Line Rider: Distracting, Addictive, Exciting — Science?

Forgive this a small, digression as I briefly summarize. I confess, that when I first considered the Blogging Assignment at the begining of 670, I thought this was going to be easy, in fact I was certain this last posting was going to be cake.  Frankly it’s turned out to be the most frustrating of the processes.  For some reason, I found myself considering a bunch of okay ideas, but none so great. The irony is, that I’m sure I’d had the perfect idea for this last blog post come to me the moment I first read about it, free of pre-conceived notions.  Yet, three months, and X times Y times Z amount of gaming, motivational, fun theory later – my perspective may have become a bit skewed and complicated.  I’ve noticed this phenomenon as I’ve continued to tweak my own work in both group projects as well. The rewrites, re-edits, and reconfigurations I’ve faced-off with in my own corners of our project, have had me struggling with balancing logic against fun, against design – sometimes taking two steps back to gain momentum forward again. I liken it to strategizing while in the middle of a game of chess – but more, I think like writing fiction, in particular a script. I’ve done that a few times in my life and have learned that the art of developing, breaking and outlining stories is crucial, in part due to the linear nature of plot. Be cautious of where you step, whence you find yourself 10 blocks and 40 pages in the wrong direction needing to back track out of an unforeseen issue. To me game design has similar potential pitfalls – save the linear constraints, (which is a huge bonus). The iterative process frees many of the obstructions to creative flexibility, still I’ve found the struggle is there.   It’s sort of like an artistic struggle, challenging, frustrating and sometimes, hopefully rewarding.

Okay, what does that have to do with this last post? Probably not as much as

Drawing with the mouse takes some practice.

Drawing with the mouse takes some practice.

I’d originally thought. But the good news is my original inspiration for this story returned to me out of the blue.  And I think it’s as germane as I first considered it, at the beginning of this course. So I’m writing about a game that I’ve now twice become addicted and broken free of, called Line Rider.

If you recall with any fondness, the children’s story Harold and the Purple Crayon, you may appreciate the ingenuity of Line Rider. A simple, but ingenious idea, Line Rider is aMy sled rider innocently approaching obvious disaster Flash-based online game that allows you to draw a continuous path for a sled or motorcycle rider (depending on the version you’re playing) who travels along the path and picks up speed relying on a combination of gravity, momentum, energy, (possibly friction) and potentially other complex principles of Physics that may, or may not, be involved in the underlying design, depending upon which Bloggers you believe.  Frankly, “game” may not even be the right term for Line Rider, it is like a puzzle or an exercise in observation and application. The rules may not always make logical sense, but you will soon pick up on the nuances.

Poor drawing yields poor results.

Poor drawing yields poor results.

My most recent obsession with Line Rider came at the expense of the productivity of several of my colleagues at an Investment Bank I used to work in. (Ironically, it was the first of the big ones to fail, no doubt in part due do the distractions of Line Rider). As the game spread from cubicle to office to cubicle, throughout the floor, a dozen or so analysts, associates, VPs and even Directors joined the cult, squealing and contoring as they watched their latest creations attempt to out cool one another’s course design, while building and improving upon previous attempts. Because the free version of the game does not allow you to save games the guy at the desk adjacent to my office actually left his computer on all night and weekends with the game site screen up so as not to lose his ongoing game.

Line Rider does not come with an eraser per se, but does allow you to draw over mistakes you’ll inevitably make. What at first seems to be an innocuous bump in your line, once tested may turnout to be a lethal launching pad. Early on you simply cannot anticipate the momentum your rider may have approaching any given section. What adds to the enjoyment are the happy mistakes you’ll make along the way, something that was clearly a mistake, may cause your rider to take off in some way you’d not anticipated, allowing you to build more bridges, slopes, bumps, jumps, to take him or her in any number of directions in this infinite space in which the game exists.    Needless to say, there are some amazing compositions of Line Rider online.  Amazing.  uh…mazing.

I have never been a great student of the hard science or mathematics, so I cannot attest to what, if any, formulas or principles of design might play a role in the quality of the design of the game. It certainly is not necessary to think in such terms to enjoy process. If you’re never played it, I encourage you to try. But wait until the holidays. You’ll want the extra time to recover.

Teenage Girls Serve as Financial Advisors to celebrites in “Celebrity Calamity”

Celebrity Calamity creators

Celebrity Calamity creators

While searching for various games that focus on teaching young adults about financial planning, I came across a simulation built in Flash called “Celebrity Calamity.” In this interactive video simulation, the player assumes the role of Financial Advisor to a celebrity of their choice. This job entails balancing the cash in the checking account and managing all lines of credit, while also shopping for clothes needed by the celebrity, managing income from various gigs and other expenditures. Each round, the Financial Advisor has a limited amount of time to “collect” as much cash, and also buy certain items that come falling out of the sky.

The purpose of this game is clearly explained in an article on Employee Benefit News website . Some employers who have expressed interest in the game said, they would like to integrate “the game into their employee education strategies to help reinforce financial planning messages.” Originally designed to encourage young women to learn how to manage finances, the fun navigation and topical relevance to general public makes this game applicable to a broader audience demographic.The game is an effective tool for  reinforcing financial planning messages because it grabs the learners attention, the material is relevant, the learner can quickly gain confidence in their abilities, and the learner will finish with a sense of satisfaction that they did well and “earned,” or gathered, money and goods for their celebrity employer. These four components make up a popular motivational learning theory defined by John Keller known as “ARCS.”

Attention, the first component of the learning theory, is the element in the game that engages and arouses the learner. Celebrity Calamity uses what Keller would call “perceptual arousal” to gain the attention of the learner.  There is an element of surprise or uncertainly to gain the interest of the learner. There is not an instructions section that the learner reads before playing. The learner must discover how to play the game as he/she goes.  This creates an element of surprise that keeps the learner wanting to explore more.  The game also requires the learner to “actively participate,” which is another factor of the attention component. The learner roleplays as a Financial Advisor, gaining hands-on experience with the subject matter.The learner is motivated to continue on with the game because the content is relevant to him/her, which is the second component of Keller’s learning theory.

Relevance is critical for a learner to feel the game is worthwhile to spend their time playing. Keller says that learning is relevant when it relates to the learner’s experience, possesses present and future worth of the content, the content matching the needs of the learner, the learner is able to model the behavior, the learner has a choice in their method of learning and organizing the information. “Celebrity Calamity” includes present and future usefulness, needs matching, and choice.  The aspects that have both present and future worth in Celebrity Calamity are the application of basic financial principles such as budget balancing and staying within a budget.  As I played the game, I found the content helpful in the way I think about budgets in my everyday life.  The game is dynamic and has elements of “needs matching” because there are elements of risk and potential for power.  The player has to quickly try and grab as much money and “goods” within the allotted time period, but there might be some consequences depending on what items the grab. If the player collects a lot of money, then it’s a positive risk. However, if the player grabs too many clothes or other “expenses,” then the player looses money out of the budget.   The final aspect of relevance that the player has in this game is choice. The player can choose which items they go after which will affect the outcome of the game.  They can move wherever they want to on the screen, and they can go to any location they want to. This allows the learners to use different methods to pursue their work or allowing s choice in how they organize it.

The final two components of the ARCS model that are used for learning motivation in this game are confidence and satisfaction.  Confidence helps the learner understand their likelihood for success. If they feel they cannot meet the objectives or that the time or effort is too high, their motivation will decrease. This game time limit was very reasonable, and there are many opportunities for success. The goals are relatively easy to accomplish, as well. Additionally, if the learner makes a lot of money for their celebrity, they can see the positive effects because their celebrity client is pleased. What better satisfaction is there than knowing that you’ve made someone like Brittany Spears’ day?? As the player goes through the game he/she experiences small steps of growth and feedback during the learning, which helps build confidence in he/her ability.  We see this after each round when there are little lessons that reinforce financial principles that pop up on the screen that also show the learner how he/she is doing.  Learner Control is also an important aspect of confidence.  Learners should feel some degree of control over their learning and assessment. They should believe that their success is a direct result of the amount of effort they have put forth. This is definitely the case in Celebrity Calamity because the learner is responsible for gathering the goods and money and making decisions about whether to pay for expenses by credit or debit.

The satisfaction component of the ARCS theory is also found in the Celebrity Calamity game. It is similar to the confidence component in the motivational theory, as Learning must be rewarding or satisfying in some way, whether it is from a sense of achievement, praise from a higher-up, or mere entertainment. This game makes the learner feel as though the skill is useful or beneficial by providing opportunities to use newly acquired knowledge in a real setting, i.e. making purchases and choices with the celebrity’s money as they would with their own money in real life. Shopping is a great context for learning about financial management because when learners appreciate the results, they will be motivated to learn. Shopping can be a very gratifying scenario for learners and it’s something they can easily understand, as opposed to balancing the books of a multi-million dollar company. A final aspect of the satisfaction component of the ARCS model is that the learners are not patronized by over-rewarding easy tasks. The learner has enough challenges and stumbling blocks in this game that he/she probably won’t feel as though they’ve been overally rewarded.

Attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction are all motivational tactic that make Celebrity Calamity an interesting, informational, and enjoyable game to play. It would be a great game for young and more mature audiences to experience to strengthen their financial acumen.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 Wii


I recently purchased and opened an early Christmas present for the family.  This present for the “family” was the Wii gaming system.  I had not had much experience playing games on the Wii system, so I was a bit apprehensive about bringing this time sponge (or any video game) into my home.  As I was researching egame ideas, I found myself appreciating what the Wii system had to offer my family.  With two very  active children in my home the decision to buy the Wii was rather easy.  In the 8 days that we have owned it, I cannot be happier about the purchase.

One game that I have really enjoyed is EA Sports Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10.   While I may not agree with Tiger’s off the course decisions or appreciate his driving skills, I absolutely love this game!  For years, I have played other versions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour  (PS2 and PC versions), and this one is the best.  I may prefer the graphics offered by the PS3, but you cannot beat the interaction on the Wii.

Playing only a couple of other Wii games, I was surprised about the sensitivity and accuracy (or lack of) of the golf swing.  Any slight error in the movement of the Wiimote during the swing caused the ball to fly all over the place, which just so happens to reflect my skills in real life.  There are so many other aspects of the game that I enjoy.  The graphics are decent, the crowds are entertaining, there is a good variety of courses to play, many challenging game/tournament options, but most all, I like the ability to interact and physically move with the game.  I have the option to play real time games versus other people (on line) or even the “pros” who you can challenge during real time tournament action.  The tournament scores of the “pros”  are updated and you get to compete against them live.

This game offers it all….  The challenge of improving your player’s skills and competing against other people in real time action is great.  This game is motivating to play because of the all the opportunities to make choices that impact the career path of your character (of which you also can create).   If you are a golf fan, you will definitely appreciate this game.  Enjoy!

Wii Motion Plus- Check out this clip of the swing accuracy!

EdGames People: Don Rawitsch


I chose to profile Don Rawitsch, the creator of the wildly popular educational game Oregon Trail. Oregon Trail is computer-based game based on the history and facts of the American pioneers who traveled across the country in search of better opportunities in the Oregon territories in the 1840s. “The primary  objective of this game is to develop decision-making skills in the face of changing and sometimes unforeseen circumstances.” Players are to make the right combination of decisions regarding hunting, food rationing, health care, seasons/weather, and physical danger to ensure that their party makes it to the Oregon territories.

Considered a pioneer in the educational gaming industry, Don Rawitsch, began his career in educational games and technology when he was a student at Carleton College in Minnesota. Don “was looking for a way to use the computer in a history class for which he was the student teacher. In collaborating with his friends, who were both student teachers as well, they created Oregon Trail. In 1974, Don took a job at MECC–or the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium as it was known back then.” (source) Rawitsch has gone on to launch is own consulting firm, Rawitsch Consulting, where he assists small and medium Web-based businesses to improve business processes and client relationships.

I personally remember playing Oregon Trail in 1989 in the computer lab at school while I was in the 1st grade.  Because I did not have a computer in my home, like most people in the late 1980’s, this was my first experience with an computer game in the educational setting. I remember having to stop by the general store to buy supplies and to decide which buffalo to kill for dinner and pelts. There were many times when members of my party died due to disease and weather. While this is a difficult concept for young students to grasp, I feel it is important to let students have experience where their decisions impact the lives and well being of others, even if it is only a simulated game. I feel that Don and Oregon Trail are such an integral part of educational technology history because if you ask most people what was the first computer game they played at school, the answer would more than likely be Oregon Trail.

Career Odyssey Board Game Review

Career Odyssey Board Game

Career Odyssey Board Game

The Career Odyssey board game is designed to help players determine what may be a good career field for them. There are over 12 major career areas made up of 100 career cards that describe talents required in a particular field to be successful. The career cards also include information on employment numbers, job growth, average salaries, etc.

The game is designed for Grade 6 students all the way up to adults. This was a good range because it is important for kids to get a feel for what career fields they may be interested in so that they know what to focus on as they go into high school, start thinking about colleges, and deciding on majors. It is also helpful for adults who are looking to make a career change, who are entering the work forcelater in life, or just looking for ways to advance their careers.

While I believe that the concept of the game is great, the subject matter changes relatively quickly potentially making the game obsolete quicker than expected. In today’s economic environment, entire industries have been eliminated and created within the last 5 years, and will probably continue to grow, change, and die and the speed of innovation increases. I would change the cards to a digital device that can be updated by connecting to a computer or website to get updated career industry and skill information. This will help the stay current and provide a high level of relevancy to the players. Also, the colors of the board seem to be muted and dull and lack graphical excitement. Over all I feel that the concept of the game is good, but the execution could be updated for that we as a society search for information. I would also separate the level of complexity from Grade 6, high school, and adult into 3 different levels of difficulty so that the user will stay engaged and not feel that particular skills concepts are too difficult grasp or to basic to provide any benefit.

Original Post (10/27/09  here)

Classic Cell Phone Snake

snake on a cell phone

snake on a cell phone

As I thought of e-games or sims to write about for this month’s post, I tried to think of games that really held my attention but were in fact quite simple.  I almost immediately thought of Snake, which I (and many others I’m sure) used to play on my cell phone several years back.  This game was one that actually came for FREE on your phone and required the use of either the arrow buttons or the numbers ( 2,4, 6 and 8 ) to direct the snakes movement.  As the snake moved around, you needed to guide it to ‘eat’ the flower looking item on the screen to increase the snakes length, which in turn increased your points and level.  If your snake ended up eating its tail, then the game was over.

Performance feedback was an integral part of this game as you could see the snake growing (and speeding up) as you progressed through the game.  I found that challenge and curiosity also played a big role in motivating me to play this game – I knew that if I lost, I would have to start over from the beginning.  It was fun to see how long the snake would actually get… could it get to a point that it was too long and the game would end itself?  I never figured that one out.

Good old fashioned card games

Classic card games endure as a popular pastime for some people. In this day and age of computers and video games, what makes an old fashioned game of Gin or Spades appealing? Is it simply a factor of age – those of us who are old enough to predate computer games are the only ones who still think playing cards is fun? I don’t think so, because anyone I teach a card game to, young or old, enjoys the activity and willingly plays again the next time.

Tried and true motivators such as challenge, competition, and cooperation are just as valid today as they were just a couple of decades ago when computer games were still a novelty enjoyed by few.

The uncertain outcome of every card game (assuming no one cheats) makes each game new, unpredictable, challenging, and fun. Team games build relationships and a sense of community and give the players an opportunity to connect with one another. Card games foster competition, and allow each player to move up the “Flow Channel” and increase the challenge level as the game becomes boring, as well as increase the skill level when the game is too challenging (see Conditions of Flow, p. 71).


Gamestar Mechanic

I happened on Gamestar Mechanic (G*M) and you have to check it out. Gamestar mechanic_1 (I also notice it appears in Bernie’s Delicious links.)  It is a game environment where players can learn about game design by creating games, and is scheduled for preview in spring, 2010.  The Teacher’s Guide has wonderful ideas for game design and play. gamestar screen shot_1

The challenge cards contain wonderfully creative ideas for games that you could use outside of game design for discussion or writing prompts.   This concept of using a game to design a game might even be a good final exam for EdTec 670!

I can’t wait to try it.

challenge cards_1

Success and Simulation: it ain’t what it used to be

My father’s dream of flying and the vision of James Paul Gee

Looking back…

Because my experience with electronic games is limited to the handful of floppy disks that lived next to my family’s Apple IIe computer, I have found myself taking journeys into my childhood, trying to remember what those games were (other than Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, which I’ve discussed already)  Aided by various Google searches for “80s computer games”  I came across a title that, for me. was laced with a sense of nostalgic portent and chuck_yeager_advanced_flight_trainer_01gravitas.  The title is:  Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Simulator (which has been changed, after a lawsuit by Microsoft, to Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer.)

(Video demo can be found here).

It was a game I attempted only once, yet it conjures poignant memories.  This is because it was the one and only computer game that my father ever played.  And so begins a personal story that may or may not fit the guidelines of this assignment.

My father has never been a computer guy.  He appears, to outsiders, quite a cosmopolite, and most, I think, would be surprised to learn that he is one of the few stalwarts of the modern era who have yet to acquire a computer (my memories of him playing were on the family computer, prior to his post-divorce, computer-free bachelorhood).   He has never used the internet, and doesn’t plan to.  Devices in general are a source of anxiety, and I remember that efforts to take a family photo usually went something like this:  “Ready?  Okay, one, two,…  wait.  Hold on a minute, this thing’s not going off.”

The anatomy of appeal

So, in retrospect, the choice of a gadget-laden flight simulation game seems decidedly out of character. Yet I remember it clearly:  the vision, captured during late night trips to the bathroom, of my father’s intent face, lit by the greenish glow of the screen before him as he fiddled with the joystick and muttered celebratory grunts and frustrated epithets under his breath. It seems to me that this choice is a true testament to the powers of attractive appearance as well as fantasy, to hold sway over even the most unlikely would-be gamers.

I too, was initially taken in by the game’s attractive appearance.  I was amazed and –  oddly enough –  simultaneously proud and humbled to be living in an era when humansoulsflying366 beings had developed technology that caused the picture on the computer screen to respond to the movements of my joystick in a way that made it seem that I was really flying (a claim that today’s youngest generation of gamers would no doubt find utterly laughable).

At the age of eleven, I had lots of fantasies (starring in the Ice Capades, walking the streets of Calcutta with Mother Theresa, becoming a Rockette or an Olympic swimmer, and living in a donut-shaped, self contained, artificial environment that orbited around the earth combating the epidemic of overpopulation).  Piloting an airplane was not among these.  In fact, the proposition of getting on a plane, period, seemed downright terrifying.   So, for me, the visual attraction alone was not enough to motivate me to play.  I attempted to use the game once, and, facing the frustration that inevitably comes from learning to negotiate a virtual airplane over a virtual landscape without crashing into trees and buildings, I quickly aborted the mission, never to return.

For my dad, however, the fantasy element must have had more powerful sway.  He persisted in his pursuit of a successful flight for a brief but intense period.  It may have been a month, possibly three months; it may have been a year.  He played with intensity and dedication, for many nights on end.

What dreams may die

Eventually, he stopped.  For him, it was a private battle; he gave no verbal mt indication of his success or failure then, and for some reason, even now, I feel a little funny asking him to relive it.  Because I know that what my father values most is an environment that he can control, and I also know that what a pilot must do, in order to succeed, is to surrender his faculties to a trust in the plane’s control panel, and this is something that I struggle to picture my father doing even in the comfort of his family’s empty living room in the dark, wee hours of the morning.  I suspect that, in the end, the challenge was one that he perceived to be too great, too insurmountable, to warrant his continued effort.  I wonder if there was a sort of epiphany, a moment in which he realized the futility of his efforts.  I suspect that the reality was much less momentous.  More than likely he played with vigor in the beginning, and felt his interest waning, over time, as fantasies of success continued to elude him.  I imagine that it waned and waned until, one night, he puff_the_magicsimply didn’t play, and like the proverbial Puff the Magic Dragon, the game remained where it would for the rest of my family’s time in the house where we grew up – unplayed and gathering dust, until there came a time when floppy disks (the kind that really were floppy) were no more.  Sometimes, the challenge is simply too great.

To have lasting appeal, a game must successfully walk the line between challenge and reward.  Though I have no doubt that Advanced Flight Simulator Trainer did this for many players; for my father and I, the losses ultimately outweighed the gains.

The stakes have changed

When I think of simulations, I think of Chuck Yeager and I think of my father.  I geealso, thanks to a recent video interview shared by Sue (here is a link to her Nov 17 post), think of James Paul Gee.  In it, Gee discusses the important role of games and simulations in the learning environments of the future.  Games and simulations provide continual, immediate assessment, they challenge the learner to learn and grasp new concepts on an as-needed basis, they require creative problem solving, and they are best experienced in a collaborative environment.  Such ingredients are vital in order prepare students to develop the mental capacities that will be most necessary for competing and thriving in the future, according to Gee.

Change the current paradigm of education?  Move the focus from a skill and drill, pen and paper test model to a dynamic, interactive, collaborative learning environment, where attraction, self-actualization, and reward are seamlessly interwoven with challenge, skill-building and assessment?  Talk about a fantasy.  Talk about a challenge.  But, oh! – What a vision.  How different it is from the way many of us have looked at education or games.

My father’s experiment in simulation was a product of a different era.  It was a matter of fantasy, and when the frustration of virtually living the fantasy outweighed the perceived reward, the experiment could be easily abandoned.

James Paul Gee’s vision may sound like a fantasy, yet it is one that, I think, cannot be abandoned so lightly, however challenging it may be.  We need to develop learners who will not be easily daunted by the challenge of an unfamiliar environment, because the reality is, as has been mentioned over and over again in various circles of would-be proactive educators, we are preparing them for environments that do not exist yet.

My father’s experiment with flying, via simulation, was the result of a fantasy that was so tangential to his actual life that it was never discussed, and when the experiment was abandoned it was only evident to those family members who had once observed him playing in the living room.  He couldn’t learn, as a successful pilot must, how to trust the controls, how to give his senses over to the technology of the strange new environment.  Ultimately, for him, it was not only too strange;  it didn’t matter enough in “real” life.  He could live his life as he had, with more or less the same degree of success, regardless of his ability to master virtual flight.

For our schools and our students, experiments in simulation might also be a matter of fantasy, as all worthwhile learning endeavors should be.  In a good simulation, play is intimately laced with the thrill of making sense of a new environment.  As Gee aptly notes, gameplay is an ongoing assessment.  You make decisions and your success or failure is directly affected be the decisions you make.  For our students, however, learning to negotiate unfamiliar environments is, and will continue to be essential.  Gone are the days when such pursuits were largely tangential to real-life success.  For our schools, success will require what Gee calls a “total paradigm shift”.  Thus undoubtedly will be frustrating and unnerving, especially for educators, who typically value most that which is already known and can be easily controlled (that is:  drilled, tested, graded, “covered” – in familiar, manageable, isolated parcels that have nothing to do with life as it is lived by any sentient being, and everything to do with what is wrong with the fundamental design of traditional educational systems).

Nobody likes to surrender control.  It is inevitably fraught with problems, laced with expletives, and requires a trust in forces that have yet to be mastered.  We don’t trust the controls; we haven’t developed the necessary coordination.  Initial attempts to fly inevitably crash and burn.  But for us, as educators, the fantasy is not tangential to real life.  The game, as Gee notes (and I am one of the most unlikely people to come around to believing this) can and should be recognized as a viable tool for preparation of today’s students: to have real-life success in unknown (and unknowable) environments.  Maintenance of such a fantasy is critical for educators.  Its preservation may be the only factor that keeps us from abandoning the game during the late-night hours when the challenges of play appear to outweigh the potential gain.  The potential gain is always a fantasy, and for educators it is far from tangential; it is a matter of life and death for our primary currency,  the development of ability:   the abilities of people, ideas, and environments, to change.

Call of Duty: World at War

callduty2When I think of an electronic game that really keeps you wanting more and more I just think of Call of Duty: World at War.  When I got this game last year, I played it as much as I could.  There were times I was frustrated, however I just kept trying and trying and trying until I made it through.  Even when I would finish a difficult section, I would want more.  This is the true definition of a game which encapsulates a challenge, however it is possible to reach the end of the game.


The game has amazing graphics which is a plus for any type of graphic war game.  Along with the great graphics is the storyline.  The setting is World War II and the storyline uses actual movie footage to show those playing the game the real feeling of being on the frontline.     There are two different subplots within the game and the player gets to be both individuals in the game.  You see the war from the American viewpoint as well as the Russian viewpoint.

To match the great plot as well as the amazing graphics there is an online component to the game.  You can play against others online in team or individual matches.  This raises the level of intensity of the game and makes it different each time because of the different players you meet each time you get online.

With Call of Duty: World at War it definitely has the FLOW.

Mario: My Typing Guru (A Personal Account of Mario Teaches Typing)


Here's Mario in Level 1.  In addition to Mario, players can chose to be Luigi or Princess.

Here's Mario in Level 1. In addition to Mario, players can chose to be Luigi or Princess.

asdfg ;lkjh.  Seem familiar?  No, it’s not online cursing.  Those are the home keys on a computer keyboard that, at one time, we either formally or informally learned.  How did you learn how to type?  Was it during visits to the computer lab back in middle school?  Was is through having to keep up during AIM chatting in high school?  Maybe it was just because your blasted teacher made you turn in typed book reports…so you struggled your way letter by letter until one day, before you knew it, your words per minutes were that of a veteran secretary?  Whatever scenario you can relate to, you are now a pro.


Here’s my story. . .


Way back in whatever grade it was, my Dad spotted a Scholastic book order form on the dining room table.  “Maybe it’s about time you learn how to type. Why don’t you pick software from here,” he said pointing to the form.  I picked Mario Teaches Typing.  Needless to say, my dad wanted me to pick Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.  It was a classic.  But, being my dad, he had to keep his word.  I chose Mario, so Mario became my typing guru.


The Gist


In Mario Teaches Typing, players/students learn how to type (using all ten fingers!) at their own pace.  Players must pass one level to move into the next, but have opportunities to return to previously passed levels for additional practice.  A players advance, levels become more challenging.  These levels include, in advancing order, individual letters, words, sentences, and eventually paragraphs.  And, most impressively, Mario dissuades the cheater in us all!  During many, if not all, according to my recollection, there are animated left and right hands that mimic the proper fingers.  For instance, if you are asked to type a “y,” then the right hand’s index finger would light up.  




Yes, for three reasons.

(1)  Bonus points.  Players are encouraged to look at the screen instead of always at their fingers.  If the player pays attention to the screen, then there’s an opportunity to earn bonus points for hitting the correct letter.  The bonus letter is displayed fleetingly.  This motivates students to keep eyes on the screen and not glued to their hands.  Memorization is rewarded.

(2)  Praise from Mario himself.  Mario congratulates players for each level passed.  Additionally, a report card provides both positive and negative feedback (words per minutes, commonly mis-typed letters, etc.).  The idea is that players strive for improved report cards with each session.

(3)  Mario’s my friend.  Mario’s everyone’s friend.  He’s a familiar character to generations before and after me.  We all want to make Mario proud.  (Sorry, Mavis Beacon, but I don’t know you.)


Mario.  Not only are you my typing guru, but my hero too.


Helpful Links

Review by SuperKids Software –


YouTube, 5-minutes of Mario at various levels! –



Addicting Solitaire

Many times I have walked through the halls at work and seen that spread of electronic cards on a colleague’s monitor that is the telltale sign they’re playing Solitaire and I know I am not the only one who has fallen victim to telling myself, just one more game and then I’ll get back to work. The game has been around for over 240 years (according to Wikipedia, is also called Patience and has many versions with their own rules. This game has successfully made the leap from a physical deck of cards to the electronic versions. The most popular currently are Klondike and Free Cell which come standard with Microsoft Windows, however many other forms can be downloaded free from the internet.

In considering motivation for this blog post, I couldn’t help but think, what makes electronic Solitaire so addictive? For the most part it lacks competition, since by the very nature of the name, one only competes with themselves. Of course, the software will keep score which is weighted by time and the number of moves it took to complete the game and compare it to previous scores. The greatest motivation is the challenge, an intrinsic motivation written about by Malone and Lepper in Making Learning Fun: A Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivations for Learning. Successful completion of the game requires not only skill, but also luck, hence there will never be complete mastery. There is always a chance the cards are dealt in a manner impossible to win with. Lastly, the availability of the game continues its success – even the least computer savvy person knows Solitaire is located somewhere on every computer and that familiar deck of cards can be very comforting.



Avoiding Distractions using E Games

Avoiding Distractions.

In February 2009 Time Magazine published an article about Doodling and it’s usefulness in the ability to pay attention. Here is a quote from that article: “Doodling, in contrast, requires very few executive resources but just enough cognitive effort to keep you from daydreaming, which — if unchecked — will jump-start activity in cortical networks that will keep you from remembering what’s going on.” During my undergraduate years I often doodled in class and it did help me listen much more attentively to what was happening class but as the educational sphere has changed and so has the medium for my classroom experience I have had to find other ways to avoid such distractions.

bubbleSpinnerWhile in a distance classroom, there are many distractions, instant messaging, general internet browsing, sorting emails are just a few. Generally when I am just trying to pay attention and am not taking notes (because the class and notes are often available after class is over) I will get sleepy. To avoid this I have been playing an egame called Bubble Spinner from time to time.

I am not really a big gamer so outside of being in a situation where I need to pay attention I never play or think to open up this game. My essential motivation for playing this game where I am just breaking bubbles until I get to none, is to avoid other distractions that might occur and keep my mind alert enough to pay attention. It seems a bit silly to me to play this game when I’m not doing something else in fact, often it remind


s me of Bejewled another one of my favorite pass time games that I play while w

aiting for something on my mobile device.

This motivation factor of avoiding distractions or being able to do something so mindless it keeps our mind from wandering is not always thought about but critically important in some of our day to day operations where we have to pay attention for longer than 10 minutes or the next commercial break.  Other games that fit this are Tetris, but that is timed which becomes problematic when I need to pause to pay attention to something.  And while I love word games and Sudoku I realize that would take attention away from my actual class as it would require thinking.

Breaking Bubbles in West Virginia

Jawbreaker_001This past weekend I flew back east to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  We celebrated the holiday at my Grandparents place in West Virginia.  They live in an enormous log mansion, at the foot of a mountain, in a wooded area right outside a small town called Berkely Springs.  It is very peaceful there…lots of time to sleep, eat, read, nap, and just chill.

As relaxing as it is, however, being isolated in the middle of the woods in West Virginia provides perhaps a little too much downtime.  There is only so much napping and eating you can do before you start getting restless.  Now, there isn’t much in the way of computers or Playstations at grandma’s cabin, but as luck would have it, I happened to have my old cell phone on me  and, consequently, all my old cell phone games(I had lost my newer cell phone the day before).  So of course, I ended up spending much of the holiday weekend getting reacquainted with my favorite, absurdly addicting cell phone game, Bubble Breaker.

The brilliance of Bubble Breaker lies in its simplicity.  As you can see from the picture, the gameboard consists of a screen of differently-colored balls arranged in a matrix. There are five different colors: red, blue, green, yellow and purple. The game is played by clicking on any two or more connecting similarly-colored balls to eliminate (“bust”) them from the board, earning a variable amount of points in the process. The more balls eliminated at once, the higher the points added to the your score.  The game continues until there are no moves left – i.e there are no more like-colored balls adjacent to each other. The game immediately goes to the scoring screen, where statistics such as your Average Score, Total Score and your Total Games Played are displayed (performance feedback).

The challenge of Bubble Breaker provides the intrinsic motivation to play this game over and over again.  Every game begins with a completely random board, but the objective remains the same – eliminate the bubbles in the order that will result in the most points.  Each move depends on the move before it.  Depending on how the bubbles “fall” after each move, the point potential can change dramatically.  Its impossible to tell how any given board will play out at the start of the game.

The only depressing thing about Bubble Breaker, at least in this particular case, is the “Total Games Played” count the game so kindly displays for you of at the conclusion of each play.  Who would’ve thought you could fit 1,000 games of Bubble breaker into one holiday weekend?

Desktop Tower Defense

Desktop Tower Defense

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m slightly addicted to casual gaming, and Desktop Tower Defense is high on my list of favorite games. There are a lot of tower defense games out there, but Desktop Tower Defense is by far my favorite in the genre. The playing surface looks like a typical office desk. Waves of enemies (known as “Creeps” in the game) come across the screen, and your task is to stop them from reaching the other side of the desk. You can build various towers to attack the creeps as they cross the screen. There are several different types of creeps, resulting in the need for different towers. Nine types of towers have different benefits: some are inexpensive, some only attack air or ground enemies, some slow the enemies. My friends and I play multiplayer games and track our high scores using the game’s Group Scores feature so we can claim bragging rights.

I’ve spent a lot of time playing Desktop Tower Defense, and EdTech 670 has given me the opportunity to reflect on why this game is so enjoyable. Looking at it from Keller’s ARCS model, there are several features that make it a great game.

Attention: Desktop Tower Defense is anything but boring. There are many scenarios and variations in the game to keep any player interested, plus the graphics are entertaining. And if you master the built-in options, you can add another twist by playing online against other people.

Relevance: The built-in scenarios offer goals to keep the game relevant, plus there is familiarity between the different game modes.

Confidence: There are success opportunities for players of any skill level. Different game options can be turned off or on to suit the needs of each player. Plus, players have a lot of control over the setup and outcome of the game.

Satisfaction: The score within each game is a great intrinsic motivator to perform well. And the extrinsic reward (the possibility of being on a high score list) motivates players to excel. Plus you can build equity by using the Group Scores feature to track your progress over time and with your friends.

Overall, Desktop Tower Defense is a fantastic game. I’ve introduced it to people who admit that they don’t enjoy video games, and even they can’t put it down. My only warning is that you’ll find it difficult to accomplish anything else once you start playing, because all you’ll want to do is play Desktop Tower Defense.

Electronic Games and Simulations: Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games

Image of Mario and Sonic jumping over a hurdle within a renderization of Beijing National Stadium

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is an electronic game for the Nintendo platform. In the game, players choose a character from the Mario Brothers or Sonic the Hedgehog franchise who have different levels of strength and skill or the player can choose a self-created avatar. Players then use a wireless controller and “nun chuck” attachment to compete (either against the computer or other players) in typical summer Olympic games such as archery, swimming, table tennis, and track & field events. Based on where the player places in relation to the other competitors, they are awarded points that go towards an over all score. After all of the predetermined matches are complete, players are awarded either a gold, silver, or bronze medal for their performance. As the player advances in level and skill new characters and games are unlocked.

From a motivation perspective, the ARCS motivational theory can be applied to how the developers implemented certain features to keep players engaged. Attention: Bright , vibrant colors and inspirational music (think Rocky) are present at all stages of the game. Also the crowd claps and cheers during matches or in games like archery, the spectators are quite but the sound of the wind is present. Players have the option of reading instructions and or practicing before participating in an actual match. Relevance: This game was launched as part of the campaign for the 2008 summer olympics held in Beijing, China and because the Olympics are a near-global effort, it was hard to go anywhere without hearing or seeing an advertisement for the games. While the actual olympic games are reserved for the most elite athletes in the world, Mario & Sonic allows players to fulfill their own personal olympic aspirations from the comfort of their own home with friends and family. Confidence: Players build confidence by having the ability to choose the events that they enjoy the most and then compete to improve their previous performance. As players continue to play, their expectation of success increases as their skill and mastery of the mechanics of different moves and opponents increases. Satisfaction: Players are provided with Positive consequences such as winning gold, silver, and bronze medals, achieving a personal best score and unlocking new players and games.


Battleship game board

Battleship game board

This is an online version of the classic board game.  We’re studying how to graph points in algebra class, so we played battleship!  To be honest, I picked the game because it’s online, it looks good, and it deals with plotting coordinates (in particular, this was a good game because the coordinates aren’t labeled, which lead to lots of confusion).

As I stood in class and watched my students play, I was amazed at how engaged they were.  These are kids that tell me everyday about their favorite game on their PSP.  Or how their arms are tired from playing Wii boxing all night.  Or better yet, how they couldn’t do their homework last night because they were up until 4am playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  I played the game with three different classes and nearly every student was engaged.  Not just looking up front and paying attention, but eager to help a fellow player or take their own turn at the board.  It was incredible.

What makes the game really fun are the aspects of control and curiosity.  Their really isn’t any chance or luck involved in the game.  The player decides where to place his or her ships and so takes ownership over them.  The player also gets to pick which space to shoot at.  Some players opt for haphazard guessing, while others use a more methodical approach.  The best moments came right after a player would pick a space to shoot at.  Then they had to wait to see if it was a hit.   In that split second, you could hear a pin drop.  This was usually followed by a rather loud response from the class if the turn resulted in a hit.

These aspects of the game are probably true for the classic board game version too.  However, the look and sound of the online version was also very motivating for my students.  Instead of hearing another player call out “miss,” or “hit,” the game shows a splash of water or a large explosion (realistic sound effects included).  Thirteen year-old students liked this.  It offered them a fresh look at an old game which was enough to keep them interested until the game really got going.

Club Penguin – Multi-platform e-game

As my 8 year old son has become more and more intrigued by the Club Penguin game, both in their online community as well as their Nintendo DS game, I decided to profile this game idea for the November blog.  Club Penguin has been touted as “Social Networking for Kids” by the developers of the games. 

The online version is a virtual penguin community in which players can choose the look of the penguin, as well as the name (screen name) of their penguin.  During the player’s movement around the virtual community they can move through various stores and community places, while interacting with other players, as well as playing mini-games to earn coins.  The coins earned by players can be used to purchase virtual items for decorating their igloos, purchasing a pet puffle or accessorizing their penguin’s wardrobe.  Although, there are membership dues for playing the online version of Club Penguin, non-members are able to move throughout the virtual community and interact with others, with limited benefits. At various times, Club Penguin has allowed players to donate their earned coins to charitable foundations, such as the Elizabeth  Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. 

ClubPenguinElitePenguinForceBoxArt.pngAbout one year ago, Club Penguin Elite Force was released for use on the Nintendo DS platform.  This allowed players to play Club Penguin in their own virtual environment, while solving a variety of mysteries.  The player becomes a secret agent and is provided with clues to save another secret agent.  The makers of the game also provide the purchaser with a game card which allows the consumer to gain more coins in the online community.  While the DS version is more difficult in solving the secret missions, there are several online communities and blogs that provide secrets and cheats for getting through a mission.  I have found this a great benefit great when my son is so frustrated with the game that he is threatening to throw the game in the trash. 

On a recent trip to Disneyland, I noted that there were several pieces of merchandise that also tie into the Club Penguin market, including books, apparel and toys.  It seems that Club Penguin has become one of the greatest tie-in marketing campaigns for an e-game. 

As indicated by Lepper and Malone, Club Penguin seems to have all the factors for intrinsic motivation, both individually and interpersonally.  Club Penguin promotes challenge through guiding players to complete missions (DS) and find hidden locales (Online), thereby providing them with performance feedback as well as goal achievement.  It stimulates individual curiosity, by creating secret rooms or areas (both DS and online) that the players have to locate and explore.  It allows the player to have a sense of control, in that they are able to earn coins and make purchases to create a more enjoyable playing experience.  Even though the avatars are penguins, there are plenty of opportunities for individuals to play in additional worlds of fantasy, for example as agents or medieval knights.  Also because the online community is anonymous, it allows players to interact and role play with other players.  There is a great deal of competition in the online version with the mini-games, where you test your skills alone and with other players.  The DS version allows for plenty of competition and cooperation, in that players will usually discuss what missions they are on, and share clues as to how to unlock secret areas and solve missions.  I know that my son feels a sense of recognition when he can talk to his friends about his progress on both the online and DS versions and gets a sense of satisfaction when he can share his secrets.

Wurdle and Casual Games

Wurdle is essentially “Boggle” for the iPhone. Wurdle is a single user, non-cooperative game. Players can post particularly stellar scores online, however, most of the time a player can only attempt to outplay his/her own high score. Of course, the motivation to play a game like Wurdle is not competition, but simple non-commital entertainment. Wurdle is part of the growing sector of “Casual” games. Mastery and achievement of high scores can motivate players, but the real appeal of casual games like Wurdle is their easy accessibility and quick learning curve. Even more importantly, since Wurdle is mobile, it can help you pass the time in line at Starbucks or at the theatre (if you happen to get dragged to Cats).

Screen shot of Wurdle for iPhone

Screen shot of Wurdle for iPhone

“Casual” Gameplay

Casual games are nothing new. They have been deployed electronically for years—how many people have killed time at work playing solitaire? The beauty of casual games is their simplicity. Take Wurdle for example: quick to download, quick to learn, and quick to enjoy playing. When the “New Game” button is tapped, a random jumble of words appears on the screen. From there, the player drags a finger over the top of the letters he/she wishes to connect to make a word. If a word is successfully identified, it will be recorded below. Players try to find as many words as possible in the allotted time. A user can select time limits as long as five minutes and as short as one minute. The perfect “while you wait” game.

Motivation and Mass Appeal

Wurdle is really nothing special, it’s not even the only Boggle knock-off for the iPhone. However, the simplicity is the point of casual games. Video game storylines continue to get more and more lengthy and gameplay has become more and more challenging, but there is still a large market for simple, easy to use and play games. In fact, casual games can be said to have the biggest potential market due to their mass-appeal. While video games have historically attracted almost exclusively men, developers have found that casual games seem to have a significant appeal to women. Firms have done extensive market research to learn how to attract female gamers and in the process they have learned that casual games are the one type of game that appeals to women without having to be specifically tailored to their interests. Casual games seem to have an almost universal character.

Simplicity seems to be the initial hook, but in terms of motivation, the thing that keeps people coming back is flow. Like Wurdle, the challenge of casual games is usually singular. With Wurdle the user is strictly focused on creating words. Not navigating a jungle or figuring out how many shield points is needed in a battle. Plus, the challenge increases, but on par with the player. As the player gets better, his/her high score increases, giving the player a new (and attainable) goal. The user can easily get lost in the flow of the game chasing after his/her latest high score. Plus, with the iPhone a player can be comfortably distracted in almost any miserable location or situation. Apple may not have created the casual game category, but the portability of the iPhone certainly seems to be helping the category grow.

More Info on Wurdle and Casual Games

GemCraft Chapter Zero

Home Screen

Home Screen

My seven year old son plays egames religiously.  He started off playing games at and  A friend of mine introduced him to Nintendo8, a website that houses hundreds of old-school games.  He then quickly found his way to the realm of online egames.  About six months ago, I noticed my husband was playing online video games, one in particular he played ALL OF THE TIME: GemCraft Chapter  Zero.  Apparently my son showed him this game.  My husband would stay up for hours playing this game. He and my son would talk about the new gems they had acquired, how many monsters they have destroyed and especially the new lost amulets they have discovered.  After a few months, I sat down at my computer and googled the name of the game.  While my first experience was not very rewarding, I found myself wanting to go back to it to see if I could get any further on my next attempt.  While I do not find video games very tempting, this game quickly had its hooks in me.

Different levels of playHere is the basic scenario.  The player goes through this monster infested wilderness looking for lost amulets.  In order to reach new levels, the player has to destroy the monsters by building traps and towers and placing gems in them.  These gems shoot at the monsters.  The player starts with a very small amount of money, called mana, to purchase towers, gems and traps.  As the player kiils more monsters, the player accumulates what are called XP points.  The more XP points you have, you can adjust your skill level resulting in a variety of things: lowering the cost of gems, starting with more mana, improving the fire power of the gems, increasing the firing radius of the gem etc.  The monsters also have different attributes: speed and armor level.  There are eight different gems.  All of the gems have different qualities. For instance, the green gem shoots poison on the monsters and kills them slowly over a matter of time.  The blue gem slows monsters down.  The purple gem decreases the monster’s armor level.  As I play more of this game, I find more “hidden” levels and gain a more strategic edge for the game.

The Endurance LevelI have tried to evaluate why I find this game so fun.  I like the reward of the XP points.  I like that I have control as to what attributes I want to enhance throughout the game.  I like that I get to choose which level I want to play on.  This freedom lets me play a level that I think I can win, however be challenging at the same time.  I do not get bored with this game.  There are a variety of monsters and I like to hear the sound effects when I destroy the over-sized ones.  They let out this funny squeal.  I like feeling in control when I play; the game does not determine my next step, I do.  While the graphics do not hold a candle to the 3D graphics games, the scenes are interesting and the game is, well, borderline addictive.  There are at least 50 levels that I have played so far, each of which have nine different ways of playing.  I dare you to try it.  You may find yourself staying up until 2am on a work night, just as I did once, okay, maybe twice.

U.S. Coast Guard Ship’s Control and Navigation Training System (SCANTS)

This entry is about a simulator called the Ship’s Control and Navigation Training System (SCANTS), built at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1986 partly in response to a very tragic Coast Guard accident.  Coast Guard men and women throughout Florida gather at the Blackthorn Memorial  in St. Petersburg, Florida every year on January 28th to remember 23 Coast Guardsmen who perished January 28, 1980 when the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn sank after colliding with an oil tanker.   The Blackthorn, a 180-foot buoy tender out of  Galveston, Texas, had just completed an  routine maintenance period in the Tampa Bay, Florida area and was headed back to Galveston, when, at 7:21 p.m., Blackthorn and the 605-foot oil tanker Capricorn collided approximately two miles south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  Initially, the damage did not appear to be too extensive, however Capricorn’s seven-ton anchor became embedded in Blackthorn’s hull and when the anchor chain became taut, Capricorn pulled Blackthorn through the water causing it to capsize. The Blackthorn sank in less than five minutes in 40-feet of water.  Twenty-three of Blackthorn’s 50 crewmembers were killed in what is still the Coast Guard’s worst peacetime disaster.

Memorial for Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn in Florida

Memorial for Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn in Florida

The U.S. Coast Guard established their Command and Operations School in 1986 at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.  The school is designed to instruct every Coast Guard officer who will be directly responsible for the navigation of a ship.  The two-week curriculum focuses on saving lives by teaching critical decision-making skills for avoiding collisions at sea while highlighting the proper application of the Nautical Rules of the Road and Operational Risk Management.  The backbone of the course is the Ship’s Control and Navigation Training System (SCANTS). SCANTS is a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art, visual bridge simulator, where prospective Commanding Officers and Executive Officers spend hours honing their skills and demonstrating their ability to correctly interpret risks while out at sea.  Since it’s inception, the use of SCANTS has been expanded to cadets at the Coast Guard Academy and Officer Candidates at the Coast Guard’s Officer candidate school to introduce them to operations on different Coast Guard cutters.  Scants gives a graphical representation of what someone would see by “looking out the window” of a moving ship including simulated vessel movement.  The simulator can recreate the unique operational characteristics of any class of Coast Guard cutter, incorporating engine noise,  waves, sounds, bridge whistles, fog signals and water noises. These “cutters” are programmed to operate in many real and imaginary ports in all weather conditions.  The learner accomplishes the secondary objective of learning different ports as well.  The simulator is set up similar to the bridge of most Coast Guard cutters with input tools such as chart plotters, GPS, radar, and radios.  All of the action in each scenario is programmed in by an operator that can adjust the weather, visibility, mission requirements, vessel traffic, radio traffic, and casualties based on the expertise of the individual learners.  The learner manipulates the speed and course of the cutter by giving appropriate orders to other team members or physically moving the controls themselves for smaller cutter simulations.  After each scenario, the instructor debriefs the learner to capture lessons learned that can be incorporated into future scenarios. I have been in the SCANTS simulator about 20 times between my time as a cadet and the two times that I have attended Command and Operations school before reporting to an assignment as the commander or second in command of a Coast Guard cutter.  While at Command and Operations school, I found SCANTS to be an invaluable resource to refine my skills and try out new ideas in a low risk environment.  For example, in a scenario in which I noticed numerous vessels converging on me from different directions, I used the technique of speeding up rather than the traditional response of slowing down or turning right to try and avoid the other vessels.  I made this decision based on the capabilities of the cutter that I was operating in the simulation.  I used the same technique numerous times in real life once I took command of my own cutter of the same class.  I never would have tried this maneuver on my first cutter out of the Coast Guard Academy because it was much slower and not nearly as maneuverable as the cutter to which I was being assigned.

SCANTS visual simulator

SCANTS visual simulator

SCANTS isn’t the only electronic simulation being used by the Coast Guard.  As the service builds new cutters, they are now incorporating simulators at their training centers in Petaluma, CA and Yorktown, VA in which entire crews can run through realistic simulations of their own homeport and operating area as a team in a low-risk environment prior to the Coast Guard taking control of the new cutter from the shipbuilder.  The Coast Guard has also used similar simulators to train their junior workforce by using commercial companies to deliver navigation simulations as part of training for their personnel that drive small boats.

SCANTS relates very well to Keller’s ARCS model.  The instructors capture your attention by giving you a mission brief before starting the scenario and going over lessons learned from several previous scenarios.  The relevance is definitely there with learners from the Command and Operations school getting ready to accept some of the most challenging, but rewarding assignments in the U.S. Coast Guard by taking command of their own cutter.  There are few jobs in the world where someone has such ultimate responsibility and authority over those in their command.  Additionally many of these prospective cutter commanding officers are coming from a job ashore and are somewhat rusty on shipboard protocol.  The SCANTS simulator has increased relevance by refreshing and refining their skills in a low risk environment.  A collision with another vessel in the simulator might earn you some ribbing from the other learners, but will not get you fired like an actual collision at sea.  For cadets and officer candidates, the relevance comes from learning how a Coast Guard cutter operates.  The vast majority of these soon to be officers are going to be assigned to a cutter out of the Coast Guard Academy.  In order to succeed at their first assignment, they need to report to their unit with some baseline knowledge.  The realism of the graphics, sound, and simulated motion of the vessel, and the ability of the simulator to adapt to the handling characteristics of any of the Coast Guard’s cutters also adds to the relevance.  The use of the SCANTS simulator will definitely improve your confidence in the navigation and handling characteristics of the cutter you are reporting to as well as your confidence in navigating through a port for the first time.  For example, I was familiar with the traffic patterns and landmarks in San Francisco Bay before reporting to my first unit, because I had already “been there” several times in the SCANTS simulator.  The SCANTS simulator routinely receives some of the highest ratings for its value in the entire Command and Operations school curriculum which signifies the level of satisfaction that learners feel after using this tool.  Personally, I think it is also the most fun part of the entire course.

Since the establishment of the Coast Guard’s Command and Operations School and the SCANTS simulator, no lives have been lost due to a Coast Guard cutter colliding with another vessel.  This realistic real life training has undoubtedly prevented at least a few Coast Guard cutter Commanding Officers from making tragic mistakes that would have ended their careers.  The Blackthorn tragedy illustrated that even an organization based on safety at sea has a responsibility to improve its operating procedures to ensure the future safety of lives at sea.

Fantasy Football play reaches 72,000,000

footballSure, I like football and like to watch a good game especially when the Chargers beat the Broncos but for the past 3 years I have listened, watched and learned as my boyfriend plays Fantasy Football. Every Friday afternoon he sits down in front of the computer and makes his picks for the weekend games in hope of choosing the players who will score the most points allowing him to win his fantasy game.

Until taking this class I never really understood the motivation and desire to participate in Fantasy Football. Yes, you can win money at the end of the season that can motivate many. But what else could drive over 72,000,000 people according to to play Fantasy Football each season?

In my effort to find out why, I asked my boyfriend over dinner why he plays. He smiled and replied, “To beat my friends. There is also a chance to win money and I can use my football knowledge.”   His response was very interesting to me and I found myself thinking about our class readings about motivation in games and why we choose to play or not to play certain games.

Using the concepts developed by Maslow: Fantasy Football could very well be the perfect example of his model of motivation.  It includes elements of safety, belonging, and self esteem (levels 3-5). It does this in a number of ways. Safety can motivate a player by providing an opportunity to win money and thus use that money to meet specific life needs. Belonging can motivate as it provides the player with not only a feeling of belonging among their small group of friends but also gives player’s a topic to discuss with 72,000,000 of their closest friends. Self-esteem may also motivate by providing an opportunity for recognition, respect, achievement and mastery.

Fantasy Football is also a multi-player game with players competing against each other every week that can be a motivating factor since it allows players to feed their competitive urges. It also can motivate players by allowing them to meet up with their friends online in what we might call the ultimate Fantasy. After all isn’t it called Fantasy Football?

Go Chargers!!!

On the Hunt


Today, I realized that there must be something intrinsic in me that makes me like to hunt. I am forever hunting for my keys, clothes, coffee, notes, papers, purse and just about everything else I don’t purposely choose to hunt for. It dawned on me that my most recent e-game was a game of hunting. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that something in me is motivated to sit for hours in front of Big Fish’s Huntsville and search and search for clues to solve the silly crimes they conjure up.
I seriously have to contemplate as to why I would sit here… accomplishing nothing of the many other, more productive things I could be doing, and play for hours. What was it about this game that “hooks” a player and more than that… reeled me in?
From the onset of the game my Attention was seized by the mysterious, detective type music that resonated with the badge and title bestowed upon the player. I was.. Flatfoot Mechelle, detective.
Huntsville is a small town that is experiencing a series of crime; 15 in all. You are to solve each case by hunting for several different objects located in separate locations throughout town. The objects are well hidden and each time you come back to a previous location for “clues” you are required to find different “clues”. After finding all the clues, your skills are tested to see if you can piece together a scene (like a puzzle) that shows the criminal in the act.
Perception is immediately captured by the many “hidden” objects. The caricatures and comedic tone of the game is almost like a slapstick “Get Smart”.
The goal and relevance is fed to the player through a barrage of typewriter stories that provide the case files and background info about town events and gossip. It feels very campy and not necessarily urgent… yet I keep playing.
There is very little learning with the exception of memorizing locations of objects. However, there are many successes that build the confidence of the player. With each case, some objects are repeated giving immediate accomplishment to the player. Creative crime characters made me want to see what crazy other people lived in this made up cartoon town.

What I like most are the many different titles they have for “detective”.. I started as a flatfoot, ranked up to a snoop and then on to many other fun titles for detective. It was satisfying to see my rank and badge change to a newer more distinguished name.
I guess mastering the hunt and finding things are necessary to be productive thorough life. I don’t know why I like it in the game, but I do, and will probably continue to practice this skill, whether I like it or not.

WGT: World Golf Tour. Online golf at its finest

The electronic game I want to review it World Golf Tour or WGT. This is a free web-based game based from San Francisco. They tout themselves as “the world’s most authentic golf experience”. After playing for several months I would have to agree.

The homepage of WGT is where one creates their account. From that page, one can meet other golfers and become their “friends” (a la Facebook). One can also read and post to a discussion board. There is also a place to view all the playing stats you or your friend has achieved.  The homepage is also where you launch the pop-up where the game is played.

The game is free, but the equipment that you start out with is pretty limited and crappy, so of course you’ll want to upgrade your clubs and balls. This is where WGT makes their money. For about $40 you can completely outfit yourself with “tour quality” golf clubs and golf balls.

The game is played on actual world class golf courses from the US and abroad… St. Andrews, Bethpage Black, Kiawah Island are some of the courses one can play in this game. The makers have taken high def video and the animated player is overlayed on the images of the course. This makes for rich gameplay.

The game play is not hard to learn, but quite difficult to master. The better you play, the lower your rating gets. I think that this game is addictive, but there are only 2 full courses that can be played. Some of the game controls are a bit cumbersome and tricky to master. The multiplayer mode is the best though. This is where you can play a friend online. I enjoy playing my friends and talking trash to them via the chat mode.

All in all, for a video game golf fan, WGT is a fantastic option. It is hard, uses real courses and best of all, it’s free!

Genesis: The Original LPmud

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Genesis is an online text mud, or multi-user dungeon.  It is one of the older games in this genre, having been originally created in 1989 on the game engine coded by Lars Pensjo in Sweden.  It is an open-source game–that is, both the code and the content of the game have been a non-profit, group collaborative effort, although the copyright is owned by Chalmers Datorforening, Goteborg, Sweden.  The only graphics within the game are works of ASCII art.

Genesis is operated, maintained and built by an international community of dedicated “wizards,” who are “immortal” players.  Over the years many wizards have contributed to the building and maintenance of this game, and there are players who have lived in the virtual community of Genesis for almost 20 years:

“Bear in mind, Genesis, a complex, evolving but stable and balanced system was created just by students like you. It has two parts – the game driver, written in pure C, and a mud lib, the Mud operating system, implementing an object oriented language, a cousin of C++, called LPC (LP standing for the creator Lars Penjo’s initials).” (

Based on the original idea of Dungeon and Dragon games, the Dungeon Master is the computer system itself.  Genesis is made up of “domains” based on fantasy themes, such as Gondor and Krynn (from the Dragonlance series).  Each domain is comprised of a network of areas made up of virtual “rooms,”, and players navigate from room to room with keyboard commands (for example, by typing in “north,” “up,” “climb tree,” “board boat”, etc.).  Each room contains a textual description that tells the player where he/she is, and various clues can be embedded in the descriptions.  You can examine items and search for objects.  There are hidden levers, secret passages, and occasional traps and other surprises.

In addition, some rooms contain special objects called “non-player characters” (NPCs) or “mobiles.”  These objects can also navigate around the game and interact in various ways with the player.  Some NPCs are helpful (a quest guide, a ship captain, a guild NPC, etc.), and some NPCs are creatures, monsters or enemy warriors that must be slain in order to loot items and coins or gain the object to a quest.

What motivates players to play a text mud?  I have heard some people say that playing a text mud is like walking into the pages of a book and becoming one of the characters.  All interactions of the player with the game and with other players is handled via text. Granted, this takes a good deal of imagination, and certainly text muds often appeal to players who are avid readers.  Genesis draws upon several familiar fantasy themes from books, such as Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, Ursula K. Leguin’s The Wizard of Earthsea, and Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance series.

Certainly the sense of being transported to a virtual world is part of the motivation for playing muds.  Players often distinguish between “in-game” and “in real life” (or “out of character”).  Consider in this context Csikszentimihalyi’s theory on flow:

“In our studies, we found that every flow activity, whether it involved competition, chance, or any other dimension of experience, had this in common:  It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality.  It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness.  In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex.  In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities.” (Csikszentimihalyi, p. 74)

In addition to the aspect of flow activity, a large part of the motivational design lies in the multi-player, social context.  There is a chat system, and email within the game.  In addition there are bulletin boards around the game where players are encouraged to express themselves.  Players can even rent “carrier pigeons” (NPC objects) to send messages to a player in another part of the realms.

Guilds reinforce social ties by encouraging players to team together and role play. There are also some magical guild spells that “telepathically” transmit messages to other players.  As part of role-play requirements, players may be encouraged to write books that are “shelved” in virtual libraries.  For example, the Ranger guild encourages its members to write books on the magical properties of various herbs and other objects that can be found in the game.

Richard Bartle, co-creator of a mud back in 1978 at the University of Essex, was quoted in an interview:  “Game worlds in particular are places of adventure and excitement, similar to the real world but apart from it. People go there as part of a hero’s journey – a means of self-discovery … When they’ve grown as people and become the individuals they set out to become, they have no need to play any more.” (


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.  Chapter 4: The conditions of flow.

Batman Arkham Asylum

Do you wanna play like a super hero and re-visit the old foes of the Batman DC Comic line-up?  Then I highly suggest you rent or purchase your own copy of “Batman Arkham Asylum” asap.  This role-player adventure game is available on a variety of different gaming platforms.  The fluid game play and HD graphics on this game for the Xbox360 made my jaw drop. BatmanArkham Batman fans and super hero fans alike will be sure to enjoy this video game and everything that this game packs.  No guns are necessary for Batman, just hand-to-hand combat along with his utility belt goodies: Grappling hooks, batarangs (batman style boomerangs), explosives…etc.  The introduction of the game begins with Batman delivering the Joker to the Prison (Arkham Asylum).  Joker is strapped to an upright rolling gurney, reminiscent of the ‘Hannibal Lechter’ style gurney.  As he is being rolled through the gates, the gamer is prompted to control Batman who walks closely to the group of guards.  Joker all the while is yapping his familiar yap, chastizing the guards and Batman.  The scenery and the environment gives the gamer an eerie feeling that something bad is going to happenJokerstrapped at any moment.  The characteristics of a Learning game are all here.  Total control of playing the game as Batman and selection of the Batman weaponry incorporates the gamer to build strategy.  The curiosity of what the next level will bring after successfully completing one level after the next keeps the gamer coming back for more.  The sheer fantasy of playing as a super hero and the vibration feedback from the controller as you are hit by a villain or standing near an explosion keeps you in the moment and makes you feel that you are actually living in the video game.  The constant challenge of completing the game at each difficulty level with 100% success (the curiosity of trying to find all of the hidden secrets on each map) invites the gamer to play the game again and again.  There are tons of secrets available (for free) and revealed online, which gives gamers confidence that they will be able to solve all there is to solve in the game completely.  That always makes me feel like I got my money’s worth from a game if  little things like these are available.  This game gets a 10 out of 10 and a double ‘thumbs up’ from me.

Facebook: Home of Addicting and Competitive Games

Picture 1Want to play and addicting game that taps into your intellect and quick typing skills?  Then Word Twist is for you!  It is one of the most addicting, competitive games on Facebook; I am obsessed.  To play Word Twist you need to first have a Facebook account and then go to the game through a simple search.  To play the game you have to challenge one or more of your friends on Facebook.  You then get to choose:

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Then game play begins.  This is where the motivation themes come in to play.  First you have competition.  This choice is made when you choose which friends to play with and for the game you are competing against them to get a higher score in each level and a higher overall score to win the entire game.  During each round the challenge theme comes in.  The goal is to get as many words out of the given letters in the allotted time.  If you get all of the words you get a “bingo” which is the ultimate goal and the challenge of each round.  If you haven’t tried it yet, get on and give it a try but beware; you may never be able to stop.

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Left 4 Dead 2 and Valve’s online game network Steam

e3-2009-left-4-dead-2-20090529060933037_640wIf you’re looking for a great multi-player game to play on your PC or Xbox 360, try the new Valve game Left 4 dead 2. What a great product pitch huh?You probably saw some sort of advertisement for this game during the last month, I know I did.

What I’d like to share with you is not a review of this game, there are probably more then a dozen credible gaming sites which already have them, so go check out ign or gamespot. Rather, what I’d like to talk about is how this game fits into one of the motivational theories encompassing this class and games in general. In addition I’ll be talking about how Valve, the creators of the Half-Life series, Team Fortress series, Counter-Strike, Portal, and of course Left 4 Dead series, is revolutionizing how you buy games and creating a community all at the same time with their virtual store / community interface called Steam.left_4_dead_2_conceptart_2VgaW

Left 4 dead is a gore fest first and foremost, there are survivors with guns and zombies. If you’ve seen the movie Dawn of the Dead, you have a pretty good idea of what happens. Although some will say its ruthless and repulsive, I think its genius, here is why. This game has the capability to play up to four people in Cooperative mode playing against the computer. The team has to work together to play through each level and use strategy and communication or else, the team will be left for dead. Having a headset with a mic is almost necessary playing this game. The team will work together to advance, they will need to heal each other, give each other medicine, rescue each other, and stay close. Evil lurks with every turn, and random hordes of zombies always keep the game play on edge. In addition to Cooperative mode, there is also many other modes which also rely on communication and team collaboration such as verses mode, where four players play the campaign while four other players, playing as the zombies try to attack them. Each team needs to work together to advance. Although it’s played with a controller or keyboard and mouse this game displays alot of interactivity.

This game has everything that Lepper & Malone want from a gaming experience. Challenge, the game is very fast paced and always changing. Although there might not be 80 hours of unique levels, or a free flowing world such as WoW or other mmorpg, this game has great replay value. On top of that, Valve includes over 50 achievements into the game, to keep you going back for more. Curiosity, Evil lurks around every corner, there are always new things to find. Better guns, ammo and medical supplies are randomly scattered every time the game is played. Players need to venture to new area’s to find these items to aid them in their adventure. Control, the player has many different game modes, guns and characters to choose from. Each game mode gives the player something unique to achieve. The player has control of their character through a first person setup. They are in direct control of what their in game character is doing. Fantasy, this game is built around the zombie movie format. You are in a movie while playing this, the game has options that come straight out of a zombie movie such as adjusting the level of film grain. This is a great all around story which puts you in the place of a non infected human trying to survive the onslaught.img_66901_steam_450x360

Valve has created a gaming network to allow its players to play games such as Left 4 Dead in a program which melts, friends lists, personal profiles, forums and a online store all in one. They have had great success with this and it grows every day, with Many of the game developing companies a part of the system, Dell recently signed a deal with Valve to have Steam pre-installed on every Dell computer and to include the game Portal.steam

The greatest part of this is having the ability to have all your games at your fingertips without having to find each game disc. When purchasing games through steam they are downloadable and recorded as a virtual copy. As long as you have your password you have access to all of your purchased games. If you move, lose your hard drive or just want to uninstall the game, you always have the ability to quickly re-download the game and start to play. The friendslist and forums allow players from one game to collaborate and perhaps play more in other games, without losing that friendship. The friends-list also has a built in voice messaging system. Steam also keeps track of all your game statistics, from achievements to how many zombies you’ve killed, which gun is your favorite and your accuracy. This program also meets Lepper & Malone’s theory on Interpersonal fun.Valve-Steam

Left 4 dead through Steam is a great experience for anyone looking to play an intensely fun game, as well as have access to many games in one spot.

Sebran – an intrinsically motivating educational tool, packaged as an electronic game.

categoriesMany moons ago I worked as a Computer Lab Aide at an elementary school.  With an extremely limited budget (like, zero dollars), I searched for inexpensive ways to enhance students’ experiences when they eagerly walked into the computer lab for their short 30-minute slot each week.  While doing an online search for freeware, I came across a fabulous gem that teaches letters and numbers called Sebran (Zebra in Swedish).  I immediately downloaded the program after reading a brief synopsis and viewing some sample screenshots.  I figured I could uninstall the program if it sucked.  Although the game is geared towards primary grade students, I – along with every other adult (and student, of course) that sat down at a computer station in the lab fell in love with Sebran instantly.  Needless to say I threw a copy on all 40 workstations we had.  Maybe it’s the simplicity of it; maybe the fun imagery and sounds… most likely a combination of them all.  More importantly, it gave students the motivation to play – and learn while playing.  The school I worked for had a heavy ESL population, so I was able to take advantage of the Spanish setting that Sebran offers.

Sebran is also offered in these additional languages:

Afrikaans, Bahasa Indonesian, Breton, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Samoan, Slovak, Slovenian, Turkish, Swahili, Swedish

Sebran takes full advantage of intrinsic motivations for learning (Malone and Lepper article) through sensory curiosity (sensory stimuli of the play environment through sound, images, movement), recognition (happy face or frown face), varying degrees of difficulty, explicit goals, and score keeping.


Here’s an overview of Sebran from the freeware website:

“It’s never too early for your child to become familiar with letters and numbers. Sebran’s ABC’s colorful pictures, pleasant music, and gentle games teach letters, numbers, simple math, and rudiments of reading.

-The six simpler exercises display four possible answers. Choose the right one and it becomes a smile; an error gets a frown and a chance to try again.

-The How Many? counting game introduces the numbers from 1 to 9. These are used in the Add, Subtract, and Multiply matching games, which each function at two levels of difficulty.

-In Pick A Picture, one of four pictures matches a word; First Letter offers four possible letters completing a word.

-Your child can employ the skills gained in these exercises to play Memory, Word Memory, or Hangman.

-Finally, the ABC Rain, Letter Rain, and 1+2 Rain games help train little fingers in using the keyboard.”


There is also a version for 2-6 years olds called Mini Sebran, along with a host of additional vocabulary training e-games available on the website:

PLEASE give it a try – it’s free, and I would love to hear your thoughts of the e-game, even if you’re not a primary grade teacher!

Just Dance: You’ve got the talent

justdanceWii’s “Just Dance” takes advantage of the recent craze in dancing (from TV’s Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance? And other shows) while allowing those who are not so talented, or not so confident, to learn new dance routines in the privacy (or party atmosphere) of their own homes. Game designers targeted three motivational areas, Challenge, Curiosity, and Fantasy in creating this game.

The challenge is to learn new routines and execute them correctly (in one game mode if you make 7 wrong moves, you must “leave the dance floor”). Players can compete against friends through 4 player party modes, seeing who can outdo each other. Players are curious of new routines, and curious to learn how to execute them, for possible use at a dance club.

justdance2The Fantasy is pretending you are an excellent dancer (even if you’re not), or that you’re at a club, on a stage, or in the spotlight. This game is an excellent way to have fun, entertain friends, get some exercise, and have a party.

I am a horrible dancer–one of those people whose friends make her dance for the entertainment (and laughter) of everyone around. This game taught me a few new moves to entertain everyone, and I”m not quite so embarrassed anymore…at least until the next version of the game comes out, and we all get together to play it at a party.

Simulators and Electronic Games: Training the Military and Civilians About Navigation

Maritime Simulation Institute established a ship handling training complex on the Naval Station in San Diego, CA in 1993.  The complex contained two Full Mission Bridges and a Bridge Wing simulator which trained new inspiring Deck Watch Officers as well as seasoned ones, up until 2006.  Deck watch Officers learned  procedures that ranged from basic ship maneuvering to complex refueling at sea.  I can remember showing up to the San Diego complex in 2000 and being absolutely amazed by the highly  technical simulator which may have carried a price tag from $500,000 to 1 million dollars.  My shipmates and I were there to practice procedures for refueling at sea in preparation for deployment to the Persian Gulf. 

The simulator which was then located at the Naval station in San Diego, CA  was similar  to the Kongsberg Maritime Simulation & Training Maritime Offshore Simulator  pictured below.  The Dynamic Positioning Maneuvering Simulator is fully integrated with a Kongsberg  Polaris ship Bridge and  it features up to 360 degree visual system.








Most electronic game and simulator developers cannot afford a price tag in the millions to produce a simulator comparable to Kongsberg Maritime Simulation and Training Maritime Offshore Simulator,  and I doubt the demand would be high, however Ship Simulator,  released in 2006 as a PC game involves players participating in up to  40 missions; the more experience each player gains, the more missions the player can attempt.  More difficult missions become available as the game progresses. Additionally, players can create and exchange missions with other players of the game online.

 Ship Simulator







The common motivation consistent in all three simulators is self-esteem, which is directly related to achievement as shown in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Ship handing is usually something that improves by repetition, the more you practice the better you become, improving confidence.  As each play/participant completes a level of simulation with little error, or in the case of Ship Simulator, completes and mission the player experiences a sense of achievement.


 For further information please check out the following sites:$file/KM-simulation-brochure.pdf?OpenElement

Peacemaker: The two sides of the story

Peacemaking is often attributed to great leaders or as often is the case to wishful thinking. But thanks to ImpactGames becoming a Peacemaker is now possible.


Peacemaker is an interactive game set around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All its game elements are rooted in real life situations. In fact, it is so real that it includes pictures and videos from real events occurring on both the Palestinian and the Israeli side. To win the game, the player impersonating either the Palestinian president or the Israeli Primer Minister needs to make peace between the two nations and obtain a Nobel Prize.


The game can be played at three different levels: calm, tense, violent. This certainly appeals to a wider range of audiences and plays an important part in its re-playabilty. The player is first attracted by the neat design of the game and as the game unfolds is further engaged by by the real life images and footage.

peacemaker3As the ARCS model suggests attention is maintained not only by art but by the nature of the decisions the player has to make and their consequences on many intertwined levels. Players are also engaged because the content is based on intriguing real life events, but players with a special interest in the conflict, either because of their geographical location or because of their field of study, will find the game even more relevant to their personal interests and therefore more engaging. The designers understood that and made the game available in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.  A high level of satisfaction is reached when the player wins a Nobel and offers peace to the region. Such satisfaction is clearly sensed in one of the players’ responses after winning the game:”I did it, I created peace in Palestine!”


While the game offers Fantasy as players have a chance to be the “others” and experience the situation from their side, what seems to be the most appealing to the players though is one of the biggest motivational elements identified by  Malone and Lepper: challenge. The game seems to have a fairly simple objective, but as the real world events have unfortunately proved, it is one of the most challenging political crises that our world has been facing. And as the game builds on these events, the challenge lies indeed in making peace all while keeping everybody happy : your side, the other side, the external political forces involved and of course the media. As one of the Israeli students at Carnegie Mellon puts it, “I played as the Palestinian president, and it was very frustrating; it seemed that no matter what decision i took  Israelis kept provoking me.”

Control is another important motivational aspect of this game. The fate of the region lies in the hands of the player and in the type of high-level decisions s/he will make. This is why he is offered a range of military, political, or infrastructural actions.

peacemaker5The game was appraised by both game designers and educators. It won many awards and was even incorporated into the curriculum at Carnegie Mellon University in the Middle Eastern studies program in both Pittsburgh and Doha, Qatar.

While game play stays in the realm of virtual realities, the game seems to present a non-biased point of view and can certainly teach the player about the true nature of the conflict. I wonder if President Obama played this game before winning his Nobel Prize?

NCAA Basketball 10 on Xbox 360 & PS 3: Motivation? ABSOLUTE YES!!

American01Attention Game Players!! It’s brand new – released on November 17, 2009. NCAA Basketball 10 uncovers the core of college basketball with an all-new strategic motion offensive system, innovative broadcast presentation, the excitement, emotion, and pageantry that makes the college game unique. It introduces full integration of CBS Sports and ESPN broadcast elements, allowing gamers to choose their broadcast presentation for every game. Electronic Arts Inc. announced the availability of this game, developed under the EA SPORTS brand for the PlayStation3 and Xbox 360.

Yes it has relevance in the new broadcast-style and graphics just like one would see while ncaa-basketball-10-20091111012019864_640wwatching a college basketball. It boasts confidence simply by pressing a button as the teammates can get initiated into whatever offense the player decide to run. It provides the ability to track players’ progression, make improvements to facilities in school and go through the standard recruitment process that every college sports game brings to the table. Yes it is satisfying and involves all 4 steps of Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design.

Oh yes!! Even Malone and Lepper’s Characteristics of a Learning Game applies here. The ncaa-basketball-10-20090623103455749_640wplayer enjoys control over a team’s strategy and can mimic real-life style of play and adds curiosity and fantasy with the authentic broadcasting presentations from the all-star announcing crews like Dick Vitale, Brad Nessler, and Erin Andrews of ESPN, and Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery of CBS Sports by choosing regular season games and its exclusive broadcast of ‘March Madness’. Everything that fans see and hear on TV when watching college basketball will be mirrored in here, including graphic packages and highlight reels. It adds challenge with Improved Coach Feedback System and Team Tempo Control which enables the execution of game-plan to perfection.

The curiosity maximizes with a new offensive system that allows users to maximize ball ncaa-basketball-10-20091015011304922_640wmovement, utilizing every player on the court, and executing team-specific plays, designed to control an opponent’s weaknesses. With the touch of a button users will be able to play fluidly and successfully. It increases the strategy behind team styles of play by introducing eight authentic motion offenses.  So start your game-play and visual enhancements and make a run for the “Final Four” with more than 100 improvements, including player movement, rebounding, off-ball collisions, alley-oops, size-ups, and more!!

ncaa-basketball-10-20091111011956866_640wIts said, “People are best motivated if they are involved in designing and deciding the activities”. Here is your opportunity to get started…get going…decide your game!!

ncaa-basketball-10-20091111012023269_640w– Are you curious to get a video demo? Please visit  here.
– The official website is here.

Trauma Center

traumacenterFor this month’s post I was really trying to look for simulations using some new technologies out there.  I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I did stumble upon an interesting role-paying game franchise for the Wii called “Trauma Center.”

The first version for Wii is called “Trauma Center: Second Opinion” and it’s definitely more of a game than a true realistic simulation, but gives players a way to get introduced a little bit to the world of surgery in unique and fun way.  It also looks to make great use of the Wii controller, which only having limited experience from the Wii by playing at friends’ houses, looks to be something of a rarity for Wii games (except for the ones exclusively designed by Nintendo like “Wii Sports Resort” which make excellent use of the technology); many of the Wii titles I’ve tried thus far would almost be easier in using a regular controller in my opinion.

This is a story-based game where you play a surgeon at a hospital and have to use all of your skills in order to save patients in certain time limits (before they die).  You use the “nunchuk” part of the Wii controller to select from a variety of surgical tools, then use the motion controller part to actually do whatever procedure is needed like actually making incisions, applying medicine or devices to wounds, and sewing up an incision using stitches and tape.  Even though it’s in an animated form, it gets the basics of what surgery is supposed to be about right, which is refreshing.

While the gameplay looks to be quite fun and at least mildly realistic, the game designers must have taken a page or two out of Lepper and Malone’s article for study because there’s a lot more to the game than just the basic gameplay of “fixing” patients.  There is a huge endogenous fantasy component — you actually become the surgeon in a hospital setting — complete with interactions with patients, colleagues, administrators, etc.  There is also an actual episodic storyline to the game as well which helps to motivate players to continue playing through to the game’s conclusion (judging from the cover, there must be some sort of master villain, don’t you think?).  From a video review I watched the game is designed using anime-characters complete with over-the-top melodrama that anyone who has seen a typical anime (other than Miyazaki’s works) will be familiar with which also adds to the fun and immersion experience of the game.

All in all, it looks like a very fun game and must be a popular franchise — they’ve already made 3 iterations for the Wii alone.  It might not be exactly the simulation I was looking for, but it seems like this same story-based model could easily be applied to a more realistic simulation at some point (maybe without the melodrama reminiscent of anime shows or ER and Grey’s Anatomy for that matter), incorporating a controller like the Wii’s and creating a more true-to-life experience for educational purposes.  One can hope, anyway.

If you’d like to see the video review referenced in this post along with some additional video screen captures of the game, check out this link here from GameSpot.

Game Science as an undergraduate major at UCI

game_center_scacchi_p0909xx_02_c_228x152This fall the University of California, Irvine established the Center for Computer Games & Virtual Worlds.  More than 20 faculty members from computer science, arts, humanities, social science and education will collaborate in the center.  The Center will be led by  Executive Director Magda El Zarki and Director of Research Walt Scacchi  (pictured here).

According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, construction is now underway on a 4,000-square-foot “Cyber-Interaction Observatory,” with plans calling for floor-to-ceiling projection screens, 3-D stereoscopic displays and gesture-based interfaces.  As a sign of how times have changed, the article notes that ten years ago, computer science instructors at UC Irvine tried to get approved a minor in computer games and were laughed at.  The idea was shot down, but now, “whatever hesitation there was seems to have faded, at least within academia.”  Dan Frost, an informatics lecturer who teaches a popular computer game development course, likens game analysis to “listening to Beethoven’s Fifth in a music appreciation class.”

CPR: Second Life Simulation

CPR_2I found a real-life simulation game designed to teach the art of Cardio-pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). The game offers the user several ways to practice and reinforce what they’ve already learned in the standard four-hour CPR certification course. The game relies on Second life, a virtual-reality role-playing simulation in which the characters move and act much like real life. This e-game is a fantastic way for someone to practice real situations in which their skills could save someone’s life.
Having been CPR certified, I know the level of bore that these training sessions often cause. Most of the time, you don’t get to practice your skills…rather, you listen & watch a trainer, and then prove yourself at the end by working on a dummy. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t offer the participant enough opportunities to practice what they’ve learned. As for me, I remember that I quickly forgot certain steps and details (chest compressions, breath cycles) of the CPR procedure soon after the training.
This sim game keeps the learner motivated by offering real-life scenarios, including a classroom setting, school lounge environment, and a bar situation. In each scenario, they need to make snap decisions, such as assessing the environment, calling for help, and proceeding with CPR. By placing the player in this context, the game is utilizing elements of the ARCS model of learner motivation.
First of all, the player’s attention is kept by offering new situations that feel real and provide a sense of urgency to utilize their CPR skills. Secondly, it places a relevance onto their learning, by offering a variety of real-life situations in which anyone would find themselves – person at a bar, child at a playground, etc. With just the standard training, the CPR skills aren’t as relevant, because there is no real-life context or time pressure to motivate the learner. Third, this sim provides the learner with confidence to use their newly learned skills. As the learner plays the game and progresses through the various scenarios, they are gaining confidence in their ability to meet the challenge of an unconscious victim and bring them back to life. Lastly, they have the opportunity to have satisfaction from helping save one life after another.. Even though they’re working on a dummy in the simulation, the situations are real enough that the learner becomes more satisfied with their work.

The designers of this egame really thought about their audience in designing the simulation. Having been trained in CPR myself, I see the value of this simulation, and wish I would have had the opportunity to play it to practice my skills. I guarantee that I would have remembered more about how to do CPR given this opportunity. Not to mention, I would have gained experience in Second Life as well. Kudos to the designers for making a game that anyone interested in CPR would like to play and continue playing.

Animal Kingdom Wildlife Expedition

Animal Kingdom, Wildlife Expedition is a Photo Safari game for the Wii. This single player game has a bit of a story to it which requires a player to read the story to understand it (which I mention because I had to read it to my 4yr old daughter for her to understand it). Here is a brief summary from the developers site:

Nestled in the middle of remote Animal Island is a secret preserve where the most rare, exotic, and reclusive wild animals roam. Only the best wildlife photographers gain access to this area, so you need to impress your editor with good work and earn the trust of the furry and feathered inhabitants!

After choosing a boy or girl character, AKWE starts with an opening sequence that orients you to the game. You are introduced to the location, your robot assistant, and your editor who requests various shots throughout the game. The robot assistant takes you through a brief tutorial on how to use the controls.

Immediately, the AKWE incorporates controls I consider sloppy, the only option you are given for choosing things on screen is pointing. I much prefer games that also offer the option of using the directional arrows for selecting things, especially when it is just housekeeping type stuff, like choose a character, clicking yes or no, or typing your name. Also in the initial setup of AKWE, every choice needed to be confirmed by pointing at yes… it would be so much more efficient to be able to click A for Yes or B for No.

Screenshot from Opening Sequence

Screenshot from Opening Sequence

The opening sequence itself (and the game in general) incorporates too much reading. In fact the text appears on the screen one character at a time with a beep sound for each character (much like the typewriter effect on power point which gets old very quickly). I think I would prefer to have the text read to me than to have the beep sounds (with the option of easily muting it, or skipping through it quickly).

In general the slowness with which the text appears is a precursor to this game’s biggest problem… it takes to much time to get to the interesting stuff. Sometimes your robot assistant tells you to do the same thing twice before he allows you to do it.

I almost feel like they did not play test the game very much.
Its an African Elephant

It's an African Elephant

Really the heart of the game seems to be when you get out of your jeep (driven by your robot assistant) and get close to animals attempting to take their photo. Here the game works pretty well. The animal graphics are good (I suspect they are identical to the Publishers PS3 release of a similar Game – Afrika). At the early stages of the game you have to creep very slowly when around animals to avoid spooking them. I found waiting in location also seemed to work pretty well as the animals often approached very closely in their wanderings. Depressing the B button pulls out the camera and the interface changes to look similar to looking through a camera. Here is where I think a game like Nikon Reporter could go a little bit further, giving you a little more control over capturing a quality photograph than just getting close and centering you subject, all that AKWE requires.

I found the photo part of the game to be the most intriguing. To me, this was a a completely new concept for a game. In fact in my research (See Nikon Reporter – Competing Products), I could find only a few games that are based on photography. In a sense AKWE combines a first person shooter with a photo simulation. Not being a big FPS player, I enjoyed that this game was not about killing the animals. In fact I found myself patiently waiting for several minutes for the perfect shot – something I have done myself at the zoo when taking pictures. Being closer to the animals than allowed at the zoo and the quality of the graphics (even on a Wii) kept me engaged. then it was time to move on… and this is where the game is a little lacking. The way in which you move from shoot to shoot is a little awkward, some of it is the annoying “you have to point to choose yes” control… actually after playing a little bit more, that is most of it. It is also a little slow at times because you have to do a lot of things to move to the next step.

So at present, I have not actually played much of this game. The big question is will I continue playing it… probably. My four year old has wanted to play it some more as well but I suspect for both of us that AKWE will not hold our interest for very long, the biggest factor being the pace with which you go through the game being a little too slow and keeping you from the most interesting part – shooting pictures of the animals.

Blueberry Garden

Blueberry Garden

Blueberry Garden

I too found the NYTimes article cited by Dana Ditman.  The mention of Blueberry Garden as a game of “curiosity and exploration” piqued my interest.  Unfortunately, it is currently a PC-only game and I have a Mac.  After spending way too much time downloading, installing, and ultimately unsuccessfully trying to run it with Crossover Games, I used a PC in the EdTec computer lab.  While I did not spend enough time to complete the game (my ineptness at electronic games might mean a long term commitment) I did get enough of a feel for it.

The Malone and Lepper article, Making Learning Fun: A Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivations for Learning, identified an explicit goal and the computer keeping score as strong indicators of game preference.  Blueberry Garden is very different in that regard.  The goal is quite fuzzy, “find out what is going on there”, and there is no score.  There is also no timer, but time is critical because the world eventually fills with water and when you run out of air you return to a starting point.

The rising water level is a problem!

The rising water level is a problem!

The 2D graphics are rather simplistic, yet it has an emotionally compelling fantasy appeal, supported by the music and sound effects.

The ultimate appeal of Blueberry Garden is to cognitive curiosity, for an audience that enjoys exploring an unknown world.

Sims, Wii and time killing satisfaction

When my son was around 10, he began to play the Sims games.  He loved playing these games.  Some of the things which the game taught him was the importance of working each day, maintaining friendships and completing tasks.  But his favorite thing to do was to drown his players in the pool.  At the time, I really worried about him, fearing that this may be the start of some pretty serious behavior problems.  But, as I read from Schell, I realize that the pleasure that my son received from this act can be described as “delight in another’s misfortune”.

turkey fling

When preparing for this month’s blog, I researched a variety of online games.  Lacking the time and initiative to begin a complex, multi layered gaming experience, I had to settle on the quick, numbing and time killing offerings online.  These simple games are low in detail and script, but heavy in entertainment and additive qualities.  In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I played a game called Turkey Xmas, A Festive Fling.  It is quite simple, relying on a drag and pull to stretch the turkey and then some left clicking to stay afloat, eating corn and berries, and trying to land in something cool.   It is a fair game, with a balance of small skills required and small challenge.  Still, it has humor (in the turkey landing and anticipation (with the click and stretch).

Recycle Roundup

While researching for our e-game, we looked at a variety of games which focus on the environment.  One of these games was Recycle Round-up.  This game  requires a little more skill, has a little higher level of challenge, but offers very clear rewards to the player in both the endearing way that the gorilla responds to us and the wonderful soundtrack that plays in the background.  I might even go so far as to suggest that it is this entertaining soundtrack that is instrumental in  my gaming pleasure.

wii balanceWhen it is all said and done, though, I prefer to play games which have a purpose.  And of these type of games, my favorite (at this time) is the Wii Sport games, particularly those which are done on the balance board.  I love the challenge of the ski race, relying on my core strength and sense of agility to round the flags and finish in a quick pace.  I have seen my talents in this game go from beginner (a couple of months ago) to almost professional (most of the time).  Wii relies heavily on feedback, perhaps to a fault, but it does keep you involved in the process.  It is also useful in reinforcing concepts of fitness which will help the player appreciate the task as well as to improve.   There is always a challenge, and the challenge is incremental.  As an achiever (according to Bartle, in Schell’s text), I enjoy the challenge of the various Wii games.  They are displayed on a virtual interface which is disconcerting at first as you are dodging shoes while playing soccer,  or trying not to fall into the water as you are grabbing fish out of the air.  With the addition of the clock (which encourages you to take a break after 3o minutes), the daily physical tests (which challenge you to stay below your actual age) and the cute graphics (a sad face when you do poorly and a jumping celebration when you do well), Wii Sports has much going for it.  I am most excited about the future of Wii Sports, however.  With the new remotes, the connection between ourselves and the game becomes even more solid.

The HARDEST Game in the World…

The World's Hardest GameAre you skeptical about the title of this entry?  Do you think you can beat this game?  It looks simple, right?  Well, just how much spare time do you have on your hands???  To me, this game is living up to its name!

This game is free and has been developed for the iPhone, but I was able to try it out on my computer at for as long as I could spare.  Although it took me 20 minutes to get to level 6 out of 30 and I had died 43 times, I would’ve tried to play to the end if I’d had more time.

The object of this game is to move your red square to capture the yellow circles while avoiding the blue circles.  Once all the yellow circles are captured, the player needs to move to the other part of the playing field, the green safety zone.  If you are touched by a blue circle you die, and immediately start the level again.  The blue circles move at various speeds and in different patterns per level.  Lastly, according to the instructions, your score can only be submitted upon completion of the 30th level, and the more you die the less you score.

The difficulty level of this game is pretty high compared to the simplicity of graphics.  So what motivated me to keep playing even though I died multiple times on almost every level I played?  This game took me to the upper most level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Actualization.  Once I realized that this game is based upon pattern recognition and coordination, and the fact that I could repeat any level as many times as necessary, I saw each level as  challenge that I could confidently face head-on.  Pattern recognition is the common theme throughout all of my favorite games, and I didn’t realize it until analyzing this game from a motivational perspective.  Having the chance to use this talent (I truly believe pattern recognition is one of mankind’s innate abilities) gave me a sense of fulfillment even when I spent longer on some levels than on others.  I found myself trying the levels over and over again, bound and determined (motivated) to find the pattern and use it to my advantage.

I hope you try it!

Ice Age – Dawn of the Dinosaurs

ICEAGEWhether you are a fan of the movie or not, the graphics alone will knock your socks off and make you want to take a look at this exquisitely designed platform-puzzle game for the iPhone! This game was designed to be everything Lepper and Malone describe as necessary for FUN! There are three main options in the opening menu, two assist with music and sound effects that really complement and energize the story. “Select a level” is the other option that allows you to continue game play where you left off.


The storyline focuses on the loveable saber-toothed nut-loving squirrel Scrat which you take CONTROL of in an effort to help him gather all of the acorns and find the end of each level. The in-game interface is extremely simple. The touch-and-go control system helps you assist Scrat.  All you do is tap the screen to direct Scrat where you want him to go.


Four different environments help to shape the CHALLENGE of game play. You will be traveling with Scrat through caves and caverns, snow mountain peaks and mysterious jungles – all in search of acorns.

The game is set up from a “side-scroller” perspective. As you work your way through the levels you will find obstacles like spikes, dinosaurs and various other types of enemies. It is up to you to use your ingenuity and CURIOSITY to help Scrat safely navigate through all of the chaos to find the end of the level!

5One of the nice things is that the tempo and skill of the game starts out simple enough for everyone to enjoy but it gets more difficult as you make your way through several of the levels.  To assist you, there are signs that help teach you how to deal with all of the challenges Scrat encounters. All you have to do is touch them. Along the way you will also find acorns stashed in various places. Some of them are easy to get to while others can be quite challenging. And in addition to the game you will also see several other well known characters from Ice Age along the way – prehistoric pals such as Ellie, Manny, Diego and Sid complete the FANTASY!

If at any time you need help along the way, or if you just want to pause the game for a few seconds, there is a “pause” button in the upper left corner of the screen. Tap the button and the game will pause and bring up a menu that will allow you to start the level over, quit the game, or view how the controls for various actions work.

I will admit the game app is a bit pricey – $4.99 – but it’s well worth the hours of fun that the game provides. If you don’t believe me – watch it on YouTube!

How old do you have to be for Second Life

As I was trying to find my blog topic I was distracted and went to read some of the blogs that I follow. One of the blogs was offering a chance to win a free 3 month trial at a site called allows users to create their own avatar and explore a 3D world where they can adopt a pet and have adventure that are focused on learning and creativity. So this doesn’t sound too different from the other second world applications and sites out there till you realize that this is a program this is designed for toddlers and older.The players are able to build houses and cars and all of the normal second life accessories .

Players travel to different worlds within the game and interact with the characters and collect coins to buy different items for Jumpee (avatar) They can also earn jumpstars which will allow them to se their name in the jumpstar hall of fame. The motivation for young kids is very apparent to earn coins so they can buy more things for their character. They also learn new skills in math and reading. While the players earn jumpstars their motiviation is to see their name movie up the hal of fame and to try and make it to the top.

My almost 3 year old has been learning how to use the mouse and was so excited when I told him I needed him to help me play a game online. He loved creating his own avataror Jumpee as the site calls it and giving him a name. He was so excited when he figured out that he could pick where his “little boy” could go. He was motivated to play the games becasue he was in charge of what the jumpee did. It took a long time for him to actually play any of the games becasue there was alot of “loading.” For young players who do not always the freedom to make their own choices the choices were so exciting and motiviating for hi

There is a blog that keeps users up to date on the latest additions to the game and world they are “living”in.

The Jumpstart game also has Wii games that are designed for toddlers. Having just bought a Wii we are interested in how much he will relate to this game and if we will learn anything from itl

After some more play i am going to have my son give his review on the game!

The Joy of Making Music


I hate to admit it, but I actually don’t like playing e-games.  I stink at using controllers, I absolutely hate video arcade game sound effects (like nails on a chalkboard), and I can’t think of anything that would motivate me to play a game like Super Mario, WOW… even SIMs. (I really am an old fart, aren’t I? Oh well.) I can only think of one mainstream game that I enjoy playing now and then, and that’s Rock Band. I just pick up the microphone and sing along with my favorite songs from the 70’s and 80’s.

Rock Band is the latest creation of Harmonix (now owned by Viacom, Inc.) which was founded in 1995 by two computer music engineers from MIT (Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy)who set out to “create new ways for non-musicians to experience the unique joy that comes from making music.” Their first efforts were interactive theme park attractions that allowed non-musicians to create improvised computer music, including one at Epcot Center.

Going back to their vision statement, “the unique joy that comes from making music” is, I believe, a key motivator in this ground-breaking game. I think this lies somewhere in the 5th tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization. Of course the game designers have also incoprated many other motivators falling within the 4th tier (esteem) including cheering/booing crowds and achieving goals which unlock new venues, repertoire, costumes and money for the band. However, I truly feel when playing this game, that it goes beyond these usual esteem-based motivators. The players truly feel that joy of making music, even though it is somewhat artificial. It takes the joy of listening to music performed by others to a whole new level that is ultimately more rewarding.

Around the World in 80 Days (the online version)

Around the World in 80 Days uses the Jules Verne story (about a Victorian gentleman and his servant trying to circumnavigate the world in 80 days to win a bet) to create a context for a series of matching puzzles. The game begins with a faithful telling of the story and quickly moves into the first puzzle: you help Passepartout, Phileas Fogg’s servant, to retrieve a carpetbag in preparation for the journey by carefully matching groups of three medallions in a row or a column. As the story progresses, you have to solve increasingly difficult matching puzzles to acquire more items needed for the journey.

The game seems to be popular; you can find many sites, reviews, and even a forum with a quick Google. A brief analysis using Keller’s ARCS Motivation Model reveals some of the reasons for its popularity.

Attention (A)

The Victorian time period evoked through the story, the scenery, the dialog, and the objects you have to acquire in the matching puzzles is so exotic and foreign to us that it creates a new and surprising experience from something old, similar to the experience you might have driving an immaculately restored antique car.

The matching puzzles themselves are a bit incongruous for the Victorian setting, but they grab your attention with pinball-like sounds and visuals.

Having piqued your interest with the incongruity of pinball excitement overlaying a Victorian atmosphere, the game holds onto your attention with the challenge of solving the matching puzzles. In the first puzzle, you have to migrate the parts of a carpetbag to the bottom of the puzzle by arranging the medallions into groups of three, which removes them from the puzzle, very much like Jawbreaker.

The matching puzzle is presented again and again, but there is just enough variation to make each puzzle unique and to avoid boring repetition. For instance, in one variation, you have to migrate the objects to a key icon instead of the bottom of the puzzle.

Confidence (C)

As you solve each level, you learn a little about how to solve the next, more difficult, puzzle. Your confidence builds and you begin to develop strategies for solving the puzzles. But, you also learn that your strategies don’t work on every puzzle. As the puzzles vary, you have to modify your strategies, or throw them out.

On the forum many players complained that the ending of the game is too difficult, but having succeeded at the previous 80 or more levels, they have to confidence to spend weeks trying to solve the final levels.

Satisfaction (S)

Although each puzzle is unique, they all have a similar look and feel. When you match rows or columns of medallions and when you solve the puzzle, you are immediately rewarded with audible and visual feedback.

This quote from the forum addresses both the frustrations and the joys of the game, “For months I was stuck on day 81. I played the game under 4 different names and always got stuck on that last one. I tried it again yesterday and cannot believe it is so simple. I have now completed it four times in a row.”

Flight Simulator 2004

flight simulator

To begin preparing this month’s blog post, I started with a simple Google search of population simulation games and I happened across an interesting one, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004.  This simulation is one in which users (players) get to experience the thrill and technicality of true to life flight experience.  The game contains 3D interactive cockpits, specialized aircraft such as the Bombardier Learjet and a Cessna Skyhawk, among many others and many ways to create and select types of flights for the simulator.  As a bonus, the game also has contains a collection of articles on the history of flight. 

In reviewing this game, I began to realize how useful and relevant it is, or could be, to those who are interesting in flying, either as a hobby or as a profession.  Therefore, the learning theory that I believe explains a motivation to play it is the ARCS theory.  The ARCS theory involves motivation on 4 levels: Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction.  This game can provide motivation to play it on each of these levels.  First, the 3D graphics and interactivity make it an “attention getter”.  Second, the interactive cockpit and variety of flights to choose from make it very relevant to a “real world” flight experience.  Third, once the player has been through a variety of aircraft and simulations, they will most likely feel confident in their abilities to handle a similar flight experience in a real aircraft.  Lastly, I am sure that satisfaction will be the end product in realizing a goal that has been achieved. 

Even though I am not really interested in flying, I have to admit that this game is pretty cool and I would be very interested in playing it.  I guess you could say that it could “fuel” an interest in flying, if nothing else.

Analysis before Addiction…

Every day I am bombarded by “Farmville” requests on Facebook from a few of my cousins who happen to play this game. Thus far, I have staunchly refused to get roped in to this outlandish pastime. Until now. In the name of research, I broke down and got my own virtual farm, which I quickly populated with the 32 gifts I already had waiting from my farming relatives. These same relations are also my new neighbors.

So I set about finding out what all the hub-bub was about. You can plow your fields, plant and harvest crops, visit your friends’ farms and fertilize their crops (which is infinitely preferable to actually doing that particular task!), buy seeds and animals and other things from the market. You gain money by harvesting crops and selling them, as well as selling other things, like the pile of maple leaves some thoughtful kinsman gave you! Experience points are gained by performing certain tasks, and these points increase your level and earn you awards, such as the highly coveted “Pack Rat Award” that I attained after playing for only 15 minutes. Helping out on friends’ farms and sending them gifts augments your journey toward higher levels, but really, how many of my friends indeed play Farmville? Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the “My Neighbors” button and found….16 people, not including the ones who continually invite me to play, on that list! All ages, job descriptions and education levels were fairly well represented, including one middle school principal and a couple of COMETeers.

Now for the analysis. Individual Motivation. While there is not really one clear goal for playing Farmville, players do earn virtual money, which enables them to buy other items for their farm. This, along with attaining higher levels which enable farmers to “unlock” new elements of the game, offers the element of challenge. Curiosity seems to be fairly inherent, as evidenced by the number of people who try the game out in the first place, but it is continued with the wonder of what the game creators will next add to the market place…a baby turkey? perhaps a carnival tent or ferris wheel? a harvest table or a pile of maple leaves (I must ask, pile of leaves…why??)? Yes, all of the aforementioned items are available for a limited time only! Fantasy is another motivation that many egames have ingrained. Ingrained. In-grain-ed. Get it? Yeah, I know, dumb farm joke. Never the less, where else but Farmville can one find pink cows, blue hay bales, and strawberries that are ready for harvest in 4 hours? (I hear tell the “where else” is Farm Town, but I ain’t goin’ there!) Control is another feature sure to keep hayseeds motivated. Don’t like where you put that last section of purple fencing? You can move it. Tired of looking at that birdbath? Sell it. Garden getting cluttered? Store all that excess in your brand new pink tool shed!

Mooving on (yeah, that was cheap, but what the hay?) to interpersonal motivation. Cooperation in this game lends itself to  interpersonal motivation, since to help one’s neighbor gains one not only recognition, but lands you monetary rewards as well, which also adds to that individual challenge aspect of the business. In terms of recognition, other players can thank you for helping out on their farms by helping out on yours or sending you gifts. And let us not forget the “King of Compost,” “Crop Whisperer,” or “Pack Rat” ribbons to be earned! These mighty symbols of recognition will be published on many Facebook pages! Think of the applause! Competition, while not a blatant source of motivation in Farmville, is still evident in the ever present farming levels of your neighbors. And more so when you visit their farms and see all the great stuff they have! Just how long do you have to play to get a pond and a dairy farm?? Well, I don’t know, but I best be getting back to my farm. Got some strawberries that are ready to harvest!



Online Family ‘Legula Adventure’ Game

Legula logo

This is a free online educational game made by LearnDirect. It is mostly for children but is also to help parents brush up on their ‘maths’ and English skills to help their parents. This game has two players, you the parent, and your child. You put in both names at the beginning of the game. It seems to all be Flash based animation. I noticed right away it is not as fluid as the JumpStart 3D online world for kids. My 7 year old daughter loves the Jump Start world.

Legula interfaceThis online 3D world has all of these interesting imaginary creatures and a very interesting story line. You and your child are in the viewing position of looking out into the world rather than being slightly above and behind an avatar as in the JumpStart world. So you do not have an actual game character that you choose and can see and maneuver through the world.

The setting is on an island where you and your child travel along with various travel guides helping you get through the various tasks and puzzles. You are stopped frequently at different points and are faced with various spelling or math puzzles that have to be solved before being able to continue on with the journey. It is interesting because they will have a puzzle for both you: the “big one” and your child the “little one” to solve. Things like a word(s) being scrambled and you have to reorder them or the child having three numbers that have to come to a certain total through a combination of adding some and then subtracting that total to the remaining number.

There are also ‘just for fun’ terrain obstacle maneuvering mini-games where you guide one of the game’s characters to swim or fly through an obstacle course to retrieve and return certain items that are related to the overall goal in getting through the game.

I played this Lugula game with my seven year old daughter for a short time and didn’t get to finish it. She really wanted to finish it and seemed very engaged while playing.

The graphics have wonderful vibrant colors yet very slow animation as far as watching one of the story guide’s characters walk from one side of the screen and then start communicating with you. It’s fluid when you finished a puzzle and your view quickly travels along the path to the next place where you meet another guide. Again, I think it’s all flash based to allow for distributing it over the internet.

I will think about this game using some of the elements of Keller’s ARCS model:
The initial novelty of a different fantasy world, combined with various multimedia elements caught my daughter’s (and my) attention. The puzzles didn’t seem overwhelming to my daughter so she seemed to feel confident in trying to solve most of the puzzles. However, several times she chose to opt out of the puzzle where you could choose to “skip this puzzle” to move on through the game.

I can’t say there is any relevance for any learning goals I have or my daughter has that would relate to the game. So this was not a factor in maintaining our motivation. However, I’m sure it would align with some curriculum standards on her grade level.

The satisfaction seemed to be in the excitement of exploring the virtual world and after solving the puzzles. Another satisfaction was that I could also play along with my daughter and even had parts to play in the story as far as helping solve puzzles when it was ‘the big one’s’ turn.

Over all I would recommend this game for children and their parents to play. I can’t say what the age range is for since they didn’t say on their site. However, it seemed to be around the level of my daughter who is in second grade. So probably several grades like 2nd-4th I would say would be in the correct age level.

Nobel Prize-winning educational games – Prisoners of War

The Nobel Prize website itself is a bit of a surprise – there are videos of winners (“Carol Greider was doing the laundry when the call about the Nobel prize came.”), you can ask this year’s Nobel Laureates a question, follow them on social networking sites, and learn more about what Nobel Laureates receive.  It’s all pretty engaging and fun.

And there are loads of educational resources and games for kids (and adults) around the prize winning topics.  For instance, the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine was awarded for the discovery of the hormone insulin.   Students can learn more about that prize, about diabetes and insulin and, finally, play a game in which they care for a diabetic dog.  Nobel prize topics and associated educational information and games range from physics (transistors), medicine (blood typing), economics (trade),  to peace (prisoners of war).  There is a game for every topic; each game is about 10 minutes long.

Red Cross Prisoner of War Game

I completed the Prisoners of War game, which commemorates the Red Cross Peace Prize wins in 1917, 1944 and 1963.   When you start this game, you must first prove your knowlege of the Geneva Convention III to assume command of the Prisoner of War camp.  You set up your camp by demonstrating knowledge of the elements of a POW camp (e.g., must have separate facilities for men and women).  When your prisoners arrive, you determine if they each meet the POW criteria.  Finally, you’re given a number of POW Camp management scenarios in which you must choose the correct response.  You’re given feedback, with links to the appropriate citations in the Geneva Convention III documentation.  I was stunned by how involved I got in this game.

Malone and Lepper criteria evaluation

The game was Challenging (which was revealed in my score), yet there was documentation (the original Geneva Convention III documentation as well as additional resources that could be accessed before, during and after the game).  The content wasn’t dumbed-down for a younger audience and appeared to present situations that were realistic.  There was feedback throughout the game and prompts to refer to additional resources.  This accommodates all types of players ; both those who want to move slowly through the game and those who are happy to guess and see what they got right (and the feedback for wrong answers).  Based on their performance as the POW camp commander, players are rated  as either a Humanitarian Champion, Well Intentioned Humanitarian or a Sadistic Swine.  I rated Sadistic Swine – here’s the feedback I received at the end of the game:


The game appeals to players’ curiosity, by creating interesting scenarios and options.   You are really curious – is the doctor who works for the enemy army considered a POW?  Answer: No, but he should be treated as one under the Geneva Convention.  What should you do when a local official calls you and wants to use POWs to work on a construction project?  By using a realistic construct (you are building a POW camp and processing incoming POWs) and engaging scenarios, this game makes it difficult NOT to be curious about the outcomes.

The game allows some player control, for instance, by choosing some of the symbols that will be used and how much you wish to refer to reference materials throughout the game.  It is a linear game, however, in which you move from scene to scene, so control from that perspective is limited.

Finally, the game makes much of fantasy.  The photos and drawings throughout the game are dark, dreary and a little scary.  There is a prison-like theme to the soundtrack.  You are asked to inhabit the role of a POW camp commander and every scenarios is built around this role.  I was surprised at how effective this was in what was actually a pretty simple game.  The text and the artwork really added to the realistic feeling of the game.

If you are interested in building educational games – these are really good ones to check out as an example of how you can add visual appeal and persuasive text on what appears to be a simple platform and a limited budget.

New(!) Super Mario Brothers (Wii)

The Super Mario Brothers franchise for Nintendo has been a massive hit from their earlier days (Ronnie covered their first Super Mario Bros. game here).  The earlier Super Mario Bros. series on Nintendo consoles were 2D side-scroller, where Mario would generally move from left to right side of the screen (jumping on bad guys’ head along the way) to finish a level.  The games were fun and covered Thomas Malone’s 4 factors:

  • Challenge: The levels progressively became harder and posed a different kind of challenge for different types of landscape.
  • Curiosity: The Super Mario Brother’s world looked colorful and contained interesting characters and enemies; you couldn’t guess what would happen next.
  • Control: While the basic control was simple, executing them in timely manner in different circumstances was a challenge.
  • Fantasy: Especially on the earlier games, not much back story was given on why Mario, a plumber, was going after Koopa, the antagonist, other than to rescue the princess.  With exotic landscapes and interesting NPCs, it was a great fantasy setting.

Then with introduction of Nintendo 64 in 1996, Mario went 3D and the game play for Super Mario games ceased to be a simple, side scrolling platform games (at least for games outside of handheld consoles).

nsmbcoverThirteen years later and after releasing many more  Super Mario games, Nintendo released another Super Mario Brothers  game earlier this month for the Wii console: The New Super Mario Brothers.

After looking at couple screenshots, I began to wonder.  What’s so ‘new’ about it?  The game looked to have gone back to the old 2D platform style.  However, after watching couple of gameplay videos, I was hooked and eventually purchased the game.

While the basic game mechanic stayed the same if you play in the single player mode, it now added a multiplayer mode; you and up to three other people can play together in a cooperation mode at the same time!  nsmbscreenAlthough it might seem like a minor update, this actually changes the gameplay quite a lot and adds Malone and Lepper’s three interpersonal motivations:

  • Cooperation: You and others can cooperate, helping each other along the way (some levels highly encourages cooperation) to finish a level.
  • Competition: Or you can compete to see who gets the most coins through out the level.  Another (more evil) way is to race ahead while the others lag behind, hogging all the glory (I was at the receiving end of this)
  • Recognition: The game allows for players to create a protective bubble around them, allowing less skilled players to create the bubble when in trouble while the more experienced player can finish a difficult part of the game before being released, giving recognition to more experienced players while reducing frustration for the novices.

It is a great move by Nintendo’s game designers to reinvent the 2D Mario Brothers game with the multiplayer mode.  I especially felt that the addition of bubble option was well thought out since it encourages cooperation (another player has to pop the bubble) and allows less skilled players to play with more experienced players.