Tag Archives: gaming

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Resources

Paper-based Games for ESL Students

dice

At the inaugural Playful Learning Summit at Ohio University, I shared a couple of games that I developed for use with ESL students at Ohio State. These are both paper-based games, which stood out in a room full of computer games and an Oculus Rift connected to a Kinect. This last project — an immersive, gesture-controlled, virtual reality interface — was really cool, but isn’t something I know how to develop (yet).  But, fortunately, everyone gets paper.  I hope these two games serve as an inspiration for anyone who doesn’t think she can design a game for her students.

Football Simulation – I’ve posted about this one before, but it still stands as an easy-to-prepare, easy-to-play simulation that can help international students to understand the game of American football.  The focus, when I use the game in the classroom, is to understand what down and distance are as well as the importance of basic offensive and defensive strategies.  All that is required is one six-sided die and a printout of the document with the offense and defense  cards cut out.

Orientation to Campus Game – This is a board game I developed based on the Madeline board game.  Players travel around the campus map / board uncovering tokens when they land next to them.  If the player uncovers one of the 5 buckeye symbols, she keeps it.  If the player uncovers the name of a building, she must move to that space immediately.  The best things about this game are that it is very easy to play and that students really focus and pay attention to the most important buildings on the map.  There are no dice and you can use almost anything for player tokens.  I also really like the mechanic of moving to the place listed on the token because this changes every time the game is played.  On the down side, it is a kids game, so it doesn’t hold adults’ attention for very long.  And if the students have been on campus for even a couple of weeks, they are already familiar with most of the buildings in the game.  Still, this game could be useful for students to play while waiting for our orientation program to start because it might help them to discover buildings that they do not yet know.

So, don’t be afraid of developing games on paper if, like me, you don’t have a wide array of programming skills.  Any game that is prototyped and play-tested on paper could later be converted to a computer version.  But, by working out the kinks on paper, you can develop your game to its final version without even picking up your keyboard.

Leave a comment

Filed under Projects

Learning to QWOP

Evolution of QWOP

Studying a language is a great way for a language teacher to experience a her students’ struggles and challenges. But, as language teachers know, this is not always the easiest thing to do. Is there a simpler way for a teacher to remind herself what it feels like to struggle as a beginner? For me, QWOP brought back all of these feelings and then some.

QWOP is a game that simulates a sprinter running down a 100 meter track. Players use the Q and W keys to control the sprinter’s thighs and O and P to control the sprinter’s calves. Although running sounds like a simple task, the game is infamously, and perhaps intentionally, difficult. In fact, as a simulation of learning to walk for the first time, QWOP is quite effective.

The first time I played QWOP, I fell on my face. Several times. In fact, I often ended up as far behind the starting line as I did beyond it. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out this game without searching Google for some strategy help. Even after reading up on the basics, I still struggled to run more than a dozen meters.

As frustrating as this process was, it was instructive. Knowing where I wanted to go but being unable to get there reminded me of learning my second language — knowing what I wanted to say but not having the vocabulary or grammar to express it. Even though the task may seem simple, whether putting one foot in front of the other or asking for directions to the restroom, it may seem an insurmountable obstacle without the necessary knowledge and preparation.

If you want to walk a meter in these shoes, I would recommend QWOP to you. You can play for free in your browser. There is also an iOS app available, with slightly different, but equally frustrating controls, if a flash-based game is not an option. Your students might also offer interesting comparisons between learning to QWOP and learning a language.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Video Games as Interactive Texts

These are my slides from my Ohio TESOL 2011 presentation titled “How to use videogames as interactive texts for language learning.”  Comments are welcome.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources

Flickr is Saving the Whales

humpback whale flukes

Flickr is a popular online photo sharing website that allows users to attach information to the pictures such as keyword tags, date, time, and location the picture was taken, and even the kind of camera that took the picture.  Although pictures can be made private, many are uploaded publicly.  This online public database is now being used to help save the whales.

I first came across this project on the CNN website.  People are using pictures of whales, particularly pictures of their tails which have unique markings that can be used to identify individual whales, combined with the date and location information of the pictures to track whales’ migration.  One whale that was tracked via Flickr was found to have a longer migration route than any other previously recorded migration route.  These citizen scientists are helping further scientific research.

Crowdsourcing solutions to problems is no longer uncommon, particularly via games.  Newspapers have made a game out of combing through online documents on government spending, thereby turning readers into investigators.  Fold It is a game in which players twist and untwist actual molecular structures to further science in ways that computer modelling cannot.  Jane McGonigal has created a game called Evoke that challenges a community of players to share and evaluate solutions to the world’s problems.  The U.S. Navy has adopted a similar approach to fighting piracy.

Can language teachers and learners make use of crowdsourcing?  Of course.  Forvo.com, a pronunciation dictionary created by users, is one example.  Creating an online dictionary that includes pronunciations for every word in a language would be a nearly impossible task for one person, which is why it took a crowd of hundreds to create Forvo (which includes pronunciations for scores of languages.)

Can language teachers create similar games for language learning?  Perhaps.  Julie Sykes has created a location-aware game called Mentira which sends students into an actual Spanish-speaking neighborhood near the University of New Mexico campus to solve a fictional mystery set decades in the past.  Students who have finished the game are now involved in writing and rewriting it to add more detail and different possible outcomes.

Given the game-like nature of language learning (learners learn skills to level up) there are lots of options for teachers– from encouraging students to become involved in the above activities to creating new games for students.  If you know of other examples, leave them in the comments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration

Geo Games

globe puzzle

I have friends and family who really enjoy the boardgame Risk.  We had the game as a kid and I would play with it, but not by the “rules.”  I made my own game by moving pieces around and rolling the dice from time to time.  The map both fascinated and confused me (Alberta goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean?) and the colorful little pieces inspired several different games.  A map is a natural game board.

Fast-forward to the present: computer games have become ubiquitous (Ever kill time playing a game on your computer or phone?) and we rely on Google maps and GPS devices to get us to where we want to go.

Fast-forward to the future: Computer applications that we interact with are beginning to mash up GIS and other data.  (Ever check in to a real place using Foursquare or Facebook?)  Games are no exception.

Imagine playing Risk with the borders and armies from 100 or 1000 years ago.  Or Monopoly based on real utilities and real estate values.  Or Farmville with real agricultural data.  Or Oregon Trail with weather and census data from specific dates throughout history.

Ola Ahlqvist, a professor of Geography at Ohio State, is involved in a project to build the infrastructure to make these kinds of games possible.  I’ve talked with Ola several times about his games, but his presentation below is a pretty good summary of the process.

This is a great example of learning through games and simulations.  Players can see how different factors affect the outcome of the game — develop hyphotheses, then change their strategy for playing the game to test them.  Of course, this is how learning occurs outside of games, but by making a game out of a real map, the learning becomes more compelling.

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration