Thursday, December 29, 2005

Positive Gaming Experiences

My nephew David writes to let me know about an article in the Washington Post:

"My Son and I, Game to Learn", by Sebastian Mallaby

The article centers around the game:

"Age of Empires III"

Again, not a game that could ever be useful in a classroom setting (because of the time it takes to setup and play), but a game that does challenge kids to think, strategize, and be creative thinkers. It's all very beautifully rendered and there is even an interesting (if superficial) layer of history in there. Unfortunately, the game does include wars, conquering, and other hallmarks of the kind of aggressive competition that does not make for a positive "school-like" experience. Countries are treated like comic-book characters with varying super-powers:

Civilization Descriptors

The Mr. Mallaby reminds me of some parents I've dealt with who believe in promoting poker for teenagers. Sure, kids may learn certain math skills, or complex game strategies; but they also learn aggressive, addictive behaviors -- some of the students at the school where I work owed hundreds of dollars to other kids. At some point it became destructive to the community and, as school administrators, we simply had to ban it.

For example, Mr. Mallaby writes,"'America's Army,' a game with some 6 million players, includes an opportunity to learn how to be a medic." A medic. Right. Here's the picture of the "Combat Medic" in action, applying some serious medicine:

AA Squad Roles

AA also gives kids the opportunity to learn how to be a grenadier, a rifleman, a marksman, etc. I guess you'll find out soon enough why you need a medic.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

NSA and CIA for Kids

Boy, now I know it's gonna be hard to keep these posts from reducing to rants against the game industry, but wow. Check out the web sites for kids (kids!) that the NSA and CIA have put together:

CIA Home for Kids

Cartoons about spying and surveillance. Nice. You gotta wonder how much money was spent putting the CryptoKids thing together. Why is the NSA designing games for kids? Also, be sure to click the links on the CIA site, one of the links says "K-5th Grade Homepage". See? Kindergarten is not too early to learn about our spooks.

I have also spoken about how games are used to promote war -- see how games are used to attract and, essentially, train kids for warfare, check out these:

Rise of a Soldier

SOCOM II - US Navy Seals

Note that these games aren't just designed to simulate the experience of soldiers or seamen -- they are designed in cooperation with, and branded by, those branches of the US military. I suppose a game called "Extreme Pacifist: Let's Get Peaceful!™" wouldn't sell, eh?

I am only left, then, to wonder: where are the games that teach the values of cooperation and learning? Even if they existed, would they ever find shelf space at Wal*Mart? Will web sites like CryptoKids help promote a free exchange of ideas? Can such a market ever be balanced? Again, not arguing that these games shouldn't be published, but hoping that alternatives are out there somewhere.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Show and Notes Posted

Hey You Guys -- For your viewing pleasure, and (again) to make the sharing even easier, I've posted the QuickTime movie of the Slide Show, as well as a PDF of my sketch notes from the launch meeting.

Click to load the movie; then click the images to advance the slides. The movie files is about 12MB, so wait for it!

Click here to download the Sketch notes as a PDF file (435KB).

Right-button click and save the target (Mac users, ctrl-click and download linked file).

And, as promised, let me add my own little manifesto here ...

I do not want to surrender mass media to the folks who dream up games like Grand Theft Auto or Quake. Understand, I don't think these titles are evil; I'm not calling for a ban or government controls. They are simply diversions. They add nothing to the forward movement of our society. But if parents and teachers think the way past these diversions is to ignore them, they should note: Doom (or Final Fantasy or Tomb Raider) is not only a game franchise, it's: a series of paperbacks, a feature film, a soundtrack, in comic books, on t-shirts, and on and on. In fact, I believe that when the pervasiveness of these mass-media properties grows to this scale, they affect and form the way kids absorb stimuli. If that's the case, perhaps the best way to get useful and meaningful information to this audience is through the technology that formed them.

Working the "negative" has had almost no affect on the game industry. ESRB rating, threatened legal action, outspoken politician (and their spouses!) have done nothing to change the content. Here's an exercise for you: click this link to go to Amazon's "Kid Safe Zone" in the PS2 Games aisle. Scan the titles: DDR, Sponge Bob, sports, poker, and racing games. Are there any titles with actual educational content? No. And these are the games rated "E for everyone".

BTW, if you click out a few pages, somehow, GTA III actually shows up in the "Kid-Safe Zone". It's rated "M for mature".

So I want to offer an alternative. In the same manner that Sesame Street took concepts, pacing, and structure from commercial television, there needs to be some PBS-ification for video games and the mass-media properties that surround it. I propose we can make this happen at the grassroots.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Thanks for Participating!

Oh my goodness, I'm tired. To those who made it, thank you all for coming down to listen to my slightly-connected ranting. I hope it was fun and stimulating. I am so appreciative -- who else has friends who would spend a Sunday afternoon listening to some half-baked scheme to bridge the divide between technology and teachers. Thank you so much!

To those who could not make it, I'll send your packages out later next week. There are two handouts and a memory key with soft-copies of the handouts and some other stuff that you can share.

Obviously, from the discussion, there are at least three big threads to follow:

- How does this make money; or at least how does it make a business?
- We need to flesh-out the story-line and the game logic.
- In the meantime what can we build that's illustrative of the idea?

My first response, of course, is to share the idea with anyone else who might be able to add to or help answer the above. If you have thoughts on the story-line or game-logic, add them here to the comments and we can all work that out. And think franchise -- if the first thing we can make is a comic book or a an online "trailer", that's cool.

The last item is the most interesting to me, cause if we can get some grant money and build a small "appetizer" web site, that would be the best, I think, first step. I also think if we can just make this a bit more substantial, and fill in some holes, I could very easily make a proposal to Rivers or the Tech Directors' Group of the AISNE or some other interested party (Houghton? WGBH?) to see if there is interest is building some of the historical sets.

I added a link The Sims web site at EA Games. Any other links, LMK and I'll add em.

Thanks again. More news soon.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The TimePhiz Blog


TimePhiz is a an educational game concept. This blog will serve as the center of an online community working to make TimePhiz into a real, honest to goodness product that teachers and students can use. I work as an administrator at a small private school. The idea for this game was sparked by new rules put in place at my school this year which outlawed iPods on campus. My feeling is that educational professionals, instead of fearing the distractions created by entertainment technology, should make learning the most compelling distraction. Thanks for your feedback.