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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Time

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

By Lara Cole

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

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

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

ASU Impact Magazine game time

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

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

Now that’s a game we all can win.

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.

Featured_Image_SFIS

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.

New E-Book on Power of Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Play in the Digital Age Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Kathryn Dutchin or Anna Arici for more information.

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: http://www.fusestudio.net/program-design

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 (http://www.fusestudio.net/), 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.

FoldIt: Puzzles to Save Mankind

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


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

Foldit player screen with protein puzzle

Foldit player screen with protein puzzle

Game Play

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

Feedback in Foldit

Feedback in Foldit

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

Game Design

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

Game Impact and Research

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

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

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

Systems Thinking

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


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

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.

Programmer

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.

Artist

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.

Other

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.

Computers

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:
http://adobe.ly/1rHgLME
http://autode.sk/1nh2MO4
http://bit.ly/QGC7gJ

Other

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.

Getting Real About Environmental Games

Michael is a Faculty Development Associate at Bryan University where he builds websites, teaches teachers, and gets to play with a lot of technology. He writes about video games and education on his blog, Playing with Education.

Few video games wrestle with tough environmental topics and Michael is exploring the games that do. This is the second in a series of posts exploring the rhetoric in a few of these games. You can find the first post here.


Getting Real

Both Chevron’s Energyville and the JASON Project’s Energy City make rhetorical arguments, but what about the broader question of why Chevron would create an environmental video game in the first place? The answer might lie on a billboard that can be seen in the distance during the transition between levels. The billboard is in the center of a cityscape, green grass in the forefront and a plane flying overhead. The slogan on the billboard is, “Oil companies need to get real.”

Energyville could be one of Chevron’s methods of “getting real” about clean energy. Disseminating information about energy alternatives, and doing so through a cool medium like a video game, seems laudable. Technically, the game includes a lot of information about alternative energy sources. This information can be found only by clicking the “Learn More” buttons, where text and hyperlinks provide a great deal of information without integration into gameplay. In other words, an understanding of these energy sources is not required to successfully play the game, and there is no in-game incentive to do all of this reading.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 2.25.30 PM

If the game had been better designed, it might feel like a genuine attempt to get real and disseminate ideas. Chevron financed an educational resource that could theoretically bring information about sustainable energy to children. If the game applied more principles of good game design, the end result would have felt more like getting real, and less like a PR effort.

Unfortunately, the game can be played in its entirety in less than ten minutes. There are many ways to lose, but no way to really win–the game ends by allowing you to see how your score ranks against other players. Beyond this score, there is no genuine win condition for the game. For these and other reasons discussed in the first post, Energyville is not likely to attract repeated playthroughs, other than by people who are blogging about it. Chevron’s environmental game looks like a public service from the outside, but seems like a hollow gesture from within.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 2.25.47 PM

Based on the limited scope and playability of this game, it seems that Chevron wanted to be seen as part of the environmental solution, but were not concerned enough to invest the effort needed to create an effective game. Chevron’s lack of investment in this game continues, and as of December 29th, 2014, Energyville will no longer be available for play on Chevron’s website. The Energyville page does not say anything about the reasons for this decision.

The Environment as Abstract
Energyville lacks replayability. Part of this is because the game’s scope is so small–it can be played in ten minutes, and there are a relatively small number of consequential actions the player can take. 

This is a problem shared, to varying extents, by other games in the sustainability-simulator niche. In playing a reasonably large number of similar games, including Plan it Green and Clim’ City, I have yet to find one that gives a graphical representation of environmental degradation. Environmental health and air quality are always represented as abstract measurements somewhere on the screen, like points or health. Strangely enough, the declining health of your city is never visible as you look at the city itself. A commonality in all of these games is that, when it comes down to it, the worsening environment is communicated through text or graphs.

Yes, you lose the game if the environment meter goes all the way into the red, but you see no consequences. The water is still a vibrant blue. The grass is still green. The water levels don’t rise. Other than losing, nothing happens. The challenges that we will actually face if we do not take environmental issues seriously never enter into these energy management games. This seems like a missed opportunity to make the often intangible effects of global warming more tangible.

The limited budgets for these games might explain this limitation. There is clear value in what  games like Energy City and Plan It Green are able to convey. My goal is merely to point out an opportunity that seems largely unexplored by games in this genre.

Other Directions

Instead of focusing on resource management, some games depict a post-environmental-collapse Earth as a backdrop for the game’s storyline. Submerged, an upcoming title from Uppercut games,  is an adventure set in a future where the water level is much higher and most of humanity is long gone. The trailer shows a mother and a child drifting in a small boat through the submerged wreckage of a city.

Similarly, the Fallout series is set in a post-apocalyptic world where society has crumbled following the Resource Wars, a 2-hour war that was fought over oil. However, since the environment of the Fallout series has much in common with other post-apocalyptic wastelands, the connection to real-world environmental issues might not be as apparent to its audiences as games like Submerged. 

An MMO geared towards children made environmental responsibility a strong theme, despite the fact that having fun was the focus. In Minimonos, you played as a monkey co-inhabiting an island with other monkeys.  You could compete with other player players in a variety of non-violent mini-games. Throughout this virtual world, garbage and pollution accumulated unless the player took the time to clean things up. The process of cleaning up garbage, and also recycling waste products, formed a couple of the mini-games that allowed the player to maintain a clean tree house. Unfortunately, Minimonos closed in 2013.

Environmental rhetoric has even been incorporated into board games. CO2 is a board game where players compete as CEO’s of energy companies. Players propose and complete energy projects, attempting to accumulate the most victory points and earn the best reputation among the energy companies. However, if you cannot work together with your competitors to slow global warming, everyone loses.

These titles all show that rhetorical arguments about sustainability can be made outside the genre of energy simulations. Can games express environmental issues in a way that resonates deeply with audiences? The potential exists, and I look forward to watching this sub-genre of games as it continues to grow, in both number and variety.

The Making of Pepé Part 2: Cleaning up the code

This is part 2 in of the Pepé the Penguin blog series. Click here to read Part 1 about Sam’s start at programming a game using ProcessingJS and be sure to check back for the next post in the series where Sam will walk you through setting up your own version of the game.


Pepe Concept Art

     Click here to play the first level of Pepé the Penguin.         Music by Derek Velzy and Zach Timberlake

With Pepé done the next step was to clean up the code. The style I coded the game in—by quickly iterating and fixing issues as they came up— was good for the purpose of finishing quickly. However it could not be read easily because of the messy nature of that style. To fix this problem Adam started moving the code around to clean up a little. Then he gave it to me to fix and finish. When I got the new file it threw several errors and since Processing JS likes to throw errors inside of the API it was very difficult to see where they originated. My ultimate strategy was to take the changes piece by piece into my code.

The biggest change that was made was the sprite class. We needed to make this method so that Victoria could design in the actual sprite to the draw class. If you recall we were just using rectangles to represent the seals moving across the screen. Adding the sprite class would make it possible for the easy addition of an actual image to move across the screen.

The sprite class had 4 instance variables. PosX for the top left corner’s x coordinate, PosY for the top left corner’s y coordinate, Width for the width, and Height for the height. It also had 3 methods (updatePosition(int dx, int dy), isPointInside(int x, int y), isCollidingWith(Sprite other) ), and an initializer. There were also two classes that inherited the Sprite class: Player and Enemy. I started to fix my code by copying in the Sprite class and the Player class; then changing Pepé from being a rectangle to being a Player object. Then I updated the player class to be able to take input more easily from how I wanted my code formatted. When I went to test to see if there were errors it threw an “There is an error in the API” error. After reading through every line of code that I added a few times I found that there was an extra variable in the super called in the Player class’s initializer.

The next step was getting the enemy class working. The first thing to do was to take out the extra initializer variable that was causing issues in the player class. Then since each Enemy had a different speed they needed their own speed variable to store their speed; I added a new instance variable and a new parameter to the constructor to set the speed upon initialization of the object. I then needed to update how the Enemy class would actually move. To do this I overrode the updatePosition() method to first check if the rectangle was still on the screen, and, if it was not, to draw it back at the beginning and add the speed to the x coordinate. Since I needed the seals to be moved and redrawn in every frame, I had the draw() method call the updatePosition() method because the draw method is called in each iteration of the runner class’s draw method.

After the seals were moving correctly, I encountered the most difficult part. I had to correct the collision method. In the previous version of Pepé I had created a very long and complex collision method. The Sprite class included the isCollidingWith(Sprite other) method that used the isPointInside(int x, int y) method to try and remedy this. The logic in the isPointInside(int x, int y) method was a little flawed though, and it was hard to catch the actual error, which was a backwards >= sign. Once it was fixed it worked like a charm and is now much easier to read.

My final task was to update the way in which it takes user input. I needed it to be case break style instead of if else in order to make it run faster and also be more legible. The way it was presented used a method in the player class that did not exist and was not tailored towards how I had written the Player class, so I changed it to work like the if else statement did. Then all that was left was to clean up the spacing and delete all the newly unused methods.

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.

Details:

  • 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.”

Transistor

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.”

Journey

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.”

Portal2

 

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.

A Tale of Two Cities: Rhetoric in Two Environmental Video Games

This is the first post from our new contributing blogger, Michael Springer. Michael is a Faculty Development Associate at Bryan University where he builds websites, manages a tutoring center, and gets to play with a lot of technology. He writes about video games and education on his blog, Playing with Education.

Few video games wrestle with tough environmental topics and Michael is very interested in exploring this issue. Some post-apocalyptic narratives use global warming as a backstory, explaining the social collapse that took place before the game began, like the Fallout series. However, video games that try to illuminate the problems that face our environment are scarce. This is the first in a series of posts exploring the rhetoric in a few of these games.


Why would Chevron fund a video game about global warming?

This was a question I asked myself after discovering Energyville, a simple “educational” game available at www.energyville.com. Designed by the Economist Group and financed by Chevron, the game’s apparent goal is to educate players on environmental issues. Another game with a similar premise is Energy City, which was designed by JASON Learning, a non-profit company that develops games focused on teaching science.

Screenshot from Chevron’s Energyville. Possible energy sources line the bottom of the map; current energy levels are on the upper right.

Screenshot from Chevron’s Energyville. Possible energy sources line the bottom of the map; current energy levels are on the upper right.

Both games are reminiscent of management simulation franchises like SimCity or Civilization, although the range of player actions are stripped down and simplified. The player takes an existing city and must find ways to generate enough energy to keep city life moving while also not destroying the environment. As years go on and more decisions are made, the environment will either improve or grow worse depending on the player’s choices.

Barometers in both games measure environmental impact and keep track of budget and the passage of time. In these major ways, the two games are identical. But in a couple of important ways, the arguments made by these games are quite different.

Screenshot from the JASON Project’s Energy City. Interest groups are on the lower left; current power level is in the glowing bar on the right.

Screenshot from the JASON Project’s Energy City. Interest groups are on the lower left; current power level is in the glowing bar on the right.

Political Pandering and Petroleum Perpetuity

While playing video games, players are “taught,” through a system of rewards and punishments, what actions will lead to the best outcome. For example, players of Super Mario Brothers will learn that jumping on turtles is usually a good idea, while jumping on fireballs is not such a good idea.

When the game world overlaps in a meaningful way with the real world—for example, when you are playing a video game about global warming—this procedural training of players can create a rhetorical argument. Players attempt actions and learn through trial and error which actions lead to negative outcomes. These players can then choose whether this rhetorical argument applies to the real world or not.

After repeated playthroughs of Energy City, one of the take-home messages is “Do everything your citizens tell you to do.” Several interest groups make suggestions about what you should or should not do on each turn of the game, and the consequences for ignoring these requests can derail your attempt to preserve the environment. Your Health Council tells you, “This city suffers from dirty air and obesity! Build bike paths right now!” The business lobby says, “You have to spend money to make money. Spend at least $40 this turn.” For each request you ignore or disobey, a financial or environmental penalty will effect you. The correct play in Energy City always seems to be to follow public whim. Once your people have been appeased, you can then evaluate whether you have the money left to do what you actually think will have the most impact.

A Request from the Health Council in Energy City

A Request from the Health Council in Energy City

This aspect of the game is unique in that it does not ignore the politics of policy change. I struggled for quite a while before realizing that my very first priority should be pleasing the public, and making the smartest decision should come as a second priority. That said, the player is beholden to only four interest groups, and all of these groups have reasonable and attainable requests, so it is still a vast simplification of the political pressures on those involved in making environmental policy.

Energyville does not illustrate the political complexity of making changes to the environment, but it does make an argument of its own: “Petroleum is really, really important.” During a playthrough of Energyville, I received a warning. “Though alternative fuels can reduce the need for petroleum, airplanes and a significant portion of ground vehicles will continue to rely on petroleum for fuel.” In Energyville, you cannot mix and match energy sources. Electricity and petroleum are distinct and each has their own uses. In Energy City, though, any form of energy can power anything.

This is a striking rhetorical difference, and both games make simplistic yet opposing points. Energyville argues that petroleum will continue to make up a “significant portion” of our energy. No other options are presented by the game. Moving all ground vehicles away from petroleum-based fuels is not an option. Reducing our reliance on airplanes is also not a possibility. No player action can move us to a sustainable set of energy sources, and the game does not present this as problematic.

On the other hand, Energy City makes it clear that conservation and research are both necessities in fixing current environmental problems. Players have the option to research new energy-producing technologies like fuel-cells, then use that research to begin moving away from the non-sustainable energies of the early game. Players also have a variety of conservation options, which cause gradual improvements in air and environmental quality.

In contrast, Energyville does not allow scientific breakthroughs, and you also cannot use conservation as a broad strategy for dealing with energy issues. In Energyville, “conservation” is a one-click option that cuts down slightly on your energy needs, and the gameplay does not make it clear what this concept even means. For each energy source, a red “Learn More” button can be clicked to reveal a wall of text providing sources and information. You can either click the “conservation” button or you can ignore it and click a different button. In neither case are you presented with a rhetorical argument about conservation.

Embracing Variety

The two games agree on one important rhetorical point: it is best to make use of a number of energy sources, not to rely heavily on just one or two. In Energy City, you must continue to rely on non-renewable energy sources through the early game as you develop alternatives. Only by embracing all available alternatives can you move away fully from fossil fuels. Energyville requires a set of energies that include both electricity and petroleum. Maintaining a variety of energy sources protects you from randomized events that occur between years. So, both games recommend diversifying energy.

The consequences for not doing so are similar as well. Relying too heavily on non-renewable energy will degrade the environment and cause you to lose. Adding renewable energies too quickly can cause you to run out of money, which also means game over. Both games require players to embrace variety and keep an eye on multiple metrics, considering both cost and environmental impact.

None of this answers my initial question, though, about why Chevron would finance an environmental game in the first place. In the next post, I will examine this question and take a look at what has so far been missing from the rhetoric of these environmental video games.

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

The Making of Pepé, Part 1: Learning to Make a Game with Processing.js

Sam Robison is a computer science major and a student worker in the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab. Sam joined our lab in at the start of the Fall 2014 semester and Pepé the Penguin is the first game he programmed. In this series, Sam overviews making this game with processing.js, iterating the game by revising the code, and finally, the series will wrap up with a tutorial for you to code your own version of the game which you can then modify as you learn more. 


Coming up with the game idea

Pepe Concept Art

Concept art for Pepé the Penguin

Around a week after I started working at the innovation lab the the student team was tasked to come up with a game using Processing.js. The only requirement was that the game would need to demonstrate sound because it would be used as an example to teach middle school students how to use sound in Processing.js. The student team, comprised of Angelica Monserrate, Victoria Janacek, and myself, brainstormed some ideas about what would be a good game to make. We decided on a frogger-style game where the main character is penguin whose desire is to cross to the other side. The game was named Pepé the Penguin, and I took on the task of coding.

Getting started with Processing.js and Pepé

The start was slow because I had never worked with Processing.js. The coding language functions like Java mixed with Javascript. Its use of Javascript graphics made things a bit easier. For example, I was able to construct everything in the game with two commands: fill(r, g, b) to color the objects, and rect(x, y, width, height) to create the rectangles.

Pepé the Penguin game image with labels for the elements.

Pepé the Penguin game image with labels for the elements. Pepé moves from the bottom of the screen toward the top and must dodge the seals along the way.

The first step was to set the size of the playing field. I made it 300×500 pixels and then set the background color to blue to represent water with 3 white rectangles to represent snow. One little black square represented Pepé.

The next step was to figure out how to make Pepé move. The first thing I found was a built-in processing method called keyPressed() that could be implemented. keyPressed() is called when any key is pushed and will run the code inside of the method. I wrote it up so that when an arrow key was pressed the box would be redrawn a certain amount of pixels over in the direction chosen.

I then ran into a new problem. The keyPressed() method only updated the view when a key was pressed, however I wanted the seals to be running across the screen all the time not just when a key was pressed. I asked the lab director, Adam Ingram-Goble, how to fix this problem and he gave me an article to read about the game loop. The game loop is a practice where input is taken from the user, calculations about how to handle it are taken, and finally those calculations are used to draw the background. This fixed my problem because the game loop does not wait for the player’s input if nothing is entered. I went on to program the seal objects and ran into a problem because in processing.js you cannot declare your own play loop method. You have to use theirs, which took me a while to find (hint: it’s named draw() ).

Adding challenge for the player

At this point I had the seals moving across the screen and was able to move the character. The next step was to add collision detection for the seals and Pepé. I did this by checking all four of Pepé’s corners to see if they were within the bounds of the current position of the seals. If Pepé hit a seal it subtracts a life and sends him to where he started. The next logical step was to add a display of how many lives were left in the upper right corner and update that with each pass of the playloop.

The loose (left) and win (right) screens for Pepé the Penguin.

The loose (left) and win (right) screens for Pepé the Penguin.

The winning and losing screens were the next step. I made the win screen green and with text that said, “You Win! Press n to play again”. The lose screen is red and says, “You Lose!!! Press n to play again”.

Finally, the sound requirement

At this point the game was almost finished! I just had to figure out how to add sound to Processing.js. I researched how to do this for a long time and came up with nothing. Then, I found an article showing how to play sound with CSS and adapted from that to use JavaScript. I decided to import the file to the document with HTML5 and use JavaScript code to play the sound file. I figured since the game would be embedded on a web page that it would not hurt to try adding sound this way. I got this working but only with local sound files. I decided to look through rights-free music and sound databases that I could pull music from to get the game to work. I found a balloon popping noise that I used for when Pepé collided with a seal, an explosion noise for when he lost all of his lives, a harp-like noise for when he made it to the other side and a techno song for background music. Adding the working sound and music finished up the first iteration of the game!

For, the next post in this series I will walk through how I cleaned up the code for Pepé the Penguin a bit and you will be able to play the game for yourself! In a later post, I will also walk you through how to code a basic version of this kind of game with processing.js for yourself – then we will turn to game mods for things like art, sound, and new game mechanics.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Let’s break it down:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

papasangre

dontstarve

 

 

 

 

 

Limbo: Disturbing… Dark… Beautiful

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Learn more about Limbo: http://playdead.com/

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: http://www.papasangre.com/

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: http://www.dontstarvegame.com/

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.”

From GamesandLearning.org:

“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: http://playmakers.instituteofplay.org/quest-2-teach

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

sashaCGI

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 http://www.destinythegame.com/

Guardians Moon: Image from http://www.destinythegame.com/

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 http://vyegame.com/)

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 Twitch.tv:

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.

Top 5 Learning Games from GLS 2014 Showcase

Gaming Research at ASU (via ASU Magazine)

Review of the ASU Impact-Based Research Conference

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 DeepField.com show that Twitch.tv 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 Twitch.tv 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 MLG.tv. 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 esportsearnings.com 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 quantcast.com, MajorLeagueGaming.com, 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.

 

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:

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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 Amazon.com. 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 Amazon.com 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 jgcc.research@sesame.org.

The Storytelling Series: Narrative Mechanics in The Last of Us

This is the second post in a series on narrative in videogames. If you have not yet read the introduction to the series, we recommend you do so here.

Discussions on narrative in videogames often involve the choice and control a player has over the plot and its characters, the decisions they have to make and the consequences of those choices. The form these narratives can take run the spectrum, from branching paths where the player’s choices determine what they experience from an existing source of narrative content, to sandboxes where stories are created from the emergent possibilities of its mechanics. Instead of arguing for the merit of any of these approaches in particular (although I encourage you to make your case in the comments below!), I will discuss the ways in which interactivity, and the resulting immersion, can improve storytelling in otherwise conventional narratives using The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog for the PlayStation 3, as my focus.

A conventional narrative, in this case, is simply the kind we are used to in other mediums – stories that are static, wherein the audience is given no direct power to shape its events or characters. There is a linearity to its content, with a defined beginning, middle and end. These are often difficult to communicate in videogames, as the actions the player is able to perform often do not conform to the story’s tone or are at odds with the character’s intentions. To some degree, these problems will always exist, with designers only able to go as far as pushing the player in a given direction and shaping the sorts of interactions they can have. In communicating the core of the narrative, Naughty Dog’s solution to this problem lies in its use of cut-scenes. Dialogue and plot details are most often depicted in these scenes, and although it will lose much of its nuance and impact, its story could prop itself up and survive on these alone. But it is a videogame, and relying so heavily on that device can be problematic for the medium – and by embodying the player in the world of the story, and forcing them to confront the many obstacles it presents, a depth and intimacy is established that would not exist otherwise.

lastofus1

The Last of Us tells the story of two people, Joel and Ellie, and their journey across a post-apocalyptic United States decades after a zombie-like fungal infection has ravaged its population and left its society in free-fall. Joel, the central protagonist, is a middle-aged man whose small family was torn apart by the outbreak. This puts him in a very different place than Ellie, a fourteen year old girl who was born well after those same events. Their interaction forms the core of the narrative, which primarily takes place twenty years after the virus initially breaks out. The strength of The Last of Us lies not in its ability to show us this upsetting future – to portray the run-down, abandoned buildings in the process of being reclaimed by nature, or the harsh conditions of failing quarantine zones that struggle to impose order; it does a spectacular job of doing so, and we know the magnitude of the events in the story from these images alone. But The Last of Us‘ straightforward narrative succeeds because it lets the player into that world, allowing them to dig through what is left and struggle against what drove it to this point.

Exploring a World Gone By

One of the central gameplay mechanics in The Last of Us is exploration. Largely functioning to pace the intense nature of the rest of its gameplay, the brief moments you are given to explore are invaluable in building the world’s narrative. Potentially at odds with the our expectations of what exploration should be in a game, these segments are limited in scope – the game space is fairly constrained, and players can never deviate from thelastofus6 path clearly laid out ahead of time (typically established in a cut-scene). By limiting what the player can do and see, it allows for a focus on the smaller details of its locales. Instead of roaming through the streets of a large city, exploring in The Last of Us takes place on a more personal level; for example, looking through the contents of a master bedroom in an abandoned home. What you can take note of in these areas builds its own back story – the pictures on the wall, what was left behind and what might be missing. But the storytelling is often more explicit during these segments; letters, notes, and military correspondences left behind detail people’s lives and worries during the outbreak, and context-specific dialogue between the game’s characters reveal pieces of their history and strengthens their personalities. It is entirely up to the player to seek these moments out, but their availability suggests a world larger than them and the characters in the story. There is no area in The Last of Us that seems new or untouched – everything has been lived in and is now wearing away. By looking through these environments, players come to understand that the story of Joel and Ellie is just one of many worth telling.

Survival

Those brief sections of reprieve are ultimately compensating for what makes up the bulk of the gameplay: the violent encounters against other survivors or the mutated humans affected by the virus. These sections do the best job of highlighting the most significant theme in The Last of Us –that of survival. Given the state of this world, it is important to its storytelling that the game forces the player to take part in its ugly, violent realities. It wants the player to feel the same desperation as its characters. To allow this, these combat scenarios are where the player is given the most agency. lastofus3 There are several tools and weapons at the player’s disposal, and the level design often allows for multiple paths (for both the player and the A.I.-controlled enemies). Even so, and despite the player’s best efforts, these levels are a messy, imperfect process. Supplies and ammunition are heavily limited by design, forcing the player to take risks by dodging in and out of buildings and rooms, hoping to find just a few more items that might help them. Design decisions are sometimes deceptively simple – the crafting mechanic happens in real-time, ensuring that the player finds the right time and place to craft important resources. The artificial intelligence of the human survivors is just as persistent, searching every room for supplies when unaware of Joel’s presence, and tirelessly flanking him when in full alert. It’s a cat-and-mouse game that relies on improvisation and quick-thinking.

At their best, these encounters are a tense, frustrating process that the player struggles to get through each and every time. The Last of Us often falls short of connecting these pieces to the larger narrative in a seamless way, however. On lower difficulties, the player can easily become too powerful, and the sheer amount of enemies can stretch the believability of an otherwise (relatively) grounded narrative. What is ideally being communicated, however, is that how the player manages to survive and progress in the world is made to be the same worried struggle that it is for Joel.

lastofus2

If The Last of Us is successful in reaching its narrative goals, if the world it creates is a much richer, more intimate one, it is because the player has been a part of it, discovering and experiencing it for themselves. It ideally places the player in the mindset of Joel and Ellie, allowing them to better understand what is at stake, and why the characters will ultimately act as they do. Even so, we can begin to see the difficulties, and limitations, that this particular design has. Player expression is limited to a focus on combat, and as a result the relationship between Joel, Ellie, and the other characters is rarely reinforced through player action. And there is so much more to discuss – the events and characterization itself, to the way parallels are reinforced and built upon not only by these details, but through gameplay and visual storytelling. Even if we find this approach too limited in scope or that the player still lacks agency, we can at least see the potential of interactivity in telling an otherwise conventional story.


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

Friday Round Up: What We Are Playing

If you didn’t catch the first post in our Round Up Series, make sure to give it a look. Last week’s post highlighted the exponentially growing world of eSports. This week, I asked the team to share what they have been playing.

Never Enough eSports

To start, some of us are still taking a look at eSports. Being that DOTA 2 is one of the most popular games in that area right now, it was no surprise to hear from Games & Impact Innovation Lab staffer Alex Cope that he just cannot tear himself away from the game. He says he really enjoyed the competition and getting to start new each time he plays:

“Well this is probably MOBA’s generally, the genre that DOTA is in…every game you start from scratch basically,” Cope said. “There’s no RPG leveling, so even if you’ve been playing for thousands of hours you still start level zero every game, no items. The whole point is to try and maximize your potential in each game. Depending on who your opponent is or what lane you’re in or what you’re doing, trying to get the best items is a different process ever time. It’s kind of like playing an actual sport, you don’t level up, you just have to score points all over again. There’s a cool mix between you trying to maximize your potential as a character – and there’s different roles. As a carrier you’re trying to score the most points and do the most damage, whereas the support is trying help that person maximize the damage they can do. So you’re trying to maximize your role as a part of a team but it’s a different process every time.

“There’s a certain competitive element to it that’s really addicting. It’s like an actual sport. It’s really hard to place it because often times my friends and I will be playing and if we lose it just feels so bad, like we’re not having any fun, but we will go back and play two more games afterwards. So yeah something about that competition is just a lot of fun.”  

More about DOTA 2 

Made by Valve, Dota 2 is becoming one of the most popular games on the Internet right now. “…here’s a quick update on the state of gaming: World of Warcraft (WoW) and MMORPGS are not the most popular games in the world as they once were in the early 2000′s; MOBA games rule the gaming world right now.” Dota 2 is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game and can be found on Steam.

 

New News Games on our Playlist

News Games LogoASU journalism professor Dan Gillmor joined us last week to talk about the ways in which games can play a role in teaching media literacy. In his survey of news games he mentioned:

  • NarcoGuerra“NarcoGuerra is Risk applied to the war on drugs; it’s hard, it’s political, it’s really quite good.” – PCGamesN
  • Snowden Run – CBS has an article that describes the game in full here.
  • Freedom of Information – A game that looks at the struggles of a journalist trying to get facts.
  • Buildcraft – A mod of the all-popular Minecraft.

We put all of these on our to-play list and will share as we take a look at each of them. In the meantime, if you have played one of these, or another interesting news game recently, please comment and let us know what you thought.

Adventures in Interactive Text

Shade, by Andrew PlotkinJournalism initiative coordinator, Juli James, has been playing interactive narrative games as she researches teaching journalists to design games for news. This week she said she played an interactive text adventure called Shade.  The completely text-based game is a horror short story and was made by Andrew Plotkin in 2000. He describes it as “A one-room game set in your apartment.”

“I enjoy interactive narrative games like the Walking Dead Game and Heavy Rain,” James said. “Recently, I began playing interactive text stories (think Zork from the 1980s). Shade is this style of game. Completely text based, it feels strange, uncomfortable, but in a good way. Like reading a Stephen King short story but getting to be the main character myself.”

 

Playing with Storytelling and Mechanics

Kat Dutchin, creative producer, is playing superbrothers: sword and sworcery on her iPad right now and is enjoying it. She said an interesting mechanic of the game is that you go through the virtual world in a 2D landscape, but when fight scenes occur, the screen rotates to portrait and a sword pops up for you to use. Sword and Sworcery ” is an elegant music-inspired adventure video game created for a broad, literate audience. It tells a short, dreamy story about a lone woman warrior on a tragic quest in a lush, haunted mountain wilderness.” -www.swordandsworcery.com.

 

Games & Impact Link Round Up: First up, eSports

Welcome to the Round Up Series

This is the first post for our new weekly round up series for the Center for Games & Impact blog. At the Center we are all dedicated to games and positive social impact but our team members work in a variety of disciplines. I love hearing about what everyone else is reading and playing as we are going along about our separate projects. Recently, it came up that we should share our discoveries with each other and even here on the blog every few weeks or so. Ta da! The Friday Round Up series is born. Every so often we will post interesting games, books, blogs, and articles that we have come across online serendipitously, or perhaps from preliminary research into an area.

We would also like to know what you found interesting this week. Share your own interesting reads and plays with us in the comments.

This Week’s Round Up: An Initial Look at eSports

For the past few weeks some of our team has been looking at sports games, specifically at EA Sports’s Madden series and its newest release, Madden 25. Our sports games writer, Ross Dunham, has a review of the game on deck so be on the lookout for that in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have also started to look at the growing world of eSports. Here are some interesting reads Ross came across during his research this week:

About eSports

The US Now Recognizes eSports Players as Professional Athletes (Forbes.com)
“To the general public, the idea that those who play video games for a living have much in common with high level professional athletes might be laughable. But those involved with the scene understand the unique talent, skill and determination of the players mirrors that of “real” athletes, even if their physical fitness is different.”  

Major League Gaming Looks to ESPN Model to Expand eSports Coverage (Forbes.com)
“Professional gaming continues to grow as a spectator sport, and Major League Gaming has presided over the dramatic expansion of the pastime in North America specifically the last few years. Their tournaments draw online stream viewers in the millions, while their average viewing times continue to rise with each passing event.”

Learning from eSports – 3 Ways to Make TV More Engaging Without the Second Screen (Gamification.co)
“For people who still watch regular broadcast television, it has become very common to actually watch TV while simultaneously using your laptop, phone, or tablet. Savvy networks like USA/NBC have picked up on this and created gamified mobile companion applications to engage with users as they both watch TV and browse on the net. There are compelling case-studies that outline the efficacy of this concept, coined the second screen, but I have not really seen any other kinds of engagement tactics for viewers. However, I found inspiration for new possible ways from the gamer community, and more specifically, the Dota 2 community.”

Popular eSports Games

DOTA 2
“Dota is a competitive game of action and strategy, played both professionally and casually by millions of passionate fans worldwide. Players pick from a pool of over a hundred heroes, forming two teams of five players.” —From Steam.com

League of Legends
“League of Legends (or as it was previously known, League of Legends: Clash of Fates) is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre video game developed by Riot Games, to operate on the Microsoft Windows operating system.[5] It was first announced on October 7th, 2008 and released a year later on October 27th, 2009.[6] The game was in beta from April 10th, 2009 [7] to October 26th, 2009.[8] ” —From the League of Legends Wikia

StartCraft II
“StarCraft II is a sequel to the PC based Real Time Strategy game StarCraft: Brood War made by Blizzard Entertainment. It is split into three installments: the base game with the subtitle Wings of Liberty, and two upcoming expansion packs, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. StarCraft II features the return of the three species from the original game: ProtossTerran, and Zerg.” —From Team Liquid liquidipedia

Ross, and Games & Impact Innovation Lab team members Ben Pincus and Alex Cope are working on a deeper look into eSports and impact – check back for their series in the upcoming months. Until then, where do you go to read about eSports or watch gameplay? Share your links in the comments below.

Bringing journalism, impact games together at ASU

Journalism and Impact Games 

Journalists at ASU's Cronkite School participating in a newsgame design workshop in March 2013.

Journalists at ASU’s Cronkite School participating in a newsgame design workshop in March 2013.

I started 2013 with a question: What would it mean to teach journalists to design newsgames? After talking the idea over with my colleagues at the Center for Games & Impact and connecting with Retha Hill and the New Media Innovation Lab at the Cronkite School we spent the spring 2013 semester working with journalism students to teach them to design interactive narrative games, a form that seemed appropriate to storytelling in journalism. The experience from that semester lead me toward a vision that in five years there should be a newsgame designer in every newsroom. Not a “conventional” game designer with a computer science or programming background, though. Newsgame designers should be journalists who design games to explore and explain complex news issues and privilege journalism’s practice and values in design, production, and distribution. All those computational, data, multimedia, and geek journalists out there working hard to learn, use, and keep ahead of technology, we want to see them add newsgame designer to their skill set.

Starting this fall we are still working on teaching game design to journalists, but eight months into operationalizing this idea my understanding of what impact games can do for journalism has grown. Coordinating this initiative between the Center and the Cronkite School has led me to want to see j-school students graduating with a specialty in game-infused journalism. This is the first in a series of posts exploring journalism and impact games and to start I would like to share what I learned in the past few years that started me down this path: Games can raise the bar for news and newsgames are a legitimate form of news. Various organizations (media-related and otherwise) have produced newsgames (budget balancers, for example, are common). Bogost, Ferrari, and Schweizer wrote the book on it. And academics are leading discussion and research on platforms for newsgames.

But, we have yet to see a regular, sustainable practice of newsgame design as a part of regular journalism.

What Impact Games Do Well

At the Center for Games & Impact we explore how good games connect people, inspire real-world action, build in real data around hypothetical experiences, and allow players to take on roles way out of their comfort zones. Some examples:

  • The transmedia game World Without Oil brought people together around a social context, asking them to role-play how they would change their lives during the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis. It stimulated real world change as players took action by adjusting their real-lives according to the crisis, and the game stimulated conversation and solution sharing around the world as players participated in the game across media platforms through blogging, texting, posting images, and even voicemail.
  • The online game Spent is an interactive narrative where players become a single parent trying to make it through one month on $1000. Players must make choices about their jobs (that can be labor intensive, minimum wage, and temporary), where they will live, and whether they want to purchase healthcare, and then navigate scenarios like what to do if they, or their children, get sick, can take time off, and lose access to transportation. The game builds in both social media components and information about the impact of the everyday choices players must make. It is a short, immersive, intense role-playing scenario that can create a new understanding around a common social issue in their community, prompts them to share moments from their gameplay with their personal networks, and demonstrates how data points about poverty and homelessness can be built into the experience in an interactive, understandable way.
  • Foldit asks players to “solve puzzles for science.” The online game is accessible for players of all ages and while it does not turn a player into a research scientist, the player’s action of folding proteins can lead to scientific advances in eradicating diseases and improving medication in our world. The crowd-sourced research approach means scientists have access to thousands more possible protein folding solutions than they could come up with in the same amount of time on their own, while the game simultaneously provides players with an interactive biological and chemical educational opportunity through their gameplay.
  • The Walking Dead game asks players to make moral decisions in a post-apocolyptic survival setting. Similar to Spent, players have to make tough choices about everyday life, and live with the consequences of those choices, whether positive or negative. Player decisions impact the experience of the story for the rest of the game. The Walking Dead game also includes a key innovative feature. In contrast to Spent, where real-world information about the game’s subject matter was incorporated into the game experience, The Walking Dead game shows players something that arrises from game play data itself. At the end of each episode the game’s stats screen shows the player where their decisions fell in relationship to other players. The game’s designers understood that players enjoy knowing how other players think and used player data to reveal interesting things about the people in the world around us.

Impact game designers know that serious issues and fun experiences are not mutually exclusive and, when engineered the right way, play holds the power to transform society. By paying attention to game design journalists can elevate the power of interactive storytelling for news.

Do Games Trivialize the News

When asked whether newsgames trivialize the news my response is that the risk is not in the form, it is in the approach, as is the case for any piece of journalism. Games provide a platform for audience engagement different from reading. It is not that this is more or less thoughtful, as our innovation lab director, Adam Ingram-Goble, is teaching me, it is just that we can only design for the experience. We cannot control what the player brings to it, nor what they will take away.

In any case, I am most concerned with what journalists risk by ignoring the emerging newsgame environment and the possibilities this form of storytelling can provide. My goal to develop a practice of game-infused journalism is just as much about innovating and disrupting journalism as it is about meeting audiences where they are, and responding to the fact that newsgames are being produced from within and external to journalism already. Organizations are working with journalists to hold newsgames hackathons, which is great. But, many of these projects are incidental, and groups like Auroch Digital’s Game the News (GTN) project are producing serious games and calling them newsgames, but journalists (and, importantly, the values of journalism) are not necessarily a part of their production. Apple is repeatedly rejecting newsgames and asserting what games should and should not be used for. In response to having a game rejected from the App Store, GTN modified a game’s content for inclusion.

Sure, a game designer can do this. A designer’s goals may include access for as many people as possible to play the game.

But, would a journalist do this?

This behavior has huge implications for journalists. Journalists’ goals include informing audiences, sharing stories as factually as possible, and holding accountable entities that seek to block such activities for whatever reason. By not coordinating the practice of newsgames with intention, journalism is at risk for mutations in practice, understanding, and distribution channel access.

From Newsgame Designers to a Game-Infused Journalism Practice

So, back to that crazy idea from the start of this year, I have realized that adding newsgame design to the journalist’s toolbox is only a small part of what it means to bring journalism and impact games together. In the games and learning field they know that games are an entry point for computational skills that we can take advantage of while teach j-school students digital literacy for the journalism industry. Regardless of their specialities, journalists need to speak the language of technology.

My other questions at the start of this year were: What forms of journalism translate well into games? What kinds of games and mechanics might lend themselves well to journalism? Recently, I have been excited to read more about journalists investigating the use of games like this look at the practice of newsgames in Brazil, and this piece on games for journalism. And in working with the Cronkite School to see this practice become more intentional and coordinated I see that we need journalism to own the definition of newsgames, to set out the guiding principles for the practice, and to challenge others who build serious games with the label “news”. Since realizing there is so much more value to bringing impact games to journalism I have added new questions to guide my endeavor. Questions like: What does game-infused journalism look like? How can we use the principles and best practices of digital games and learning to train the next generation of journalists, whatever their specialties might be?

Games & Impact Contest: Compose your own video game music

Musical InstrumentsMusic and art have the potential to affect our emotional states and even our perception of the world around us. Games for impact, more than simply contexts for actions taken in the world, are about what we feel and understand. They draw power and potential from key elements of music and art to do their work on us as individuals and collectively on the world.

Music Contest: Compose Video Game Music & Win!

Record 30 seconds of your own video game music and share it with us on Facebook or Twitter for the chance to win admission for two to the Phoenix Art Museum and a Gift Card to purchase your own copy of Flower*.

Rules of Play

  1. Select a game to compose your own soundtrack. Then, use formal instruments, ad hoc pan drums, mobile apps such as Ocarina 2 and Leaf Trombone, or whatever else you have at hand to create the soundtrack as a friend plays the game.
  2. Take turns playing with the game muted while your friends improvise music in response to the mood and atmosphere of your gameplay.
  3. Record 15-30 seconds of the resulting music and gameplay using Vine, YouTube, Instagram or another program you know, and share it at:  http://www.facebook.com/gamesandimpact with #CGIMusicChallenge or http://twitter.com/gamesandimpact with #CGIMusicChallenge
  4. Be sure to share with us what feelings, mood, and experience you had while creating your video, and what experience you wanted to create.

*Fine Print: To be entered into the drawing for museum tickets you must:

  1. Share your video at http://facebook.com/gamesandimpact with the tag #CGIMusicChallenge OR
  2. Share your video on Twitter and mention @gamesandimpact with the tag #CGIMusicChallenge
  3. Submit your entry by August 30, 2013. 

CGI leveling-up Arizona’s next generation impact game designers

Quest Atlantis Playable Stories student Anthony Ellerman (left) and camp co-instructor Joel Ayala (right) work together on Anthony's game that will teach players the importance of persistence and creative problem solving.

Quest Atlantis Playable Stories student Anthony Ellerman (left) and camp co-instructor Joel Ayala (right) work together on Anthony’s game that will teach players the importance of persistence and creative problem solving.

Summer Camp: Crafts… Glue… Game Design?

For many people summer time childhood memories conjure images of bike riding, swimming, cartoon marathons, or popsicle sticks and glue while doing crafts at summer camp. For a new generation of kids growing up with ubiquitous computing, summer also means playing videogames, and learning computer programming and game design. In fact, for the past two weeks a group of Arizona kids have participated in the Arizona State University (ASU) STEM College for Kids to learn game design for social change with the Quest Atlantis Playable Stories course, RemixPS.

The course’s designer and camp instructor, Adam Ingram-Goble, who is also the Innovations Director at the Center for Games and Impact  met with his group of students last Monday morning and immediately dropped them off in the main plaza of dystopian society, Sector 15, where residents have x-chip control devices implanted to ensure the community’s “peaceful” rules and regulations are strictly followed. Right away, Sector 15’s new residents are detected, the plaza gates slam shut, and alarms sound.

“Sector 15’s great leader, Magnus, controls the population with brain chips that affect the way the people think and feel about certain things,” said Joel Ayala, camp co-instructor, “[The students become] characters in the game that come into this society from the outside so they have an outsider’s perspective. Then, they meet the rebels, people who are trying to over-throw the order, and the thesis of the story is that to over-throw the order you have to create “dreamscapes,” or games, that have morals and stories to remind the citizens who’ve been brainwashed about what society is really about, and what it means to care about other people and accept diversity.”

Though some of it sounds like the opening for a sci-fi summer blockbuster, the scenario for the Quest Atlantis RemixPS video game course prepares students, aged 9-14, to learn video game design for social change in a matter of hours.

“We don’t give a lot of instruction upfront,” said Ingram-Goble, “because [in addition to teaching game design] the intent of this camp is to be a personal discovery and guided exploration about what matters to you.”

As the players meet Magnus’s right hand man and learn the social rules, “It really sets a bias for children to want to fix this. They feel like, ‘Oh gosh, this is horribly wrong. People shouldn’t be forced to do this.’ That sets them up to see computer science and programming as a way to change the future,” said Ingram-Goble.

A player in Sector 15's underground tunnel leading toward the rebel hideout.

A player in Sector 15’s underground tunnel leading toward the rebel hideout.

The kids are rescued by a team of rebels before the programming of their newly installed x-chip mind control devices. But, the chips allow for the player to participate in the city’s shared dream space where citizens have their nightly security and mind control updates. In terms of camp instruction, however, this dream space is also the place where the kids playing RemixPS learn game design and programming. Camp instructors lead them through creating new dreams for the residents of Sector 15, dreams that encourage social responsibility and action. The children in camp this week are working on games about decision making and consequences, breaking down large actions into smaller tasks, and working with others to solve mysteries.

Empowering a New Generation of Game Designers

Atlantis Remixed Playable Stories, or RemixPS, introduces children to computer programming and game design as prosocial behavior, that is behavior that intends to benefit others, and an important part of Ingram-Goble’s work is to create tools that are user-friendly across broad populations and technical skill sets.

“Playable stories summer camp… is driven in response to exclusion and lack of broad participation in programming and game design in America,” he said, “What this means from a human capital perspective is that significant portions of the population and types of people are excluded from participating in the practice. What that means from a human learning and creative practice perspective is that we are only hearing voices from a subset of our population. Which ultimately, because computer science is largely about building tools for addressing human experience and human problems, means that we’re not seeing and understanding different kinds of solutions.”

Ingram-Goble, Ayala and the rest of the team at CGI, look at how games serve as an entry point to important skills like computational thinking and creative problem solving. They design tools to draw children into developing these skills in a fun and engaging way. The Center’s goal, though, is to take “fun and engaging” and then raise the bar for players by designing initiatives that demonstrate the power of games to create sustainable solutions for society’s biggest social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges. The Quest Atlantis Playable Stories summer camp advances this for the Center and teaches the next generation of Arizona’s social change-makers the skills they need to bring their ideas and solutions to the technological forefront.

Quest Atlantis Playable Stories STEM CFK Summer 2013

Arizona’s newest impact game designers from the summer 2013 Quest Atlantis Playable Stories STEM College for Kids.

“This figures into our theory of transformational play and learning,” said Ingram-Goble, “We position learners as someone with legitimacy and consequentiality in a problematic context with content knowledge. As they are introduced to the social context of the problem they also start to understand the components of games. At the end of the RemixPS scenario players earn their own toolkit and can go in and start creating stories. They are continually positioned to work on a story with a particular message, and it was one of the things from my earlier research that became a meaningful moment because kids struggled with “I know I want to make a game about a wizard, or a game about zombies, but how to I make that have a social message?” And the kids came up with wonderful things about how it’s heroic to help and be altruistic.”

Find out more about The Center for Games & Impact, Video Games and STEM in Arizona:


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.

CGI – Cronkite Innovation Lab Partnership Brings ASU’s First Newsgame Workshop

Gamestar Mechanic and Collaboration

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

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

 

Instant Feedback

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

Critiquing Others

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

.

Become Part of a Larger Community

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

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