Tag Archives: Video Games

It’s a good time to be a Nintendo based virtual musician

It is a good time to be a virtual musician, especially if your platform of choice comes from Nintendo. This past weekend saw the release of versions of the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band game franchises for the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii, respectively.

Guitar Hero On Tour brings the guitar strumming fun to the DS. I had a chance to try it out over the weekend and it is, in the words of my niece, “freaking sweet”. Like the console versions, GHOT has a custom guitar controller.

“But the DS doesn’t use separate controllers,” you say? Check this out:

That in combination with a pick-shaped stylus and the DS touch screen make for very cool game play. Check out the official game site for all the details.

The Wii version of Rock Band is, I’m sure, quite similar to the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 versions in terms of music and playability. Since I already have Rock Band for PS3 (working my way through a “Hard” solo tour), I doubt if I’ll get the Wii version, but I know my brother’s kids are already hounding him for the Wii version.

When musicians become gamers

Video games like the Guitar Hero franchise and the recently released Rock Band give gamers a chance to become “musicians”, if only in pretend. It was by happy accident (thanks to shuffle mode in iTunes) that I heard a discussion yesterday with NPR music blogger Carrie Brownstein on an (unfortunately unknown to me) NPR program on the subject.

The discussion centered on what Carrie had written in the post Are We Not Gamers?, which in turn derived from a review of Rock Band that Carrie wrote for Slate.com.

The line between gamers and non-gamers is clearly diminishing, if not already obsolete…. The best and newest games, such as Rock Band, meld the virtual with the actual; they make little distinction between what is palpable and what is imagined. With Rock Band, you are hanging out with your very real friends, playing along to the master recordings of real songs, and on screen you are atop some of the biggest stages in the world.

Of course, the truth is that you are nowhere except in front of your TV. But Rock Band professes that it doesn’t matter–though you might not be creating memorable music with your friends, you are creating a memorable, real-life moment, all with the help of the unreal.

I likely would not have written anything here about that discussion (or the blog or the review), except for something that happened to me on Monday night. On that night, I attended a parent’s meeting for my son’s high school band (he’s a percussionist) at which a local music store salesman presented SmartMusic.

My first thoughts (I hesitate to say) as he went through the demo were along the lines of, “This is a lot like Guitar Hero, except with real instruments.” To say that I was impressed with the system would be an understatement. Of course, it could have just been good salesmanship by the rep, but I don’t think so. Here’s the basic description of SmartMusic in their words:

Students never practice alone when they have SmartMusic at home. This interactive, computer-based practice system helps students get better faster, and makes practicing more fun. With amazing accompaniments for more than 30,000 titles, challenging exercises, and the ability to record personal CDs, SmartMusic is the future of music learning.

With SmartMusic loaded on a computer, students plug in a vocal or instrumental microphone and begin practicing. They play or sing their part with accompaniment and receive, in real time on the computer, detailed feedback on their performance. Ideal for woodwind, brass, string, and vocal musicians of all levels.

SmartMusic is your instant backup band that makes practicing fun!

If you remember Marc Prensky‘s 12 reasons games engage us, SmartMusic seems to meet all but the last one. Basically, they’ve taken the things that make learning in video games fun and applied them to learning in real life.

When gamers become parents

With the holiday shopping season already in high gear here in the U.S, and the annual blitz of advertising – especially for the big ticket items like video games and systems – in full assault mode, many parents find themselves trying to decide what kinds of games they are willing to let their kids play.  Since many of these parents were, or maybe still are, gamers themselves they find themselves in the situation of maybe wanting to deny their kids the pleasures of things they themselves enjoyed at that younger age. 

What to do?  Check out Clive Thompson’s commentary You Grew Up Playing Shoot’em-Up Games. Why Can’t Your Kids? – from Wired.com for some thoughts on this:

Gamers like me have spent years railing against ill-informed parents and politicians who’ve blamed games for making kids violent, unimaginative, fat or worse. But now we’re in a weird position: We’re the first generation that is young enough to have grown up playing games, but old enough to have kids.

So it turns out that, whoops, now we’ve got to make sober calls about what sort of entertainment is good or bad for our children. And what, precisely, are we deciding? I started making calls to my gamer posse find out.

Parenting is one of the hardest, and most important, activities that any of us can ever try to master.  And it is only getting more and more complicated as our children “grow up” faster and the tools and information they have available to them increase.

Having said that, Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers here in the US.  And to my non-US readers, enjoy the time you have with your family, whether it is a formal get together like our Thanksgiving or just a weekend in the park.

Gaming and Students with Asperger’s Syndrome: A Literature Review

You may have noticed that I use SiteMeter on this site (look in the bottom of the right column if you’ve missed it). It is interesting to see how many people visit the site (not that many), and where they come from (all over the world), but what fascinates me the most is the referrer log. I get the odd link from someone else’s blog or other site, but the vast majority of referrals to this blog come from search engine queries.

It is interesting to see what search terms people use that find this site. Even more interesting are the other sites that those search terms turn up. For instance, a link to Gaming and Students with Asperger’s Syndrome: A Literature Review from a search for “video games and autism and gee.”

As a teacher in the field of middle years education, I have observed a continual rising interest in video and online gaming by many of my students, regardless of gender and academic ability. In the past few years, I encountered students playing an online game set in a virtual environment (VE) called Runescape. My interest was especially piqued when I noticed students with special needs, especially those with Asperger’s Syndrome(AS) playing the game and exhibiting positive social and cognitive skills that he would rarely demonstrate in a traditional classroom environment. Students with AS were discussing the game with other classmates (and myself) in and outside the classroom. They were asking how to spell words and utilize a calculator in order to achieve objectives within the game. They were problem solving and surfing the web for online discussion groups associated with the game.

In this literature review, I will seek to answer the following questions: What educational learning principles and concepts are associated with online gaming? How do these aspects of gaming benefit students with AS? In turn, I will present a review of the latest research on the issues related to education and gaming, present an overall framework of the game Runescape, discuss some of the defining characteristics of AS, then explore how certain aspects of gaming benefit students with AS.

A nice pulling together of several of my areas of interest.  The Lit Review itself is well worth a read, and the bibliography provides even more.
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The new gamer generation: Not who you think

The New York Times today writes about the new gamer generation in Retirees Discover Video Games. Yep, retirees. They are making up a larger and larger part of the market for “casual” games, and game developers and distributors are taking notice. The Nintendo Wii, with its simple controls for many games, is making a splash of its own.

My favorite part of the article is that told by semi-retired businessman Dick Norwood:

Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan’s, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a “seniors only” Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.

“When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, ‘You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?’ ” he said. “Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I’ll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren’t light. But with this you’re getting good exercise, but you’re not aching the next day.”

Regular readers here know my fondness for the Wii, and I’m not the only one. My wife, my brothers, even my mom love to play games on the Wii, especially Wii Sports. The appeal of the Wii, especially in a sports game, is captured by Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You, in 5 Thoughts on the Nintendo Wii:

What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports — and particularly Tennis — is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body’s motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I’ve half-perfected that’s unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain what I’m doing with my killer topspin shot.

In a traditional game, I’d know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that’s ultimately what’s so amazing about the device.

Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules — as well as the imagery — of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we’d ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.

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Update:  For every silver lining, there is apparently a cloud, including for the Nintendo Wii.  The physical exertion that makes the Wii so fun seems to be leading to an increased risk of physical injuries, as described in Virtual video games cause real injuries.  Just like all games, people need to learn to play in moderation.

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Six attributes of an affinity group (or community of practice)

Although James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy is primarily about how individuals, especially kids, learn, there is a lot in the book that can be applied to how organizations learn. This list describes what Gee sees as common features of what he calls affinity groups and their implications. Those familiar with knowledge management concepts will recognize these as traits of a good community of practice.

    1. Members of an affinity group bond to each other primarily through a common endeavor and only secondarily through affective ties, which are, in turn, leveraged to further the common endeavor. Implication: Affective ties and sociocultural diversity can be dangerous, because they divide people if they transcend the endeavor, good otherwise.
    2. The common endeavor is organized around a whole process (involving multiple but integrated functions), not single, discrete, or decontexualized tasks. Implication: No rigid departments, borders, or boundaries.
    3. Members of the affinity group have extensive knowledge, not just intensive knowledge. By “extensive” I mean that members must be involved with many or all stages of the endeavor; able to carry out multiple, partly overlapping, functions; and able to reflect on the endeavor as a whole system, not just their part in it. Implication: No narrow specialists, no rigid roles.
    4. In addition to extensive knowledge, members each have intensive knowledge – deep and specialist knowledge in one or more areas. Members may well also bring special intensive knowledge gained from their outside experiences and various sociocultural affiliations (e.g. their ethnic affiliations) to the affinity group’s endeavors. Implication: Non-narrow specialists are good.
    5. Much of the knowledge in an affinity group is tacit (embodied in members’ mental, social, and physical coordinations with other members and with various tools, and technologies), and distributed (spread across various members, their shared sociotechnical practices, and their tools and technologies), and dispersed (not all on site, but networked across different sites and institutions). Implication: Knowledge is not first and foremost in heads, discrete individuals, or books but in networks of relationships.
    6. The role of leaders in affinity groups is to design the groups, to continually resource them, and to help members turn their tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, while realizing that much knowledge will always remain tacit and situated in practice. Implications: Leaders are not “bosses,” and only knowledge that is made explicit can be spread and used outside the original affinity group.

As most of us know all too well, most organizations today operate in ways very different from how these, often self-forming, groups operate. Some thoughts, item by item:

    1. The common endeavor in most organizations is dictated from the top down. Members of the organization don’t usually join the organization because of the ‘endeavor,’ rather they accept the endeavor because they have joined the organization.
    2. In most organizations (in my experience), specific functions are highly structured into departments and sub-departments. Successful cross-functional activity is the exception rather than the rule.
    3. Because of the highly structured nature of organizations, most people know only their area. Because the ‘endeavor’ is not their own, there is very little incentive to understand the ‘big picture.’ Those who do try to understand the big picture are often seen as ‘stepping out of their lane’ and put back in their place. After all, how can they be doing their job if they are worrying about what someone else is doing.
    4. This is what most organizations expect of their members – a high skill level in their specific area.
    5. More and more organizations are recognizing the tacit nature of knowledge and the value of network relationships is sharing information. More than any of the other items in this list, it is this area that is receiving much of the attention in the field of knowledge management. It is hard, though, for individuals and organizations to get over the cultural expectation of knowing everything yourself, the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome, and the sharing – freely – of what you know with others so they can be successful.
    6. Most ‘leaders’ are still just bosses.

Looking back over my list, I think I may be a bit pessimistic, but I’ve been involved with knowledge management, social networking, etc. for almost 10 years now and am still amazed, and frustrated, at how many organizations still don’t get it. Those who know me know that I’m really a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I must admit that I do hold out hope that things will change.

Maybe it will just take the current generation of young gamers, Marc Prensky’s digital natives, to finally get us there.

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Thoughts on Knowledge Management and Knowledge Work

After reading (and writing about) Marc Prensky‘s Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning!, I picked up James Paul Gee‘s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. I was expecting a book about video games and the potential ‘good’ they offered. And the book does discuss this.

But the book is really about how video games are an example of how good learning can be enabled, encouraged, and accomplished in any environment. His area of choice is K-12 science education, but the learning principles – 36 of them – can be applied in many other areas.

In fact, Gee compares the environment that players of modern computer and video games inhabit to the world of what is commonly known as knowledge work. In the process, Gee describes a couple of key concepts and processes that those who work in the field of knowledge management will be familiar with.

Because Gee looks at these topics from the perspective of learning, his depictions are a bit different from what I’ve typically seen. For example, here is how Gee describes ‘tacit knowledge‘ (emphasis is mine):

Finally, the Intuitive (Tacit) Knowledge Principle is concerned with the fact that video games honor not just the explicit and verbal knowledge players have about how to play but also the intuitive or tacit knowledge – built into their movements, bodies, and unconscious ways of thinking – they have built up through repeated practice with a family of genre of games. It is common today for research on modern workplaces to point out that in today’s high-tech and fast-changing world, the most valuable knowledge a business has is the tacit knowledge its workers gain through continually working with others in a “community of practice” that adapts to specific situations and changes “on the ground” as they happen. Such knowledge cannot always be verbalized. Even when it can be verbalized and placed in a training manual, by that time it is often out of date.

What stood out to me was the emphasis on the importance of the “community of practice” in the development of an individual’s tacit knowledge and the fact that tacit knowledge is dynamic, never fixed. Tacit knowledge is, in my experience, typically addressed as something unique to an individual, something static. And while it is true, I suppose, that individuals do possess a certain amount of truly unique knowledge that never changes, to be useful most tacit knowledge must be flexible enough to be useful as the individual interacts with the environment.

A key challenge in the field of knowledge management is how to manage this tacit knowledge. Understanding both the individual and social nature of tacit knowledge is an important consideration to keep in mind. In fact, the social aspect, the tacit knowledge of the group if you will, may well be more important than the tacit knowledge of any one individual.

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Video games: Future of education or harmful obsession? (part 3 of 3)

Both Marc Prensky‘s Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning! and Olivia and Kurt Bruner‘s Playstation Nation are aimed squarely at parents, and their recommendations to parents about how to handle video games are, not surprisingly, right in line with their personal opinions about video games. Among many other ideas for parents, Prensky recommends that parents make an effort to understand the games their children are playing, even going so far as to recommend that parents try playing some of the games with their kids. In many ways, his approach is, “They’re going to do it anyway, and it is better to understand what they are doing and how it affects them than to not understand.”

The Bruners have pretty much the opposite recommendation, basically telling parents to avoid exposing your kids to video games at all. As a replacement/alternative, they recommend “you identify five or six possible categories of interest for your child and invest the time and money necessary to explore options, trying them out until you find that perfect game, hobby, sport, book series, old television show DVD set, or whatever tickles your child’s fancy.” (Except for video games, of course.)

The pursuit of mastery, of any skill, requires a great deal of passion. To those who don’t understand the appeal of the skill being pursued, this passion often comes across as obsession. This seems to often be the case with parents and their children. As parents, we should try to encourage, or at least indulge, our kid’s passions.

If you’re having trouble getting your hands around this idea, I’ll leave you with this question and answer from teen-ager Luke Jackson:

Q: When is an obsession not an obsession?
A: When it is about football.

How unfair is that?! It seems that our society fully accepts the fact that a lot of men and boys ‘eat, sleep and breathe’ football and people seem to think that if someone doesn’t, then they are not fully male. Stupid!

Girls are lucky enough to escape this football mania but I have noticed that teenage girls have to know almost every word of every song in the charts and who sang what and who is the fittest guy going, so I suppose an AS girl (or a non-AS one) that had interests other than that is likely to experience the same difficulties as a non-football crazy boy.

I am sure that if a parent went to a doctor and said that their teenage son wouldn’t shut up about football, they would laugh and tell them that it was perfectly normal. It seems as if we all have to be the same.

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Video games: Future of education or harmful addiction? (part 2 of 3)

Video games, Marc Prensky argues, are a conduit for our children to learn in a way that just wasn’t available to previous generations. This comes in large part because the game developers understand what it means to engage the digital natives so that they want to play – and thus learn – more and more. Prensky gives 12 reasons that games engage us.

  1. Games are a form of fun. That gives us enjoyment and pleasure.
  2. Games are form of play. That gives us intense and passionate involvement.
  3. Games have rules. That gives us structure.
  4. Games have goals. That gives us motivation.
  5. Games are interactive. That gives us doing.
  6. Games have outcomes and feedback. That gives us learning.
  7. Games are adaptive. That gives us flow.
  8. Games have win states. That gives us ego gratification.
  9. Games have conflict/competition/challenge/opposition. That gives us adrenaline.
  10. Games have problem solving. That sparks our creativity.
  11. Games have interaction. That gives us social groups.
  12. Games have representation and story. That gives us emotion.

Olivia and Kurt Bruner, on the other hand, see “complex” video games as an addiction waiting to happen. In fact, they point to the complexity of the games and the game developers’ attempts to engage us as a deliberate strategy by video game developers to get players addicted. Here are some key points from a section in the book titled Driving Forces of Game Addiction.

  1. Beating the Game: The first driving force for game addition is the desire to finish, in part due to the satisfaction of completion or simple pride – wanting to beat the game.
  2. Competition: Allowing people to interact with each other puts the game in the hands of the players, rather than the game programmer…. Creating a game with flexible rules allows players to develop their own playing styles, moves, and tactics.
  3. Mastery: The desire to master a game is also potentially addictive…. Programmers are encouraged to give players enough “feedback” from the game so that they can learn to master it, drawing them back over and over again.
  4. Exploration: The addiction of exploration has been part of computer games since the beginning. In fact, some of the first games were entirely about exploration. The wildly popular game Myst, for example, used exploration as its basis, capitalizing on the strong urge to explore interesting places or uncover secret levels.
  5. The High Score: Players spend countless hours playing video games simply to beat a competitor’s high score – even if that “competitor” is one’s own last game!
  6. Story-Driven Role Play: Designing the game to the script of a story will compel players to finish, to see how the story ends…. The harder it is to finish the quest or story, the more likely the game will feed addiction. This is why more and more games are designed with a story foundation and with increased level complexity.
  7. Relationships: Many video and Internet games are designed to create an odd type of peer pressure in which players rely upon each other for support. Such games also leverage the draw of artificial relationships, allowing players to build “friendships” with people they would not otherwise meet or even like. Thanks to anonymity, people feel more open talking about personal issues online without fear of judgments they might face from real-life friends and family.

To Prensky, video games are a passion that can lead to positive learning and skills, such as this story about 10-year-old Tyler. For the Bruners, video games are an obsession that lead to destroyed lives, expressed in the several examples they describe several in their book and on their website.

In Part 3: Recommendations for parents

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Video games: Future of education or harmful addiction? (part 1 of 3)

One of the most challenging things facing many parents today is how to understand their children’s love of all things digital. Marc Prensky has labeled us “old folks” (himself included) as Digital Immigrants, while our children are the Digital Natives. Within the digital nation of those digital natives, nothing is quite so potentially inaccessible to parents as video games.

Some see video games as the learning tool of the future, an example of how technology can be used to engage our kids. Others see video games as a harmful obsession that leads to addiction and a wasted life.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve read two books concerning these topics: Prensky’s Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning! and Playstation Nation by Olivia and Kurt Bruner. I’ve also had a chance to take a look at the writings on the authors’ respective websites: Marc Prensky.com and VideoGameTrouble.org. Though these authors say basically the same thing about the nature and design of video games, the conclusions they reach could not be any more different from each other.

In his book (and on his website), Prensky makes a distinction between the triviality of the “mini-games” of the past and the complexity of modern video games.

Almost all the pre-computer games were card or board games. (I am excepting physical games and sports, which have remained the same pre and post computer – except for their strategies.) The pre-computer games typically took no more than an hour or two to play (and often less.) With only a few exceptions such as Bridge, Chess and Go – which were played seriously by relatively few – games of the pre-computer era gave kids very little to reflect on or learn at a deep, or thoughtful level. Sure, kids may have learned a few economic lessons from Monopoly, but games, back then, were mostly games. Distractions, if you will.

What makes a “complex” game different from a mini-game is that a complex game requires a player to learn a wide variety of often new and difficult skills and strategies, and to master these skills and strategies by advancing through dozens of ever-harder “levels.” Doing this often requires both outside research and collaboration with others while playing. (Is this starting to sound like something that might work in education?)

The “levels” in a complex game may consist of building bigger, more complex cities or civilizations (e.g. Sim City, Civilization III, Rise of Nations), conducting harder and more challenging campaigns (e.g. Age of Empires, Age of Kings), confronting harder and more challenging enemies (e.g. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), solving harder and more challenging puzzles (e.g. Myst, Riven), completing more and more challenging quests (e.g. EverQuest, City of Heroes, World of Warcraft) or meeting other challenges of increasing subtlety and complexity.

In part 2: Attributes of games and game design and the different conclusions drawn by Prensky and the Bruners.

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