Games – Horizon Report 2011

I’ll be co-presenting the introduction of the gaming portion of the Horizon Report at ELI 2011 with Libby Evans from UNC.  I’m posting the notes here so everyone will have access to the links of examples.  I’m sure I’ll update this again before Monday.

I’m just going to run through a quick series of examples of games used or created in education.  These don’t even include those mentioned in the Horizon Report, and I’ll have a link at the end to my notes that includes these games and many others, so don’t worry about catching links as long as you get the last one.

  1. Games as sims – One of the great educational benefits games and simulations have is to demonstrate in a practical manner a problem with a multitude of variables.  Players need to first demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of the problem before they can advance.  We see many of examples of these in business/economics and with environmental simulations, particularly global warming.
    1. Global Warming Interactive
      1. (nice about this one is model is based on a dissertation that’s available, so can critique/analyze underlying assumptions.  Fiddaman%20Dissertation%20Climate%20FREE.PDF)
  2. Persuasive Games  (maybe a slide of the book Persuasive-Games)
    1. Games are especially effective at promoting understanding and empathy by placing the player in a situation in which they are unaccustomed.  Ian Bogost has categorized many of these types of games as “Persuasive Games”.  They can be designed to express a political view, desire for social change, or promote a charity.  Great for introducing a class to current events, especially those not well covered in the new.
    2. Alice and Kev – Student game designer Robin Burkinshaw set up characters in Sim 3 without money or a home then shared their stories from the game.  Also a great example of games, even single person games are social and use social media to connect games, in this case, blogging.
      1. (slide)
    3. Darfur is Dying – NGOs are using persuasive games to spread their message.   One of the earlier and more successful games was Darfur is Dying
      1. (slide)
    4. Haiti Earthquake  – A more recent example is “Inside the Haiti Earthquake” which includes professional quality documentary footage.
      1. Inside the Haiti Earthquake – (slide)
    5. Great source for these types of examples:
      1. Games for Change – (slide)
  3. Games as crowdsourcing tools – People can perform better than computers with many puzzles, especially those involving space and patterns.  Scientists create games to help with their research.
    1. Phylo players help scientists research for genetic diseases
    2. Fold-It is simliar, though now it’s proteins.
  4. Alternate Reality Games – These games have the real world as their environment.  Clues or the story is usually distributed via the internet by a game master then players work together and play in the real world until the puzzle is solved or the story is complete.
    1. Evoke – how to save the world (the real one)
  5. Games as object for study themselves whether as art, digital story or as example of a concept
    1. “Portal” as assigned reading for a required freshman seminar at Wabash College, “Induring Questions”. Portal  is played and discussed along with passages from  Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self
  6. Games as creation tools – We tend to think of games as being something that comes pre-packaged and played.  More and more games, however, are being used as a creative resource to alter the game itself or to create a new medium.   In order to extend shelf life, many publishers (think LittleBigPlanet, Sims, Civiliation) now include tools to make it easier for players to create and modify within the game.
    1. Machinima – creating movies using video from a game.
      1. Skits in foreign languages – Sims comes with camera icon, just click and saves action from game as an avi file.  Subtitles and audio can be added via IMovie or any other video editing software
        1. (slide)
    2. Modding – slight more adventurous
      1. Civ IV Mod  – Both Civ IV and now Civ V come with tools to modify any variable in the game including maps, technologies, governments, social policies and populations to create historial scenarios.  This mod was created for a class at Dickinson College for students to play the role of Montezuma or Cortes.  Discussion focused around the importance of variables not included within the game.
        1. (slide)
      2. Rome Total Realism – Mod and active community for altering Rome – Total War to be an accurate sim of the period.
        1. (slide)
    3. Platforms – the daring
      1. Inform 7 – Is a platform for creating text games (MUDs) aka Zork type games.  Keep in mind, even though it’s simplified programming, it’s still programming.  Creators layout spaces based on the direction and description then write “if then” statements based on what the player may type.  We had students create a scenario based on their research of life under a fascist regime of their choice.)
        1. (Show screen shot of the Baghdad game)
      2. Scirra – A free and open source platform for creating games.  While the user doesn’t need to know a programming language, the logic is the same.  Objects are created, then each user action (clicking etc) must correspond to an event (player moves forward, block changes color, etc).  Has the look and feel of visual basic.  The creation of the game itself is an intellectual undertaking.  Would make a for a fascinating intro to programming course.   Be sure to check the forum for starting tutorials.  Also keep in mind .99 is permanent beta, they’re skipping to 2.0 due to memory issues.
        1. (Have screen shot in  ppt)
      3. Venatio Creo – Simpler though also easier to use platform for creating games and developed by students from Ursinus
  7. Start Libby – other examples in education
    1. Econ 201 from UNC Greensboro is an example of a game that has been used as a course for several years. It was developed in-house.  It’s single-user.
      1. (See the trailer, read more information)
    2. The Moonbase Alpha isn’t used  in a course I’ve found, but it’s a good example of industry working with the government to develop an educational game. It’s multiuser and requires collaboration, according to the NASN blurb.
      1. (download the game)
      2. (NASA’s information page about the game)
    3. WoW is a commercial game that is generating a fair amount of interest regarding its educational aspects. It’s an example of using a game that’s already developed and re-purposing it for education.
      1. “Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders: Online games put the future of business leadership on display.”
      2. “Reflections on Play, Pedagogy, and World of Warcraft.”
      3. Dr. Steinkuehler – WoW for at risk students and other articles
    4. Finally, the MIT game suite looks terrific… except they’re just prototypes, so there’s no link to the games. The descriptions for each game are really well-done and can provide a guide for how to think about games and learning.
      1. (Index of prototypes, not available for download)
    General links and resources
    1. Horizon Report Delicious links on games –
    2. Notes from faculty workshop at Dickinson College for games –
    3. Bryan Alexander, Gaming in the Liberal Arts

Civ IV Mod – Europe and the Americas 1492

I created a mod a couple of years ago in Civ IV covering the world in 1492 and conquest of the Aztecs by Cortes for a course taught by Ed Webb on empires.  Overall, I was extremely happy with capabilities offered by games.  Virtually all of the variables within Civ IV regarding civics, technology, religion, demographics and foreign relations can be altered to create a historic scenario.  That being said, even a complicated game such as Civ IV is still a great simplification.  However, having students play the game then critique its short comings gave them a great opportunity for goal oriented research and critical analysis.  In this case, the center piece this analysis was the book, “The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other” by Tzvetan Todorov which emphasizes the importance of the “belief systems”, a variable not included in the mod.  The other principle factor was the role disease played in weakening the Aztec forces.

My only regret was that I didn’t have the students create the mod themselves.  When all was said and done, I’m pretty sure I learned the most about the both the Aztecs and Europe during the time period.  Everything from the relative size of the Iroquois, the collapse of the Mayan Empire, the lingering effect of the plague on European populations, and the cultural/religious within Europe and North Africa had to be researched.  The students were let off rather easily in comparison.

Anyone interested in playing the mod can download it here.  Keep in mind, that my mod was actually a modification of an existing mod.  Credits and resources are referenced in the ReadMe file.  Finally, for those interested in creating their own mods, we’ve published our notes on the modding Civ IV workshops during the NITLE sponsored conferencing on gaming at Dickinson College.  The introduction to modding is here while the hands on worksheet for creating your first mod is here.

Kill Screen Magazine (back to school issue)

I was interviewed for an article in Kill Screen Magazine, and my free copy arrived last week.   Calling it a magazine isn’t really fair, though that’s how they refer to it themselves.  It’s really much more substantial, more of a journal in terms of quality and amount content.  Unfortunately, there’s no online version, so I can’t add any links.

Some of the highlights for those interested in games for education:

Breaking Pangea describes the attempt to create an online virtual world for teaching Chinese.  This is the article in which I appeared including my experiences with WoW in my German 101 course.  In addition to the Pangea folks, there’s also a great deal taken from an interview with Purushotma, someone I’ve been following for quite some time.  He wrote his thesis one, drafts and all.  In this article, I thought he had some very insightful comments on the difficulty of integrating language games into the more traditional and structured classroom.  His solution seems to lean more towards the independent learner.

Renaissance Man covered the historical elements and inaccuracies in Assassin’s Creed II.  I had played Assassin’s Creed on the PS3 and had some interest from an Italian professor to have her students play the game in Italian.  I had envisioned it generating a discussion about the presentation of culture/history in modern media, perhaps by comparing the game with an older movie about the mafia.  After reading this article, though, I realized there’s more story related content about the renaissance era than I realized.  It’s accurate enough that students could instead focus on where the game deviates from history.

The Shadow and the Sorrow was probably my favorite article.   It describes the game “Shadow of the Colussus” which breaks the typical hero convention of most games.  While at first it seems to follow the pattern of defeating a series of opponents before finally meeting “the boss” and receiving the awards of a hero, the ending turns the tables on the player.  The violence wasn’t justified as he is forced to realize, and his own ending is tragic.  It’s scheduled for release on the PS3, and I’m curious to try it.  It’s a good example of morality questions built into video games.

Kafka and Spore

It’s still quite rare to find video games based on literature, which makes another game based on a Kafka story so remarkable.  I’ve previously shown Kafkamesto to our German department.  It’s a very well done point and click game that incorporates elements from several of Kafka’s most famous stories.

Today, I read about an expansion pack for Spore based on The Metamorphosis.   The Metamorphosis scenario is a download for an expansion pack of Spore.  Unfortunately, the game itself doesn’t involve much language usage, but perhaps the scenario will be different.  Here’s to hoping we can find a language rich German version.

Alice and Kev

I just spent an hour reading the blog “Alice and Kev” which I found via a link Jason Mittell submitted to diigo gaming in education group.  The author does a very good job of using a game to tell a story.  Usually when people use games to tell a story they capture the video and add their own audio soundtrack.  This is often called machinima.  This blog is a little different.  It uses screenshots from the game “The Sims 3” along with text describing the scene.  The story revolves around a homeless father and daughter.  The “sim” aspect is relevant, since the creator has tried to create a situation that mimics homelessness within the game and then passively follows the characters and describes the events.  It’s surprisingly moving.

We will have “Sims 3” in the Arthur Vining Davis language classroom by the fall.  Although this example is in English, the game itself can be set to other languages as well.

IALLT 2009, Class as Study Abroad Sim

I just returned from IALLT 2009.  There were several good presentations, but the highlight for me was poster session on games and simulations by Edie Furniss at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  She has started a wiki on the use of games and simulations in the foreign language classroom.

Most of it was already familiar to me, but the section on Global Simulations was almost entirely new.  You can read about it yourself, but the very brief summary is that students blog, post pictures to Flickr, etc as if they were spending the semester abroad.  The professor prompts them each day with a scenario, “Today you met your roommate for the first time.”, and students describe their imaginary encounter.  Since the students will also describe the actions of other students in the class, they have to read each others stories to be consistent.  The students end up creating a sort of mini-drama/(non)reality tv show by the end of the semester.   With the new version of the Mixxer, we’ll be able to invite native speakers into this extended role play as well.

It sounds like fun, and there are countless ways to add Web 2.0 utilities as well.  If you’re interested, let me know.

White paper on Designing Games for Foreign Language

Ravi Purushotma, Steven L. Thorne, and Julian Wheatly had published a white paper, “10 Key Principles for Designing Video Games for Foreign Language Learning“.  Although it’s written with game design in mind, the same principles could easily apply to selecting games for education as well.  Among the key points that are particularly relevant for evaluating games:

  • Multiplayer games should allow players to have distinct roles.
  • Games should provide some form of tracking for assessment and feedback
  • Games should allow player to spend more time in areas of interest
  • New concepts should be interspersed with other content and introducted gradually
  • Learning content should be task based

Read more… 10 Key Principles for Desiging Video Games for Foreign Language Learning

Fallout III

I’ve just had some games come in from Germany which I hope to have installed in the lab soon.  Games that I’ll try to set to playable in non-English languages include:

  • Fallout III
  • Mass Effect
  • Prince of Persia

Games that will be playable in English:

  • Europa Universalis III
  • World of Goo

On a related note, the “if:book” blog has a very interesting review of Fallout III.  The if:book is focused on the changing nature of stories and books.  They are also the creators of the software Sophie, a kind of digital book that allows for discussion and insertion of multimedia files into the narrative.

Our students are especially good at showing people how to play games.  🙂  Stop down if you’re interested.

Games in Languages

Games can provide a great goal oriented environment for language learning.  We have a fairly wide selection of PC games for students play on their own, including many of the hit titles from the previous year.  However, since the content the games is so wide ranging, it makes their integration into a course fairly difficult.  Another problem is that with single player games, each student is in his or her own little world, which makes it difficult for the professor or other students to offer guidance.

Of course, these single player commercial games are only a subset of games as a whole.  Multiplayer games, whether online or traditional board games, can have a more common and limited vocabulary and offer an envrionment that supports social interaction between students and professors.  For example, the hit German game “Settlers” is now playable online in German and English.  It’s a game that has bargaining and town life as it’s center focus, so it would make for an ideal environment for language usage.  An obvious comparison would be role-playing activities most of us have used in class.  These games could function as an environment for a language exchange as well.  Native german speakers could be invited to play with our students.  The first game could be played in German and the second in English.

Background and review of the game –

The online version –,en_US/