Tag Archives: Game Design

STEM Video Game Challenge!

STEM Challenge!

 

 

 

This fall the first  National STEM Video Game Challenge invited professional, collegiate, and youth developers to submit prototypes of games to inspire STEM learning for kids pre-k to 4th grade.  The winners will be announced soon.  You can get your students or yourself involved next year!

Read about the contest at the http://www.cooneycenterprizes.org

I served as a judge for this year’s contest.  I played every game submitted in the STEM game category.  I can tell you that we have many smart, and free thinking young minds out there.  Encourage the minds you know to compete next year!  I will be discussing software that middle school and High School students can use to design and create games.

You can read what another STEM Challenge game judge wrote Here.

Find the fun in immunology

To build appreciation for the science of immunology, we need to find the fun in it.

Many thousands of people spend their lives in windowless laboratories, standing day in and day out, barely speaking to their silent lab mates, often working in a 4°C room, or holding their arms up for hours while they conduct their experiments inside the awkward, but sterile cell culture hood.

Why are they doing this?

They are immunologists. Immunologists address the problems of the immune system that their fellow humans have to live with, like Leukemia, AIDS, allergies and autoimmune disorders. Immunologists use biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology and genetics to look for ways to help patients and prevent disease.

So, we could simply say that these immunologists are serving their fellow man. But their motivation is not simply to help mankind. Something else drives them to spend those days in a tissue culture hood counting thousands of white blood cells.

Why did these immunologists take the lab path? Why didn’t they become social workers, firemen or even medical doctors? Well, I’ll tell you. Immunology is fun. Immunology involves watching cells identify and destroy other cells. These cells appear to be very similar to every other cell in the universe. These cells have outer membranes, nuclei, DNA and proteins that are almost indistinguishable from every other cell.

The questions are why this particular cell kills bacteria. Why doesn’t this cell kill all types of bacteria? Why does this cell in some people, not kill bacteria? The answers involve making endless comparisons between healthy and sick patients, between pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria, between humans and mice and between mice and flies.

So, Immunology is a puzzle. How does the puzzle work? We collect up as many clues as we can, we make a guess, we do an experiment and we try to figure out whether our idea was correct. We compare what we thought would happen to what did happen.

We have tools we can use. And we have rules for addressing these puzzles. We have several paths that others have taken before us that guide our way: We have biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, chemistry and physics. Each of these paths have their own rules and their own tools.

If you could jump in and try out these tools, and attempt a few of the puzzles yourself, then you would understand how immunology works. You would experience the fun! This is what we are doing with Immune Attack 2.0: we are letting you play Immunology… without the hours of standing in a windowless lab.

Serious Game Design: Maximizing Engagement

A friend of mine just referred me to a great blog on education, training and learning technology…  by Richard N. Landers, Ph.D.   Dr. Landers is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, USA.  The blog is called Thoughts of a Neo-Academic.  Richard wrote a series of blogs in September 2010 about a series of research papers published in Journal of General Psychology that are focused on video games.

Today’s post is about how we might create more engaging video games.  This paper is the subject of the post:  Rodrigo, M. (2010). Dynamics of student cognitive-affective transitions during a mathematics game. Simulation & Gaming, 42 (1), 85-99. doi: 10.1177/1046878110361513.

Dr. Rodrigo observed 7th grade boys while they played an math game.  She and her colleagues paired up to take note of the cognitive affect states of the students as they played the math game, Math Blaster.  The team assessed how the students’ states changed while they played the game.  The states the team defined and noted were
1.  Boredom
2.  Confusion
3.  Delight
4.  Engagement
5.  Frustration
6.  Surprise
7.  The Neutral state  (No affect discernible)

She noted that students often transitioned from confused to engaged.  She noted that boredom was the only state that persisted.  My post here is just a quick one, and if you want more details, please read Dr. Lander’s post for a nicer description.  What I would like to point out is that confusion is not a bad thing….  confusion may draw us in.  Confusion, I think, is a necessary step to learning anything.  This research is unique and powerful, I believe.  If you know of more, please let me know.

Rodrigo, M. (2010). Dynamics of student cognitive-affective transitions during a mathematics game. Simulation & Gaming, 42 (1), 85-99.  doi: 10.1177/1046878110361513.         You can download the paper here.

 

Making science video games: Spore and the misrepresentation of science.

A friend said to me,
“I am trying to make a video game to create interest in engineering.  Someone told me Spore taught a lot about evolution.  What do you think?”

I did play Spore and I was very disappointed.  I was angry, actually, because the things that are so cool about evolution were not present.  Playing Spore was like expecting an excellent new baseball game and instead it was a soccer game.  The worst part is, that real evolution would make a great game!

The real problem with Spore was that Maxis and EA advertised it as being about evolution, and bragged about it being a real science video game.  However, anyone who knows about evolution knows that isn’t true. The problem is that so many people do not know how evolution actually works, and could easily be confused by the version of “evolution” presented in Spore.

Science journalist John Bohannon assembled a team of scientists to give Spore a report card on all the subjects its claimed to present.  You can see this report card here: http://scienceguild.org/wiki/index.php?title=Spore You can read John’s review of Spore in Science Magazine, here:  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/322/5901/531.3.full

Why am I writing about it?  Because science can be explained by playing games, but only when the core of the science must be used to win the game.  For example, a game about evolution should require the player to overcome that fact that random events may wipe out your offspring at any moment.  That would be exciting and teach real science.  I am writing about this because we (learning technology folks) are still struggling with this concept.  I believe we have learned the theory: we know we want a game that requires the player to use real science to win.  The struggling is coming from the question, how do we make that game?   Working closely with the scientist, or having the scientist be the game writer is the answer.  For examples, see Metablast, Cellcraft and Surge (and Immune Attack, of course).

Gamestar Mechanic released!

Gamestar Mechanic is now available.  Gamestar Mechanic is a game that you play that teaches you how to design video games.   Designed for 4th – 9th grade students, and intended to teach systems thinking, iterative design and collaborative skills, Gamestar Mechanic is lots of fun.  You can check it out on their website, or download the teacher’s guide, and the press release right here from our website.  And then let us know what you think!

Download the Teacher’s Guide

Gamestar Press Release

Exercise while gaming!

Paul Ballas, OD, of our own Science Advisory Group, wrote an excellent opinion piece for Wired.

Paul thinks that video games that require us to be more active might help us actually become more active.  People exercise more when they can do something fun for exercise, he writes.  Paul suggests that if we rated video games for how active they made us, that the game companies would have a motivation to make their games meet higher standards.

http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2010/08/exercise-ratings-for-games/

Video games really do capture our attention.  But can they really provide effective exercise?  Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) did…  maybe a starship that you control with the DDR pad could be another fun game… if it isn’t already out there.

The Wii, and now Sony and Microsoft have motion sensing controllers that are making exercise games more popular and potentially more powerful than ever before.

Read the article and let us know what you think!

Want to Design Science Video Games?

We need you!

FAS Educational Technology Program is collaborating with Muzzy Lane Software to create a series of video games that help middle school students and teachers prepare for middle school science proficiency exams.  The collaboration is intended to draw in teachers, students, game designers and anyone interested to contributing to the design of the games.  Since middle school science covers a wide range of topics (Physical, Chemical, Earth and Life sciences) there is something to interest everyone.  The collaboration is called The Clear Lab Project, and is funded by a SBIR grant from DARPA to Muzzy Lane.

To get involved, go to the project website, http://clearlabproject.com/

Soon, you will be able to access our very first draft of a game design.  You can also find a “Game Design Template,” which is a list of the necessary components of an excellent video game design draft.

I look forward to many rewarding interactions with many of you as we design games for science together!