Tag Archives: art

Serious Games by Lucas Pope

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.14.26 AM (2)

Welcome to The Republia Times.  You are the new editor-in-chief.

The war with Antegria is over and the rebellion uprising has been crushed. Order is slowly returning to Republia.

The public is not loyal to the government.

It is your job to increase their loyalty by editing The Republia Times carefully. Pick only stories that highlight the good things about Republia and its government.

You have 3 days to raise the public’s loyalty to 20.

As a precaution against influence, we are keeping your wife and child in a safe location.

So begins this simple, engaging, Flash-based game by Lucas Pope called The Republia Times. The first time I played it, I was charmed by the simple graphics, which reminded me of games I used to play on my Apple IIe. When I learned that the game was created in a 48-hour game-making competition, I was impressed that there were any graphics at all.

As described in the initial instructions, above, the player begins as the editor of The Republia Times, which is pretty clearly the voice of the government’s Ministry of Media. Your task is simple enough; choose from the stories that roll through the news feed and choose how much prominence to give them in the newspaper layout at right. (See the screenshot, above.) You quickly learn from playing the game that your decisions affect the number of readers and their loyalty to the government, both of which are important to your faceless supervisors and, therefore, the well-being of you and your family.

This task is simple enough, but a more complex story of Republia soon bleeds through the game and your decisions quickly become more complicated. I won’t give away the details of the plot — the game is quick and easy (and free!) to play so try it yourself to get the full story — but just when you think you have learned to play the game, it hits you with another twist, which is a nice metaphor for life when you think about it.

The advantage that interactive media like games and simulations have over traditional media like newspapers, magazines, and television is the variety of possible user experiences. Everyone who plays The Republia Times will have a different experience. Some will quickly deduce the effect their editorial choices have whereas others won’t make the connection as easily. Different players will choose different sides and follow their own path to the end. And because the game is replayable, players can try different strategies and make different choices each time they play to test different strategies and hypotheses to explore the entirety of the game. All of this can add another layer of interest to classroom discussions.

I haven’t yet used this game with students in a classroom, but I would like to. Although government manipulation of the press could be a sensitive topic for some international students, this game is based in a clearly fictional country, which can make the topic abstract enough to make conversations more comfortable than, say, news articles about specific countries that students may have personal ties to. Additionally, the game and story are ripe for discussions like What is the author of the game is trying to communicate? Where does he stand on the issues described in the game? and What can you learn from this game, if anything?

The Republia Times is a good, quick, and free introduction to serious or art games. For a deeper dive into the genre, consider some of Lucas Pope’s other games: 6 Degrees of Sabotage (free), a game that explores the concept of six degrees of separation; The Sea Has No Claim (free), like Minesweeper but with more varied and limited resources; and Papers, Please ($9.99), a dystopian document thriller (watch the trailer here). Just because these games are serious, doesn’t mean they aren’t fun ways to begin some challenging conversations.

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The Effect of Art

Blue Water Silver Moon (Mermaid) 1991 by Kerry James Marshall

Blue Water Silver Moon (Mermaid), 1991 by Kerry James Marshall.  Photo copyright Dispatch.com.

I’m currently teaching one of my favorite classes: the Field Experience elective.  In this class, I plan a series of field trips on and around campus so students can explore their community as well as English, the field they are studying.

One of our recent trips was to the Wexner Center for the Arts, the campus art gallery.  The current show is Blues for Smoke, which explores Blues music as a “catalyst of experimentation within contemporary cultural production.”  Works in the show span several decades and include a variety of media.

As part of our trip, I ask each student to identify a favorite piece, which we later discuss in class.  One student chose the painting above.  We had talked in front of the painting and I helped her understand some of the vocabulary in the information placard next to the work:

Marshall’s portrait of a  mythical female nude lounging under the moonlight in a shimmering pond was inspired by a pulp comic book he was reading in the early 1980s.  He notes, “Up until then, I had not considered that a black woman could be considered as a goddess of love and beauty.  Even I took the classic European ideal for granted …. I wanted to develop a stylized representation of beauty that would be unequivocally black.”

We discussed how the painting includes faces from pulp romance novels that typify this “classic European ideal” for beauty and how the mermaid figure is beautiful and unequivocally black.

But what I interpreted as an interesting insight into the experience of African Americans was something that my student took to heart.  The next day, she shared that this was her favorite piece because she, too, had felt the pressure to conform to this classic European ideal of beauty in her native China.  For example, she and many of her friends stayed out of the sun so that her skin could be lighter and whiter.  But, in this painting, she discovered that black is beautiful — an idea she could relate to and share.

I wouldn’t have guessed that this piece of art would strike this student in this way.  But by exposing students to a wide variety of art, the opportunity for this to happen was created.  Never underestimate the power of art.  Or a good field trip.

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Writing from Colville

If you’re not familiar with the work of contemporary Canadian artist Alex Colville, take a minute to search for his work on Google’s image search.  Colville died on July 16 but his 70-year career leaves us with lots to look at.

For more on his life and art, I’d recommend this article from the Toronto Star, but searching Wikipedia and other sources will provide more background if you’d like it.  The focus of this post will be on how Colville’s work can be incorporated into the ESL classroom.

Paintings by Alex Colville, like Truck Stop above, are typically spare in both the painting style and the story being told.  There is usually a bit of mystery — Why does the man have a cast on his arm?  Whose dog is that? — that remains unresolved, which is why so many of his paintings are so compelling.

These paintings make excellent jumping off points for storytelling.  Students can search for Alex Colville to see a number of his paintings (be warned that there is occasional nudity, but nothing too graphic) or provide access to an online gallery of images of his work to students.  From there, students can write or tell stories that answer some of the paintings’ inherent questions.  As a creative exercise, Alex Colville’s paintings provide plenty of inspiration.

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flOw

screenshot of flOw

I introduced some students to the game flOw today.  As an “art game,” I knew that it would be unlike anything most of these students had ever seen before.

So, without any introduction, I told them to open the game and give it a try.  If you’ve never played this game before, I would encourage you to try the game for yourself to recreate the students’ experience before you read the rest of this post. It’s free and only requires a browser with Flash to play.

There were mixed results initially.  One student assumed the game was loading and patiently stared at the screen.  Even after I pointed out that he could begin, he had trouble figuring out what kind of control he had within the game.  Other students began exploring and deducing the rules of the game.

A couple of students began to observe each other and to ask each other questions.  One even got up to walk around the room.  I asked them to share the rules that they had learned, which helped the others.  I also asked them what flOw was and whether it was a game.  They had several different interpretations of what was being represented within the game — from space to microorganisms — and most decided it was more of a simulation than a game.

Although some students were a bit frustrated by my lack of guidance, they quickly turned to each other to share and collaborate (in English!) on making sense of what they were experiencing, which was my goal.

Overall, this was a brief, but interesting conversation starter for these students.  Although some initially reported that they didn’t like the game very much, the had a hard time leaving it alone.  But, because the game does not contain any English (and my goal was to have them practice their English) I made sure to keep the discussion and interaction going within the class.

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More Free Photos

robot toy

MorgueFile.com is a morbid name for a useful resource.  Despite what you might expect, this website does not contain pictures from a morgue.  A morgue file is a term from the newspaper industry to describe paper files that are inactive and only kept for reference.  Illustrators later adopted this term to refer to files of images that could serve as inspiration or reference.  MorgueFile.com is a large collection of images that are contributed to be used for reference by artists and teachers.

Once you get past the name, this is a very useful resource.  I was struck by a link on the homepage to a collection of photos of robot toys, including the one above.  There are a total of 116 toy robots in this collection, which is really interesting to skim through.

Of course, toy robots may not apply to all of your teaching needs.  Other searches revealed 66 photos labeled classroom, 234 photos labeled student, 734 photos labeled books, and 1190 photos labeled computers.   Many of the photos are high resolution and have a very professional stock-photography appearance, by which I mean objects are on white backgrounds and scenes are generic enough to be useful in many situations.  Next time you need an image for your PowerPoint presentation, consider an interesting and relevant photograph instead of canned clip art.

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How Did He Do That, Too?

alphabet carved into 26 pencil tips

“How did he do that?” wasn’t intended to be a series of posts, but I couldn’t help posting this picture.  It’s the entire alphabet carved into the tips of 26 pencils.  How did he do that, indeed.

I think this would be an interesting question to pose to an ESL class looking at this picture.  It would certainly get them talking.  Were these letters made by hand?  By machine?  How long did the alphabet take?  How many letters broke while being carved?  Which letter was the most difficult to create?  And why were such old, chewed up pencils used?

a chain carved out of pencil leadUnlike last time, I actually have some of the answers to these questions.  The alphabet was carved by an artist / carpenter from Connecticut named Dalton Ghetti.  He carves all of his sculptures by hand, without magnification, using a razor blade and a needle.  Pretty amazing stuff.

The patience required for this work is astounding.  In an article in the New York Times, he talks about this being the thing that strikes people most about his work.

I’ve always been fascinated by chain links that are carved from a single material.  I have made a few minor attempts, but nothing like the pencil seen here.  In fact, that might be another interesting question to get students talking.  How did he do that?

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