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Panel discussion on educational aspects of games October 9, 2007

Posted by ficial in conference, games, NERCOMP, NERCOMP20071001Games.

Conference Report: Nercomp – Panel Discussion – third session

In this session various instructional designers will presented their analysis of some popular video games and in the process identified features and structural elements that could be adopted in higher ed curriculum.

Eileen McMahon (the event organizer) and Scot Osterweil chose two games each for the three panelists and the panelists researched and played the games and then made a short presentation on them. For each game the panelists had to pick three aspects of the game that would translate well into an education setting (either directly as the game, or as concepts that could be extracted and applied elsewhere). [I think this was a very successful format. It covered a lot of ground quickly and was working from real-world data.]

The panelists were:

Jason Gorman, Instructional Designer, Simmons College

Heather McMorrow Gretzinger, Instructional Designer, Lesley University

Michael Palumbo, Instructional Designer, Eastern Conn State University

Scot was the moderator.

Jason Gorman was the first to speak. His games were Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. A copy of his presentation is available at http://www.nercomp.org/data/media/games_092607.ppt

Super Mario – this game is a BIG DEAL. One of the best selling games of all time, likely the best franchise of all time. There’s a lot of culture around the game

3 things about Mario that could be translated into an educational setting:

  • multiplayer sequential competition. Competing together creates opportunities for collaborative problem solving and informal learning. Even though there was competition between the players, there was also helping each other against the game – the game is the common enemy. Great informal learning
  • scaffolding goals and skill progression
    • well paced progression of difficulty
    • time pressure
    • short and long term goals with multiple rewards
    • true mastery is clearly possible – particularly useful for rote learning (it’s exactly the same each time)
    • [NOTE: The main character keeps dying! This could really put off some players.]
  • the music is immersive and catchy… and INFLUENTIAL
    • lo-fi beat compliments graphics and game play
    • memorable tune loops in your head
    • self-promotes synthesis in a musical theme
      • lots of examples of popular music created based on video game music (SM music in particular)

Jason spent a lot of time talking about Super Mario, so his review of Sonic was quick and high level.

Sonic the hedgehog: largely similar play

  • faster, better, stronger
    • stimulating, have to take risks and make leaps to survive
    • forced into uncomfortable situations
  • multiple paths to success
    • lots of free play
    • multiple difficulty setting
  • VERY easy to learn

Heather McMorrow Gretzinger then talked about Boxing (on the Wii) and Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time. A copy of her presentation can be found at http://www.nercomp.org/data/media/video%20game%20presentation.ppt

Boxing on the Wii

She describe the graphics as “incredibly rudimentary” [I would have said ‘iconic’], but didn’t find they detracted from the play. This game is engaging – it draws the audience into participating. She talks a lot about the feedback loop, from human action to avatar action.

  • visual progression of game provided
  • highly kinesthetic
  • sound effects motivate and support game play (makes it very energizing for players and audience)

The feedback is a very useful concept to bring into the classroom [but not specifically game related, I think]. Very visual feed back is also good. [This is more game specific – entertaining idea / mental image of grade as health meter… :) ] The social-ness is also good. Interesting observations on varying peer explanations based on gender. People new to the Wii still treated it like a regular old controller until they got a chance to play with it. [Learning through play/experience]

Her second game was Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (one of the highest selling games of all time) [also, among my friends who play such games this is generally considered the best of the Zelda franchise, and one of the best period in the whole CRPG genre]

This was a shift from 2D scroller of earlier Zeldas to free 3D

  • lots of surprises along the way
    • knew what the goals were, but there were little incentives along the way (from side quests to coin collecting)
      • player set sub goal – e.g. get enough money to get item X
    • plenty of practice opportunity, lots of opportunity to save and learn from your mistakes)
  • music motivates and supports the game
    • follows the oral tradition of story telling ; learn from those around you and repeat back

She found that being able to play video games socially was important.

Mike Palumbo “I learned to do my job by doing it”, a sentiment / experience that is very relevant to games. His two games were Luxor and Tycoon: NYC. A copy of his presentation can be found at http://www.nercomp.org/data/media/gamesPalumbo.ppt

Luxor – 2004 (by Mumbo Jumbo)

Luxor is a casual game, with a style based on the early 80s arcade games. It’s mechanic is similar to Columns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columns_(video_game)), but slightly spiced up and wrapped with a tiny bit of frame tale. Play is based on matching, spatial relations, timing, pattern recognition

  • clear rules and scoring
  • engages logical, spatial and kinesthetic intelligences
  • success depends on skill mastery

Tycoon: New York City

This is a simulation (takes a situation and make it as realistic as possible). The player is given the task of starting businesses in Greenwich village. They’re is given seed money and they’re off – they have to figure out all the principles of business themselves.

  • incremental increase of info and expectations
    • as skill increases so do objectives
    • after basic skills are set then competition is introduced
  • safe to fail at new skills with little penalty
    • chance to rectify (freedom to fail, plus the freedom to fix things)
  • opportunities to excel

Questions and Discussion

Question: any thought about using a game to teach teachers about gaming?

Jason – let them dissect the black box

Heather – ‘it was a big leap for the student teachers to accept games as a useful teaching tool. Maybe tried to introduce them too early in the course. It was a real challenge for them’. Some people totally disengaged – freedom to fail != freedom to participate? Can education support the freedom to participate?

Mike – using games is a really hurdle

[Games have a really, really bad rap. Sad.]

Question: how do you apply the qualities of these game (or create a game?) actually to develop a game that teaches?

Heather – ability to redo a test, to learn from failure, etc. Is it about the grade or the learning. ‘cheat codes’ for school?

Question: How/why does one become a gamer and who plays games?

Heather – you become a gamer through peer pressure and association

Scot – “the major player of casual games are middle aged women”

Question: Do people spend too much time playing games, are they worth while?

Heather – definitely feels that her husband wastes a lot of time gaming

Mike – games are a leisure activity, and people play a lot of games on the computer


[I didn’t catch it all, but I managed to get down a few highlights.]

Scot: We shouldn’t try to make games work. Instead we should try to make work fun.

Interesting example of time when parents worried that their kids read too much. Then TV. Now it’s switched to games.

[ASIDE: interesting topic for discussion would be mitigating the negative aspects of games]

Talk about Webkins. An interesting space with an economic gateway. However, collecting things has always been a thing kids do that costs money.

Scot: marketers have gotten more sophisticated about connecting to younger and younger kids.



1. Bryan Alexander - October 9, 2007

These are terrific notes, Chris. Many thanks for taking them.

Just blogged the trilogy at Liberal Education Today.

2. ficial - October 9, 2007

Thank you, and thanks for the signal boost.

There was also a group activity in the afternoon. I’m not going to cover it since it was more about participation than information distribution. However, I think it was a good feature of the event. In the morning we heard about games and education, and in the afternoon we were given a hypothetical class and asked to design a curriculum incorporating some of the earlier ideas. It was useful both as a way to fix in some of what we learned and to interact with the other conference participants in a structured way.

3. Morgan - October 13, 2007

Your notes on this are incredibly detailed and helpful. I’m glad to see the conference engaging games as a valid method for education.

The conference (not you) seems disconnected from the other…20?…conferences on similar topics, unfortunately. For example, DIGRA, GDC, SIGGRAPH, and VGS all address games in education from the industry’s point of view. But there seems to be little communication or interest from both sides simultaneously.

All of that said, I’m not particularly inspired by the current work that you’ve described. I’ve seen much more interesting

4. Morgan - October 13, 2007

I’ve seen much more interesting ideas about taking learning back to being a “game” (i.e., along the line of Raph Koster’s comments) than in approaches that take either a very high-level theory approach or a very low-level “put games in the classroom” approach.

I think the real goal should be to make the educational experience self-motivating, (partially) emergent, and discovery based—i.e., the things that *really* make games fun—and not to add twitch, 3D, or the other irrelevant distractions to the classroom.


5. ficial - October 15, 2007

I’ve seen much more interesting ideas about taking learning back to being a “game”

That was actually one of the discussion points I found most interesting from this conference – the idea that what games could bring to education was more in the realm of attitude and feel than specific tools. Scot talked about that idea a fair amount.

I see three main branches in talk about games in education:

1. Educational games – trying to add teaching / learning to a game, usually by building the game around a particular concept or by adding / changing an existing game to incoporate specific material. Generally this approach leads to exercises that aren’t any fun, though there are some exceptions. Prior to this conference, this was the only kind of talk I’d heard/read about games in education.

2. Games (and Play) as educational tools – using games or activities to give people an intuitive grasp of a concept that is also explored (before or after) in a more formal manner. I think the main difference between this and the previous point is that in the first case the subject is an explicit focus of the game, whereas in this case the subject is a part of the game but not it’s focus. E.g. using Risk. In the first instance it might be used to teach geography, especially with the addition of particular fact cards and such. In the second instance student would play for a while with out particular direction, and the subsequent lesson might be about probability and die-roll distributions. This is, as far as I can tell, the least used aspect of games in education.

3. Education as games / play – noting that games and play are self motivating, trying to figure out why / how, and then trying to apply some of those principles in an educational setting. Some ideas are pretty basic and already widely used (e.g. competition), others (e.g. self-direction, experimentation, discovery, etc.) not so much. This seems to get some academic attention, but not as much as it should (IMHO).

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