What We’re Playing for Halloween

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

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









Limbo: Disturbing… Dark… Beautiful

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Kelly Tran, Graduate Student Fellow

Learn more about Limbo: 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!

Review of the ASU Impact-Based Research Conference

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

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

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

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Arizona State students developing news games at the 2013 workshop.

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

Getting Game Design Experience

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

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

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Wired Magazine’s Cutthroat Capitalism: The Game

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

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

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

Game Design Education for J-Schools

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

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

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

For more information about News Games and Game Design:




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

Review of Madden 25

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Storytelling Series: Why the Video Game?

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

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

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

Understanding Storytelling


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

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

What About the Video Game?

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

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

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

Understanding Narrativity

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


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

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

Measuring Narrativity on a Spectrum

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


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

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

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

Where Do We Go From Here?

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

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

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

The Cake is a Lie: Easter Eggs in Video Games

What is an Easter egg?

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

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

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

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

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

An Easter Egg for the Game Creator


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

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

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

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

An Easter Egg for the Game Player

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

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

The Impact of Creating Easter Eggs

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

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

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

For more about Easter eggs in video games:

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

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

HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Balsamiq as Entry points to design and programming

Many of the contributors at the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab don’t have deep experience with design or programming when they first begin working with us. To support their learning of tools in pursuit of enhanced capabilities to design and develop innovative ideas we needed to find some jumping-in points.

My personal approach has been to encourage this growth by using HTML and CSS to first create the confidence in their individual ability to design. For those of us that code and design regularly, think back to that first time that you created a simple, ugly page and how incredible it was to realize that you had control of this “web-page stuff.” Then recall that moment when you first published it, and had a friend or family go visit your work in their own browser on another machine!

While the technical accomplishment may pale in scope to what rapidly follows, even that first taste is such a rush it hooks many of us for years, setting us on a path of productive exploration and struggle as we manifest ourselves through our works. Importantly,as access to technology has improved and we are now well into the second decade of ubiquitous web access in the US, our tools have greatly improved.

Among those tools is the collaborative mockup tool, Balsamiq Sketchups. This is an even better way to start design for many because it supports design iteration and critique in a structured way that allows a new designer to begin to grapple with the grammar of the experiences they want to craft, before getting buried in the details of missing semi-colons and curly-brace mismatches. The reason I love Balsamiq isn’t because it is the most complete tool, or the most flexible, or even any of a number of other criteria we might assert: I love it because it is constrained, and engenders the ethos of designing for experience, not flash.

That was possibly the most important lesson I learned from my time on the Connected Learning project. When Kareem Ettouney, the MediaMolecule Art Director, made the point that the perception of a requirement of polish prevents creative work from being shared, it really struck home. To side-step this, LittleBigPlanet makes polish hard to achieve in the look, keeping a kind of hand-crafted aesthetic, but not the feel of the experience. This is the same balance struck in Balsamiq: the point is to get the quick and dirty design to feel right, then, if it makes sense to proceed, focus on producing the design with polish in a different tool set that affords it.

With this orienting frame several participants in the Innovation Lab have already started to bring new products and visions to life, including the News21 VA game. As this part of the Innovation Lab produces more products we will share technology tutorials and tools. Let us know if there is something you’d like to co-design!

Opening the Lab

The Innovation Lab has been “in the works” now for most of a year. During this time the vision has continued to evolve in relation to the activity at the Center for Games & Impact. The lab is home to a variety of scholars and researchers, students, dabblers, interns, developers, and designers interested in how games can be leveraged to improve our lives. Sometimes this takes the form of increasing awareness, sometimes it takes the form of changing our everyday interactions, and sometimes any one of a dozen different forms.

The lab is currently preparing for the coming ASU school year, where we will execute first runs of the Center for Games & Impact certificate courses. These are being designed as gameful experiences. EDT210 will explore the relationship between Games, Technology, and Society while supporting students in developing a critical appreciation of games, how society views game, how to design games, and finally how to use games to significantly impact a selected problem. EDT310 will go much deeper on that last topic, exploring the full lifecycle of games for impact development.

Throughout the year we will post game designs resulting from our weekly game jams, tutorials for making games, and new tools we design to support our own game creation and research. Our goal is to help cultivate a culture of innovation and creation, and we invite you to join us in this pursuit!

Newsgames Workshop Information Request

[gravityform id=”6″ name=”Newsgames Workshop”]

Retha Hill Fellows Q&A: J-Schools and the Language of Technology

CGI Q&A with ASU Fellow Retha Hill
Director, New Media Innovation Lab
Professor of Practice, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

CGI: Please share a little bit about your work or research.

Professor Hill: I look at how universities, particularly journalism schools can help the journalists of the future get there now from learning how to be entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial-minded,  through building skills in product develop development from inception to completion, and by helping students think about monetizing in their projects. It can be a huge problem, the notion of monetizing whatever it is a journalist is proposing. It’s something that journalists have traditionally shied away from because we didn’t want conflict of interest. So part of what we do at the lab is provide the support and space for students to build an understanding of emerging technologies so that some of the journalists can do basic development work on their own.

CGI: Why is this important for journalism students?

Professor Hill:
An issue with some journalism and media funding initiatives is that they give money to journalists that come up with a fabulous idea, but there are gaps in project execution and/or product delivery because the awardees do not understand enough of the technology. For example, the journalist cannot do the development and they spend much of the budget hiring a developer who also does not deliver. This can happen because of disconnects in the journalists ability to assess the technical needs of the project, the communication of those technical needs, and even the capabilities of the developer. There may also be a gap in the development community of people who say they can do something, and people who can actually do it. Then, there may also be issues with finding the right people who can understand your business. Of course, many developers can probably do an iPhone application, but if the journalist can’t walk them through the project and explain what they really want, then they get a project or product that has cost a lot of money and is less than ideal. I think it is incumbent upon the journalist, and the journalism students, to really understand enough of the technology to have a productive conversation. It’s like, if I’m speaking in Spanish, and you’re speaking in Russian, then we can’t understand each other. But, if I have some rudimentary Russian and you have some rudimentary Spanish, then we can probably carry on some kind of a conversation and get closer to what we need.

CGI: So, what does it mean to bridge the language/communication gap between journalists and technologists?

Professor Hill: It’s basically doing some of the work yourself. The lab has a student who is a broadcast major and he’s actually creating a mobile application for the Society of Professional Journalists that would be a mobile source book for all of their diversity sources. He’s taught himself jQuery mobile, which is not that hard, but now he has to build a backend. Now, Micah, our developer, has been teaching him python and he’s been reading these books on python. Will he get to the point that he’s a python expert? Probably not. But if he can build a simple backend, and he’s very entrepreneurial in his thinking, let’s say 6 months from now he’s walking down the street and has an idea for something, he can probably cobble together at least a minimally viable product and he can take it to a developer, or maybe even to a funder, and say, “This is where I think I want to go…” Then, he can get X number of dollars, he can then hire someone who could do the more complex iPhone application that uses Objective-C or some of the programming that you need for Android, or Blackberrry.

In another example, our students are learning GIS, they’re learning about database manipulation and creation, these are the kinds of skills that will serve journalists well in the future. It will certainly help Cronkite students beat the competition. Cause nowadays, typical journalism student a major j-school will know how to report, they know how to do multimedia, they can shoot video, they can edit it themselves, they can post it, they can do social media, they might even understand SEO. But where we were maybe more cutting edge with that 4 or 5 years ago, now not only entrepreneurship, but being able to do some of the programming will give these students more of an edge in getting that job. In a small market, why not hire the journalist who can report the fire, and then in her spare time maybe work on a mobile application for the market? It saves the organization from having to hire a developer and pay $50,000 for it.

CGI: What are your thoughts on the intersection of Journalism and Games & Impact?

Professor Hill: I think two things: One, journalists across the country are still trying to figure out how to use games to teach people. It’s the same issue with education, it has to be fun, it has to be interesting, it has to bring people back. So, as journalists we’re always trying to teach complex issues to our readers, whether it’s the housing swaps, the economic meltdown, or what happening in the Middle East…  I think most journalists who have thought about this have tried, and failed, to come up with interesting ways to gamify the news. There have been a few successes, most of them failures. So that’s one issue. But, two, the other issue is, How can journalists use game technology to teach people about our industry, what it is that we do, and the decisions that we need to make as journalists? People have a view, especially in the last 10 to 15 years, that journalists are biased, and we put our biases out there, as opposed to understanding the choices that we have to make when we’re in the field.

Differentiating Four Levels Of Engagement In Learning: The ICAP Hypothesis

CGI Q&A with ASU Fellow Dr. Michelene (Micki) Chi
Professor, Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University

CGI: Please tell me about your work and the ICAP hypothesis.

Dr. Chi: I like to know about an area of research that has been a problem for many, many years. I like to be able to impose some kind of framework on it and make sense of either discrepant data out there, or contradictory studies. My work for this has to do with active versus passive learning. Everybody talks about, “We need students to be active learners.” People talk about that all the time, active versus passive. There has not previously been a definition… That is: What does that mean to be active in learning? What do teachers have to do to help students become active? Or, how do we tell teachers what to do? There are various methods that have been researched and have shown to be effective, but we don’t know which is better than which, why are they effective, and so on… So that’s one thing.

I wanted to put some coherence on this huge amount of data that’s kind of messy. The second thing I like to do in my research is to look at issues from various sides. Instead of looking at things from the expert side, I look at it from the novice side. I also did a lot of developmental work where instead of looking at it from the adult side, I looked at it from the kid side. So, this entire work is student centered, so the question is: “What do the students have to do that we can define as active? What is it exactly that they do?”

For this framework, I developed three categories of activities that students can do that we call active. Then, the categories are contrasted with what is called “passive”, and I also define what passive means. These definitions are based completely on overt behavior. The teachers can see the students’ overt behaviors. So, passive, contrary to what people think, is when the student is paying attention to you. In this case, the student is oriented toward you, paying attention.  However, usually, teachers do not always think that. They think paying attention is active, but “passive” is just receiving information.

“Active,” the second level, is when a student is doing something with the learning materials that does not go beyond the material. What that means is, if I gave you a page to read and you are underlining or highlighting but not going beyond the material, or copying information the teacher is writing on the board, those are all active, the distinction being that the student is not adding any more information than what is already given.

The third level is “constructive.” Constructive means I am actually adding something beyond the material. If you gave me a problem to solve and I start drawing a diagram where no diagram was given, that is creating something new. Another example is a strategy called ‘self explaining.’ That is, if I’m reading a text I can try to explain what that means to me. Without any feedback from anybody, I can just explain what that means to me. In the process of explaining, you actually look to learn something.

Beyond constructive, the last level is “interactive”. If you actually talk to somebody, another student, that’s interactive. You are also constructive while you are talking. What that means is, if you say something, I built on what you just said. Perhaps I asked you to justify, provided an elaboration on what you just said, or I challenge what you said. Those are productive, constructive interactions.

From this, I generated a hypothesis called ICAP. That is, interactive is better than constructive, which is better than active, which is better than passive. Based on students’ overt behavior, being a cognitive psychologist, I can think about the cognitive processes a student is doing while she is doing these things. One way to explain it is to say that when a student is underlining a sentence, what the student is actually doing is underlining something that might be important and she is paying more attention to it. The student is trying to integrate it with herself, so it all makes sense. From a cognitive processes point of view, I generated this ICAP hypothesis for learning. Then, I went to all the studies and literature that I could find. For those that I can interpret the conditions, what the intervention is — for example, the one intervention is interactive, the other intervention is passive — I can say, “Well, obviously they’ll interpret that interactive is better…” I look at the results and put it in my matrix and see if it fits.

I did that for all the studies and then I homed in on specific things. For homing in on ‘self explaining,’ which I know is constructive I would say, “Well, self explaining, it turns out is very successful. It is successful most of the time when compare to active, constructive. But, if you compare it to interactive, it may not be.” And, there are a couple of studies that show that. Also, the theory says something about studies and what kind of control conditions that they use.  If they use a weak control condition, of course you’re going to see an effect.

It also gives some coherence to a lot of studies that look at specific strategies. For example, summarizing. Half the studies say summarizing is good, half the studies say summarizing is bad. It depends on whether you are implementing it as a constructive activity, or active. So, one way people do summarizing is to take a page, and in summarizing they are basically just deleting what is irrelevant. That is called the delete strategy. It is an active strategy. You are not summarizing in your own words. From there, we can get coherence in the literature by saying, “Well, summarizing is good, if you do it this way. And the study is confusing because it is comparing to a passive control condition.”

CGI: So, what are you doing next with the research?

Dr. Chi: IES funded us so now we are asking, Can we, in fact, tell how teachers create these learning activities in their classrooms? For our preliminary attempt we went in to a college classroom and changed the activities for them. We said to the professor, “Show me what you do in class. Here is how we’re going to improve it for you. And, you try it.” We got that data and now we are developing an online module that teachers can use themselves. After going through the module they should know how to change the activities in class that they’ve designed, to improve them. That is the goal. After our preliminary attempt, we held a workshop with about 10 teachers and they tried the class. The data is just coming in and next semester we willl develop the module.

CGI: So, how do games impact your work?

Dr. Chi: For how it relates to games? It all depends. Games are like other technology environments. Technology environments claim they are interactive. Of course, they all need a response. But, you still have to look at what kind of responses do we require from the student. We can look at games, and other technologies and ask, “What kind of response to we require from students? Can we make those responses more constructive, interactive?” And then, we can consider how that would help learning better. It may not, if with an interactive system all you do is select or choose the best answer. Well, that is only active – choose an answer. That’s not ‘give an explanation.’

CGI: Do you think that could benefit the teacher training module to make it a game infused experience?

Dr. Chi: Could we make that into a more game-like module? I’m sure we could, but, I don’t think we could this time.  Beyond that, how could it hurt? It would just make it more interesting. However, not everyone can develop games. Games are very difficult and expensive to develop. And, with kids it is getting to the point where I am noticing a problem. They are so used to playing games, and in games all kinds of things happen. We are having trouble now when we show straightforward materials to kids. It’s not that the materials are simplistic, but it is not like when you push a button and different things come up. There is less happening and they get very discouraged. You know, all we want them to do is push so you see the next screen, lets say, and they just keep on doing that because they want to see what other fancy things might happen. It is like an entire populations of kids are expecting to be wowed by the screen.

Learn more about Dr. Michelene Chi’s ICAP hypothesis at her presentation for the Center for Games & Impact brown bag Fellows Series this month.

You can also download the 2009 paper: Active-contructive-interactive: a conceptual framework for differentiating learning activities.

Games & Impact Web Roundup – 9.21.2012

Here’s what we were reading and chatting about around the water cooler this week at the Center for Games & Impact:

Kinect in the Classroom
“One of the most interesting ways game-based learning (GBL) is being implemented is with the use of Microsoft’s Kinect. Kinect specifically is an accessory to the Xbox 360, where motion and gestures control game functions. From sports games, to “hack and slash,” the Kinect physically involves the player in gameplay. But why use it in the classroom? And how should you use it in the classroom?”

MMO Family: First Impressions of Pora Ora
A first look at an upcoming online multiplayer games designed to present kids with educational games. The articles describes this game’s attempt to add more depth to the area of ‘educational’ games, while emphasizing things such as internet safety.

Rise and Shiny: There
This article discusses the social allure of MMO (multiplayer online games) by discussing the re-launch of an old MMO called “There”, which despite the re-launch seems mostly empty of players these days. Touching on differences between these games ten years ago and today, the article points out that the socialization that these online games allow is a vital part of the experience.

Video: Journey’s creative challenges
“Thatgamecompany has developed a real habit of taking risks. From the abstract flOw to the whimsical Flower, the studio’s gone out of its way to explore new design ideas and break away from industry tropes. With Journey, the studio’s most recent creation, the team aimed to create an unusual co-op game that focused less on mechanics, and more on creating a meaningful, emotional bond with another player. It was a tall order, and realizing that vision was no easy task.”

Storyboard: Private party
This is a brief article about privacy in role playing games. It discusses the concept of what actions in a game might want to be free from random interlopers, and what are not. Since these actions take place in games, the line of what a person might want to keep to themselves is a bit different than in reality.

Seeing Games as A Vital Part of 21st Century Literacy and Assessment – A Few Moments With Katie Salen
Game designer Katie Salen looks at the progress of students in a new type of school based on game design ideas, Quest to Learn, over the past three years. She talks about how their students are feeling engaged in classes once again. They have partnered with Electronic Arts to create a game lab designed to assess large ranges of skills from empathy to traditional common core skills inside of game environments.

Serious games could be integrated into surgical training subject to validation
Research results from the Netherlands about the potential effectiveness in using serious (or educational) games to help train surgeons. Different types of games besides those developed for purely educational purposes were also evaluated and shown to help teach skills related to a medical profession. While there still needs to be more studies before these games can become a common educational tool for doctors, the research looks to have promise.

With Hands Outstretched
A really lovely editorial on video games and desire, particularly looking at the way that video games rely on teasing their players, coercing them into playing longer and potentially becoming addiction forming. It notes Spleunky (greed for items), Diablo III (microtransactions), and Gears of War (releasing aggression) as notable examples for their habit forming natures.

Games & Impact Web Round-Up – 9.7.2012

Here’s what we were reading and chatting about around the water cooler at the Center for Games & Impact:

Mojang and UN presents: Block by Block
“Just like the Swedish predecessor, “Block by Block” aims to involve youth in the planning process in urban areas by giving them the opportunity to show planners and decision makers how they would like to see their cities in the future.  Minecraft has turned out to be the perfect tool to facilitate this process. The three-year partnership will support UN-Habitat’s Sustainable Urban Development Network to upgrade 300 public spaces by 2016.”

Single Player Matters: Why Not All Games Need to Be ‘Social’
“It’s comments like Gibeau’s, both his initial one and his explanation, that are holding gaming back from being as respected of an art form as books, TV or movies. Yes, the ability to play and interact with others is a benefit of games over those other forms of media. But it is not the only benefit, and it can detract from a game if overly used. Video games have a unique opportunity to tell stories effectively because they put the player inside the shoes of the central character, forcing them to make the decisions that drive the story. It’s what makes Mass Effect or Heavy Rain more compelling than many movies or shows. Interestingly, I find Telltale’s The Walking Dead game a much more harrowing and emotional experience than watching the actual TV show. The main character is me. The group members are my friends. And it works because I’m experiencing it alone.”

No Sex Please, We’re Gamers
“The community’s response was polarised. Bellard observed a relatively even split between those calling for Seduce Me to be down-voted and threatening to complain, and those who, for various reasons, believed that content of this sort should be allowed a place on PC gaming’s most pervasive distribution platform. Ultimately, the community didn’t make the final decision; within an hour, No Reply received an e-mail from Valve stating that Seduce Me had violated Greenlight’s terms of service and had been removed from the process.”

Internet Petition Brings Aliens: Colonial Marines Female Jarheads
“It’s easy to doubt the significance and importance of online petitions, but every now and then they can make the voices of gamers heard. Such was the case when Gearbox producer Brian Burleson stated that Aliens: Colonial Marines’ multiplayer modes would exclusively feature playable male characters. Aliens fans found this a little odd, considering that the series is among the most female-centered franchises of science-fiction, so a petition was quickly filled with almost 4000 signatures demanding that the oversight be corrected.”

Could FarmVille 2 actually capture the hearts of core gamers?
“Zynga told me that their goal for FarmVille 2 was to create an experience that felt “relaxing and pastoral.” They want the title to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and recapture the feeling of living in a small town and running a small farm. They want the five-minute breaks people spend with FarmVille 2 to be “The best five minutes of their day.”

Games earn more money on Kickstarter than any other category
“In the eight months leading up to August 31, video games and board games on Kickstarter have earned a collective $50 million dollars. Other leading categories like Film and Design, meanwhile, have earned $42 million and $40 million, respectively.”

Gaming Accessibility Project Hopes To Help More Developers Make Games Disabled Gamers Can Play
“As for why accessibility is important? Other than the important issue of basic fairness and decency, the project points to data PopCap gathered showing that up to 20% of the player base for casual games have some kind of disability. That’s a lot of gamers who are currently being underserved—gamers who could be buying many more games, if developers take their needs into account.”

We want to know, did we miss something you thought was interesting? Did you pick up on the same news we did, what’d you think? Tell us what’s on your mind in Games & Impact news!