Well folks, my brief stint as an occasional blogger at Games Can Teach is coming to an end. I’ll be starting a postdoctoral teaching fellowship at Luther College in the fall, and thus leaving GCT in the able hands of my soon-to-be-former co-workers and co-bloggers.
Before I go, however, I’m happy to be able to introduce Virulent, an exciting new game from the Morgridge Institute for Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The game is available as a free app for the iPad through the iTunes Store, or through the game website.
The recent controversy in the popular press over the Electronic Arts release Medal of Honor got me thinking about the ways that “black hat” narrative perspectives can be effective in educational games. If you’re not familiar with the controversy in question, the short version is that the game was originally designed to allow players in multi-player mode to select to play as the Taliban in a present-day military conflict set in Afghanistan. They’ve since removed that option, for what it’s worth.
I understand EA’s original idea from a game-design perspective – I think this New York Times editorial sums up the perspective nicely. But I also understand, and am sympathetic to the reasons why U.S. military, their families, and Americans generally find the notion of killing Americans, even fake digital Americans, as a form of entertainment supremely distasteful and inappropriate.
Because I’m not a recreational gamer, however, and because I spend a good part of my work day thinking about how to use games and simulations as meaningful learning experiences, I had another reaction to this controversy: What if instead of a recreational game, Electronic Arts were building an immersive simulation to train U.S. troops prior to deployment to Afghanistan? In that case, wouldn’t the opportunity to play as the Taliban be a really useful (if uncomfortable) learning experience? Isn’t the ability to see the world through the eyes of one’s enemy a really important tactical skill? Couldn’t it even (if the simulation was realistic) import some strategic insight that could save American lives?
I don’t really know anything about the military, so I’m kind of guessing here. But I can think of a couple of other educational games where putting the player in the bad guy’s shoes is, I think, a really effective design strategy. I’ll discuss them after the break.
Anthony currently works as Head of Developer Relations at Kongregate.com and has been long been an aspiring game designer, though had only casually dabbled in Flash games prior to his work on CellCraft. He studied mathematics and computer science in undergrad and graduate school at Wake Forest University. He's also a band geek, avid bowler, and shows a canine-like love of catching Frisbees.
Can you give us a brief history on how and why CellCraft was created?
CellCraft is an educational game that seems to have been designed with the specific purpose of education the public (or at least the casual game market) about cell biology!
The game slowly introduces you to the mechanics of cell biology through a series of very well-designed tutorials. Each level will introduce one or two new problems that a cell might encounter, and then present you with an new enzyme, organelle, or function that the cell can use to deal with that problem. Gameplay is similar to a simple Real-Time Strategy game, which is a perfect fit for the educational content. Matching game elements to learning objectives is probably the most difficult part of educational game design, and this is a great example of a game that does it well. The tutorial makes good use of metaphor, explaining that ATP is like energy; glucose is like fuel; mitochondria is like a power plant; amino acids and fatty acids are building materials; enzymes and vacuoles are your defenses, and ribosomes are like factories. Many players of RTS games already know how to collect and use fuel and materials to build things with factories, so the metaphor helps reinforce the relationship between gameplay and learning objectives even more.
Super Energy Apocalypse: RECYCLED by Brain Juice Games is a Real Time Strategy game (RTS) that explores the pros and cons of different energy-economies by taking real-life data and simulating it in a science-fiction world that turns long-term consequences into immediate consequences.
The interesting thing about these kind of competitions is that you get to see what a really raw game looks like. There usually isn't enough time to have the game completely polished by the deadline. Often times the developer was never able to implement some core idea, or they quickly realized that the game they were building wasn't quite what they thought it was going to be. It is always useful for a designer to get a bit of insight into the design processes used by other designers.
Andy, Joe and I seldom tout our own work. However our team at Web Courseworks has been developing educational games for the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin since 2004. In my post on my Managing eLearning Blog I interview Dr. Schafer about his research on our middle school ATOD prevention curriculum call Its Up 2U.
Questionaut is a simply gorgeously drawn and animated educational game in the same vein as Samarost. The game was created for the BBC's Bitesize series by Samarost creator Amanita Design. The intent of the Bitesize series is to combine grade school quizzes with online games, and that's what Questionaut is. Your character has a balloon that is fueled by knowledge. In each level, there is a clever point-and-click puzzle that you must solve in order to get the attention of a character, who will then ask you a series of multiple choice questions. Answering a question correctly adds to your fuel, and an incorrect question subtracts from it. Once you have five bubbles of fuel, your balloon has enough fuel to move on to the next challenge. Questions and the levels are thematically related. There is an owl who asks you questions about animals, an old man who questions you on writing, and an ice-skater who lives near a giant bunsen burner quizzes your knowledge of chemistry. Arithmetic, probability, geometry, physics and English are also tested.
Dondlinger, M. J. (2007). Educational video game design: A review of the literature. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 4(1), 21-31.
Currently accessible at http://www.eduquery.com/jaet/JAET4-1_Dondlinger.pdf .
This article is more than just a categorized bibliography: Dondlinger succinctly pulls out theoretical findings from key sources and highlights areas of scholarly debate (such as sources of motivation in games).