Supreme Court Justice to Game Designer

During my research about famous or relatively famous educational game designers I never imagined I would come across an article about former Supreme Court Justic Sandra Day O’Connor in this field. The original article, published in June 2008 discusses O’Connor’s role as a key note speaker at the annual Games for Change conferance at Parsons The New School for Design. She and James Paul Gee, a Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison professor, teamed up to developed Our Courts which was expected to be rolled out September 2009.
I then did a quick search for the site, and found it at In addition to the great factual information you find on the site, there are indeed a couple of games to play I quickly played the Supreme Court Decision game. I thought it was great, easy to follow along with, engaging and something kids could really understand.

The location of the original article I found online is

Designer/Critic/Researcher and Story-telling Workshop

Video Game Designer, Critic, and Researcher: Ian Bogost

Ian Bogost

Ian Bogost

I came across this site created by Dr. Ian Bogost, who is a videogame designer, critic, and researcher. He is Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Founding Partner at Persuasive Games LLC. His research and writing considers videogames as an expressive medium, and his creative practice focuses on games about social and political issues.

Bogost is author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, listed among “50 books for everyone in the game industry,” of Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, and co-author of Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. He is a popular writer and speaker and widely considered an influential thinker and doer in the videogame industry and research community.

Bogost’s videogames about social and political issues cover topics as varied as airport security, consumer debt, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands, pandemic flu, and tort reform. His games have been played by millions of people and exhibited internationally at venues including Laboral Centro de Arte (Madrid), Fournos Centre for Digital Culture (Athens), Eyebeam Center (New York), Slamdance Guerilla Game Festival (Park City), the Israeli Center for Digital Art (Holon) and The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne).

Bogost holds a Bachelors degree in Philosophy and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a Masters and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UCLA. He lives in Atlanta.

Although his works and critiques do not involve boardgames, I would recommend you check out this site to see a wide variety of interactive games created for the purpose of educating people about a particular topic. It may lead to some interesting ideas. Check out the Water Cooler Games archive, in particular.

Story-Telling and Educational Games Workshop 2009

Story-telling and Educational Games Workshop

Story-telling and Educational Games Workshop

I came across this workshop when researching this month’s blog post assignment, and it jumped out at me because of it’s focus on the importance of “the story.” Recently, I’ve had the most fun learning about a topic when there’s a story involved. I never was one for RPGs, but I find them fascinating now because you delve into an entire new world with different culture and rules.  To understand these alternate worlds, the story teller sets the premise, explains the history, and how things came to be the way they are now. I then become invested emotionally in this “story.” I care about what I’m learning.

Even the gentleman I interview for the LMF project described a learning experience that was from a book, purely narrative form. Granted, this wasn’t an RPG book, but it just goes to show that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the author voice, which sets the tone, context, and ultimately drives the point of the learning home.  Stories have the potential to stick with us forever, to touch us deeply. This workshop on Story-telling and Educational Games seems really interesting because it attempts to synthesize these two mediums that at first seem like totally contradictory approaches. I’ve included a description of the premise of the workshop from the website below. Check it out and share what experiences you’ve had with story-telling and educational games.

Workshop Premise:

The main difference between educational games and story-telling lies in the user’s motivational point of view. Story-telling aims at reliving real life tasks and capturing previous experiences in problem-solving for reuse, while educational games reproduce real life tasks in a virtual world in an (ideally) engaging and attractive process. Nevertheless, educational games require highly specialized technical and pedagogical skills and learning processes to cover the topics in sufficient depth and breadth. Imbalance between depth and breadth of study can lead to producing trivial games, which in turn can lead to de-motivating the learner.

While the integration of learning and gaming provides a great opportunity, several motivational challenges (particularly in vocational training) must also be addressed to ensure successful realization. Non-linear digital stories are an ideal starting point for the creation of educational games, since each story addresses a certain problem, so that the story recipient can gain benefit from other users’ experiences. This leads to the development of more realistic stories, which then provide the kernel for developing non-trivial educational videogames. These stories can cover the instructional portion of an educational game, while the game would add the motivation and engagement part.

In summary, this workshop aims at bringing together researchers, experts and practitioners from the domains of non-linear digital interactive story-telling and educational gaming to share ideas and knowledge. There is a great amount of separate research in these two fields and the celebration of this workshop will allow the participants to discover and leverage potential synergies.

Workshop topics

  • Story-telling and game theories
  • Story and game design paradigms for Web-based Learning
  • Augmented story-telling and gaming
  • Story-telling and educational gaming with social software
  • Story-telling and educational gaming with mobile technologies
  • Cross-media/transmedia story-telling and gaming
  • Computer gaming for story-telling (Game design for narrative architectures)
  • Multimedia story and game authoring
  • Story-telling and educational gaming applications

How far down the food chain are you?

borrowed from

borrowed from

Am I on the right track? Like many of my colleagues in this class, I had very little previous knowledge about game design and the people behind it. In researching information for this blog post I went on a long (I guess “relatively long” is more appropriate) search for educational game designers and their organizations. Instead of focusing on a person I thought for this post I’d focus on a website called Serious Games Source.

I found this quote from the site especially interesting:

“website specifically for the ‘serious games’ market (games created for training, health, government, military, educational and other uses)”

I guess we’re all SERIOUS game designers then (said with a scowl). Doesn’t seem all that fun to me. But as I read the descriptions I decided to check out the different links that were affiliated with the website. They are actually part of the Think Services Game Group who, besides providing that banner up top,

“offers market-defining content, and drives community through the Game Developers Conference, GDC Europe, the Serious Games Summit D.C. and GDC, GDC Mobile, Game Developer magazine,, the Independent Games Festival, GDCTV, and the Game Developers Choice Awards.”

Also, they are all a part of United Business Media, a global news and media provider worth more than $2.5 billion! I kept thinking of those stories about the people who got a bunch of money from designing games for the iPhone, but it really seems like the game designer is so far away from the top of the food chain. I suppose it’s like that in almost any job though. Still, betcha they make more than a teacher!

Game Education Summit

I began my initialresearch feeling a little under prepared. I knew little to nothing about educational games. So I Googled educational game conferences, and found the Game Education Summit. One thing that struck me as I did my research is that educational game designers come from all walks of life and all disciplines-which makes sense when you think about games and how many different fields and environments they can be applied to. The Game Education Summit’s keynote speakers came from electronic arts, military, and technology backgrounds. However the game education summit seemed to be geared more towards those who are educators in the gaming field. Topics covered at this summit included: the negative association with the the word game (especially in non-educational fields), video and academics, program history, what employers are looking for, how to educate different fields about game design (and its process), and so much more!

The Game Education Summit lead me to GEN or the Game Education Network. It is a network where conversations can take place about educational gaming. Here I found an article posted here titled Can’t Hardly Over-do it: Game Education and the Pursuit of Collaboration-something that made me think of an upcoming group assignment.  

This article mainly discusses the need for collaboration in game creation-even the simplest games need lots of input and collaboration of various people. Collaboration was described a something almost magical, collaborators take responsibility for all parts of the project (not just a piece or “their” piece, and it is a process that is integralfor good game design and instills a sense of pride and ownership of the entire project.  This article made the argument that good game designers need to have good interpersonal skills and need to be able to compromise without completely losing themselves. Game designers need to diversify who they work with, working with all different types of people will allow game designers to hone their collaborating skills.

James Nance and Wizard 101

wizard 101 logo

wizard 101 logo

In James Nance’s article Wizard 101, he looks back one year after launching the game and offers the lessons he learned. The game is multiplayer game for children that at the time of creation only had ToonTown as a competitor. One of the reasons he gives for the games success was that it was the right game at the right time. They identified the market and created the game for it. Another factor of their success was controlling the scope. The designers wanted a product within three years and had to work aggressively and keep the objectives manageable to meet that goal.

Among the challenges in the project was the modular design. They decided to use a modular design for the different worlds of the game, however discovered later that custom design took just as long and created a better product. They had to fix this by adding custom components to each world. Another major challenge was changing the business model late in the production. In the original design, players would subscribe monthly to the game, however the designers decided that the players should have more flexible payment methods and incorporated “micropayments.” This created many design problems that had to be overcome.

James Nance. Game Developer. San Francisco: Sep 2009. Vol. 16, Iss. 8; pg. 22

Games for Change

As someone looking into games that create social change and educate I found Games for Change a non profit that provides support for those designing games for social change. There are multiple channels on the site from health, to poverty, to global conflict.  The wiki page for games for change also considers it a “movement and community”.  The annual festival happened in May of 2009 in New York City that has been taking place since 2005.

An example of a few the games are as follows:


Ayiti: The Cost of Life is a game that challenges its players to manage a rural family of five in Haiti over four years and keep them healthy, get them educated, and help them survive. Develop in a unique partnership between youth in an after school program and a professional game developer, the game has been played over a half million times since its launch six months ago and has proven to be a hit as both an engaging game and as a tool for education.  ”

The Garbage Game: The Garbage Game allows you to make decisions that effect waste management in New York and helps you understand the funding and distribution issues in order to make educated voting decisions.

The games are filtered on the site using four characteristics other than topic area:  age range, youth produced, award winning and staff picks.

While not all the games that Games for Change puts out are educational in nature a good percentage of them seemed to be and were promising in nature. On a similar note a few of the games I looked at seemed to use problem solving learning which is interesting.  What I also found great about Games for Change is there is a toolkit provided for social organizations that are looking to create their own games.  There is also a section on the site for game designers to connect and collaborate.

Barnum Software-a Familiar Name in a Different World

I was searching for information about the Barnum Software Company, and found more links about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus than about the educational software company responsible for countless school-related materials.   This does not mean that the company is necessarily on the small side, but I found it interesting what the search engine provided.

The Barnum Software Company publishes material and/or games for home schooling teachers, parents & students.  Much of the software includes math topics covering K through Pre-Algebra, especially the company’s number top-selling game, The Quarter Mile Math. This game is said to be used with one of the leading companies in tutoring students outside of school, The Sylvan Learning Centers.  To have such an endorsement is a huge deal, and it promotes the use of the software to all math teachers because of the credentials it holds outside the public education system.  The publishers have also put the time and effort in to correlate each state’s mathematic standards to its published materials: a bare necessity for teachers when using any outside material(s).

After exploring the works created by this company, I’ve found more resources for myself and for my students, even at the high school level.

5 Ways Game Designers Communicate

Tim Lang, Lead Designer

I came across an interesting article by game designer Tim Lang, which I soon found was only one of his many blog posts offering tips on how to succeed in the game design industry.  This particular post was about “5 Ways Game Designers Communicate.”  Here’s a little background on Tim:

Tim Lang has been on the game design scene since 1997, and has worked on the Might and Magic series of games, as well as the Medal of Honor series.  Currently working as the Lead Game Designer for Spin Master Studio, Tim also provides his professional, insider insight by contributing posts to game design websites such as, it’s sister site, and many others.

What I found inviting about Tim’s numerous posts, including “5 Ways Game Designers Communicate,” is that you can tell he generally cares about the development of the game design community.  He shares his professional advice to other designers, particularly newcomers to the industry, based on his professional experience.

GameCareerGuide.comIn his October 2008 blog, Tim starts by stating “great ideas are useless without great communication.”  In other words, great ideas are plentiful- it’s how the idea is executed that really matters.  Successful execution is obtained through good communication between designers and development team members; and ultimately, to the audience.  Here are Tim’s five ways game designers communicate:

  1. Conversation
  2. Writing
  3. Pictures
  4. Design Animatics (storyboards that move)
  5. Prototypes

As you probably noticed, the five items above start with the most commonly used and easily accessible communication tool, and move towards the most intricate and specific tool that takes specific skills.  Each steps moves the designer and development team closer to making a concept “come to life”.  I think Tim has a lot of good insight that will help me in 670 and beyond.

The full article can be found at

Before the Oregon Trail, before Sim City, there was…Kriegsspiel?

Like much of Euprope, the Prussians spent a large portion of the early 19th century getting their butts kicked by Napoleon and his French Armies.  The Prussian-Franco war of 1870, however, yielded a much different result.  The Prussian Army handedly defeated the French Army, marking the downfall of the second French Empire and the creation of a unified Germany under King Wilhelm I of Prussia.

I know we lost the war, but can we get a copy of that game?

I know we lost the war, but can we get a copy of that game?

What contributed to this dramatic turn of events? How did the Prussians finally defeat the French?  True, the Prussian Army had been growing in size throughout the middle portion of the 19th century, but the French still had a clear advantage in weaponry.  The answer lies in the strategic planning implemented by each army.  The Prussians deployed a variety of creative tactics and strategies.  The French strategic planning was clumsy and inflexible – and virtually non-existent.

So why was it that the Prussian Army was so much better prepared?

They played games, of course.

In 1824, Lieutenant von Reisswetx of the Prussian Army, building on the earlier works of his father, published Anleitung zur Darstelling militarische manuver mit dem apparat des Kriegsspiels (Instructions for the Representation of Tactical Maneuvers under the Guise of a Wargame).   These rules outlined a game that simulated various tactical scenarios that the Prussian Army of that time period might face.

Prince Wilhelm (soon to be King Wilhelm) caught wind of the game and invited Reisswitz to his castle in Berlin for a demonstration.  The prince was so impressed with the game that he decided to present it to the Chief of the Prussian Staff, General Von Muffling.

As the story goes, Von Muffling, a career military man, at first remained skeptical of the game.  But as the simulation unfolded, he could not contain his enthusiasm, exclaiming, “This is not a game, this is a war exercise! I must recommend it to the whole army!”

Sure enough, within months, every brigade in the Prussian Army had their own copy of the game.

The game was very detailed and complex,and  much bigger than the board games of today. The early versions shipped to the various Prussian armies consisted of:

“…six feet square table open at the top and filled with 4 inch square terrain pieces made in plaster and carefully painted to show roads, rivers, villages etc, and interchangeable to give a variety of terrain. The troop pieces were made in porcelain. There were dividers for measuring distances, rulers, small boxes for placing over hidden troops (they were allowed to make surprise attacks) and a set of written rules.”

With the distribution of the game came an increased emphasis on education within the Prussian Armies. Kriegsspiel (German for wargame) allowed officers and troops to practice tactical maneuvers, develop and implement strategies, adopt to unforeseen circumstances, and increase their overall operational readiness.  The game was intricate enough that Prussian officers could acquire familiarity with all aspects of their profession without having to learn in the “heat of battle”. Kriegsspeil also insured a trained reserve of enlisted personnel were ready at a moments notice.

Of course, today, simulations are used by militaries all over the globe as a tool to educate and prepare officers for the battle – but it was Kriegsspeil that first showed the benefits of such simulations.  And Kriegsspeil is still being played today, both in its original form and in updated versions.  To learn more about the game, its origins, and where/how it is being played today, visit the Kriegsspiel News website here.



Hayo Reinders
University of Groningen, the Netherlands

This short article looks at ways of using computer games to teach different aspects of writing in the foreign language classroom. It offers a number of practical tips for use in the language classroom and beyond.

Why games for the teaching of writing?

Most written communication now takes place electronically. This is having a significant effect on the types of writing our students produce. Prensky (2003) estimates that by the age of 21, learners have sent 250.000 instant messages and emails. Clearly, our students love to communicate through writing! Of course, our job is to improve the quality of that writing and to expand their written communication to include different text types. To me, one obvious starting point is the writing my students do for fun and to build on that in class. For this reason I have used text messaging and Facebook to encourage social writing. Especially videogames also offer a lot of potential to motivate students to write a wide range of text types. Considering that by Prensky’s estimates, by the age of 21, the average student has spent about 10,000 hours playing videogames, there is ample opportunity for teachers to link classroom learning with out-of-class activities.

Recent years have seen a growing interest in the pedagogical benefits of computer games. James Paul Gee, for example, has identified 36 learning principles that he found to be present in many of the games he investigated. To give just two examples of these, take the ‘Active, Critical Learning Principle’. This stipulates that ‘All aspects of the learning environment (including the ways in which the semiotic domain is designed and presented) are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning.’ (Gee, 2003). In other words, computer games engage learners and get them involved in the tasks at hand. A second principle is the ‘Regime of Competence Principle’ where ‘the learner gets ample opportunity to operate within, but at the outer edge of, his or her resources, so that at those points things are felt as challenging but not “undoable.” (idem). You may recognise this as being similar to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. If you have ever played a computer game yourself you will have noticed that if you fail a task, the game adapts to your level until you do succeed. Similarly, if you succeed too quickly or too easily, new challenges appear. Computers are good at providing this type of adaptive environment. Surely these are principles many of us strive to implement ourselves in the classroom.

Games in general also have a number of characteristics that make them potentially useful for the teaching of writing. According to Prensky (2001) games share:

1) rules
2) goals and objectives
3) outcome and feedback
4) conflict, competition, challenge, and opposition
5) interaction
6) the representation of a story.

These elements are similar to those in the writing process where the interaction is usually defined by shared rules and where successful writers have clear goals in the communication they engage in. The representation of a story or the resolution of a conflict generally results in some type of response; a form of feedback. Teachers can use these parallels to draw on in the teaching of writing.

Practical ideas
Below I will briefly discuss seven ideas for the teaching of writing using the computer. Most of these do not require more than basic computer skills on your and your students’ part.

Use games to investigate characters and story lines
One of the easiest options is to ask students to investigate the characters in the games they play and to identify the story lines in them. Many games have extremely extensive plots and subplots. Johnson (2005) discusses how in recent years popular media has become more complex and gives examples such as TV programmes and also computer games where multiple characters and storylines intertwine, in some cases running to 200 pages or more when written up. Clearly, there is a lot to say about computer games. Here is an example of the plot of one, now older, game (description taken from Wikipedia):

‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’ is a computer adventure game based upon Harlan Ellison’s short story of the same name. It is about an evil computer named AM that has destroyed all of humanity except for five people he has been keeping alive and torturing for the past 109 years. Each survivor has a fatal flaw in his or her character, and in an attempt to crush their spirits, AM has constructed a metaphorical adventure for each that preys upon their weaknesses. To succeed in the game, the player must make ethical choices to prove to the evil computer that humans are better than machines, because they have the ability to redeem themselves.

Asking students to identify how such a story unfolds, who the characters are and how they relate to other characters and develop in the story, is a good way to focus their attention on the underlying principles both writers and game developers use to develop their stories. You will probably find that your learners have a lot to tell about the games they play!

Using your learners’ online characters
Another option involving little or no technical skills on your part is to ask students to describe their online characters; most games, and especially online environments like Second Life (which has the advantage that its basic membership is free), let you ‘create’ your own character. This involves choosing your gender, race, fashion, but also your behaviour (will you play the good or the bad character?). Ask your students to read the descriptions of each others’ characters or let students show the characters in class using projector or on a prinout and then ask them to discuss their choices. A fun activity could be to shuffle the printouts of the different characters and hand them out. Students then have to guess which character belongs to whom (but be careful this doesn’t get out of hand as it can get very personal). In the example in the previous section, you could ask the students to explain their ‘ethical choices’. Why did they do what they did? How did this affect the other characters in the game? With hindsight, would they have done things differently? Similarly, you could ask students to discuss the right or wrong of violent computer games and the characters’ actions in them. A popular game such as Grand Theft Auto IV would be a good candidate for this.

Another good game to use for this purpose is the world’s most popular game, The Sims (, but unlike Second Life, this is not free. An alternative to Second Life is Active Worlds (, which offers lower prices for eductional institutions through its ‘Active Worlds Educational Universe’ or Moove, which is free (

Use screenshots for discussion.
A screenshot is simply a picture of whatever is showing on your computer screen. Every computer keyboard has a key labelled ‘Prt Sc’, usually near the top right-hand side of the keyboard. Press this and then open a word processor. Right-click and choose ‘paste’. You will now see your screenshot. You can use such screenshots as a starting point for a discussion in class. An ambiguous image is best (is the character trying to help the victim or will he abandon him?). If you do not have access to games yourself, ask your students to bring their own screenshots. Then ask your students to describe the scene and predict what will happen next and why. You could ask them to write out a possible dialogue. Another use for screenshots is to ask students to summarise a computer game with the help of a number of screenshots from key moments in the game. I have found that especially with reluctant writers the use of the visuals makes it easier for them to get started.

Get playing!
Some games are more language-rich than others. Educational games are specifically designed for use in the classroom but often students do not find them as interesting as non-educational games. Some non-educational games are particularly suited to language learning. An interesting example is Ace Attorney (cf. Stanly and Mawer 2008). This is about a young lawyer who investigates crime and prosecutes offenders. Successful players build a strong case and strategise to find and then deliver the strongest arguments. Students could play this game and write out their choices, their arguments and eventually the whole case. Different teams could play each other, both on the computer and offline, in writing. Social games like Second Life and The Sims mentioned above also involve a lot of opportunities for communication. Numerous smaller games exist that can be useful too. An example is ‘Mystery of Time and Space’ ( in which ‘the adventurer has to solve riddles and puzzles, find and use objects, escape from locked rooms, find hidden passages and be a detective and examine everything to unlock the doors of the mystery of time and space’. Some other games can be found here:

Encourage communication in online role-playing games
The term ‘MMORPG’ stands for ‘massively multiplayer online role-playing game’. These games are played by hundreds and sometimes up to hundreds of thousands of people online. They often involve fantasy worlds and elaborate character development. Success in playing the game depends on participants’ ability to plan ahead and to use strategies, – crucially-, with the help of others. This involves communication via chat (frequently written but also spoken) and thus offers an opportunity to practise quite extensive forms of transactional writing which is highly ‘situated’; where the communication is related to the participants’ here and now and is authentic in that context. Many students play these games in their first language but are quite happy to play in English and are often thankful for help as it will allow them to play with more people. As the teacher you could ask students to print out their chat conversations which you can then use in class to focus on the language used. Alternatively you could participate in the game yourself and join in the chat communication and perhaps help scaffold the conversations. This can also help you identify difficulties your students are having. The most popular MMORPG is World of Warcraft, which has been around for years and is extremely extensive in its plot. A free alternative, albeit more suitable for younger learners, is Disney’s Toon Town ( This has the advantage that it was designed with children and families in mind and is thus more likely to be free of unwanted language. The description from its website reads:

In Toontown, players, as Toons, join forces to save the world from the invading robot Cogs – humorless business robots who are attempting to turn the colorful, happy world of Toontown into a corporate metropolis. Because Cogs can’t take a joke, Toons use cartoon gags to crack them up!

Provide language support around games
Another, relatively straightforward option, is to create help around the games that students play. One interesting project was carried out at King Mongkut University in Thailand. Teachers there found that many students played the game Football Championship Manager. They also found that many students had difficulty understanding the vocabulary in the game. They decided to create a simple support website where students can look up the words, read English descriptions, Thai descriptions and see a picture. Simple, yet effective! You could, of course, choose to focus on any aspect of the language. For example, students may want help with more communicative aspects of games, such as addressing strangers through chat, or the language for planning and strategising (excellent for practising the future tense, conditionals, etc) in MMORPGs.

You or the students create games
This sounds more daunting than it really is. A number of programmes have been written that allow students to create computer games themselves. One interesting project is ‘Scratch’ (, designed at MIT for children eight years and older. This free software lets students create environments, characters, and animations, using a simplified programming language. There are templates that students can start with and adapt, and students can also create things from scratch (no pun intended). The main aims of Scratch are to help students develop thinking skills, the ability to use technology productively and to learn to develop and follow through a plan, but Scratch can also be integrated into the language classroom. For example, you can ask students to write summaries of their games, or a manual with information on how to use it, or encourage them to create ads to promote their games. You will probably also find that creating the games in class will give ample opportunity for spoken interaction of quite a complex nature, and thus provide an excellent opportunity for language practice. An alternative to Scratch is

A similar option, and one very popular with teenagers, is a form of storytelling called Machinima. A contraction of machine and cinema, Machinima is the telling of a story based on games graphics. So, for example, if a student likes a particular game they can use the characters and scenes from those games to ‘mod’ (modify) them in order to tell their own story. Modding involves taking an existing game or aspect of a game (such as a character) and using software to change it in some way. A word of warning: just as some games can be violent so can the graphics students derive from those games be unsuitable for use in class. You will probably have to set some clear boundaries here.

A final suggestion is to use Gamics ( A contraction of games and comics, Gamics are similar to Machinima, except they involve still images. Students use images from their favourite cartoons to create their own.

Final thoughts
There are a number of drawbacks to using computer games. One is that not everyone in class may be used to playing games and some students may not have access to computers or game consoles. Perhaps you can ask your system administrator to make one of the (free) online games mentioned above available on one or more of the workstations in your school (perhaps at restricted times).

Another potential pitfall is that playing games can be exciting but entertainment in itself does not necessarily lead to learning or to learning in the most effective way. You will have to set clear goals for yourself and articulate these to your learners so they know what is expected of them. Similarly, you will have to set rules for what games can be played and when. Some games may not be suitable for use in class. This will also be a concern for parents and administrators. Talk to them and explain what you aim to do and what the intended learning outcomes are. Explain how you will protect the students from inappropriate content.

A practical issue is the cost associated with computer games. Most schools now have computer facilities available for students so the main cost will be for software. Above I have tried to recommend several free programmes. Many students also have access to computer games at home and you could ask them to use those (and perhaps to share them with students who do not), for example by bringing screenshots back to class (see second idea above). Of course, many of the ideas suggested here do not necessarily require the use of a computer. Various forms of role play and traditional games for example offer opportunities for practice similar to that of computer games. However, with the many free computer games available nowadays and the advantages they offer, it may be worthwhile to experiment.

At times exasperating, at times exhilarating, computer games are almost never boring. You are likely to see strong student involvement. Your challenge will be to channel that involvement in ways that actually benefit the development of writing skills. Oh, and to have as much fun in the process as possible. Game on!

Gee, J. P. 2003. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Johnson, S. 2005. Everything bad is good for you: how today’s popular culture
is actually making us smarter. New York: Riverhead Books.

Prensky, M. 2001. Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Prenky, M. 2003. Keynote presentation delivered at the Distance Learning Conference,
Madison. Available from

Stanley, G. and Mawer, K. 2008. Language Learners & Computer Games: From Space
Invaders to Second Life. TESL-EJ 11(4).

Game Developers Education & Failure—>Success

While reading an article about the “Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2006 Curriculum Workshop” on the “International Game Developers Association” (IGDA) site, I came upon several interesting comments made by some of the speakers at the conference. A large portion of the article was focused on how to educate up-and-coming game designers and how game development should be taught. At the time of the conference, most game development educational programs were focused on the mechanics of creating games: Programming and animation/art. The point was how to produce graduates that will make better games. A technical program or a more liberal one, or a more holistic program that combines the creative,  emotional, and cultural aspects of game development with the technical side? For this class, perhaps that is something we should focus on-making better games, not just focusing on one side of game development.

All of that information aside, the best part of the article, in my humble opinion, was USC professor Tracy Fullerton’s remarks on failure. I’m a big advocate of not having my own students stress out over failure, as it can be such a valuable method of learning. The author’s paraphrase of her words say it better than I ever could:

Students, she argued, should risk failing as spectacularly as possible. Not in the sense of grades or performance, but insofar as the academic environment is the only one where experimentation and innovation can flourish in its purest form. And since not all experimentation leads to failure, such work will be noticed and emulated by the industry. Fear of failure, and the fact that students are only being taught what’s already known, drives the copycatting that is so prevalent in game development; one of the many benefits game programs bring to the table is the ability to explore possible avenues of failure in a safe environment. “Academics,” she said, “must promote brilliant failures rather than supporting average successes.”

The Handheld Learning Conference 2009

Handheld Learning Conference

The Handheld Learning Conference will take place October 5-7 in London.  According to the website, the Handheld Learning Conference, now in its fifth year,  “is the world’s leading event about learning using mobile and inexpensive access technologies, attended by more than 1,500 international delegates.”  This year’s theme is “Creativity, Innovation, Inclusion and Transformation.”  Of interest to gamers (which I am not) and students of educational technology (which I am) is the fact that for the third year in a row, Nintendo will support a Games for Learning workshop at the event, at which education professionals will demonstrate how modern gaming technologies are currently being used in and out of the classroom.  This news was reported today by Kath Brice, a blogger for

“We’re delighted to once more be supporting this important conference that has become the de-facto meeting place for the convergence of education, entertainment and consumer electronics,” commented David Yarnton, Nintendo UK’s general manager.  “We have been consistently impressed and surprised at how leading educationalists have been adapting off the shelf videogames to engage their students in rich learning experiences.”

Apparently the event’s first day is free for anyone interested in how current technologies can be used for learning and teaching.  That would be me, but I guess the airline ticket to London would set me back a little bit.

Sid Meier, Carnegie Mellon, and the Game Education Summit


A famous and very recognizable name in the computer gaming industry since the beginning is Sid Meier. He almost always places his name in front of his game titles. If you’ve ever played any of the Civilization series then you’ve dabbled in some of Sid’s creations. Meier became the second person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences hall of fame in 1999. The first was Shigeru Miyamoto the creator of Mario, Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda.  In 2008 he was given the life time achievement award at the Game Developers Conference also a major recognition in the gaming industry. The importance of his accomplishments are in the strategy game genre. His Civilization games play like modern day games of Risk. They include history, adventure and critical thinking. Users are immersed in famous world battles and try so solve scenarios by developing various units of war or signing treaties with others. Although not an educational game directory I think that Civilization is a great tool for teaching History to students.

Educational review sites

Many computer game review sites such as IGN or Gamespot don’t include educational games. Looking around I found two additional sites focusing on reviewing educational software. Although their website design and content isn’t as massive at the more main stream sites, I think they do a pretty good job at informing people into the educational computer realm. The first site is edutaining kids a small site with mini reviews on many many products. Although the website isn’t as attractive as the review sites, the amount of content that has been review makes up for it.  Another educational review site I found was Childrens Technology Review . Unfortunantly this is a pay site but seems to include alot of reviews for $30 for a pdf subscription, $54 for a pdf subscription and admission to the library of past issues and $108 for paperback, pdf and libary access. This is an online educational journal that might interest researchers, teachers and parents about the upcoming games and technology.  You can read a copy of a past issue here : May 09 Childrens Technology Review.

Game Development

Last year I was introduced to a program called Scratch by Bernie Dodge in an Edtec 700 class. This program allows students to apply game development and coding into one fun activity.  Instead of taching a child about how to code a game, there are various puzzle pieces that fit together to create various motions.  You can make a cat meow, walk around the screen or even disappear. This program being the fun factor in teaching kids how to develop games at an early age.

Daniel also posted a great article about the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology that also looks on a research organization that focuses in game design.


On the subject of Carnegie Mellon, the Game Education Summit is a conference on the topic of educational gaming.  This two day conference gives various presentations from various developers in education and the game industry. This conference is young and only in its second year of hosting. “The Game Education Summit is the only conference where the video game industry and academics from around the world can come together to have meaningful conversations about the future of game development” (GES, 2009).  This might become the go to conference for anyone in the development of educational game design. I read previous articles about incorporating educational games at E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo but it was never a popular subject due to the more mainstream games. The GES conference might allow developers usually busy with promoting other products at E3 to really sit down and think about educational gaming.


My first article seemed to contain too much technology and not enough educational based information to fulfill the assignment. If you are interested in the future of optical head tracking, please go read my other article.

Joseph Saulter, Co-founder of Urban Video Game Academy


Joseph Saulter

Although Joseph Saulter is not necessarily an educational game designer, he does provide opportunities for youth in underprivileged neighbors of Atlanta, Maryland and Washington D.C. to be introduced to careers in the educational design field. He is co-founder of the Urban Video Game Academy, and annually sponsors young people to participate in a program offering a curriculum that focuses on ensuring that students have a foundation in math, science, and writing to prepare them for opportunities in Game Design.
Joseph Saulter wears a number of hats and has many talents, he is currently the chairman of Game Design and Development at American Intercontinental University, a school that offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Game Design and Development, helping prepare students for a fast-moving and highly creative industry. The program combines theory, hands-on experience and group projects to help students develop the necessary skills in 2D and 3D art and animation, programming in industry-standard languages, and game design and production. He is the author of Introduction to Game Design, and the chairman of the International Game Developers Association’s (IGDA) Diversity Advisory Committee, an organization whose mission is to advance the careers and enhance the lives of game developers by connecting members with their peers, promoting professional development, and advocating on issues that affect the developer community. Mr. Saulter is also a musician and actor.
I believe that it is very important that a seed is planted early in the minds of today’s youth to sustain the industry in the future. After all they will hopefully be the ones attending conferences like The Society for the Advancement of Games and Simulations in Education and Training (SAGSET), dedicated to improving effectiveness and quality of learning from various populations including Primary School to Universities, and all types of audiences through interactive learning, role-play, simulation and gaming.,,

DePaul Game Development Program

header_CIA_logoBottomWant to become a game developer?  Well then look no further than DePaul University in Chicago.  The program at DePaul University focuses on four different areas: Game programming, deesign, production, and animation. The program has some amazing faculty members, one of which is Alex Seropian, who created the Halo computer game franchise.  Many of the faculty members are currently working on other projects and bring reali-life practical advice with their coruses.

Along with teaching the main concepts of developing games, you will also get a knowledge of how to market your game and working in a large collaborative group.  If there in one aspect of game design you are interested in you can have an emphasis in just that field.  But you say you want to do more than just have a Bachelors of Science, then go for your Masters to make yourself more marketable.

Check it out at

After developing atomic bomb, Manhattan Project scientists turn talents to video games

My Learning Assistant

My Learning Assistant

I’m only distorting the facts a little. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) was formed in 1945 by scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project and the FAS does have a keen interest in educational games, including video games. In fact, Learning Technologies is one of the three primary programs listed on the FAS home page with a link to Games and Simulations listed below it. “Games are the Future of Education Says E.O. Wilson” was one of the lead stories on the day I visited the site.

On the Learning Technologies Projects page, FAS explains its interest in games. “In order to help advance our research, as well as promote our vision of what we feel should be the future of learning, FAS has opted for more than a mere academic involvement in the creation of a new model for learning. We are actively involved in the creation of games and simulations that we feel represent some of the best ideas for such models.”

I was particularly impressed with a project called My Learning Assistant, which is a tool for game developers that allows them to spend more of their time developing games and less time programming software.

SET Designer: Marsha Jean Falco


My favorite game of all time?? SET. Definitely SET. And, in all my 15+ years of playing it, not once did I think about the person behind it. Recent research revealed, drum roll please, . . . Cambridge University population geneticist Marsha Jean Falco.


Here’s the story, in her own words, about SET’s creation:


I am constantly asked, “How did you think of it?” The story goes like this. In 1974 I was living and working in Cambridge, England. One part of my job as a Population Geneticist was to try to understand if German Shepherds who get epilepsy inherit it. Geneticists, as you may know, try to connect the traits that plants, animals and people have to the genes and chromosomes in their cells. To help me understand what I was looking at, I wrote information about each dog on file cards. Because blocks of the information were the same on each file card, rather than writing the data, I drew a symbol to represent a block of data. I used symbols with different Properties to indicate different gene combinations. The veterinarians working with me would look over my shoulder at the cards spread out on the table. As I tried to explain to them what to look for, the idea came to me that I could have some fun with this. At home with my husband and friends I worked out the game which we now call SET®. Years later, my daughter and son, who enjoyed playing it so much, urged me to put the game in stores. Since then the SET® Game has become very popular.


This lead me to these questions for y’all. How many of our favorite games are the a result of someone’s personal amusement? How many are the products of professional game designers?


For more information:

Why did Pac-Man make that onomatopoeic “pacu-pacu” sound?

Who remembers Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde?  Maybe you don’t remember them by name, but they are the blinking ghosts in Pac-ManPac-manI thought back to the arcade game that stood out to me the most as a kid and came up with Pac-Man.  I spent countless hours chasing dots as a child.  I looked forward to going to Round Table Pizza because they were one of the few establishments that housed the sit-down model of Pac-Man.

On May 22, 1980, Namco  introduced the world to one of the most popular arcade games.  Japanese game designer Toru Iwatani game up with the idea for a game called “Puck-Man” which was first released in Japan.  The game manufacturer Midway bought the United States rights for the game the same year, but because they feared that kids might deface a Puck-Man cabinet by changing the P to an F, the United States released the game as Pac-Man.

Pac-man became an iconic social phenomenon during the 1980s, and I can’t imagine anyone who couldn’t recognize Pac-Man if shown in a line-up. Almost 30 years later my husband and I were shopping for Christmas gifts and came across a Pac-Man game that you connect to your television through video inputs.  I’ve introduced my nieces, five and seven, to the game that was a mainstay in my house for many years, and they don’t seem to like the game as much.  The concept of a joy-stick  was semi-foreign to them, and they are also used to more fast-moving, developed characters.  The dotted maze just doesn’t excite them.  Pacman_title_na

Iwatani created a few other games for Namco, but none had the level of success that Pac-Man did and he ended up leaving Namco in March 2007 to become a full-time lecturer at Tokyo Polytechnic University where he teaches character design studies.

Research on Educational Games by Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen

In 2003, the Center for Computer Games Research was established at the IT University of Copenhagen over in Denmark (  The center is comprised of a group of researchers from varied backgrounds including the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Computer Sciences.  One of their most published researchers is a man by the name of Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen.  Simon currently serves as an assistant professor at IT University and previously served on the Digital Game Research Association Board for 3 years.  He has published four books on video games including one titled Educational Potential of Computer Games published in 2007,  has written 20+ articles on the topic, and gives talks around the world on Educational games.   A collection of his published works can be found here:

Simon is currently the CEO of Serious Games Interactive, a company that prides itself in creating games that provide more than just entertainment.  Their motto is ”We develop game experiences that inform, educate and entertain.”  The company has released a series of award winning educational games entitled Global Conflicts that deals with different conflicts throughout the world and the underlying themes of democracy, human rights, globalization, terrorism, climate and poverty.  The Serious Games website can be found at  Simon also co-founded the site where you can find a compilation of articles dealing with educational game research.

To read more about Simon and learn more about his views on Educational Games, visit his blog at  Of all of his websites and forums, this one seems to be updated the most frequently.  Four audio recordings of journal articles that he wrote can be also be found at

Scrape, Scuff, Scour and “Scrabble”!!

Scrape, Scuff, Scour and “Scrabble”!!

Information about a (relatively) famous educational game designer, or researcher.

pic_670In the midst of the Great Depression of 1930’s, he attempted to create a game that would use both “chance and skill”. He had a degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He frequently did painstaking calculations of letters.  He was also an amateur artist. Who is he? He is Alfred Mosher Butts (April 13, 1899 – April 4, 1993) —The man who invented SCRABBLE, the Brand Crossword game and a classic example of innovation and perseverance in the midst of crises. No doubt this game is educational and one of the most successful board games of the twentieth century till date. The game is sold in 121 countries in 29 different language versions.

It was Butts’s curiosity to analyze words and frequency of letters  in a word that helped him to conceive the game. Butt’s invention raised worldwide  scrabble_im1attention. It is interesting to note that; today there are various Scrabble tournaments (both at national and international level). In U.S. the first officially sanctioned Scrabble tournaments were organized and run by Joel Skolnick in the mid-1970s. Today, the  National Scrabble Championship is the largest Scrabble competition in the United States and the event is held every one or two years. There are also World Scrabble Championship, World Youth Scrabble Championships, Canadian Scrabble Championship, National School Scrabble Championship, Extreme Scrabble, which involves playing scrabble_img2the game in the scariest places on and above the earth. Attention Scrabble fans!! The 2010 and 2011 National Scrabble Championship will be held in Dallas, Texas.

To know more about almost 366 game and game designers, please visit this link.

–  Some of the Institutions that train game designers:

– Attention Game Designers…2010 is Calling…Do Not Miss!!
Some of key and up-coming professional conferences for people in the world   of Educational Gaming and Simulations:

So keep track of the up-coming events!! =)

Adventure and a Band of Brothers

When asked to discuss an educational designer, researcher, or organization of note, I found myself hard-pressed to come up with subject matter.

My gaming experience, as compared with many of my peers in what might be termed “the dawn of the gaming age” (a completely unofficial and fabricated term) is virtually nonexistent.  However, I do harbor fond childhood memories of spending long hours in front of my family’s Apple IIe computer in the dining room, my peanut butter sandwich propped up between the pages of our Rand McNally atlas, as I hunted for clues that would lead me critical steps towards tracking down the elusive Carmen Carmen Sandiego logoSandiego.  The game I remember fondly immersing myself in, for hours and hours on end, is, of course, none other than, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? Carmen was on the loose, knowledge of geography and atlas use was essential for tracking her down, and I was the gumshoe detective out to prove my skills as a sleuth.

Had anybody told me that I was engaging in an “Educational Game Aimed at Building Geography Skills”, I am quite sure I would have been significantly less enthused.  I was in it for adventure, for the thrill of the chase, and for the commendations of “The Chief” who had given me my mission.

So, in the spirit of adventure, I decided to read about the creators of my singularly obsessive gaming experience, and found them to be a band of brothers.  They are Gary and Doug Carlston, co-founders of the company Broderbund, a name that loosely translates into “band of brothers” in the Scandinavian language.    The brothers ultimately joined when their winding paths intersected at mutual decisions to return to a love of play they had shared as boys.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (known simply as WWCS to insiders), for example, essentially emerged from a childhood interest that the brothers remembered fondly.  They recalled playing geography games while they were lying in bed, while they were supposed to be going to sleep.

214053-broderbund_thumbLater in life, both trained for completely different careers.  Gary became a Harvard professor, and later a practicing attorney, while Doug, also a Harvard grad, earned his degree in Scandinavian literature, and later coached a Swedish women’s basketball team to win the national championships.   Both maintained an interest in programming throughout their adult life, and in 1979, after selling a few programs to software companies, Doug recruited brother Gary as partner in a software company.  The duo was later joined by sister, Cathy, formerly a buyer for Lord & Taylor’s.  The company logo, three crowns, is representative of this dynamic trio of siblings, and is also the Swedish national emblem.

When asked to comment on the creative process during a 1983 interview with David Barry, writer for Antic Magazine, described it as  “akin to songwriting… you get a little ditty, a little phrase, and you build from there.”  The seed of a project idea may be provided by an individual, but full conception and development is almost always the result of a team of designers, which may include: programmers, animators, story writers, musicians, and editors.

As researcher Matt Waddell notes in his case history on the brothers, the success of WWCS comes from avoiding common pitfall of many educational game designers:  one of trying to give the kids what’s good for them – namely “repackaged pencil-and-paper drills”, while not really connecting with their true interests.  WWCS has been wildly appealing to both girls and boys, for various reasons, and namely, as Waddell notes, because it “gives kids what they want:  respect.”

This begins, it seems, by respecting a love of play that, for most of us, is developed at a very early age and, if we’re open to a spirit of adventure, not entirely forgotten.

Henry Jenkins – USC, MIT & Educational Games

Professor Henry Jenkins

Professor Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins, a Professor for Communications and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, advocates for the “YouTube Generation” and is a proponent of utilizing technology in and outside of the classroom to enhance learning. Specific to educational game design, Jenkins has regularly collaborated with game designers and fellow scholars to push initiatives that encourage multi-media teaching methods.

Jenkins believes video games have “evolved from black-and-white blips” into a complex industry that holds a great deal of potential for education. Furthermore, Jenkins feels teachers and students are being done a disservice by school boards that restrict video games (as well as online communities like Facebook) from the classroom.

icampusPrior to USC, Jenkins started and served as Director for the Graduate program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. While at MIT, Jenkins worked on iCampus, a collaborative project with Microsoft which sought to “revolutionize the practice of higher education with the tools of informational technology.”

Jenkins worked with Kurt Squire, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsion and Director for Games+Learning+Society, on the Games to Teach project which sought to develop systems, prototypes and business models to help advance the use of educational games. Games to Teach developed games such as Supercharged!, an interactive racing game that helped teach electromagnetics, and Environmental Detectives, an environmental-based simulation game. The iCampus grants ceased in 2007, but Jenkins and Squire continue to collaborate on articles for Computer Games Online.

Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins

IntellagirlAt Purdue University there is a Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference (TLT) every year.  This year the keynote speaker for the conference was Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins.  She is a PhD student at Ball University and author of multiple articles and a few books including, Second Life for Dummies.

She initially drew attention when she began teaching a class through Second Life.  Now she is speaking at conferences, writing articles and books, consulting businesses and schools about the use of web 2.0 tools.  She authors multiple blogs as well and continues to stay up to date on what is happening with technology in regards to education and posts her opinions about what we can do to change it.  There is a really interesting video on her blog that has kids talking about their “future” and how society is keeping it from them and they won’t be ready for it.

Her blog that seems the most up to date is linked here.

Games for Health Project

1The Games for Health project is a community of researchers and developers of games created for education in health care.  The project was created out of the Serious Games Initiative, an effort by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar, which was developed to link the game industry with the education, training, and public health.  The Games for Health project is headed by David Rajeski and Ben Sawyer. 

FolditOne of the games created by the Games for Health project is “Foldit”, in which average people can participate in folding proteins into the smallest shape to help in scientific research. The Games for Health Project also holds Conferences for Game Design for health education.

You can read more about Games for Health at the following:

You can read more about the Serious Games Initiative at the following:

You can play “Foldit” at the following:

Clark Aldrich: Industry Guru

Clark Aldrich is the founder of SimuLearn, a company that designs serious games and educational simulations for professional use.  He writes the ‘Clark Aldrich on Simulations and Serious Games’ blog, and has authored books on the subject such as ‘The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games’ and ‘Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds: Strategies for Online Instruction.’

Clark Aldrich

Clark Aldrich

In reading the long list of articles, books, and presentations that Mr. Aldrich has authored I began to wonder what the difference is between a game and a simulation.  In his blog, he describes the difference between the two as “being both the media itself and the attitude and goal of the player engaging in it.”  For example, a game would be like playing on a soccer team in a recreational league, or playing marco polo in a pool with friends whereas a simulation would teach life saving skills or help improve distance swimming.

Mr. Aldrich is also involved in education planning with the Obama Administration.  As he explains in his blog, there is a push to reform education in three distinct ways and he sees the role of the simulation designer to be critical to all three.  There are those that want to reform current curricula to include the teaching 21st century skills such as leadership, project management, innovation, and stewardship.  Another group wants to retrain workers to do new  jobs that are essential to the new economy.  And still another group that wants to focus education solely on math and science.  Each of these groups has it’s proponents and critics but what is interesting is that Aldrich sees all three views as opportunities for educational simulations.   Simulations can provide effective training of 21st century skills, reduce costs of retraining workers, and re-engage students in math and science.

Michael Allen, Adversary of Boredom in e-Learning

Good e-learning has to engage the heart of the learner (in the first minute), brain and stomach. Just one of the three is not enough. After all we want long term changes of behavior!  - Michael Allen

"Too much of e-learning produced today is just pushing out knowledge, leaving learners bored to death or too overwhelmed to have any impact on business outcomes." - Michael Allen

A few years ago, a coworker got us all reading this book – Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning. Does anyone remember AuthorwareMichael Allen was the creator of this flowchart-based authoring tool still (but not for much longer) available from Adobe.  These days, in addition to writing, consulting and speaking on e-learning, Dr. Allen runs a company called Allen Interactions Inc. which is one of the leading providers of custom e-learning solutions for workforce training and performance improvement. The company is especially known for designing highly effective simulations and games. Even programs that could not really be defined as games, feel game-like in that they are fun, interactive and engaging.

According to his book, a key strategy used by Allen Interactions is the use of design teams that include the instructional designer, SME and/or client, artist and programmer. Instead of having an instructional designer conduct analysis, then work in a vacuum to create design specs for artists and programmers to follow, the process is collaborative from start to finish. The team uses a process called “successive approximation” which is a micro-cycled version of ADDIE. Beginning with a very rough prototype, the team creates several iterations of the program – allowing the design to unfold and improve with each version. All members of the design team need to be intimately involved throughout the entire life of the project for this to work.

I’ve found at my workplace, it is very difficult to work in this way (although we’ve tried). I think this is due to the fact that we have several Instructional Designers and only a few multimedia team members, who are simply spread to thin to be truly involved in the design process.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to work in this way on our projects for this class, and am interested to hear if others have experienced this type of process on the job.

Tabula Rasa -new game by giant Richard Garriott

As a teenager, I’ve played his games countless times without knowing who created the games.  Compared to most game designers, Richard Garriott is old.  He’s 46 and created Akalabeth, the Ultima series,  Pacman, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong.  But in all of these games, only one player could play at a time.  He envisioned something other game designers thought to be ludicrous.  What if thousands of people could play simultaneously using their computers and modems?

Ultima Online was then born.  That was the start of the multibillion dollar online game industry.  Unfortunately, Ultima 9 had problems.  It lacked good design and crashed frequently.  In 1999, he severed ties with publisher Electronic Arts.  Until now, there has been nothing from Garriott.  Six years and 20 million dollars later, we are about to see Tabula Rasa.

Tabula Rasa is more about quick reaction and tactical strategy than lots of armor and heavy duty weapons like World of Warcraft.  Here you are also faced with ethical dilemmas like  willingness to poison a river that your allies also use.

New York Times article on Garriott and Tabula Rasa

Richard Garriott on Wikipedia

My ox has died =(

Long ago, I remember a world in which green computer screens had a blinking cursor. Online RGPs did not exist. (How could it? Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet.) My father had given me a book (I think it was “Basic Computer Games”) with hundreds, if not thousands, of lines of code that I could type in so I could have a computer game.

10 PRINT TAB (33);“WAR”

170 GOTO 120

320 REM

Look familiar? Kids today have no idea how we suffered.

Imagine the happiness in my heart when I was introduced to The Oregon Trail at school. It was personalized – I could name my characters. It was challenging – how was I to cross the river with my raft? But it was also educational – isn’t that how you first discovered what dysentery is?

donr Of course it was educational. It was developed by Don Rawitsch. As a teacher, I was surprised to find out that at the time of the game’s creation, Don was a history student teacher at a Minneapolis public school. He wanted to create a game for his class. So with help from two of his friends, Bill Heinemann and Paul Dillenberger, who were math student teachers, they created The Oregon Trail game. Within a few years, Don went to work for Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) and brought his game with him… little did he know what a success it would be. Over the years, it has led to sequels (Oregon Trail 2 and Oregon Trail Deluxe) and spin-offs (The Yukon Trail and The Amazon Trail). After 16 years at MECC, Don moved on to work for other educational companies (Jostens and McGraw-Hill). He is currently the Principal for Rawitsch Consulting.

I wonder if any of the educational board games created in this class will have as much success. Do you think your game has what it takes?

Check out the links to find out more about Don!
Rawitsch Consulting

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)

2 Girls playing video gameThere are several public interest groups and non-profits in the United States who have worked and lobbied to add rating systems on movies, music and yes, Games. These ratings are an effort by these groups to provide parents with information about the content so they may choose if they will allow their children to access it.

Now, some may call this censorship others may think this is great but the purpose of this blog post is not to debate the Bill of Rights but to share information about the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as we begin our journey as Game Designers.

Established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the ESRB is a non-profit, self-regulatory body that assigns computer and video game content ratings. These ratings were established to provide parents with information regarding computer and video game content. Ratings are comprised of two parts.

Picture 4Picture 5

Part One: Rating Symbols
These symbols are designed to show age appropriateness for the game and include symbols showing games suitable to “everyone” and those for “adults” only.

Part Two: Content Descriptors
Inform consumers of specific elements contained within a game that may have determined the rating. There are over 30 of these elements including violence, nudity, blood and gore, sexual content, mature humor, drugs and alcohol, language, etc.

Participation is voluntary however, the majority of games sold in the U.S. and Canada are rated by the ESRB. This in part is due to consumer demand but also by many major retailers who only stock and sell games rated by the ESRB. In 2008 the ESRB rated over 16oo computer/video games.

To learn more about the ESRB you can visit their web site at The web site contains several resources for both the gaming industry and parents including a game rating widget and Parents e-newsletter.

You may also want to check out the Entertainment Software Association.

Photo purchased from

Jordan Weisman

“Gaming is actually a very important part of my life. I think the reason for that is that I was very severe Jordan Weisman dyslexic. I couldn’t read, really.” – Jordan Weisman, Game Designer, Entrepreneur.

While looking for information on famous game designers, I came across an article on famous people with dyslexia.  One of the featured people was Jordan Weisman, CEO and founder of Smith&Tinker.  Weisman is the former creative director for the Microsoft Entertainment group who helped launch the XB0x.  He has won over 100 awards and was inducted into the game designer’s hall of fame.

The article focuses on not only on Weisman’s achievements as a designer, but also on his near inability to read as a child.  He suffered from such severe dyslexia that he was barely able to read.  He learned how to “cheat” at reading in order to get through school.  As a junior counselor at a camp in high school, he discovered Dungeons and Dragons.  He says his imagination was inspired like never before by D&D, but unable to play at first because his normal way of “cheating” at reading wasn’t cutting it for playing the game.  For the first time, he wanted to read.

Weisman went on to found five different companies and some of the largest game franchises, Crimson Skies, Shadowrun and BattleTech/MechWarrior.

Through the initial article, I found a link to the original interview.  Weisman credits one of early teachers for, in his words, “realizing there was a chance I was not stupid” and encouraging him to get tested for a learning disability.  He also tells the story of getting his first games sold.  He published some special designs and scenarios at home and sold them to a local toy store.  Eventually, he asked where they bought their toys from and traced the distribution chain upwards.  He approached the distributors, sold his games directly to him and the rest is history…

Both the dyslexia article and original interview were very interesting.  So frequently only the negative sides of gaming and video games are discussed in the media.  Weisman is an example of some one who games inspired to read, regardless of how much of a struggle it was.  At first he may have just wanted to read the rules of D&D, but that lead to other fantasy literature including Tolkien.  I’m an avid reader and I’ve never been able to make it through Tolkien, so I’m always impressed by people who can.

The rest of the interview focused more on specific games of Weisman.  I’ve never played them, but it was very interesting to read about the fictional world he developed to support the game Battle Tech.  He also discusses how the experiences his children had with gaming inspired him to create the WizKids Inc.

Game Design Principles in Learning

I recently ran across an article about a researcher from the University of Wisconsin named James Paul Gee, who also teaches Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at UW-Madison. He was interviewed by an organization entitled the “Wisconsin Technology Network (see logo below)” about how key principles of games can be used in education, as well as his involvement with game designers.

This interview is chock full of information and ideas about how game design and development must involve attention to learning details. This, Gee argues, is what makes games engaging – using curiosity to tap into the human act of learning. Several psychological factors were mentioned, such as attention span, motivation for learning, and different learning modalities. Also mentioned were the benefits of environmental factors, such as surviving complex systems and processes.

Both High School and University-level students were cast in the same experiential light, receiving primarily dull, drill-oriented instruction that primarily involved extended listening to a professor in sometimes large class sizes. Gee contends that games should seriously be looked at in a fundamental change of University-level instruction. This is necessary, he claims, in order to keep up with the clientele, tech- and game-savvy youth.

On a basic level, Gee first mentions the economic necessity of game-producers to incentivize the learning of the game in its customers. I find that in my classroom, for example, offering certain incentives, like extra credit and group work, really motivates the lower half of my performers to learn how to do their work properly. Gee’s point is exactly the same in this regard, quickly summarizing the difficult plight most schools have: “How do I get somebody to learn something that is long and difficult and takes a lot of commitment, but get them to learn it well?”

In order to accomplish this, Gee argues, it requires the effective use of design principles. These principles, so often seen in successful games, are supported by cognitive science, along with other types of learning. He says that games can teach us more about learning, than perhaps about learning specific content through them.

For example, Gee says that you can teach using these principles of learning, without necessarily requiring a game to do it. He argues that these principles are what is required for “deeper, conceptual learning,” the kind that is longer retained by students. So, his argument is to include not only more games in school curricula, but more of these principles as well.

What are these principles that kids can learn from games? Some of them are real-world, non-academic types of skills. Gee uses the term “coping with the modern world, which is made up of complex systems.” He emphasizes the idea of the earth as an inter-related system, in which everything one does in one part of the system affects some other part of the system. Gee argues that these are critical real-world problem-solving skills that are highly valued.

Gee then goes on to discuss role-play – a critical factor in a game’s engagement level. That is, being in a new world as a new person….how does this new world affect the learner, how do these constraints affect problem-solving ability? Not to mention, if a game really piques the interest of a young person, they’re most likely going to find external resources, such as books, online information, many things that are beyond their understanding, requiring them to “push” their level of understanding. These beneficial “side-effects” of game-based learning lead to other benefits, such as multi-tasking, social learning, active thinking skills, and design skills. Gee calls this “learning proactively.”

When WTN asked Gee if he was involved in designing games, he responded that his newly hired game designer named Kurt Squire would be involved in several projects that design games based on the principles mentioned in this article. Through the establishment of a game research laboratory and participation in wide consortiums, the research team aims to promote more dialogue between game designers and academics, including educational psychologists, professors, and the like.

As a final point to the interview, WTN asks Gee if there are any negative impacts of games on learning. Gee is quick to point out that if games are played without true engagement, then time is being wasted. It is only when the player truly embeds his or herself in the game that learning benefits are acquired. He contends that in order for this proactive learning to take place, the player must ask questions like “how does the game relate to me?” “What limitations does the design impose upon me?” “ How can I get what I want out of it?” These questions are signals that the player is learning key principles while playing, as opposed to just tuning out of any purpose the game provides.

Hence, well-designed games force the learner to think about its design and how it relates to the world that is presented in the game. Not only does the player need information, but a multi-modal world the acquisition and synthesis of that information.

I found this article to be very hands-on and informative. It made me appreciate the learning value in well-designed games and gave me a sense of their importance and potential in the educational field. As a high-school teacher, I can relate my University experience as a student to the messages in this article about the current state of education. Games and their design principles need to take a more active role in the education of today’s youth…especially considering the environmental and design problems they will face in their respective futures.

Article URL:
Title: “The Learning Game – Researchers Study Video Gaming Principles that Apply to Education”
Author: Alexis Johnson, Wisconsin Technology Network
Date: September 21, 2003

Wisconsin Technology Network Logo

Wisconsin Technology Network Logo

| UCSD – CaliT2 – Sheldon Brown |


Sheldon Brown and CRCA team

The fact that I work at UCSD is not meant in any way to bias  this post – or maybe it is because I realized [after reading all of the blogs] that no one seems to know that we have a goldmine of resources here in San Diego at the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology [CaliT2].  Specifically I am talking about Sheldon Brown, who is the director of UCSD’s Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA) and runs the Experimental Game Lab.

Scalable City

Scalable City

Sheldon Brown’s most recent notable work is an amazing computer “game” that explores the vast transformation of environments from urban sprawl – called “Scalable City.”

Here is a video “trailer” clip.

Make yourself familiar with CaliT2 and Sheldon Brown with the following links and enjoy!

Carnegie Mellon University, the Entertainment Technology Center and a Masters of Entertainment Technology

For the past few years I have become more and more aware of the contributions of Carnegie Mellon University and people associated with CMU to a things I am teaching or studying. An abbreviated list, includes:

  • Alice – software for teaching CS
  • Randy Pausch – involved in the creation of Alice though perhaps more widely known for The Last Lecture
  • Jesse Schell – Author of The Art of Game Design

With such coolness associated with CMU and the impetus of this assignment, I decided it was time to take a closer look.

CMU offers the only Masters of Entertainment Technology in the country through their Educational Technology Center.

The wikizine – Game Design Colleges ranks CMU as the best Game Design College.

The degree is jointly offered by the College of Fine Arts and and School of Computer Science. They attempt to bring together disciplines, fine artists and technologists, to work together on projects that entertain, inform, or inspire. At the ETC, it really is all about the interdisciplinary projects. It appears that each semester you take a project course and most of the time is devoted to working on a team and creating projects. This sounds great to me. I believe very strongly in learning by doing.

I found myself spending too much time browsing their projects. My 3 favorites were:

  • Classroom of the Future – to really see what they did, check the interactive documentation.
  • Crayon 3D – Drawing in the air with you fingers
  • Sketch-It-Up – a tool to rapidly “sketch” game ideas to get to play testing quickly. Something I discovered earlier… I was not surprised when I discovered the connection to CMU.

If I were in a different place of my life, I would take a serious look at the ETC at CMU.

Using video games to teach content

New School of Design from New York

New School of Design from New York

I read a small article published on the use of video games to teach content. At Parsons, The New School for Design, in New York, they use video games to teach English and social studies, math and science, game design and digital literacy. The content is divided in domains. After the completion of each domain, after two weeks, students receive an examination. One example provided is that students take on the role of an ancient Spartan who has to assess Athenian strengths and recommend a course of action. Students learn history, geography and public policy. The intention of the school is to have students enter at 12 years old and stay until they are 18.

I imagine they consider these ages to be appropriate for students to devote themselves to video gaming. I worked at Johnson Elementary School, in El Cajon, I was one of the persons in charge of directing students to play video games to their following consecutive level. The subjects available were English and Math. Some of the students really just wanted to achieve the next level without really completing all activities, but a few worked thoroughly on each game. I imagine age had to do with it. The older kids are, the more engaged they might become.

The article mentions James Gee, who in 2003 published a book called “What video Games Have to Teach us About learning and Literacy.” Some of the advantages identified as a result of playing the video games, are to develop a sense of identity, grasp meaning, learn to follow commands and pick role models. They affirm that it encourages pupil collaboration.

The author concludes that it is not enough to apply new technologies to existing processes-rather, for maximum effect we have to apply innovative technologies in new and imaginative ways.

2010 Game Developers Conference®

Okay so if had to describe what I thought would be the coolest job, game designer would definately be top on the list. Figures the coolest job would come with…..yup, you guessed it!!! The coolest convention. Can you imagine the level of geek at this thing. Throw in San Francisco and Im sold. Apparently 400 lectures, panels, tutorials and round-table discussions not to mention the showcases of the sweetest games.

Optical “Head Tracking” in the future of game design

With the creation of the latest console system some years ago ie Playstation3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, game developers were given a new canvas to create the future of gaming. The Sony and Microsoft systems focused on arming themselves with the latest processor and video card technology to run the smoothest and most beautiful games ever seen. Although the games were beautiful, the human interaction was exactly the same as the previous generations and each games beautiful 3d style world was still 2d when we looked at the screen. Nintendo not having the most powerful system took a different route and incorporated the most interactive style control system out of the three. The use of motion detection through human activity brought the game player closer to the game by actually moving around and depicting movements simular to the game they were play.  This example of interaction can be seen in “Wii Sports” and “Wii Fit” just to name a few. Although the human interaction was there, the tv was still being used in a 2d style world.

About a year and half ago I discovered this video on youtube from a Carnegie Mellon University student by the name of Johnny Chung Lee. Johnny took the Nintendo Wii and reversed the remote and infrared lights. So instead of the user moving around to connect to a steady environment, the environment moves to create a 3d world around the user. Fast forward to September 9th, 2009, I found another article pertaining to the rumors about a racing game being developed for the Playstation 3 console with the use of optical motion tracking of “head tracking”. If you’re an avid racing game player you’ve been waiting for Gran Turismo 5 to come out for a couple of years now only to be disappointed with many failed due date promises. By the way, the new estimated release date for GT5 is March 2010. Hopefully this technology will be a shining light on the massive development delay of the game. The technology using the Playstation Eye will work very simular to what Johnny Lee demonstrated in his video with out the use of the lightbar or infrared glasses. Instead Sony will be using their camera and the use of face recognition algorithm, which tracks your face similar to how photo camera and video camera do.


Aside from the creepy 1984 style message the eye mentions, hopefully this technology of developing the 3d world of video games will reach out and conquer the 2d world that users see when playing games today.  Personally I can’t wait to sit down and play a fully interactive GT5 race with the head tracking Playstation Eye and Logitech G27 wheel.

Please share what you think about this topic and the future of head/optical tracking in the future development of games.

Journal of Board Game Design and interview with designer

I found an interesting blog on google titled the Journal of Board Game Design.


Seems to revolve around many of the ideas we’ve discussed in 670, e.g. whether a game is fun and exciting. These reviewers dissected a game titled “Silk Road”

If you read the interview with the designer he explains the purpose of the game, how his vision developed, how he tested his game, reactions to the game–e.g. need for a theme, how he went about changing his board design, and the pieces for his board. Overall, it’s an interesting story about the joys and struggles of being a game designer.

Lady Justice Plays Video Games


We’re going to court.

My husband is an artist. A graphic artist to be exact. This summer he had the unfortunate pleasure of dealing with a client who thought he could trademark a piece of commissioned character art without having to pay for it. Now that the client has breached our signed contract, and put a stop payment on a deposited check, we’re taking the guy to small claims court. We know we have a strong case, but it’s still a bit uneasy to go into court by ourselves, knowing that we aren’t lawyers. Wouldn’t it be so great to have an educational video game to make the law so much clearer?

OurCourts.orgHow timely it was for me to stumble upon exactly that! An unlikely game designer, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has recently released not one, but two interactive online games designed to help middle-schoolers understand the U.S. Constitution. I took the time to play one of them called “Do You Have a Right?”  produced by non-profit Surprisingly, I found the fast-paced Flash-based You too can be Perry Masonlaywer-simulation to be addicting (with catchy music, I might add!).  Justice O’Connor was quoted last year as saying,

“Only one-third of Americans can name the three branches of government, but two-thirds can name a judge on American Idol. You’re going to have greater success if you teach it in ways that [students] like to use. They spend 40 hours a week, on average, in front of some type of screen.”

It appears has a strong foundation for bringing civics education into the 21st century. Major partners include Arizona State University , Georgetown Law ,  and educational development companies, Filament Games and Cabengo LLC . Considering that teachers are often searching for free, web-based curriculum, is just one of numerous non-profit organizations attempting to transform how students learn social issues of the day.

Sandra Day O’Connor promoted her games with Games For Change (G4C) last year. According to their website, Games for Change , is a Games for Changecommunity which acts as  “a knowledge base and resource hub to help organizations network and develop video game projects beyond their traditional expertise…”. Participating groups include government, journalism, academia, industry and the arts. Their impressive web site provides subject matter game channels to test out the latest educational games – human rights, economics, poverty, environment as just a few – from a large variety of developers.  G4C has also hosted an annual conference for the last six years. Touted as “the Sundance of video games” the Games for Change Festival combines leading game designers, Pulitzer Prize winning keynote speakers, and workshops aimed at addressing important social issues.

I’m excited to know that there are, indeed, consortiums making a concerted effort to engage students in topics that may not seem as appealing in a traditional classroom. I look forward to seeing what Game For Change, and others will bring to the mainstream for teachers and parents in the future.

Penn State Educational Gaming Commons

Educational Gaming Commons Logo

Educational Gaming Commons Logo

So for this assignment I searched Google for Educational Gaming.  I didn’t have to search through too many links and posts until I stumbled across this fascinating, and it appears fairly new, organization focussed on educational gaming at Penn State University called Educational Gaming Commons.  The main site is located at

Penn State’s Educational Gaming Commons is both a virtual (online) and physical place for a great look at educational gaming.  It looks like they just opened a physical center/lab (just this month) at Penn State which features all of the popular video game systems and computer games for both fun and research.  They also talk about certain events they’re recently sponsored including what looked like a creative augmented reality game highlighting the Penn State Library’s open house.  They posted an intro video on vimeo.  I was impressed not only with their creativity, but it looks they have a fun HD video camera to play with, which made me a little jealous since I work as a video producer and I don’t have a camera that nice.  🙂

In addition to their new physical space, their online presence is top notch.  It features a blog, similar to this one, but also has several sections dedicated to all things educational gaming related — and it looks like they’re studying everything including Second Life, World of Warcraft, virtual worlds, simple flash games — the works.  They have a projects section that talks about some games that are currently being designed in their lab.  One of their projects looks like an interesting exploration of the periodic table of elements.  They’re also working on a free online library of educational games from developers around the world for educators to access.  There are already some pretty impressive games on there — quite inspiring actually.

I encourage everyone to go check out this site.  Who knows, there might even be some networking to be had between our two programs in the future.  Anyway, I’m going back to play around with it some more right now.  Enjoy!

David Perry – I, like many of you, live somewhere between reality and video games.


David Perry

High profile and high energy – David Perry is probably best known in the gaming business as the master mind behind famed video games such as Earthworm Jim (a bionic suit-clad worm saves the galaxy), Messiah (a rogue cherub taked over creatures’ bodies to defeat sin), and also best-selling game adaptations of movies like Disney’s Aladdin, Terminator and The Matrix. His talents and achievements also extend to designed tie-ins for international brands such as 7-Up and McDonald’s. Currently he is the Chief Creative Director for Acclaim (Games).

Perry launched his career from his native Northern Ireland at 15 years of age when he started writing computer game programming books. To date it is estimated Perry’s games have raked in over ¾ of a billion dollars in commercial sales.

His website is chocked full of information and personal advice to students, including references to scholarships, contests, and universities that sponsor a degree in game development. He also stays engaged with the public through a myriad of forums [discussion boards] that are on his website.

His enthusiasm for gaming is truly infectious – see the following interviews:

Neil Young, British born game designer and developer

Neil Young, game designer and developer

Neil Young, game designer and developer

Born and raised just outside of London, England, Neil Young has made a habit of breaking the mold when it comes to game design and development. He owes his career to what he calls a moment at the ripe old age of fourteen. While playing his Atari video game system one day, he literally fell out of his chair during an emotional outburst. Young later called this moment an epiphany since he realized that if gamers could somehow create games that give players “emotional moments” they’d be onto something…and likely be very successful!

In his early career, Young set about creating games, including a game called Majestic (2001). Majestic certainly broke the mold since it was the first game of its type. According to Wikipedia, “Majestic was a science fiction thriller based on a Majestic 12 shadow government conspiracy theory. Majestic was one of the first alternate reality games (ARGs), a type of game that blurs the line between in-game and out-of-game experiences.”

Neil Young has since moved on to other ventures. As an executive at Electric Arts (EA) for eleven years, he had a hand in top-selling games, including The Lord of the Rings titles, The Sims 2, and Spore. Last year he left EA to create a new company, ng:moco (Next-Generation Mobile Company )—a company that makes games specifically for the iPhone & iPod Touch. Ng:moco is responsible for Topple, MazeFinger, and Rolando. Young says the iPhone offers an “awesome opportunity”—it creates opportunities for a whole new generation of game developers and that promotes the gaming industry. Check out this article (GDC: ngmoco’s Young: iPhone ‘Better Than DS, Better Than PSP’) for an interesting discussion of gaming for iPhones.

Here’s another article about Young’s ventures at ng:moco.

High School Computer Science Instruction Declining?

Recently, I read an article entitled, “Computer Science Courses on the Decline”, in The Journal: Technologic Horizons in Education that I found very eyeopening. 

Interesting Statistic

Interesting Statistic

This article discusses some alarming statistics that point to the decline of Computer Science courses in high schools.  The article points out that a large number of school districts are seeing a decline in the numbers of students interested in computer science classes, a reduction in the funding for those types of classes and/or reduced interest and ability of faculty to teach those courses. 

Is this a sign that the United States is going to become “computer illiterate”?

Career in game design?

For some of us, the prospect of completing a semester of game directed curriculum is a challenge, to say the least.  Still, there are people who thrive on games.  My nephew was an avid online game participant for years.  On more than one occasion, I discussed with him the possibility of following his dream of game design.  To my dismay, he chose a more contemplative career in religious studies.  If he were to have known about this institution, the outcome may have been different…

The Art Institute is an example of an institution where you can receive up to date instruction on game design.  It offers a variety of degree programs including bachelor of science in not only game art and design, but also in visual and game programming.  Courses for these degrees cover a wide range of topics from conceptual, to design to skills.  The progression of courses indicate a detailed look at the process of game development, from understanding design, color and success, progressing to specific game skills such as game modeling, game prototyping and game mapping.

Other courses offered through this program give us an insight into the skills and education needed to become a top level game designer.  College English and Effective Speaking are included, as well as a visual language and culture class.  These type of course illustrate the importance of a clear communication method which would span the different cultures of participants.   College algebra is another interesting course requirement, based on the knowledge that games are often structured around an algebraic or geometric scheme.

Skills play a large role in this degree program.  There is a wide range of skills including materials and lighting, designing 3 D environments and sculpture for animation.   There are also courses which help the learner put everything together, such as courses on lighting, languages and layout.

I found the courses which are included in this program of study to be extensive and interesting.  Although I would not be a candidate for the program, it is one that a potential designer would find to be useful.

The Art Institutes

What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, by James Paul Gee.

James Gee

James Gee

In his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (Revised and updated edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). James Gee, a well-known educator and linguist, discusses how video games can offer models for improved instructional design in the classroom.  Gee began playing video games with his son, where he discovered that the games provided “a new form of learning and thinking that was both frustrating and life enhancing”:

“I have wanted to argue that good video games build into their very designs good learning principles and that we should use these principles, with or without games, in schools, workplaces and other learning sites.  Second, I have wanted to argue that when young people are interacting with video games–and with other popular cultural practices–they are learning, and learning in deep ways.”  (p. 215)

Gee doesn’t advocate using World of Warcraft in the classroom, however.  He identifies 36 learning principles from his observations on video game design that can be extrapolated from the game world to instructional design.  These principles include active, critical learning, practice, ongoing learning, achievement, bottom-up basic skills (“Basic skills are not learned in isolation or out of context”), and the discovery principle (“Overt telling is kept to a well-thought-out minimum.”), etc.

Gee puts a different spin on the relationship between games and education.  In contrast to “chocolate-covered broccoli,” he believes:  “Through good game design we can leverage deeper and deeper learning as a form of pleasure in people’s everyday lives, without any hint of school or schooling.” (p. 215)

For more information on James Paul Gee:

Aspects of games and development

Random web browsing netted a couple interesting ideas: article talks about the appeal of Dragon Quest IX in Japan. The concept of “passerby communication” is new and interesting: a Nintendo DS shares information with another unit. Unique Japanese cultural idea of “meeting new people”?

Not directly related to gaming, but a Netflix contest has interesting implications for team building. The $1M contest was for improving the Netflix recommendation engine by 10%. The final small tweaks to break the 10% barrier required teams to merge. The lesson learned: “a disparity of approaches drawn from a diverse crowd is more effective than a smaller number of more powerful techniques”.

GameDesk: Students create their own games

I stumbled across GameDesk when I searched for a math focused game developer.  GameDesk was developed at the Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC) of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.  It is a platform aimed at actively engaging 15 to 17 year old high school students in learning math and physics concepts. A pilot program is currently underway in the Los Angeles area at Jordan, Crenshaw and Pomona Valley High.  These have been identified as ‘high priority/program improvement’ schools, where students have a pervasive attitude that school is irrelevant to their lives. GameDesk creates cultural relevance for students by allowing them self expression based on their personal experiences.

Students use fractions, integers, and the cartesian coordiate system to design a maze game.

Students use fractions, integers, and the cartesian coordinate system to design a maze game.

GameDesk embeds required learning skills and educational standards.  It integrates technology, art, and mathematics. Students are motivated to learn fractions, percent, algebraic equations, and scientific concepts in order to create their games. Students also become producers rather than just consumers of technology, an important social goal of education. Team building skills are also developed through the collaborative process.

Another interesting educational development platform is Scratch. This was developed at the Lifelong Kindergarten group of MIT’s Media Lab. Bernie Dodge taught a 1 unit 700 course [can’t get the link to work directly, click on ‘Syllabus’ link to read about it] in Spr ’09 based on it. I’d highly recommend it to anyone (if it is offered again — #@%&! budget cuts!), especially K-12 teachers!

The Thiagi Group

Dr. Thiagi

Dr. Thiagi

During the ISPI Performance Improvement Conference earlier this year, I had the pleasure to meet and listen to a brilliantly engaging speaker named Dr. Sivasailam Thiagarajan; thankfully, he goes by the name of “Thiagi,” dramatically reducing the chances of others slaughtering his name.  Maybe his name is familiar to you – his name was in the center box when we played the group game in our first Wimba meeting about famous game designers and gaming/educational terms.  So who’s Thiagi and what does he do?

In his twitter page, Thiagi describes himself as someone who “makes a living by playing games and helping others play games — to improve their performance.” (  He heads the Thiagi Group, a professional organization that utilizes games and activities to train participants.  Thiagi’s team mixes research-based theories with the real world experiences to create and conduct trainings that are both engaging and interactive.  You can find some free example of games and other resources on his website at

I’ve been interested in gaming as an educational tool ever since playing Role Playing Games (Final Fantasy 3, Chrono Trigger) on Super Nintendo and learning English phrases when I first moved to the States.  Thiagi Group’s use of games to train corporate audience is definitely interesting to me and is something I will definitely look into further.

At the SDSU EDTEC Graduation May, 2009

At the SDSU EDTEC Graduation May, 2009

Game Design Knight?

Put a gun to my head right now and ask me to name a (relatively) well known game designer, and it’d be bye bye Nate. I didn’t have any idea where to start for this assignment, so of course I went to google tried a couple of searches. I read some articles on companies, specific games and, yes, I read about some designers. It was all somewhat interesting given the fact that I’ve played video and board games all my life and never even considered the designers once (expept for the moments after winning a video game and they roll the credits). After about 45 minutes, I came across this article: “Famous game designers awarded by the French Culture Minister”. Basically the French government awarded several game designers the level of knighthood. I was mildly flabergasted. I couldn’t really come up with an equivalent American award (maybe a presidential medal?), which made me think that there must really be something to this game design thing. Maybe with some effort and good luck, I too can be awarded knighthood for my design… maybe not. nate