning in families, and media practices among children including video game play, television viewing, and use of mobile devices. Insights from these studies inform designs of new learning technologies and new learning experiences, in both school and out-of-school settings. A current widely adopted project is FUSE Studios (, funded by the Macarthur and National Science Foundations. Stevens has co-led two NSF Centers, one focused on engineering learning (CAEE) and one focused on learning in and out of schools (LIFE). He has expertise with a range of field methods with special expertise in video interaction analysis methods. In 2004 he was awarded the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research & Scholarship in Learning Technologies from AERA. In 2000 he created the video annotation software VideoTraces, among the first tools of its kind.

How ‘Minecraft’ is Transforming Developing Cities Around the World (via Mashable)

Wash Away Mobile Game Challenge by UBS Optimus Foundation (via Innocentive)

Learn more about the Wash Away Mobile Game Challenge by UBS Optimus Foundation at via Innocentive:

“AWARD: $20,000 USD | DEADLINE: 6/19/15 | ACTIVE SOLVERS: 19 | POSTED: 3/23/15 In the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, 5 phones exist for every 2 toilets.

Even in areas with toilets, a lack of education and understanding about proper use has led to 60% of the population practicing open defecation. As a key factor in debilitating health and social inflictions, open defecation is one of the facets that has resulted in an infant mortality rate of 36/1000 (a fifth of these deaths from sanitation related illnesses). This Challenge requires Solvers to present their ideas for a mobile phone game which can educate 5-14 year old children about better hygiene practices and persuade them to instinctively use sanitation facilities rather than defecate in the open. This is a Theoretical Challenge that requires only the submission of a completed application form.”

Click here to read the full challenge brief and visit the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab with your game ideas and for support in developing a proposal.

Play & Design Wednesday: Game teams, hardware and software

Game design documents are a great way to get a video game idea up and running, keep organized, and make sure all bases are covered. However not everyone on a team designs the game. In small indie companies most people tend to have their say, but in the big corporate world, that is not the case. It is good to understand that when creating a video game, each person has his or her own job to do. This post will outline a few roles on a game development team, as well as some of the hardware and software you might need for a digital creation.

The Jobs

A Game Design Team

Game artist and programmer working together.

Game Designer

This is one job that tends to be the most misunderstood. A game designer is neither an artist nor a programmer. In fact, many game designers never get the opportunity to touch the art or the coding, though they will have a say in whether the direction is good or not. The job of the game designer is to create the game itself. This is the person who is at the top figuring out what the game is about, the mechanics, how the art should tie in, how to pitch the game to others, and more. It is one of the most crucial jobs because if the game designer cannot delegate what is and is not working as well as mold the game to be both enjoyable and realistic, then the game will be dead when it is released. The game designer can be a single person in a small company or a group of people in a larger company, and depending on the company and the game depends on what kind of control the designer has. An indie game designer tends to be the lead of the whole project while a game designer at Nintendo may be working under a director. Either way, this position requires people who can be creative and put the player first. Without the game designer’s lead, the artists and programmers cannot hope to accomplish the ultimate vision for the game.


This is the job description we all know the most about. If it was not for the programmer, those beautiful models and well thought out concepts would do nothing. There would be no movement, no skill trees, no awesome action combos, no functional GUI code… basically nothing would work. Did you know though that there are different types of programming jobs? A lot of these jobs go by the descriptions provided by the company. Software engineer tends to be the most common way for a game company to say, “hey we need a programmer for this game”. The description itself can vary though. Some programmers focus on maintaining servers while others act more like playtesters who find the bugs in the program. Other programmers may deal specifically with visual effects and yet others may deal specifically with physics. It is a good idea to look at game companies you know and love to get an idea about what each listing really means.


Like programming, we all know what the artist is responsible for, but the art department is, in some ways, more heavily divided than programming. Within the art department of a game company there can be character artists, environment artists, weapons artists, technical artists, UI artists, 3D artists (modelers), and animators. This is not to say that a character artist cannot make a 3D model of that same character, but many game companies do this so that the character artist can focus on coming up with designs while the modelers focus on bringing those designs to life. Though the department may be segregated, it is the job of the art director to oversee it all and ensure collaboration between everyone. The job of the team of artists starts at the concept art level and works its way up until the models are fully textured, rigged, and animated. Research what kinds of art jobs game companies put out in order to fully understand the expectations of a specific listing.


Those three jobs may be the most well known, but that does not mean that other jobs do not exist. If your game is going online, you better have someone who knows how to make a website. What about a marketer to help get the word out? And if the game you are making is controversial, it may be good to invest in a public relations person to make sure your game only receives the right kind of publicity and to shut down any poisonous rumors that may affect sales. The more money you have to create a game, the more you can afford.

The Hardware

Before we even touch the software portion of game creation, it is important to understand that game-making is going to require hardware that can withstand the demands each software program is going to put on it.


Mac or PC is a decision that matters. If you are going to be programming and using game engines, you will need a PC. Macs have the ability to code and even run game engines, but the way they handle it is less than optimal. Plus most IDEs are created to run on PC rather than Mac, so a PC will have more of them readily available. However, many artists prefer Macs for artistic endeavors because of the UI, graphics processing, and display. If you are indecisive about which to get because you enjoy the Mac displays and the PC processing, then mixing a Mac monitor with a PC computer tends to satisfy both worlds rather equally.

As to the hardware requirements, it is best to get a list of your software prior to buying a computer for the endeavor. If you plan to use the latest and greatest software, then you will need to use the latest and greatest computer to run it, and that is going to cost big time (usually $5k+). However if you are fine cutting back on software that is a year older or more, your computer prices will begin to seem more manageable. Still the best idea is to talk to friends and find the best deals that money can buy. Some places may even have an International Game Developer’s Association or a place to go for game startups that will allow you and your team to use their computers and software. Just know that this route may have other costs such as providing them with a percentage of your sales.

Examples of computer requirements:


Any other hardware needed for the game is all up to personal tastes. Some might want an expensive mouse and others may not care. Artists will tend to want either a tablet or a cintiq to make digital drawings faster and easier. If you want realistic motion in your animations, you are going to have to find a space for motion capture. It is best to know what you can afford and what you and your team gravitates towards as to any other items needed for the game.

The Software

And of course, video games cannot be created without the proper software. The core needs for any game are a game engine, an IDE for programming, and art-related software.

Game Engines

Every single game needs a game engine in order to run properly. Without a game engine, the programming is useless because there is nothing for the code to affect. There are many types of game engines that are free to use, and quite a few more that are beginning to become more affordable with subscription prices at $10 or $20 a month. Of course, there is also the alternate route of coding a game engine from scratch so that it will specifically run based on your game’s mechanics without the other unnecessary items. The route you choose depends on what you need in your game. If you are completely new to the game-making process, then going the route of a free game engine like Unity 3D is probably the smartest way to go. If you are familiar with game-making then it all depends on what you need from your game. For example, Unreal Engine has been known to handle more polygons than Unity 3D. If you or another person you know has superior knowledge in programming, then it may be better to focus on creating an engine that will handle what you need.

For the Artists

Photoshop, Illustrator, 3DS Max, Maya, ZBrush, Motionbuilder, and more. If it is made by Adobe and Autodesk then the artist will probably need it. However not every single piece of software needs to be invested in. A game that is only two-dimensional will not require 3D modeling programs like 3DS Max or Maya. However a three-dimensional game is going to need both 2D and 3D software for concepts and modeling. However if you are a student you are in luck. Adobe Cloud is relatively cheap for students with a monthly plan of $19.99 a month or $239.88 prepaid for a year with no commercial restrictions. Autodesk’s student versions are free for three years. However, any content made in the student version cannot be sold, so if you are planning on making a game to sell on the market, you are going to need to shell out anywhere between $4,000 to $7,000 for one program or a suite. Autodesk also allows for monthly subscriptions, but you will still be paying $300 each month. If you are relatively new to the field you could try running Blender, which is a free 3D modeling program, and Inkscape, which is a free 2D drawing program.

For the Programmers

Programmers are going to need IDEs to work in. Considering how many free IDEs there are, this is probably the least expensive department in terms of software. Eclipse is a very popular free IDE, and Microsoft Visual Studio is a very popular IDE that has a 90 day free trial with its basic package costing $20 a month per user. Each IDE has its own strengths and weaknesses, and programmers tend to know what they want from their IDE. It is also important to note that most game engines already have an IDE built-in so acquiring an IDE may not be necessary. However, programs like Github are great tools for sharing code with other members, and it allows for projects to be worked on in multiple locations.

From game design documents to jobs and materials, the process of creating a game is costly in both time and money. It is no surprise why kickstarters for games seem to be so expensive. Nonetheless now that you know the cost of a game, you are even closer to understanding what it really takes to create a video game.

January Brown Bag: Science & Learning Games

Join us for the first CGI Brown Bag Speaker of 2015!

Professor Rikke Magnussen, visiting from Aalborg University of Denmark, will talk about community driven science learning games, and scientific discovery games for science education. Magnussen will share insights from four years of research into these types of games related to: 1) students reflective embodied learning of highly theoretical quantum physics concepts, and 2) authentic player identity in the game-research collaboration context.


  • January 22, 2015
  • ASU Tempe Campus, Payne Hall Room 129
  • 12:00-1:00 pm
  • Click here for the event flyer

Learning, Literacies and Technologies at ASU Teachers College

ASU Teachers College’s graduate programs are listed in the top 20 (among 245 public and private graduate programs nationwide) of the 2015 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings released earlier this year. In Arizona, the Teachers College ranks first among graduate programs in the state. Masters candidates and graduates looking to take educational transformation, innovation, and research to the next level are invited to learn more about and apply to the ASU Teachers College new Doctor of Philosophy in Learning, Literacies and Technologies.

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Teachers College graduate student, Kelly Tran, said she chose the Learning, Literacies and Technologies (LLT) program specifically for the award-winning faculty, including Dr. Elisabeth Gee, associate director for the Center for Games & Impact and Tran’s adviser since joining the program.

“The support we have received as first year doctoral students has been tremendous, and it is clear that the new LLT program has been made a priority,” said Tran who is also a graduate student fellow with the Center, “It’s rare to have such access to mentorship and resources. I’ve learned more about research by working on social impact and games projects than I ever expected to my first year.”

“We are really proud to be a part of ASU’s Teachers College and many of the initiatives that the Center has been able to advance as part of our mission to investigate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges, focus on innovating and transforming education in the United States and around the world. Among the reasons we can carry out our research successfully the exemplary graduate students LLT students we have working with us this year. We are excited to work with new LLT program students in the next year as the program grows,” said Sasha Barab, executive director for the Center for Games & Impact.

From the ASU Teachers College Website:

The [LLT] program draws from a rich array of theoretical perspectives, research traditions and content disciplines that enable graduates to address the complex nature of research in schools and other educational spaces, and advance their scholarly contributions to education. Students graduate equipped to develop interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems and issues.

View the LLT Program Guide for additional information including a list of program courses.

What We’re Playing: Gift Ideas

What We’re Playing is an occasional post from the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab highlighting fun and interesting games we’ve played recently, whether work-related or not. This month we will highlight games that our players thought might made good holiday gift ideas. In this first post check out game gift ideas for teens through adults who play on the PC or console systems. In our next few posts we will also make recommendations for younger players and mobile gamers.

**Note: Each game’s image is linked to the game or developer website where you can find more information about the game and purchasing.

A 2014 Favorite: Transistor (Steam, Mac, PS4)

Adam Ingram-Goble, CGI Director of Innovations, played the action roleplaying game, Transistor, this year and really enjoyed the experience. “Transistor is a sci-fi action game from Supergiant Games, the same studio that brought us Bastion (also a great game),” he says. “One of the things I love about Transistor is how it creates a playful narrative around programming and operating system concepts, such as processes, interrupts, and scheduling. As a result it is a beautiful role-playing game that leverages computational-thinking skills and knowledge to drive the action-strategy game mechanics. It is also relatively short, has a cute narrative, but it’s worth noting that it does include a traumatic ending.”


Recently Released: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Xbox, PlayStation, PC)

Michael Garcia, CGI Innovation Lab Designer, recommends the new generation, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare (CoD: AW), saying this edition added some new features that weren’t mind bending, but adds refreshing new dynamics for fans of the old Call of Duty formula. “The exoskeleton robotic system designed to make soldiers stronger, faster and heighten their reflexes on the battlefield allowed them to jump dash and sprint faster and higher then previous games,” he said. “This makes the game play a much quicker and an intense experience.”

CoD: Advanced Warfare

Serious Gamer: Civilization 5 (PC, Mac)

Doug Woolsey, CGI Lead Game Designer, says Civilization 5 is the gift for new and experienced gamers, alike. He adds, “If the gamer in your life does not have Civ 5, they haven’t earned their gamer wings. It is an excellent strategy game with tremendous replayability and provides opportunities for players interested in exploring strategies not restricted to warfare. With excellent community support and a lot of extra content, Civ V is an experience into which a gamer can sink hundreds of hours.”

Civilization 5

An Older Game for a Newer Gamer: Journey (PS3)

Graduate Student Fellow, Earl Aguilera, recommends Journey and recommends it for those that might be new to the world of gaming. He says, “My mind can’t help but go back to my first experience with Journey (Playstation 3) back in 2012. The game’s intriguing presentation, intuitive controls, and subtle, yet compelling storytelling blend beautifully to create a memorable experience for both experienced and first-time gamers alike.”


Revisiting a “Classic”: Portal2 (PC/Mac, Xbox 360, PS3)

Michael Springer, Contributing Blogger, also recommends a game that’s been around for a bit. He says, “for anyone who missed it when it was new, Portal2 is certainly worth tracking down. You wake up in the distant future, unsure of your past, and must make your way through an old research facility, solving puzzles to continue moving forward. While fun in single-player mode, Portal 2 includes a cooperative 2-player mode with a different set of puzzles from the single-player game. With recent console games, multiplayer often means playing with others online, but Portal 2 allows you to actually play with someone else in the same room as you. There is also very little violence, although the difficulty of the puzzles might not make this appropriate for very young.”



What games are you giving?

What did we miss that belongs on this list? Do you have a favorite game gift that you’re giving this year for the teen through adult audience? Please share the titles and a sentence or two about why you’re choosing to gift the game.

Enriching lives and minds through education (via ASU Teachers College)

Play & Design Wednesday: Creating a Design Document

So, you want to make a video game.

You have an idea already in mind with the art style, mechanics, sounds, and everything else. All you need now is a team of people to get the project moving forward, right? Here is the best advice I have: slow down.

You are not going anywhere until you write down these huge ideas 1) for you to evaluate, and 2) for someone else to see.

What you need is a game design document.

What is a game design document?

A game design document is a “living document” that contains every aspect of a game and presents the vision to the production team and future publishers. A few of the details included in a game design document are story, art style, mechanics, platforms, levels, and any other important characteristic of the game that artists and programmers may need to understand to produce the game’s components. The document is called a “living document” because the process for good game design is one of constant revision as the game is first conceived, iterated on, and then implemented.

Why is the design document important?

Many times a designer comes to the table jazzed about a new idea so grand that it is unrealistic or impossible to produce the game by deadline. Using a game design document helps to clarify what is realistic and necessary. Instead of focusing on creating the next entirely realistic fantasy game, with a completely randomized open-world that spans four countries in entirety, a design document can show the creator the reality of the difficulty of creating that kind of game, and can clarify the realistic costs of implementation. So instead of realistic art, the designer may realize that stylized art is more manageable, timely to produce, and cost effective. In this situation, the designer might also recognize that some amount of linear scripting is more helpful to the story than randomizing every interaction.

Game design documents also help keep the entire production team on the same page. On the one hand, it is nice to have artists and programmers look to the designer for help in their work, but after several weeks it becomes time consuming and less than desirable. If production is taking time trying to find the designer to ask questions, that is less time spent on the work itself. A game design document helps give vision to the artists and programmers so that their time is spent on the work for the designer’s approval. It streamlines everyone’s jobs, meaning deadlines are easier to meet.

What goes into a game design document?

While game design documents are central to the creation of a game, there is not one overarching or correct template for creating one. The content of the document depends a lot on the game and the designer’s vision for it. Some games may be mechanic heavy while others are mainly artistic and still others may be entirely driven by story. Even though there is not one way to make a design document, it is important to remember to keep these subjects in mind when creating one.

Overview: The people reading the document, whether they are publishers or teammates, need to know, at the core, what the game is about. The overview should be to the point without sacrificing necessary details to understand the game, and it should not describe a game in terms of other games without further description. It is ok to use other games to give an idea, but if it is not backed up by other specifics that make the game its own entity then the idea will not be clear to others reading it.

Technicalities: It’s nice to think about what a game will look like, but ultimately the player is the one playing the game, not the creators. This means that every aspect of the game’s controls needs to be explained. If there are skill trees, they need to be portrayed. If the game has a combat system, then how does that system work? If there are lives or health then what affects that system? What buttons can the player push to perform an action? Every small detail needs to be outlined as intimately as possible so that the programmers know what to program and the publishers understand the gameplay. It also helps the designer have a better idea of the function of the game as a whole and how every system and subsystem works together.

Story: This comprises of everything from the main characters to the culture of the world. A breakdown of levels may also be important to the game document if the game is level heavy. By defining the characters (playable and nonplayable) as well as the world’s culture and build, the artists will have a better idea about the direction the designer wants to focus on. Even sidescrollers cannot be created without some idea of the progression of each level and what the ultimate goal is.

Target Audience: This not only helps the document writer, but it also helps the others involved in the process know who to appeal to. If the game targets children between the ages of 5 to 8, then it’s not a good idea to write character scripts that are above a certain reading level. It may also be a good idea to focus on an art style that appeals more to children than adults. However the target audience is not just defined by age, it is also defined by gender and even personality. Games like Borderlands thrive on people who love morbid humor, and it is obvious that humor is part of their target audience. Describing the target audience is one of the most important parts of a design document because it affects how the story should be written and how the game should be played. If the game does not cater to a certain person, then the message is lost and the game becomes bland.

Below are some examples of design documents and the many ways that they can be conceived:

What’s next?

Now you have a general idea of the importance, utility and components of a game design document and you have realized that writing it takes a lot of effort. The only thing left to do is to start. Draft a game idea into a design document of your own. Have others read through it and give you feedback it takes a lot of practice to create a design document that is understandable and realistic.

The good news is, game design documents are edited constantly through the game creation process to match the ever-changing vision and reality of the game. Just as your game will change through iteration, so will the document. Do not worry about getting the perfect design document together, just get started and know that just as every game has failed concepts that have to be scrapped or redone, so might your game design document. Embrace this mentality and it will benefit your game, and you as a designer in the long run.

Playing for Health: The Games & Impact Cycling Team

From building an activity habit to starting a cycling team

Zombies, Run! Logo

Aside, have you played Zombies, Run!? It is a great way to bring more zombie apocalyptic fun into your day in 30 minute to one-hour chunks.

This year CGI Innovation Lab team spent some time running. Well, for some of us (ahem, me) “jogging” is probably a better way to describe it… It all started with someone’s crazy idea that we should run together in the Warrior Dash in April 2014. A few months later, we found ourselves playing the mobile running game, Zombies, Run!, while working on a Public Health Impact Guide themed “Building an Activity Habit.” (What are Impact Guides? Learn more about them here.) The guide for Zombies, Run! prompts players to use the mobile game to build a regular walking or running activity habit and think about how a game-infused tool can support the success of this habit in a new or different way.

So, one of the outcomes of working on this guide and playing this game together is that it led our team at work to talk about other activities we enjoy and how we use game-infused tools to support achieving our activity goals.

Fast forward a few months and the (not-so-)crazy idea to ride in El Tour de Tucson’s 55 mile race distance and a little racing has turned into a bigger thing – the launch of the Games & Impact Cycling Team.

Going from an idea, to a race, to a team

Founding members of the Games & Impact Cycling Team

Founding members of the Games & Impact Cycling Team from left: Adam Ingram-Goble, Kathryn Dutchin, Juli James and Sean James (not pictured)

Maybe it’s not totally news that games for health and wellness is growing and we are seeing seeing changes and learning what works at the industry and individual levels. The developing goal of our team is to work together to look at how these game-infused tools are helping our society to rock positive changes in our daily lives (to start). Do you use interfaces to track your activities across devices? What’s worked for you? And, do you share your goals in a group or work on things individually? We each use, or have at least tried, many of the the myriad of health and activity trackers out there from wearables**  like the Jawbone Up24, Nike’s Fuel Band, or the Fitbit One. We also have played with smartphone and GPS tools like myfitnesspal (for diet data), Runkeeper, and Breeze (running, cycling, and walking), and each of us has brought a new flavor of activity (in addition to running and cycling, things like kettlebells or aerial fitness) to the table since we began “talking fitness” together throughout this year.

After running from zombies with co-workers, to jumping into that Warrior Dash together, and now forming the cycling team we are really looking at how ubiquitous interfaces are changing the knowledge and empowerment we can have over our own wellness picture, including important factors like rest, diet and activity. This is just to tease the early thought process that led us to forming the team. We’ll explore these ideas a bit more in posts as we continue training.

How we’re participating in El Tour

So, we began talking about how we can achieve our individual goals as a team, both challenging and supporting each other throughout the process. We will post more as we progress in our training but for now we wanted to introduce the team and share that we also like the idea that our own health goals can have a larger impact on this world. To that end, we are also participating in fundraising to support this year’s El Tour de Tucson primary beneficiary, Special Olympics.

You can follow along our training and even jump into the conversation with us on social media at our Facebook page or on Twitter with the hashtags #cgicycling and #eltourdetucson. Please donate to our team’s efforts and support Special Olympics.

And, check it out, from our most recent training ride:

#cgicycling Training ride approaches 40 miles!

#cgicycling Training ride approaches 40 miles!

About Special Olympics and our fundraising meter

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. – via El Tour de Tucson

**The mention of any activity tracker or device does not imply endorsement by the Center for Games & Impact. Additionally, we were not solicited by any company mentioned to evaluate any device or app, and neither the Center, nor its employees, received any compensation for doing so.

What We’re Playing for Halloween

What We’re Playing is a twice-a-month series from the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab highlighting some of the interesting games we have played, whether work-related or not. Please join in and comment with your takes on the games mentioned, or to share what you’ve recently played that has left an impression on you. Check out our last post here.

In this edition of What We’re Playing – setting the mood for Halloween! It should be no surprise that a group of gamers is excited for Halloween at the end of the month. When I checked in with the team to see what they were playing since the beginning of October, it turned out most of us were playing games that somehow turned up the creep factor, whether in large or small ways. As usual, click the game image to jump right to its section, otherwise scroll down to read our quick takes on Limbo, Papa Sangre, and Don’t Starve.









Limbo: Disturbing… Dark… Beautiful

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Learn more about Limbo:

I recently revisited the game Limbo, and found that it is still as haunting as ever. Although it may appear whimsical at first glance, the game has a pervading eeriness that makes it exceptionally creepy. The player assumes the role of a young boy who is traveling through.. a dream? The afterlife? It is up to the player’s imagination to fill in most of the details of the story. The game’s palette is a moody greyscale, and everything is shown in silhouette. The player never sees anything in the game in color or detail.

This makes it even creepier when the looming shadow of a giant spider emerges from a tree to impale the young boy, or an unseen bear trap in the tall grass ensnares him. The death animations here are brutal, and the player is sure to see them many times throughout the course of the game. However, despite the violent and often disturbing nature of this game, there is an undeniable beauty to it as well. The animations are fluid and elegant, and the world itself is rendered in a softly hazy way, reminiscent of a dream. Were it not for the multitude of dangers that the player faces, the game’s setting would seem almost serene. While Limbo is a very dark game, its uniquely haunting atmosphere makes it well worth playing.


Papa Sangre: Seeing with your ears

Juli James, Coordinator, Sr.

Juli James, Coordinator, Sr.

Learn more about Papa Sangre:

Papa Sangre is an audio-driven horror game that I played on my iPhone. It was really interesting experience because it was the first time I played a game where I had to “see with my ears.” As a horror experience, Papa Sangre offers intense sounds that made the hair on my neck stand straight up. The story is that I am dead, trapped in the afterlife and I have to navigate a series of rooms to save my love and escape together. As an interesting game play experience, Papa Sangre is played with headphones the entire experience is sound – to get through a room I had to move using the top of the iPhone screen to turn toward or away from sounds, and by tapping alternately on the bottom of the screen to simulate walking. In each room there was a sleeping (snoring, snarling) monster that you must navigate around (WITHOUT WAKING), a light to pick up (a chiming sound that gets louder as you approach), and a door to exit (a beeping sound). If you wake the monster by walking too close to it or bumping into something, it would chase you and eat you while you shriek in terror and pain.

I enjoy mobile gaming and different gaming experiences, I came across this title while reading a piece on gaming accessibility and was not disappointed by the mechanics of having to navigate by sounds – which is a pretty interesting experience. It helps to close your eyes to play this game. If you are looking for a different kind of mobile experience full of creep factor and immersion where sound is not just the atmosphere but also the mechanic – I highly recommend checking out Papa Sangre. The sequel, Papa Sangre II, will be released at the end of the month and I am looking forward to playing it, perhaps right on Halloween!


Don’t Starve: Creepy Minecraft on steroids

Sam Robison, Innovation Lab Intern

Sam Robison, Innovation Lab Intern

Learn more about Don’t Starve:

I started playing Don’t Starve after scrolling around to find something to play on the Center’s PS4. Don’t Starve caught my eye and I decided to play it.

The game starts out with an creepy cartoonish animation. Your character, Wilson, is in his attic trying to ‘do science’ (and is failing). Then, his radio starts talking to him and claims to have the secret of knowledge and offers to share it with him. Wilson graciously accepts the offer and builds a machine that causes a set of shadowy hands to appear from the floor and drag him into a new world.Once Wilson is in the new world a figure appears and says something like, “You don’t look too good. Find food before night falls.”

At that point, I was then sent loose without any explanation of what to do next. I began to think of the game as a creepy version of Minecraft on steroids. The gameplay consists of exploring the world, dealing with monsters, managing hunger, maintaining sanity, and collecting supplies. The only goal of the game is to stay alive as long as possible. Unlike Minecraft, once you die you cannot respawn, but you can but you can play again and again, and try to get better.

What are you playing?

What are you playing that’s making the hair on the back of your next stand-up? Share your favorite Halloween plays with us in the comments!

ASU education initiatives win high-impact grants (via ASU News)

Game-based Approach to Teacher Education at ASU Builds Essential Skills (via Games and Learning)

The Center for Games & Impact is incredibly proud to announce that the Joan Ganz Cooney Center has officially released their case study about the innovative teacher training program Quest2Teach. This initiative is created in partnership by the Center, E-Line Media, the Sanford Inspire Program, and ASU Teachers College faculty and leaders including, Professor Jim Gee, Dean Mari Koerner, Kate Weber, and other ASU faculty and students.

“We are the first case study that Cooney is featuring in their series called “Teaching with Games,” which will profile five of the most creative programs out there aimed at teacher professional development,” said Dr. Anna Arici, director of the Quest2Teach program, “This is great visibility for the Center for Games & Impact, E-Line Media, and our collaborations with ASU, the MLF Teachers College, and Sanford Inspire to innovate teacher education.”


“One of the major trends within education is the idea of developing personalized learning tools that allow a student to develop skills at their own pace. But teaching a teacher how best to use newly created game-based tools takes a different kind of professional development.

That’s where Arizona State University’s Quest2Teach comes in…”

Click here for the full Quest2Teach profile on the Games and Learning website.

Click here to learn more about Quest2Teach.

Additional information is also featured on the Institute of Play’s website:

Helping Youth Thrive in a Rapidly Changing, Digitally Connected World: From Video Games to Blended-Learning Pathways


Sasha Barab, Executive Director

In this presentation, Professor Sasha Barab will first share why games  provide such potential as an innovative curriculum. Based on these  big ideas, he will share learning impact guides available at the ASU Center for Games & Impact and designed to help players, parents, and teachers unlock the power that exists in commercial
and educational games. Attendees will be encouraged to take an impact guide and play at home, or are invited to create an impact guide for teachers that we could make available to others.

Dr. Barab will also share research related to the effectiveness of games for supporting learning. In particular, he will highlight key lessons learned that would allow teachers to get the most out of leveraging game-based learning in their classrooms. Based on these lessons, he will close with a discussion of his recent work around Thrive. Thrive is an approach to learning that harnesses the power of games, simulations and inquiry-based curriculum to help youth thrive in a complex, rapidly changing, digitally connected world.

Click here to download the event flyer.

What we’re playing: Pulse, Papers, Puzzles

What We’re Playing is a twice-a-month series from the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab highlighting some of the interesting games we have played, whether work-related or not. Please join in and comment with your takes on the games mentioned, or to share what you’ve recently played that has left an impression on you. Check out our last post on Destiny here.

This week members of our team experimented with music and rhythm, had a hand at keeping up with changing policies and managing immigration documentation, and one of us lead his sons through a journey controlling two brothers… Click on the game image to jump right to its write up, or just scroll down.

Pulse Papers, Please Brothers






Moving to the pulse

Adam Ingram-Goble

Adam Ingram-Goble, Director of Innovations

Click here to learn more about Pulse

Pulse is a music and rhythm game available on iPad and Android tablets that I find I just have to keep playing. It is a mechanically simple music game, based on tapping nodes orbiting a central “speaker” as pulses of sound radiate out to the edges of the screen. The combination of music with pacing of pulses and the distribution of orbiting nodes creates an experience that engages my whole body as I play. I find myself grooving in my chair, or getting up and dancing with the rhythm to keep my hands moving to the music…which feels a bit amazing given that I’m playing on an iPad.

Pulse is one of my favorite games to introduce non-gamers to gaming because it simple to learn, and has a well-designed challenge ramp that keeps players engaged. One of the most fascinating aspects to the game is how strongly embodied gameplay is, given it is a tablet game. The musical experience is stronger than I’ve experience with Kinect-based dance games, which is really saying something.

More papers, please 

Victoria Janacek, Innovation Lab Intern

Victoria Janacek, Innovation Lab Intern

Click here to play Papers, Please

When I heard of Papers, Please I assumed I would be playing either as some office worker (do not ask me about that logic) or a as an American police officer forced to stop anyone who was not white. Instead I found myself in the midst of the communist country of Artstotzka who had just ended a war and was intent on creating a border patrol area. And I got picked in their October Labor Lottery. Well lucky me! I would sure love to become the border control for a country due to my name being picked from a jar.

Nevertheless, Papers, Please is a game that should be boring. It should be, but it is not. I am not sure how creator Lucas Pope knew how to make checking passports interesting, but he did so with perfection. As the game progresses, nothing really becomes monotonous. In the first level only passports are required to pass the border checkpoint, however only Artstotzkans can be let in. But then in the second stage foreigners are allowed in provided they have the right information. As each level progresses a new mechanic is added to the mix. If the picture does not match the person you can get their fingerprints. If their documents are forged, you can detain them. In the case of terrorists… well I do not want to spoil too much of it now do I?

Brothers playing Brothers

Lee McIlroy, Researcher

Lee McIlroy, Researcher Specialist

Click here to learn more about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

My two boys and I recently played through Brothers, a unique puzzle game where a single player controls both brothers simultaneously. The story is rich with compelling narrative and beautiful artwork that carries the player through an epic journey.

The game’s narrative positions the two brothers as entirely dependent on each other in order to succeed. As a father, our collaboration on the game offered a meaningful opportunity – a teachable moment if you will – to my boys about the value of family, the importance that brothers have in each other’s life and how the choices they make together impact the world they engage with.

Each of us took turns trying to solve the various problems we encountered in the game. What was powerful was my boys’ ability to take turns, learn in the moment, and listen to each other to problem-solve together, which, as any parent knows well, isn’t always easy for siblings to do. As a father, I noticed my own inclination to step in and offer help too quickly. But, the game afforded me a lesson about the value of patience allowing my children to fail safely. For us, Brothers became a shared family activity rather than simply a game that we played.

What did you play this week? Let us know your thoughts on these games or share your different plays with us in the comments.

What We’re Playing: The Destiny Edition

What We’re Playing is a twice-a-month series from the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab highlighting some of the interesting games we have played, whether work-related or not. Please join in and comment with your takes on the games mentioned, or to share what you’ve recently played that has left an impression on you. 

Guardians Moon: Image from

Guardians Moon: Image from

This week’s “What We’re Playing” focuses on BungieStudios and Activision’s recently released game Destiny (2014). Maybe you’ve heard of it? Admittedly, I have not played it, though I was excited to hear Paul McCartney’s video game score. Anyway, this week we have three great players with their early takes on Destiny this week – two from our team in the Innovation Lab, and one from a former graduate student fellow. Have you played Destiny? Leave us your thoughts on Destiny in the comments.

You can skip right to Destiny game impressions from:

  • Rebecca Hoffman, guest writer for the Center and former graduate student fellow who moved from the Center to Microsoft Research New England earlier this summer.
  • Michael Garcia, Innovation Lab Designer for the Center for Games & Impact.
  • Jessie McIntosh, Innovation Lab Intern for the Center for Games & Impact.
  • Around the Web, a nowhere-near-comprehensive set of links to other write ups of Destiny from around the web.

Pausing in digital space: A moment to take in the skies

Rebecca Hoffman, Research Assistant | Microsoft Research New England

Rebecca Hoffman, Research Assistant, Microsoft Research

There is an overwhelming criticism, one perhaps even encroaching on fear, that we have become too attached to our smartphones and technology. This is something most apparent to me in the moments I’m standing on the subway platform, waiting for the train to arrive, and see faces turned downward, illuminated by the screens in their hands. We look up at the sky only through Instagram, see life in filters of Amaro and Walden.

Living in the city means I am almost unable to see the stars anymore, means that I don’t stop to look up as much as I might have used to when I was a child, but this is something realized instead by Destiny, a recent release from Bungie, the studio behind the well-loved Halo franchise. In the heat of battle, just as in the bustle of life, it is sometimes hard to remember to look around and see, with clarity, the beauty that surrounds us. Sometimes we simply can’t, because of where or how we live. But Destiny stops to pause every once in a while and presents the sweeping vistas of a future Earth rendered in gorgeous, lifelike graphics, of a tropical Venus, of the starry sky on the moon. I have watched the northern lights just as I used to in Skyrim, have watched the sun rise over Russia, have watched satellites and space stations float in the darkness of the cosmos. Even in the digital space, I can marvel over the beauty of our solar system, of our galaxy, of our universe. And though I might not be able to see those things from my own window in real life, I am reminded that they are there, hovering where the city lights can’t obscure them.

Perhaps it isn’t that we no longer stop to look up at the sky, but that we can simply do so in different ways.

Bringing the feeling of new back to the ‘ole first person shooter

Michael Garcia, Innovation Lab Designer

Michael Garcia, Innovation Lab Designer

The creators of the popular game Halo – Bungie Studios and Activision – released their new game Destiny last week. Destiny, is a Sci-Fi persistent online first person shooter set in a distant future when the Earth has become a wasteland. The game sets the player on a path as a guardian to restore Earth’s savior and protector, the Traveler (a large planet-like celestial being). My thoughts while playing this week were that Destiny does not reinvent the wheel in first person shooter genre, but it does bring a new sense of teamwork, which has been lost to these games in recent years. I like that players can unite for random world events and join fire teams and complete missions together. By far, this is the most interesting aspect of Destiny. Destiny also caters to players with a more competitive side, but still requires team on opposing sides. My first impressions of Destiny are that it brings a new feeling back to the persistent online first person shooter. So far, new is good, and it seems at this point it can only get better. I plan to continue to invest time in playing Destiny and expect the “good” to change to “great”!

Like Halo, Unlike Halo

Jesse McIntosh, Innovation Lab Intern

Jesse McIntosh, Innovation Lab Intern

Playing Destiny reminds me of many favorite games wrapped up into one neatly polished package. With the core gameplay revolving around the familiar Halo shooting style, I found myself reliving the days when XBox Live first became popular. Unlike Halo, Destiny contains many more elements that allow for personal customization. Instead of being locked in as Master Chief, I get to create my own guardian, choose his race (which only affects appearance), and his class. Meeting up with two of my friends online we stormed through the story missions and collect gear that is dropped by defeated enemies. As I level up and unlock more abilities and gear – like any good MMO – Destiny becomes more and more challenging and it is hard to put the controller down.

Even after completing the initial story missions my team and I group up to fight other players in the PvP arena, the Crucible. Defeating players in matches sometimes gives the reward of rare or legendary loot drops, and this is all the incentive I need to play the competitive multiplayer modes. Bounties can be taken out for both competitive and cooperative missions that give extra experience and other rewards. I find myself constantly going between Crucible matches and cooperative strikes to complete bounties and get my guardian to the highest level. In order to keep things fresh, the developers at Bungie will continue to add more maps, enemies, quests, and gear for some time to come through new raids and expansion packs. Knowing this keeps me committed, I’m ready to get back to playing so that I can continue my personal quest to “Become Legend”.

 A few other takes on Destiny from around the web

Vying for Funds: A Kickstarter Story

CGI lead game designer, Doug Woolsey, and his game project, Sand Hat Games, realized funding for their card game, Vye: The Card Game of Capture and Control, less than 24 hours from launch on Tuesday.

The Sand Hat Games team, made of Woolsey, and colleagues Joe Morrissey and Vince D`Amelio, are veteran game developers who have worked on both digital and table-top games throughout their careers. Woolsey said they have worked on Vye, iterating the art and game play, for about two years.

Doug Woolsey, Lead Game Designer

Doug Woolsey, Lead Game Designer

“We printed versions of Vye through the Game Crafter so we were able to test it out in the world and really refine the game before we were ready to do the Kickstarter. We spent about eight months prepping for Kickstarter and to launch at 5 p.m. and then meet, and begin to exceed our goal by noon the next day… It’s very exciting,” said Woolsey.

About Vye (via

Outwit your opponents as you “Vye” for control!

You are the ruler of a fledgling kingdom in the land of Vye. Around you are untamed lands ripe for the taking. But you are not alone! Other rulers seek to broaden their holdings as well. You must carefully protect your borders even as you race to expand them. Will you control the largest kingdom? Or will you see your power splintered? Plan your moves well – it will take strategy and a little luck to win the battle for Vye!

Vye is a strategy card game played by 2-4 players. The goal of the game is to have the largest connected kingdom when the game ends. You grow your kingdom by placing Land and Building cards on the table, claiming the cards you place and potentially others around them in the process. Vye is easy to learn and can be played in about 20 minutes.

Check out the video and visit the Kickstarter to learn more and download the print and play pre-release version of Vye today.

The campaign closes in 29 days and we will keep tabs on the progress. Woolsey said his team has a few more games in the pipeline and additional funding above what is needed to produce and release Vye will go toward Sand Hat Games next release.

ASU unveils new center to study global education (via ASU Teachers College)

Friday Reads: Is it a sport?

I spent some time today catching up on interesting reads in the world of eSports today and noticed the president of ESPN, John Skipper, mentioned he does not consider eSports to be sports. Here’s Skipper’s quote taken from re/code:

“It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition,” said Skipper last Thursday at the Code/Media Series: New York conference. “Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”

More links on the matter:

And, ICYMI – earlier this year, CGI Innovation Lab Intern, Ross Dunham, wrote a bit on the rise of eSports and the viewership traffic and business trends related to

Ross Dunham

Ross Dunham, Former CGI Innovation Lab Student

The growth of electronic sports — better known as eSports — has been rapid over the last two years. The term eSports is an umbrella that describes the competitive gaming community based around real-time strategy,fightingfirst-person shooter, and multiplayer online battle arena games where teams of four or more compete for trophies and prize pools. As the community has evolved over time, video game developers are being asked to consider eSports when designing. The parallels between professional sports and eSports have become more and more prevalent as 2014 rolls along. Where football and basketball draw millions of viewers on a given night, the gaming community is gaining steam in that department. (click here to read the full piece)

What do you think about sports and eSports? For a general overview, there’s also Ross’s link roundup on eSports from last fall. Here’s a few more recent reads related to the ways eSports is having an impact on the world:

In any case, it seems that when it comes to business, the differences between sports and eSports may not matter. Did you come across anything interesting related to eSports this week? Share your reads with us on Facebook, Twitter, or here in the comments.

ICYMI: Top social media reads for August 2014

What we’re playing as summer turns into fall

Welcome to the first of our new “What We’re Playing” blog series at the Center for Games & Impact. At the Center, we take the power of video games to bring about positive social impact very seriously. And, we also just enjoy playing new (or, new to us) games, sharing these experiences with you and hearing about what other people enjoy playing. This month a few of us spent time revisiting games for education and health, and one of us is enjoying navigating a world as his favorite DC superheroes.

Here are the games we are playing as we say good-bye to summer 2014 and beginning to dig in to the fall semester (*click on the game art to jump right to that summary):

 Portal 2  Zombies, Run!  

Thinking with Portals, again, in Portal 2

Angelica Monserrate, Innovation Lab Student

Angelica Monserrate, Innovation Lab Student

Click to learn more about Portal 2.

Portal 2 has won awarded to numerous awards including winning the title of “Ultimate Game of the Year” in 2011. As a result of its success and fame, I was curious to play and see what the game was about. At each level, the Portal 2 teaches the player new ways to solve puzzles – whether it is getting a laser to point into a certain direction to open a door, or learning to use the different gels in the game – the player learns to manipulate tools and the space around them to advance to the next level. The concept sounds simple, but the puzzles get pretty complex.

I found myself really studying my surroundings in the game to  strategize ways to get objects and move lasers around the room. Since this was my first time playing the game, it took me a while to understand what my task was, and find ways to  solve the puzzles at a faster pace. The game really challenged me to think about how to use portals to think critically about how to use the space around me in the game. A few levels in I had to move my companion cube from another area of the room I was in, onto a moving platform, while I could not leave the platform… Without spoiling the puzzle, I’ll say that I really had to think beyond the obvious to place portals in the right place to move the cube. I enjoy the feeling of strategizing ways in order to solve the puzzle. Overall, I enjoyed playing this game because of its unique features and concept and I understand why so many people are in awe about the game.

Using Zombies to Rebuild a Running Grove

Juli James

Juli James, Sr. Initiative Coordinator

Click to learn more about Zombies, Run!.

This week I started replaying Zombies, Run!, a mobile running game that I spent some time playing when I was just starting a new workout program. In Zombies, Run!, the player is a runner who is sent out on missions to collect supplies and weaponry for a survivor camp after, of course, a zombie apocalypse. There is also a bit of mystery built in for the player, trying to figure out what (or, perhaps who) caused the zombie outbreak, and what is happening in rival survivor camps. The game is a neat experience, and keeps your mind engaged in a story while working out, which can help when building up mental stamina for a new distance running program. It can also genuinely creep you out with zombie sound effects and chases, all while running in what looks like your very own neighborhood.

To play the game, I downloaded it to my iPhone, opened the app and made a few choices: 1) Do I feel like sprinting? Then, zombie chases = On. And, 2) How long do I feel like running? The player can set 30 minute or 1 hour workouts.

I noticed a few updates to the game since I first played. I liked discovering that it is now three seasons long (with each run equaling an episode) and includes a lot of new customization features for workouts. The developers added side missions where the player can pick up supplies in the real world by dropping a pin on the map, create unlimited length runs for supplies, customize interval training workouts, and complete races at various lengths (5k, 10k, 20k). There is also a 5k training plan (for an additional cost) for new runners (or those building up to the 5k distance). It is also important to know that this game can be used for a walking program as well, players do not have to include zombie chases to play the game, and, if a player chose to activate that feature for a walking session, the acceleration from casual walking to speed walking might be enough to evade zombies… (Or, maybe not!)

Role Playing as a Favorite DC Superhero 

Mike Garcia, Innovation Lab Designer

Mike Garcia, Innovation Lab Designer

Find out more about Injustice: Gods Among Us.

I am playing Injustice: Gods Among Us, from the new developers of Mortal Kombat series. Injustice uses the heroes of the Detective Comics (DC) universe, such as Batman and Superman, and pits them against each other in hand-to-hand combat using their powers, abilities, and tools in each match. The game’s story is an alternate universe where Superman is out of control and Batman must use a time warp device to bring other versions (not corrupt) of iconic DC superheroes to work together try and regain control. The game also has a challenge mode, where the player can fight against a series of random characters to climb the ranks of superheroes or villains.

Getting to play as my favorite superheroes and fighting and winning against my least favorites (cough… Superman…) was what drew me to Injustice: Gods Among Us. In comic books these heroes rarely fight each other, but the question of who would win if they did, interests me. Injustice allows for these fights to happen, and levels out the superpower-playing-field, so to speak.  Generally, the game is a fun way to pass time, the rounds go quickly, and are a fun test of either your skills or button mashing abilities (depending on your fighting style). If you are a fan of superheroes, and fighting genre of games, I recommend giving Injustice a go. Play with a friend, and go head to head with your favorite superheroes to settle your debates over who is better.

Share your favorite plays this month with us!

Have you played any of these games? Tell us what you thought of Zombies, Run!, Portal 2, or Injustice: Gods Among Us. We are always looking for new games to play as well, share links to what you are playing right now, too.

E-Line Scaling Learning Games and Impact (via Getting Smart)

Quest2Teach Teaching Tool Review (via Educade)

Starbucks, ASU team up for employee education program

*Cross-posted from ASU News:

June 15, 2014 – Starbucks and Arizona State University have announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a powerful, first-of-its-kind program designed to unleash lifetime opportunity for thousands of eligible part-time and full-time U.S. partners (employees).

Starbucks ASUStarbucks chairman, President and CEO Howard Schultz hosted the first Partner Family Forum in the U.S. in New York’s Times Center and joined ASU President Michael M. Crow and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to officially launch the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. This significant investment will create an opportunity for eligible partners to finish a bachelor’s degree with full tuition reimbursement for juniors and seniors, through a unique collaboration with ASU’s research-driven, top-ranked degree program, delivered online.

Through this innovative collaboration, partners based in the United States working an average of 20 hours per week at any company-operated store (including Teavana®, La Boulange®, Evolution Fresh™ and Seattle’s Best Coffee® stores) may choose from more than 40 undergraduate degree programs taught by ASU’s award-winning faculty, such as electrical engineering, education, business and retail management. Partners admitted to ASU as a junior or senior will earn full tuition reimbursement for each semester of full-time coursework they complete toward a bachelor’s degree. Freshmen and sophomores will be eligible for a partial tuition scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study. Partners will have no commitment to remain at the company past graduation.

“In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American Dream,” said Schultz. “There’s no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it. Supporting our partners’ ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make. Everyone who works as hard as our partners do should have the opportunity to complete college, while balancing work, school and their personal lives.”

Starbucks’ investment is designed to support the nearly 50 percent of college students in the United States today who fail to complete their degrees due to mounting debt, a tenuous work-life balance and a lack of support. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan is created specifically for the company’s partners, and aims to provide an excellent academic foundation along with the flexibility, financing and comprehensive support that working students need to complete their degree.

“ASU is pioneering a new university model focused on inclusivity and degree completion, and Starbucks is establishing a new precedent for the responsibility and role of a public company that leads through the lens of humanity and supports its partners’ life goals with access to education,” said Crow. “We are very pleased to collaborate with Starbucks, who has impressed us with its strong commitment to its employees by providing this unique opportunity for a first-class college education. ASU has the vision, programs and scale to deliver it to Starbucks employees in every part of the country.”

ASU is gaining national attention for its efforts to increase access to high-quality, rigorous education with a focus on inclusion and impact. ASU is ranked the second most innovative school in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and ranks fifth in the nation in producing the best-qualified graduates, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of campus recruiters. Additionally, ASU is among the top producers of students awarded Fulbright scholarships to study and teach abroad, now ranking third in the nation for research institutions, tied with Princeton and Rutgers, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Our investment in high-quality education will attract and retain passionate partners who will move our company and our economy forward,” Schultz said. “ASU’s commitment to provide any talented student from any family background and any income level with a top-notch education makes it the singular partner for Starbucks.”

“I was put here to play music, and my goal is to change someone’s life – at least one,” said Abraham Cervantes, who has been a Starbucks barista for two years. “I want to teach at a university, and for that, you need a college degree. For me, the opportunity to earn my degree means I have the chance to teach others and make a better life for myself and my mom, who raised me and my three siblings on her own.”

In addition to financial support, Starbucks and ASU have developed an innovative retention model to support the unique needs of working students. Partners will have a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and academic adviser to support them through graduation. The program will also include adaptive learning services to help students progress at the right pace for them; networking and community-building opportunities; and additional resources to help students plan their educations.

“We applaud Starbucks’ leadership and vision in the creation of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan,” said Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis. “By so clearly investing in its talent, Starbucks is providing employees with the opportunity to complete college – an investment that will pay off for them as individuals, for the company and for the nation, for generations to come.”

“Those who’ve been clamoring for bold, new initiatives to reduce the barriers to quality higher education in America should applaud this announcement,” added Crow. “As others follow Starbucks’ example, we will hear those barriers come crashing down, to the lasting benefit of all Americans.”

The alliance between Starbucks and ASU was inspired by participation in the Markle Economic Future Initiative, co-chaired by Schultz and Markle President Zoë Baird, with Crow as one of its members. The initiative is committed to expanding opportunities that help Americans succeed in the global digital economy and reignite faith that the American Dream is achievable.

“This pioneering collaboration between Starbucks and ASU is exactly the kind of innovative action this country needs to help Americans reach their dreams,” said Baird. “This is a breakthrough in using online learning, backed by the financial resources that make it possible to participate. America urgently needs leadership to help people successfully transition to today’s economic realities. Howard Schultz and Dr. Michael Crow understand the challenges we are facing as a nation. Their commitment to the Markle Initiative and to embracing a more hopeful vision of America’s economic future is a path I encourage all leaders to follow.”

Watch Schultz and Crow address hundreds of partners in New York, live at the first Partner Family Forum in the U.S. on Monday, June 16, at 7:45 a.m. PT by visiting To watch a video, download photos and read interviews and stories with Schultz, Crow and partners, visit

Top 5 Learning Games from GLS 2014 Showcase

Gaming Research at ASU (via ASU Magazine)

Games & Learning Research From Role Playing to Minecraft

Join the Center for Games & Impact for a lunch time brown bag talk on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at Noon on the ASU Tempe Campus (location details provided below). We are kicking off the summer with a Brown Bag talk from international friends joining us from Denmark’s games and learning research community.

Speaker Details:

Thorkild Hanghøj

Redesigning and Reframing Educational Scenarios for Minecraft within Mother Tongue Education
By Thorkild Hanghøj, PhD, Associate Professor, Aalborg University – Copenhagen
The presentation will present preliminary findings from an on-going research project on the use of Minecraft Edu within MTE at four Danish primary schools. The findings both concern the teachers’ redesign of the game scenario and the students’ reframing of their scenario-based game experiences. My background involves more than ten years of research on games and learning across a broad range of different game formats. My current focus is on the educational use ofMinecraft, the use of games in teacher education as well as the development of a theory for understanding game-based learning as a form of scenario-based education.

Marlene Nielsen

Settlers and Disabilities – Board Games as Tools for Learning, Strategy, and Social Repositioning
Marlene Nielsen, associated researcher, Aarhus University
Everyday interaction can be challenging for people with disabilities as implicit rules of social interaction can be hard to comprehend and act on. Board games offer explicit rules and generate an understanding of interaction, creating a frame for inclusion. Egmont Højskolen is a Danish boarding school for adults. The school is home for approximately 160 students of which up to one-third have mental and/or physical disabilities. At Egmont Højskolen, the course ‘The Brain Twister’ is centred on playing games. Here the teacher of the course applies board games, such as Settlers, as a tool for teaching the students about the art of playing games but also about cognitive strategies and inclusive social portioning. Based on anthropological research, we have conducted six months of fieldwork on ‘The Brain Twister’. In my presentation I will present our preliminary findings from the field, along with future plans and outlook of the project.

Andreas Lieberoth

The role of episodic memory in learning from on-location games
Andreas Lieberoth, ph.d. fellow, Aarhus University
Theories from cognitive neuroscience suggest that one-shot experiences in unique settings activates memory processes neurologically separate from everyday semantic and procedural classroom activities. Here, we present preliminary analysis of experiential factors that predict the use of episodic memory in recalling content from an on-location “mobile urban drama”, and “unfreezing” of students’ assumptions about historical inequality and democracy in an educational role-playing game played at Copenhagen’s 100-year-old naval fortifications.

Event Details:

  • Date/Time: Wednesday, 5/21 @ Noon
  • Location: Payne West, Rm 129, Arizona State University (Tempe, Ariz. 85287)
  • Speakers: Thorkild Hanghøj (Department of Communication, Aalborg University), Andreas Lieberoth and Marlene Nielsen (Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University)
  • Session Description: The Vikings are coming, and they will share on games and learning! From role playing to Minecraft, Thorkild Hanghøj, Marlene Nielsen, and Andreas Lieberoth will present 3 works in progress related to educational gaming research.

*Light refreshments will be provided.

RSVP here:

Review of the ASU Impact-Based Research Conference

Thinking About Impact Research at ASU (Getting Smart)

The rise of eSports

The growth of electronic sports — better known as eSports — has been rapid over the last two years. The term eSports is an umbrella that describes the competitive gaming community based around real-time strategy, fighting, first-person shooter, and multiplayer online battle arena games where teams of four or more compete for trophies and prize pools. As the community has evolved over time, video game developers are being asked to consider eSports when designing.

The parallels between professional sports and eSports have become more and more prevalent as 2014 rolls along. Where football and basketball draw millions of viewers on a given night, the gaming community is gaining steam in that department.

Metrics obtained recently by show that ranks 4th in peak Internet traffic, surpassing both Facebook and Hulu in viewers, accounting for 1.8% of the U.S. viewership. Netflix leads the charge with 32%, followed by Google (22%) and Apple (4.3%).twitch_chart

Twitch, an online platform where users can stream what games they’re playing or watch others play, is “one of the biggest users of bandwidth in the U.S. and the world,” according to their information page on the site. At the beginning of February, the Twitch team announced they hit one million active broadcasters, and that’s not to mention the amount of viewers they hit in a month (estimated around 45 million).

The fact that has so many viewers on a monthly basis suggests a couple of things: people’s interest in video games is not only on playing terms now; and much like sports, they’re a new form of “television” entertainment.

“We receive a significant amount of traffic from the major esports events and nobody really comes close to us in terms of audience size in that market, but it’s the presence of the rest of the video game ecosystem, spanning casual gamers to developers, publishers, and media, that create the real magic,” Twitch’s VP of Marketing Matthew DiPietro told onGamers in an interview in February. “It’s a safe to say Twitch is the central hub for the entire video game industry to share their passion for games.”

This piece isn’t supposed to be solely focused on Twitch, but it’s hard not to tie the current success of the gaming community with the live streaming platform.

“When video game historians look back on gaming a decade from now, 2013 will be the year they cite as the tipping point of streaming,” said Matthew DiPietro Twitch’s VP of Marketing at the time. “Every major event, publisher, developer, and media outlet in the gaming industry had a presence on Twitch, and streaming became an ever-present piece of the gaming experience. And it’s only going to get bigger.”

The rise of eSports can be linked to live streaming as well even though the competitive gaming community has been around much longer than sites like Twitch. Many professional players stream their team’s practices and play sessions for fans to watch, and they typically range from about six to 12 hours at a time. A lot of the professional gamers make a living off of ad & subscriber revenue via streaming websites like Twitch or Take pro Call of Duty player, Matt “Nadeshot” Haag for example — he mentioned that he’s making six figures a year just from Youtube royalties, and that’s not including his winnings from tournaments.

Stats obtained from show that the highest earning professional gamer, Jae Dong Lee, has made over $500,000 playing the Starcraft series competitively. While there is a considerable amount of money in eSports, it is still dwarfed by professional sports. The top paid athlete in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, is making a whopping $40 million a year. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers in the MLB just signed a deal that guarantees him $292 million over the next ten years.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 11.33.18 AMThat’s not to say the money surrounding eSports isn’t growing. In March, Activision – contributors to the Call of Duty series – held the Call of Duty Championships in Anaheim, Calif. where the winnings totaled a million dollars. According to,, who was in partnership with Activision and live-streamed the event, reached over 240,000 viewers on March 30th for the grand finals. The International 2013, a Dota 2 tournament held in Seattle, had the largest prize pool of any eSports competition to date with a grand total of $2,874,407. The winning team from that tournament took home over $1,400,000.

The eSports community now has a great effect on the developers of video games. Michael Condrey, the co-founder of Sledgehammer Games which is making the next Call of Duty in the series, has already spoken out that eSports are a very important aspect of their online play.

For years, professional players have complained that the developers don’t focus enough on the competitive scene, and too much on just the average gamer’s experience. Rightly so, the majority of the people buying their games aren’t professional players. Yet, with the growing audience glued to the eSports, developers have no choice but to adapt much like Condrey and Sledgehammer Games are.

We are really only on the cusp of the competitive gaming community. Kids are growing up in an age where video games are the main source of entertainment.


CGI Job Openings: Research Specialist

Stumbling into News Games

Heading into college, I was all about sports and that’s the main reason why my career path is dedicated to sports journalism. I lived football, breathed baseball, and thought about hockey in my sleep. But I also grew up in a generation where gaming is ubiquitous, so there’s always been a part of me dedicated to it.

In the early part of the fall 2013 semester, I decided to explore other areas in journalism and applied for a job with the ASU Center for Games & Impact. I was hired in late August and right away I jumped into a completely different side to journalism: news games.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into at first with the new ways of thinking about and talking about video games. It was difficult to get used to playing with the news, but slowly I have warmed up to this new concept. One of the issues that comes up with combining journalism and gaming is that the word “games” comes with a connotation of fun, and “mindless entertainment. But, as I’ve been learning since the fall, news games are so much more – interactive experiences and immersion into deep social issues.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.24.13 PM

Arizona State students developing news games at the 2013 workshop.

The Center is at the forefront of collaborating with journalism students and professional journalists at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In the past year, we have collaborated extensively with the New Media Innovation Lab (NMIL) to explore game design for issues like military interrogation, post 9/11 veteran’s issues, and gun violence in America.

Getting Game Design Experience

Along with journalism students that work in the NMIL, I spent the fall working on a news game that centers how teachers might react to the warning signs of potential violence among their students. This game is inspired by the PBS documentary, the “Path to Violence” that traces the history of public educators’ readiness for these situations throughout the country since the Columbine tragedy. With all of the recent shootings and mass killings at schools in the past few years, it is definitely a prevalent topic in the news today.

“Path to Violence” was developed on the backbone of research and help from real world situations. Based off of that research and data that was compiled, the game creates a fictional situation in which you, playing as an English teacher in a high school, are tasked with making decisions in a potentially harmful environment.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.27.06 PM

Wired Magazine’s Cutthroat Capitalism: The Game

Playing the news and immersing yourself in complex news issues can give audiences a better understanding of it, as opposed to just reading about it in the news issues. Instead of just reading and thinking about a subject, you’re involved in it and whatever action you make, there is a reaction that follows. It triggers a different part of the thinking process and provides more depth to a topic than just a simple article could; playing the news is just more interactive.

A well-known example of a news game on a larger scale is “Cutthroat Capitalism,” made by Scott Carney and Wired took an interesting route and provided “An Economic Analysis of the Somali Pirate Business Model.” On the site, Carney wrote a series of brief articles with included informative graphics to help readers understand how the Somali Pirates go about their plundering and destruction. To supplement the series, Wired included a game to walk readers through the process of Somali Pirates.

The purpose of the “Path to Violence” game was much like Cutthroat Capitalism’s, to supplement articles and provide a different element to coverage of an issue in news. Society can read about school shootings or watch documentaries or news specials on school shootings, but most people haven’t been walked in the shoes of a person that is involved in a school shooting.

Game Design Education for J-Schools

My experience last semester showed me how accessible game design is and after seeing some of the journalism students at Cronkite pick up game making, I believe a fuller news game program at Cronkite would be a strong complement to specialties already offered. Right now, there are print, broadcast and public relation focused majors at the Cronkite school. It’s not farfetched to say that there will be news game/digital production focused students in the future.

People say the journalism world is struggling at the onset of technology. But, in reality, it’s just evolving. In the digital age, gaming is one of the biggest hobbies around the world. Combining journalism and ways to get news through games is a topic that innovators have been experimenting with for a while now. The production of smart phones and mobile gaming has only helped the progress of this wave.

We are on the cusp of some terrific disruptive innovation happening in journalism. The Center has the right minds and contacts to make this happen, and it’s exciting to be a part of.

For more information about News Games and Game Design:

Ian Bogost wrote a book entitled “Newsgames: Journalism at Play” that details the intricacies of the subject. Buy the book here.

Quest2Teach wins ASU President’s Award for Innovation

ASU Teachers College graduate programs rank among top 20 nationally

Tempe, Ariz. — The Center for Games & Impact exists within the ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. ASU Teachers College’s graduate programs were listed in the top 20 (among 245 public and private graduate programs nationwide) of the 2015 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings released at the end of March 2014. In Arizona, the Teachers College ranks first among graduate programs in the state.

“We are really proud to be a part of ASU’s Teachers College and to watch it climb in rankings in recent years. Many of the initiatives that the Center has been able to advance as part of our mission to investigate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges, focus on innovating and transforming education in the United States and around the world. We can be successful largely due to the support, access to resources, and exemplary graduate students in the Teachers College,” said Sasha Barab, executive director for the Center for Games & Impact.

Teachers College graduate student, Kelly Tran, said she chose the Learning, Literacies and Technologies (LLT) program specifically for the award-winning faculty, including Elisabeth Gee, associate director for the Center for Games & Impact and Tran’s adviser since joining the program.

“The support we have received as first year doctoral students has been tremendous, and it is clear that the new LLT program has been made a priority,” said Tran who is also a graduate student fellow with the Center, “It’s rare to have such access to mentorship and resources. I’ve learned more about research by working on the Play2Connect intergenerational play research project with Dr. Gee and Dr. Siyahhan than I ever expected to my first year.”

Other Center for Games & Impact education-related initiatives at the Teachers College include the Quest2Teach game-infused teacher training program and Atlantis Remixed project for innovative middle school curricula.

About ASU’s Teachers College Ranking and Graduate Programs

Additional Links

About the Center for Games & Impact
The Center for Games & Impact (CGI) mission is to investigate, innovate, and cultivate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges with the goal of unleashing the unique power of videogames to create sustainable solutions for society’s biggest social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges.

Dr. Elisabeth Gee appointed CGI Associate Director

Having worked with the Center for Games & Impact since its inception, Dr. Elisabeth Gee, Ph.D., takes on a new role as Associate Director this month. Photo Credit: Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Having worked with the Center for Games & Impact since its inception, Dr. Elisabeth Gee, Ph.D., takes on a new role as Associate Director this month.
Photo Credit: Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Tempe, Ariz. — The Center for Games & Impact (CGI) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Elisabeth Gee, Ph.D., to the position of Associate Director. Gee, who has worked with the Center since its inception, will be involved in moving forward the Center’s mission of investigating, innovating, and cultivating game-infused solutions for positive social impact across interdisciplinary projects around the university, within the ASU Teacher’s College, and nationally and internationally with corporate and foundation partners.

“With the addition of Betty in a leadership position at the Center, we will be able to broaden our scope of work while enhancing the reputation and potential impact more nationally,” said Sasha Barab, executive director. “I see her as having the collaborative spirit and commitment to innovation and impact that lies at the core of our Center ethos. Her thinking about affinity groups and women in games more generally, are key to unlocking the power of games for impact, so it is with great enthusiasm that I welcome her collaboration.”

Gee cites her involvement with the Center as having connected her with other researchers with common interests and helping her to grow her vision for game studies classes at ASU. Over the last year and a half, Gee connected with Dr. Sinem Siyahhan, also a fellow at the Center, and together they created the Play2Connect intergenerational play research project. Gee also played an integral part in creating and securing approval for the Games & Impact Certificate program administered by the Center.

“In my new role, I am looking forward to getting to know the staff and projects better so that I can also help the rest of the world also get to know what we are doing with games and social impact,” said Gee. “Part of my charge as associate director is to support the staff in working toward the Center’s vision as well as maintaining alignment with the ASU Teacher’s College and larger university goals.”

Gee says in addition to maintaining and growing these strategic alignments, she also looks forward to the launch of the Center’s game-infused learning platform as part of the Games & Impact Certificate program experience, connecting researchers with like interests in games and social impact, and expanding the opportunities for graduate students to teach and research with the Center.

For more about Gee’s work visit:

The Center for Games & Impact (CGI) mission is to investigate, innovate, and cultivate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges with the goal of unleashing the unique power of videogames to create sustainable solutions for society’s biggest social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges.

Coding for impact with the Clinton Foundation, Microsoft Youthspark

Executive Director Sasha Barab talks codeathon participants through principles for designing technology social impact.

Executive Director Sasha Barab talks codeathon participants through principles for designing technology social impact.

The Center for Games & Impact, last week, prepared participants for a two-day coding for social impact event at Arizona State University. The Clinton Foundation Codeathon, also sponsored by Microsoft Youthspark, took place before the start of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) 2014 at ASU. Titled “Code for Impact” (#codeforimpact), the event preceded the kickoff of CGI U and participants where challenged to spend 48 hours building unique digital prototypes inspired by CGI U Commitments to Action.

A team from the Center, along with Executive Director, Sasha Barab, and Director of Innovations, Adam Ingram-Goble, primed participants for their objective with an intensive, applied introduction to designing games for social impact.

“It was an honor to be invited to kick off the codeathon with the Clinton Foundation and Microsoft. At the Center we are passionately committed to empowering the next generation of our world’s leaders with the tools they need to create powerful social impact technology solutions,” said Barab, “Games are a powerful medium for igniting positive change in our world and the principles of impact game design can apply across interactive technology solutions.”

After a presentation from Director Barab, participants played through a paper-prototyped game design to practice identifying a message and refining game mechanics to contribute to that message.

Adam Ingram-Goble, director for innovations at the Center for Games & Impact, guides codeathon participants through a game design exercise.

Adam Ingram-Goble, director for innovations at the Center for Games & Impact, guides codeathon participants through a game design exercise.

“When we teach students game design we focus on a few key things to get them started. First, we want them to clearly define the learning or social impact objective for their game because this will inform the initial design and the subsequent iteration as things develop,” said Ingram-Goble, “Then, we want them to consider which game mechanic might lend itself to playing their message quickly so they can jump right into making and playtesting their games. The same ideas apply here and at game jams, hackathons, and codeathons when working under a tight deadline to test technology ideas for social impact.”

After the introductory exercise with the Center teams spent the rest of their time working on design concepts in the areas of water quality, medicine, and education. Day two of the event culminated with presentations from each team pitching and demoing their concepts to a panel of judges including Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation. The winning team, MediText chose the medical focus area and pitched a design for helping doctors support patient adherence to following medication guidelines. The concept included a doctor dashboard, the use of a “virtual friend” to gently remind patients about these guidelines for the medications they take, and could even engage the patients friends and family if necessary.

Read the highlights from all the CGI U 2014 events at and around Arizona State University here.

Visit our Codeathon Facebook Album for pictures from the event:

About the Center for Games & Impact
The Center for Games & Impact (CGI) mission is to investigate, innovate, and cultivate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges with the goal of unleashing the unique power of videogames to create sustainable solutions for society’s biggest social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges.

Join us for #CodeforImpact Student Presentations Friday (3/21)

*posted in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation and CGI U

#codeforimpact participants discussing design, mechanics, and messaging.

#codeforimpact participants discussing the relationships among design, mechanics, and messaging before they jump into designing their own social impact technology solutions.

Come watch the culmination of the Codeathon on Friday, March 21, 2014!

The Clinton Foundation Codeathon at CGI University 2014 sponsored by Microsoft YouthSpark challenges student developers and designers to build digital tools inspired by CGI University Commitments to Action. The event concludes with student presentations and a judging panel, led by prominent thinkers in technology and social impact:

Time: 2:30 PM to 4:15PM
Place: Arizona State University Campus, 501 E. Tyler Mall, Engineering Center, Room ECG 140
No RSVP required

We are also excited to announce that Chelsea Clinton will be participating as a judge during the student presentations.

We invite all CGI U and ASU students to join us and hear about the incredible projects that have been developed by Codeathon participants and be a part of #Codeforimpact.

Code for Impact with the Clinton Foundation

*Posted in partnership with CGU I and the Clinton Foundation.

Are you a designer or developer with a passion for social change? Apply now to participate in the Clinton Foundation’s Codeathon at CGI U 2014 at Arizona State University (ASU)!

Event Details

  • Dates/Times: Thurs, March 20, 12 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. and Fri, March 21, 8 a.m. – 4:15 .m.
  • Location: ASU Tempe Campus

Building upon the powerful intersection of technology and social impact, the Codeathon aims to spur innovation in the technology space and increase the scope, reach, and impact of CGI U’s Commitments to Action (click here to learn more about the CGI U Commitment to Action model). The Codeathon challenges developers and designers to build unique digital prototypes inspired by CGI U Commitments to Action in the following areas:

  • Education
  • Global Health
  • Water Quality

Over the course of two days, developers and designers will work in teams or as individuals to create new digital prototypes focused on these three key areas. The Codeathon will culminate with a presentation to a panel of expert judges working in the fields of technology and social innovation.

To participate in the Codeathon:


About the Clinton Foundation
The Clinton Foundation convenes businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals to improve global health and wellness, increase opportunity for women and girls, reduce childhood obesity, create economic opportunity and growth, and help communities address the effects of climate change.

Social Emotional Learning and Video Games

Impact Games & Middle School Curriculum

At the Center for Games & Impact we envision a world where we understand and optimize the unique power of games for learning and social impact. One of the central ways we work to make our vision a reality is through innovative games and game-infused solutions for education. Together with our studio partner, E-Line Media, we are building middle school cross-curriculum, game-based curricula and community packages that make Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, along with 21st Century and social-emotional learning objectives engaging, relevant and empowering for both teachers and students. Our suite of games provides multiple storylines and entry points to contextualize the value of these standards and skillsets in terms of engaging and relevant research and impact projects.

Committee for ChildrenRecently, we have become more interested in the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) as central to children’s success in school and beyond. Our partners at E-Line Media connected the Center with another organization committed to changing children’s education and lives through programs for preschool through grade 8. A team from Committee for Children, whose mission is “to foster the social and emotional development, safety, and well-being of children through education and advocacy,” visited the Center and taught us about their programs and research-based social-emotional learning materials to help children succeed in school and in life.

The Impact of SEL in Schools

Through SEL, students develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate care and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively. Recent analyses of SEL studies in schools indicate that it can have a positive impact on school climate and promote a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students, including:

  • better academic performance (achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction),
  • improved attitudes and behaviors (greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior), fewer negative behaviors (decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals), and
  • reduced emotional distress (fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal).

Putting SEL Together With Games for Impact

Committee for Children’s core program, Second Step, teaches skills for learning and social-emotional skills such as empathy, emotion management, problem solving, and self regulation. These skills empower children to protect themselves, work through problems with empathy and reason, and respect others’ points of view. Schools become safer and calmer places where teachers can teach and children can learn. Currently, Second Step is widely used around the world. ..

“We are increasingly interested in new ways to structure and deliver our programs and materials,” said Brian Smith, a Committee for Children research scientist. “There is a lot of interest in game-infused learning and moving more of what we do online, but it has been kind of a puzzle to us because we don’t come from that world. When we had the chance to talk to the teams at E-Line Media and the Center for Games & Impact, it opened our eyes to a lot of possibilities.”

“It is easy to see how our visions for a better future overlap,” said Sasha Barab, executive director for the Center for Games & Impact. “I can already see how we might create learning journeys for middle school students where players work through missions that teach Committee for Children’s Second Step program content, but our orientation to game-infused solutions means we don’t just leave the learning there. The idea that the roles a player takes on in-game are meaningful and transformative in our greater world is central to our program designs. We also can see the possibilities for exciting peripheral experiences where, as students master social emotional skills in-game, teachers are able to use hub areas and classroom dashboards to acknowledge the real-life practice of these skills in the classroom and around the school. Parents can get involved remotely in ways that might not have happened before. Classes, schools, and districts can all be connected to each other to set and track, validate, and inspire social change goals important to their communities. These are just a few of the ideas that come to mind and the possibilities are quite exciting.”

For more information:


The Center for Games & Impact (CGI) mission is to investigate, innovate, and cultivate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges with the goal of unleashing the unique power of videogames to create sustainable solutions for society’s biggest social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges.

E-Line Media is a publisher of game-based learning products and services that engage, educate and empower, helping to prepare youth for lives and careers in the 21st century. E-Line works with leading foundations, academics, nonprofits and government agencies to harness the power of games for learning, health and social impact. 

Take the Digital Games and Family Life Survey

the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame WorkshopAre you the parent or guardian of a child between 4 and 13 years of age? Do your children play video games? If so, you are eligible to take a survey about digital games and family life, co-sponsored by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and Arizona State University. Parents who complete the survey will have a chance to win a $50 gift card to The survey will take approximately 20 minutes.

The Digital Games and Family Life Survey will be the first of its kind to gain a sense of the role that digital games are playing in modern family life and routines, across both place and time.

After completing the survey, you will also have a chance to enter your email address into a drawing for one of four $50 gift cards. Entering this drawing is also voluntary. Your email address will not be used for any other reason than to contact you if you win the drawing. Your email address will not be connected in any way to your survey responses, and will be deleted immediately after the prize winner is selected and contacted.

Click here to take the survey

If you have any questions about this research, you may contact the Cooney Center at

James Paul Gee receives highest faculty award at ASU

Review of Madden 25

Electronic Arts Sports and NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden teamed up in 1988 to bring the first John Madden Football video game. That version was only available on the Apple II and ultimately wasn’t a success due to the complex interface and slow-developing graphics. Throughout the years, however, the EA Sports team has fended off competition in the football gaming market and reigned supreme as the developers continue to improve gameplay to provide the closest rendition to real life football out there. Madden has come a long way in 25 years; here’s a clip of gameplay from the original game in 1988: gameplay video. And here’s gameplay from the latest version, Madden 25: gamplay video.

Madden has often gotten a bad rap in the PS3/Xbox 360 era for staying relatively the same from year to year. After playing Madden 25, this year’s version combats that trend. EA Sports has done a nice job of adding new features to make the game more comparable to the product on the field in real life. Of course there are tweaks that need to be made in order to smooth out the gameplay, as is the case in every year of Madden, but Madden 25 offers gamers the best rendition of real life football to date. Metacritic, a site that is well-known for rating video games, has Madden 25 at 75 out of 100, which is a product of “generally favorable reviews” from 11 critics. I put on my “critic” hat and decided to rate the highlights, and lowlights of Madden’s silver anniversary edition.


Connected Franchise -After introducing Connected Careers in Madden 2013, Madden 25 offers Connected Franchise, a significant improvement upon last year’s version on many levels. Connected Franchise still allows gamers to choose between controlling a player or coach, but it now adds an interactive owner mode. Owners are able to control their teams on the field, but now have the responsibility of front office decisions that affect the popularity and financial stability of the team. This particular feature is the highlight of the game in my opinion. Owners have the ability to change the prices of concessions and merchandise prices, upgrade their stadium, hire and fire staff as well as manage the product on the field. The amount of interactive features inside the owner mode will keep you entertained for hours on end.

Improved “Infinity Engine” -There was nothing more frustrating than seeing your players trip over each other in Madden 13. The idea of bringing life-like physics to a football game was genius, but the execution was poor in Madden 13 and the infinity engine left these NFL athletes looking extremely clumsy. Madden 25 brings a vastly improved physics engine to the table; hits are more realistic, blocking is smoother and now when you run into the back of your lineman you don’t fall over automatically.

Running game -The “Run Free” marketing technique behind Madden 25 advertised a new and improved running system to provide a more life-like experience to running the football in the game. Just as the read option (when he quarterback “reads” a defensive player and chooses to hand off the ball to readoptthe running back or keep it) has become a popular technique used in the NFL, Madden has implemented a new system that incorporates the read optionelement into the game by signifying which player to read.

Another feature that adds to the overall “run free” experience is the new precision modifier, which allows gamers to have total control of their runners with the ball in their hands. Using the left trigger combined with the right analog stick, gamers can utilize different moves to get around defenders. It is effective if used at the right time, however if you use it too often, your player fatigues quicker and will be taken down with ease.


Defensive gameplay -While EA Sports tuned up the running game and overall feel of controlling the offense, they seemed to negate making improvements on the defensive side of the ball. Man coverage is absolutely useless in this game at the moment; receivers get crazy separation from defensive backs and linebackers. In Madden 13, man coverage was over-powered, so I can understand a decrease in its effectiveness, but at the moment it is not usable — a happy medium could be obtained with a minor tweak. Generating any kind of pass rush is difficult as well, which allows the opponent to sit in the pocket with the quarterback until someone breaks away from a defender or finds a hole in zone coverage. Again, these are issues that I’m sure will be addressed in the next update.

Commentary Nantz_SimmsMadden has toyed with different combinations of announcers over the years, from John Madden himself, to Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth, then Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in Madden 13 as well as Madden 25 now. The duo of Nantz and Simms is CBS’ top broadcast team for their coverage of NFL football on Sundays. The commentary is bland at best and there seems to be no real change from last year with the overused generalized statements throughout the gameplay. While I get the fact that both Nantz and Simms are busy men, there’s no excuse for not creating more soundbites to enter into the game for all the kinds of scenarios that take place. It gets old, fast, when I hear Nantz saying, “And the defense is showing blitz,” every time I’m showing blitz. It’s not a major problem, and I know I’m getting nitpicky with this, but it would add to the realness factor tenfold with an improved commentary setup.

Final Verdict -Overall, I thought the game was very well done this time around. In a year where new gaming systems are coming out, the EA Sports team could have easily pumped out a game for PS3 and Xbox that hadn’t made significant changes and just focused on the next-gen games, but they didn’t. With minor tweaks to the defensive gameplay, Madden 25 will go down as the best game in the franchise to date. I’d give it four out of five stars.

This is the first story in the line of different topics in Madden that we will be breaking down here at the Center for Games & Impact.

Ross Dunham is the sports games writer for the Center for Games & Impact. Find out more about Ross here.

The Storytelling Series: Why the Video Game?

From simple beginnings, stories have been created throughout time to fulfill particular niche roles: inspiring us to follow moral paths, maintaining our histories and our cultures, entertaining us, and helping each one of us to understand each other and our place in the great narrative of human existence. The video game–a new platform for narrative expression–allows us to take our stories, both old and new, and re-imagine them as playable experiences.

Where video games and their stories are concerned, we realize that we aren’t on the cutting edge of this discussion. Scholars, such as Henry Jenkins, have argued that video games are by nature a type of storytelling medium–comparable to books and films–and representing a new type of “transmedia storytelling.” Others, such as Espen Arseth, find that the study of games should focus not on narrative at all but on their structure as rule-based, formal systems. There are scores of conflicting voices weighing in on this topic (see: Sebastian Deterding, Jesper Juul, Ian Bogost, etc.), but many of these voices focus on defining what game scholarship actually is.

We are not professional game scholars. The purpose of this blog is not to push forward a new definition of game studies, or to favor one over another, but to instead to step back and see games for what we enjoy them as: interactive stories. Drawing on our shared experiences as primarily fiction writers and literary scholars (we each hold a Bachelor’s of English in creative writing), and our varied backgrounds in film and digital media studies, as well as video game theory and design, we strive to provide critical assessments of contemporary video games in order to cultivate a better understanding of successful narrativity.

Understanding Storytelling


Storytelling represented in other mediums. The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870) — John Millais.

Before we can truly talk about games-as-stories, it’s important to pause and consider how we got here in the first place. The storytelling art comes to us today from a long history rooted in the traditional oral narratives of the earliest human cultures. Oral stories are only one of several storytelling mediums, which we can refer to as ‘narrative vehicles.’ Modern technological developments led to new narrative vehicles, such as the print medium, for example, and gave us only broader and richer ways to tell our stories to one another, in turn, cultivating the practice of storytelling as artistic expression. Visual mediums, such as film and television, allowed stories to become highly accessible, filling a void that theater and performance arts once occupied alone. The digitally mediated society we’re used to today has allowed all of our stories to be portable on our smart-phones, sharable on our blogs, and maintain permanence in the public record that traditional oral narratives weren’t able to have in their time.

What About the Video Game?

The video game is a newborn medium compared to the thousands of years oral narratives have been around, but it is one that introduces a unique ability to cultivate interactivity between the audience and the narrative. The player not only experiences but participates in the narrative, relying on their own skills and intuition to move forward, unlocking further story points or creating their own.

Early video games lacked a narrative focus. — PONG (1972)

Some of the earliest video game entries are mostly story-less, however; PONG (1972), for example, is a simple simulation of tennis, providing a rudimentary representation of two ‘players’ and a ball, along with a numerical score keeper. As the potential of games grew over time, and the capabilities of computers and processing systems improved, video games became more complex, both in their gameplay and in their capability to sustain a story. Many of the games released during the past decade alone sport lengthy and engaging narratives that can require ten or more hours of continued commitment, paired with innovative and motivating gameplay to support them.

Understanding Narrativity

The type of theory we can use to properly discuss narratives in video games but be able to unite both narrative study as well as visual mediums. This is where we can introduce the crucial term that comes to us from film theory: narrativity. Narrativity establishes traditional narrative as a dichotomy; narrative is both created by the filmmaker and interpreted by the filmgoer.


“This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs.” — Message played during the loading screen of entries in the Assassin’s Creed series.

Where video games are concerned, traditional narrativity is deepened by the intricate pairing of player agency and developer-designed play space. Developer teams–including writers and artists, directors and designers, editors and programmers–act in the role of the filmmaker, designing a unified experience that draws on numerous perspectives and ideologies and presents a particularly imagined experience for the player. Players, in turn, are the audience, bringing their own understandings, identities, rhetorics, and ideologies to the experience, crafting a unique understanding of the game’s narrative that is sensitive to their personal interests.

Measuring Narrativity on a Spectrum

We can safely say that most of the games people play every day are, by their very nature, narrative games, even when they might not seem like it. Narrativity in this context can be said to exist on a spectrum; at one end, we see games whose provided narrative makes up the bulk of the gameplay and experience. Indie hit Dear Esther, for example, a 2012 release by The Chinese Room, is a game mostly about walking around. As players wander through the fairly linear island sections at a slow, even pace, they trigger epistolary story snippets spoken aloud by an unseen narrator. Though players are able to decide what parts of the island they want to explore during their play, they cannot actually influence the events that occur in any way and the experience is mostly the same no matter how many times it is played through.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) — Part of the robust character design process.

At the other end of the spectrum live games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), where players take on the shell character of the Dragonborn, a person born with the soul and power of a dragon within them. Players can much more directly determine the course of the narrative by creating and modifying their Dragonborn, making him or her a member of any number of races with unique and individualized skills, weaknesses, and allegiances. The narrative, split into a ‘main quest’ and many ‘side quests,’ can be completed in any order the player chooses.

It is here we can even revisit our old friend PONG, whose narrative is informed more by its audience’s understanding of the game than by the developers’ particular narrative goals. Players know only that PONG is meant to be a simulation of tennis but the particular understandings players actually have of tennis, or, perhaps of competitive multiplayer games themselves, help to provide a more formative narrative for the experience of the game. We can make a similar argument for many popular casual games on the market today, such as Bejeweled or Candy Crush Saga. The next time you log into Facebook, turn on your console, or open an app and load up a game, ask yourself: What am I doing here? Why am I doing it? What kinds of biases do I bring to the experience?

Where Do We Go From Here?

We already know that video games can be narrative vehicles, on par (or arguably even surpassing) the various mediums that have shaped the art of storytelling over the years. In future posts, we will be taking a deeper look at a variety of the medium, from borrowed genres and forms – such as the epistolary narrative – to the space and mechanics that allow players to create and share their own stories.

Rebecca Hoffman is a graduate fellow and research assistant with the Center for Games & Impact. You can find out more about Rebecca at or follow her @rebeccafay on Twitter.

Alex Cope is an Innovation Lab Manager and Designer with the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab. You can follow him @aecope on Twitter.

Grad student turns love of video games into career

The CGI/E-Line game, Taiga, wins international game competition

News Release
Oct. 24, 2013

‘Taiga’ Wins International Game Competition
CGI/E-Line Media 3D scientific investigation game a leader in games for learning around the world

taigaTempe, Ariz. — The Mystery of Taiga River, created by the Center for Games & Impact and studio partner, E-Line Media, was selected as international winner for the Best Game at the 7th European Conference on Game Based Learning (ECGBL 2013) game competition earlier this month in Porto, Portugal.

“During the competition and throughout our time at the ECGBL 2013 conference we received so much positive feedback on our work with the two games we presented. It is such an honor for our team to win this award and to hear that our research implementing these games was the most compelling data some have seen at the conference,” said Dr. Sasha Barab, executive director for the Center for Games & Impact. “Our team works hard to produce a solid 3D game that includes deep learning science principles, is a beautiful and fun play experience, and offers extensive support to teachers implementing these games in their classroom.”

The Mystery of Taiga River is part of the Atlantis Remixed (ARX)  international learning and teaching initiative that uses 3D multi-user environments to immerse students in educational narratives. The Taiga River story is a game-based science curriculum that uses a water quality mystery to teach students, aged 10-14, concepts like scientific investigation and water quality indicators to solve the problem of dying fish in Taiga River and restore the health of the environment while balancing the needs of the community stakeholders like loggers, fishers and farmers.

“This award is a huge honor, as there were a large number of compelling and sophisticated games submitted to the competition,” said Dr. Anna Arici, senior researcher for the Center for Games & Impact and director of the Quest2Teach Project. “People were impressed with the diversity of learning, engagement, and transactive experiences that take place in our learning games. Not only are they beautiful and captivating, but the data and personal stories from students are wonderfully compelling. Students are working harder, solving complex and real scientific challenges, and feeling a huge sense of accomplishment. Where else can a 12-year-old be taken seriously as a water quality expert and get to decide the fate of a national park? It’s really empowering.”

Dr. Barab and Dr. Arici traveled to Portugal to present the Mystery of Taiga River in the games competition and give talks on their research from The Doctor’s Cure, another ARX game, which teaches children to write persuasively and build logic models as they explore the role that ethics play in science and technology, set within a 3D world and interactive narrative based on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

Links to more information:
Atlantis Remixed
The Mystery of Taiga River
The Doctor’s Cure