Video games have been applied to a variety of disciplines, and recent work has created video games for Computer Science (CS). For example, EleMental, Alice and MindRover are three 3D interactive programming environments in which players are motivated to learn programming concepts under the context of game design; the Scalable Game Design, Game2Learn and Gaming in Computer Science are three projects aiming at attracting talented and committed students to computer science classes with bigger ambition to transform them into next generation of computer scientists. Here is a new venture ($16 billion) announced by IBM to embed educational games in its smart phones that could be quite interesting: http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680499/meet-ms-siri-your-new-teacher
In the last year, I reviewed a large number of articles involving using video games in CS. I find the focus of these articles can be divided into two areas: playing games and making games, but the majority of projects focus on making games, especially in the introductory programming courses. For example, Figure 1 shows a scenario in MindRover. Each scenario is a challenge, such as “push the opponent off the wrestling mat”. The job of players is to program robotic vehicles to solve it. These vehicles can be equipped with different components from rocket launchers to radars and speakers, and programmed to do anything from following a track to seeking and destroying other vehicles. It is noted in Figure 1 that there is a text editor behind the graphical interface. The programming language used in this game is called ICE. Every time players add a component, set or modify its properties, new lines of ICE code are generated. Although in this release of MindRover the ICE code is regenerated and recompiled when players hit the GO button (which means they don’t need to write and modify the ICE code manually), the aim is to help players connect abstract programming languages with concrete game elements that they are familiar with and passionate about. Here is another programming game called Robocode (http://robocode.sourceforge.net/). This open source educational game is designed to help players learn to program in Java, or .NET (C#, VB.NET, etc.). Similar to MindRover, players have to develop a robot battle tank to battle against other tanks, but what makes it special is that the players have to write the code by themselves. A simple robot can be written in just a few minutes, but a more sophisticated one can take months more in order to complete higher levels of challenge. In this case, making a game can fix the disconnection between students’ perception of computer programming and the reality behind what it takes to build programming skill. It services as a motivation to know.
Figure 1 Screenshot of MindRover (Downloaded from http://www.gamershell.com/pc/mindrover/screenshots.html?id=60853)
The added benefits of using games in CS education are quite similar to those we have talked a lot, like increasing motivation and knowledge acquisition, developing 21st skills, developing computational thinking, etc. The most distinctive benefit is actively engaging students in learning process, especially in learning programming. This is mainly an attempt to increase the enrollment in CS courses. However, there is no agreement with the relationship between the interest in playing/making video games and the commitment of pursuing a CS degree. Being interested in playing video games doesn’t necessary mean higher commitment to improving programming skills and pursuing a CS degree.
Teaching CS concepts through making games is the strategy used most to integrate games into CS education. The majority of related researches focus on teaching programming by completing game-oriented programming assignments. These assignments use game programming as a vehicle to deliver CS topics. Other implication strategies include using games as environment or examples to motivate students and teach CS topics. However, the establishment of concrete guidelines or principles for how to implement these strategies in CS context, and in which context each strategy can work best, hasn’t get enough attention.
Current literature presents a positive picture of the learning effectiveness of using video games in CS, but I also find empirical evidence of supporting this conclusion is rather limited, fragmentary, and even contradictory. So, researches concerning using video games in CS are full of uncertainty and disagreement, which is not surprising based on the fact that there are too many different variables at play in education context to make valid inferences about which factors are responsible for the differences.
Above is current research about the use of video games in CS education-a field with uncertainty and disagreement. Here is a TED talk, called “Science is for everyone, kids included”: http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_amy_o_toole_science_is_for_everyone_kids_included.html. I love this quote in the talk:” The best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty”. In this field, I’ve always hear conflicted voice about the educational use of video games. However, for so many years’ experiences of being a student, I’ve seen how happy and active I am when I collaborate with other students and learn by doing, and I’ve learnt that my learning effectiveness is the best when I learn by engaging in something and from my errors. I’ve experienced how I immerge in the role I take, and how it changes the way in which I approach to others and my communicative language. This experience renders my thoughts about how different types of role-player games attract to players. However, I’ve also experienced that too much of the official learning in school situation is boring and disconnected from real practice. Therefore, the research around the educational use of video games in a special domain such as CS is absolutely worthwhile of striving for even though it’s a very demanding task.
I am a second-year PhD in the program of Educational Technology and Learning Design at Simon Fraser University (SFU). I am interested in how games change lives and affect human learning. I spend a lot of my time figuring out what kinds of learning are involved in game playing and how we know whether players get them, what the unique added value and potential of video games for learning and assessment in the digital environment is, and how instructional designers integrate video games into their design.
The first lesson for the Game Creation Class was about how games need to work in the real world as well as on a screen. This lesson is really in thanks to conversations I have had Brenda Brathwaite on her teaching experience.
I asked the students to write down their favorite video game. The rules were that they could only write down one and there would be no grief given or teasing for the game they chose.
It was really fascinating to see how much of a challenge this was for the students. I was really expecting this to be a rather quick exercise, but it stumped most of the students. They were used to thinking of video games as something on a screen and wholly separate from games played in real space.
It was really enjoyable to watch the students go from thinking of games as separate from the rest of the world to something that could come off of the screen and be part of the world.
For Mario Cart one girl asked for help and I suggested that she think of using hot wheels tracks or wooden train tracks. She then took that suggestion and ran with it creating a really great idea for putting the game together using two hot wheels tracks.
It was easy for me to see Minecraft as Legos on the computer, but the two children who chose Minecraft had a really difficult time thinking of the game in that way. They were never able to completely come up with a concept for how they could play Minecraft with objects that were not on the screen. However, they were able to begin to see how Legos could be used to replicate Minecraft to some extent.
One of the girls chose Lord of the Rings as her game and she came up with a brilliant idea for using outdoor space and lots of people who bring lots of imagination and creative weapons to reenact the battles from the game. She felt silly sharing this idea since she had never heard of anything like this happening and it sounded crazy to her.
When I told her that she had come up with a brilliant game idea that could easily be implemented and was similar to games being played right now, she was really surprised and pleased with herself. Only two of the students in the class had been to any sort of LARPing event or Renaissance Faire so they were surprised to learn that games are played in Renaissance Fairs like this and that there were even Quiddich Teams at local high schools.
I view this lesson as a success since the students were forced to think differently about games in general and they seemed to come away from the class with a different understanding of gam
On Monday I taught my first game creation class. I have decided that since I have worked with game education programs for so many years doing research and running conferences it was time to put my ideas to work and see if my research would be applicable in the real world.
The first class had 13 students attend who are in the 6th grade in an Austin public elementary school. The school is diverse both racially and socioeconomically and the class had 4 African American students, 4 Latino students, 4 European-American students, and 1 Asian-American student. Some of the students who had signed up for the class were not able to attend on the first day so these numbers will change as the class progresses.
One of the goals for this class was to try out some theories regarding how to increase the number of women in technology careers. While the number of women in STEM fields is increasing there is still a long way to go before parity will be reached. I had run STEM classes and empowerment classes for middle school girls in the 90s and witnessed and advised some of the girl technology classes in the past 10 years, but even with all of that support, women are still not entering STEM fields in the same numbers as men.
After doing several years of research on this topic I have come to the conclusion that both genders benefit from mixed-gender classes. Girls and boys need to learn how to work together in a technology setting so that they will be comfortable with each other in the classroom as they progress through their education. If boys become used to technology classes where they are the vastly dominant gender in high school or college, then they will not notice the missing women in their workplace.
In an effort to try and fix this I implemented a potential solution when I created the class before I started the class I let the students know that, it had to be 50% female and 50% male for the class to go forward and if we lose anyone we need to recruit another person of the same gender to replace them, using the idea that the boys and girls had to be equally invested in the attendance of the students who had signed up for the class. This rule was implemented as a way to look at how to increase the number of female students in mixed-gender technology programs.
Since we didn’t have everyone show up on the first day I am not sure how practical this will be to implement perfectly since I am working with such a small number and one student missing class really challenges the numbers.
However, we did have 7 female students and 6 male students attend the first class and they were all equally excited to be there and happy with the mix.
First of all, GLS is the most warm-hearted conference I have ever attended. The feel is more like going on an amazing cruise with the best people you can imagine to hear really interesting sessions and have great conversations. I now know why so many people attend GLS every year, it’s because you just want to come back and hang out some more with these amazing people.
From the sessions that I attended I came away with some interesting ideas about how failure is helpful and necessary in games and education.
An interesting concept that Colleen Macklin discussed during her keynote was the idea that the base language of games is iterative failure. It is how games either reward or punish this repeated failure that can change the way the failure is perceived.
Colleen Macklin also brought up an interesting point about grinding in games. She discussed whether grinding as game play reinforces the idea of a meritocracy; that people just need to work hard to succeed. Her idea is that if this is the case then games could be used to create a more nuances idea about different political ideals.
In another session the importance of gaming as a literacy was discussed. The player needs to be able to read (understand) a game so they can play it. In the same way that a person watching a movie can read the movie poster and understand that the movie will be a certain genre targeted toward a certain age group starting a particular actor a video game player can read a game to understand how the controls work and what the goals are of the game.
Drew Davidson gave a talk where he discussed why we need to change the way we think about games and education. People often talk about why games are useful in an education setting is because games are fun. Games are fun because a challenge is fun, but games are hard in the same way that learning is hard and that is key to understanding the use of games in a learning environment.
Learning needs challenges and success needs failure, which makes the rapid prototyping of games important because children need to learn how to fail.
Drew Davidson also talks about the importance of looking at ways to make games for impact, games that change people’s daily lives. This view of games also requires educators to look at more interdisciplinary collaboration. Academics are not necessarily great game designers and too often when educators or academics set out to make an educational game for kids they make a “Creepy Treehouse;” something built by adults with the objective of luring kids in. Kids can recognize this easily and are turned off of the game.
Overall the conference was useful both in terms of my research interest in boundaries and exclusion in the videogame industry but also in my work designing a game development class that I will teach to a 6th grade class in Austin this year.
The networking through the catered meals and videogame arcade was amazing and allowed me to make new friends and connections.
Why the ESA Should Incorporate Academia into E3
How is E3 educational and worthwhile in regards to academia and job seekers?
There is not currently a focus on academia at E3, there could be and I believe there should be, as it is the responsibility of the industry to encourage future professionals’ intellectual integrity. Academia should be an additional fun focal point at E3. I met a lot of industry professionals at E3, but I don’t recall meeting many if any academia professionals at E3 especially those with a focus in Game Education.
The main question is: If people in the industry don't know of the available game education resources how will future students, professionals, or educators?
There is a lacking of support for game academia and education at E3. With the increasing number of game academic programs and institutions popping up globally it concerns me that the ESA who is "dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish computer and video games" is not concerned with aiding the knowledge of aspiring professionals. The ways the games are made, and the future of the industry is reliant on the students in the current game education programs whether they be practically based or theoretical. The industry needs to know what knowledge is out there in the academic space and the ESA needs to play its role in making knowledge accessible to the future of the industry.
One could argue with me and say that E3 is about being educated about the new products coming out, yes fine. E3 however, does provide students and academics with experiences, industry knowledge, opportunities, connections, a great time, and a warm feeling in your heart because you were lucky enough to attend.
Advice for Students Who Attend
For students finishing their degrees, job opportunities and business opportunities are readily available. E3 is all about business, which is its core purpose. It functions and operates as a business, for other businesses to grow their business, there is no reason that a person should not be able to go to E3 and not find job opportunities. Make sure that you have a lot of business cards available. If you don't have paper business cards have electronic cards, there are free ones available now.
Students should also remember to drink and party responsibly as E3 parties are a major part of the E3 experience. The parties are a great place to network. There will be a lot of people everywhere that are drunk and having a lot of fun, but remember E3 lasts a whole week and you still have to take that flight or drive home. You also have to wake up and talk to people, attend business meetings, and walk the floor the next day. Do you really want to do that hung over from a full night of partying the day before? If you really have to party your heart out save it for the last night, most people do. Believe me, there will be more than enough parties and you can have a great time with one or two drinks spending a short bit of time checking out each party getting to know people and doing business with a clear head.
Be nice to everyone. Honestly it is a small world and being a good, moral person should be an integral part of every person’s agenda, no questions asked. Talk to everyone. Make an effort to be social. Everyone is there for games and technology. Nerd out, and enjoy yourself. You will find a lot of people to talk to and a lot of people you can learn from.
Heather Ross is the Austin WIGI chapter Leader, Delegate for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, an Entrepreneur, and an Ambassador for Purple for Epilepsy Awareness. Heather cares greatly about the preservation and care of the universe from the past into the future.
Suzanne Freyjadis is interested in changing how bias and perspective work in the media to create barriers.