Recently in Educational Games Category

Discover PSU!

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For the past several years, I've been kicking around an idea for a multi-year game that you could start playing as a prospective PSU student, continue playing during your time at PSU, and optionally continue as an alumni.

The main problem is conceptualizing a game of this scope. How do you build a game that has such a long life? We can take clues from several existing casual games out there that do have an infinite play life, like Kingdom of Loathing or Shakes and Fidget. In both examples, you have limited play time per day, dictated via a limited number of turns or adventures per day. For KoL, you can finish the game, "ascend," and play again. And again, And again. Each time you ascend you get to keep one skill you learned in that game run. This, in turn, enables you to accomplish things in later ascensions that you simply could not do earlier.

So, there are ways to conceptualize a game with a very long play life. Now, what about content? Do we have a game area for each college? How do we populate it? How do we bring in people from each college to build out that area? How do we maintain that area, change it over time to both reflect changes in the college itself and to increase replay-ability? This is a tougher challenge. Maybe badges are part of the solution.

My colleague Ken Layng and I are investigating Mozilla's Open Badges for possible use in ITS Training Services. A badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest. Badges can be used to represent achievements, communicate successes, set goals, and motivate behaviors,. They can  support learning that happens in new ways and new spaces beyond the  traditional classroom. These include online courses, after-school  programs, work and life experiences. By providing a more complete  picture of learners' skills and competencies, badges can signal  achievement to a variety of communities and institutions including  potential employers, educational organizations and social groups. One opts to display their earned badges via the web.

Thumbnail image for Badge-diagram-2.2.jpg
The work we're doing on badges led me to think how they might fit into Discover PSU! Suppose we worked with colleges to develop a set of badges at both the major and overall college level. These badges would be earned via traditional coursework, so we wouldn't be asking for a retooling of any curriculum. Then, in the game, a player who had one of these badges would have access to a new area, gain a new skill, etc. The incentive to earn badges would come both from the desire to build up your curriculum badges for an online e-Portfolio-like display of abilities, and to better play the game. Better game play, in turn, could feed back into a more holistic understanding of your major, your college, and the entire PSU system. It would also be an incentive to continue playing the game beyond graduation and could lead to increased involvement in the future of PSU via a strong alumni base.

So how do we start? What if we reverse engineer this game? In most games, the game comes first, then a community springs up around it. What if we built the community FIRST, encouraged active participation in conceptualizing the game via tools such as Wikis, and then built the game when we reached a point where we all felt further conceptualization should wait until the game went live and run for some time?

What are your thoughts on all this? I really need some input on this concept.

University of Pennsylvania's "Year of the Game"

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Wow - would I love to see this happen at Penn State!

For the University of Pennsylvania, the 2011-2012 academic year has been dubbed "The Year of the Game." The University's various departments are all encouraged to weave games into curricula. The folks at Penn Nursing School have designed several games, and have an open demo scheduled on April 19, from 3 - 5 PM.

My favorite line in the interview of Professor Nancy Hanrahan?

What are the incentives for the students to participate?

These students were just waiting for something like this.


White House office studies benefits of video games

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Short version: The White House has an Office of Science and Technology Policy. Since September, Constance Steinkuehler has been a senior policy analyst for this office, where she's shaping the Obama administration's policies around games that improve health, education, civic engagement and the environment, among other areas.

Longer story - with pictures!

This is great news! I've met Constance, and IMO she is perfect for the job. I'm also thrilled that the President is doing some serious investigation in this area.

The Game Mechanics Game

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At the Penn State Network of Trainers Summer 2011 Event, I decided to try something a little different with my poster titled "Adding Game-like Elements to Your Course." I created a billboard and added over 25 game mechanics to it with the idea that folks would come up to me, pull up a flap with a picture on it and read what that game mechanic was.

It was somewhat of a success, but I'm not sure I would do it again. Many folks were too shy to engage me in that manner, and to fit all the game mechanics on the billboard I had to make each mechanic small and thus hard to read. Still, it was great fun!

In another month I'll be guest lecturing in Comm 190 at Penn State, Games and Interactive Media. I decided to take the game mechanics and images and turn them into a card game.

The game consists of Game Mechanic cards:


and Discipline cards:


Here are the rules:

  1. Challenge another player for one of their Game Mechanic cards by choosing and presenting a Game Mechanic card and a Discipline card from your deck.
  2. If the other player accepts the challenge, s/he must choose a Game Mechanic card from his/her deck.
  3. Find a third (or more), non-playing judge(s).
  4. Read aloud your Game Mechanic card.
  5. Opponent must read aloud his/her chosen Game Mechanic card.
  6. Give an example of how to use your game mechanic in the discipline listed on the Discipline card.
  7. Your opponent must give an example of how to use his/her game mechanic in the discipline listed on his/her Discipline card.
  8. Judge picks a winner - who gave the best example? Winner takes one randomly chosen Game Mechanic card from the loser.
At the end of game play, the player with the most card wins!

I do have to tip my hat to Metagames for the format of all this. I played a similar game by them recently. I can't wait to try this out. My hope is this will introduce the students to the idea of game mechanics and how they might be used in instructional situations. I also hope the post-game debrief will lead to some interesting conversations.

Minions, Peons, Lackeys, and Stooges

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Action Games and Role-Playing Games (RPGs) architectures often include several levels of "live" obstacles, from weak (easily defeated) characters to strong (tough to beat) bosses. In a previous post I diagrammed the relation of the weaker characters to the stronger. Recently I started thinking about the names we used for the weaker characters we encounter in games (and perhaps the work environment) and came up with four names: Minion, Peon, Lackey, and Stooge. Are these just names, or do they imply something more? Let's take a look at their respective definitions, courtesy of Wikipedia.


A minion.

A minion is a follower devoted to serving his master relentlessly.


A peon.

The word peon has a range of meanings but its primary usage is to describe laborers with little control over their employment conditions.


A lackey.

A lackey or lacquey is a term for a uniformed manservant, in its original meaning. The modern connotation of "servile follower" appeared later, in 1588. Lackey is typically used as a derogatory term for a servant with little or no self-respect, who belittles themselves in order to gain advantage. Such advantage is often assumed to be slight, temporary and often illusory.


A stooge.

A stooge is generally defined as a person that is under the control of another. Being called a stooge is an insult. Stooge can also sometimes be used to mean "idiot."

I also came across a few other related terms: Sycophant, Flunky, and Toady.


A sycophant.

  1. One who uses compliments to gain self-serving favor or advantage from another.
  2. One who seeks to gain through the powerful and influential.

A flunky.

A sycophant; a servant or hanger-on who is kept for their loyalty or muscle rather than their intellect.


A sycophant.

Wow - we have all sorts of words to describe the followers of others. In the case of most action games and RPGs, these folks are evil to boot; creatures you have to defeat not just to win the game, but to deliver the world from the clutches of evil!

How does this play out in an educational environment with added game-like elements? First, we need a richer vocabulary to describe prerequisite learning skills. Currently we have "skill" and "pre-requisite" skill. Dull, limiting, and perhaps dangerous. If we can't clearly define types of pre-requisite skills, then it may be difficult to determine the best approach to teaching that skill. Also, we have no way to map the instructional type to the best game-like approach.

Just taking a stab at this, we could begin defining pre-requisite skills just as we do the to-be-learned skill by asking the following: Is the pre-req in the psychomotor, cognitive, or affective domain? (See for more on these domains.)

If it is in the psychomotor domain, is it an observing skill, an imitating skill, a practicing skill, or an adapting skill?

If it is a cognitive skill, is it a remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, or create skill?

If it is an affective skill, is it at the receiving, responding, valuing, organization, or characterization by value level of commitment.

 Once you have that, how do you tie this to a gamelike element? Hmmm. I think I'll save that for another post; this one is long enough! I'm not sure you can even do so in a way that can be easily operationalized.

Creating a World of Warcraft-Based Learning Project

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Lucas Gillispie and Craig Lawson have used WOW in class for several years. Now they've created a guide of sorts titled "WOW in School: A Hero's Journey" to assist others interested in doing the same!

Do check it out. Even if you don't have any interest in using WOW in an educational setting, it's wroth looking at how they took a commercial game and adapted it to teach a variety of educational concepts,  the costs associated with it,etc.