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Cornell BCTR talk 2012: Why researchers and educators who don't play video games should care about them

An introduction to the potential of video games as tools for education and research.

Andrew Jefferson

on 21 April 2015

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Transcript of Cornell BCTR talk 2012: Why researchers and educators who don't play video games should care about them

Video Games
Pew Center for Research reports:
Adults (18+)
What are
video games?
Games you play through a computer
console (Xbox, Wii, PS)
PC, Mac
Iphone, android
Graphing calculator
Stepping back
But what is a game?
The media responds to you
and you respond to the media.
Can provide feedback on actions
Can provide
clear, immediate feedback
every time an action occurs
Can carefully design feedback to highlight specific information or implications
long term consequences
connecting domains
Can scale difficulty to match user's skill
A big deal for maintaining engagement
Also means the same program can be given to people of different initial skill or knowledge and still be useful
Agency and investment/identity
can be powerful tools
Digital Media
The user interacts with the content through a machine.
This means every action the user makes
(within the context of the game)
can be recorded
Means you can design the world
Making a game world means not just the appearance and objects but defining:
Default actions
Possible actions (affordances)
means you can exclude distractions or actions
or include possible action or interactions
that are impractical or impossible to setup in the real world
What is a game?
An activity with a goal and rules about how to pursue it
"A problem solving activity, approached with a playful attitude"
Nick Fortugno
Jesse Schell
What is a video game?
interactive digital media
that intrinsically motivates you to continue using it
And thats what makes this subset exciting
Current examples
Work by Csikszentmihalyi. Image credit Lipka 2009
Cyberball by Williams, Cheung, and Choi
cue on patterns of behavior,
rather than individual actions
and how it works.
1. Conceptual grounding:
2. Current examples:
3. Limitations:
Properties of the medium that are the basis of this potential for education and research
Work on commercial games and academic projects that demonstrate these properties
Obstacles to developing these tools
Oregon Trail (1981, 1992)
Dance, Dance Revolution
SimCity 2000
Portal 2
Portal 2
and for
appropriately scaffolding challenges
Designing educational games
Provides useful feedback
and scales difficulty
Captures data on the actions taken,
the feedback given, and the response
Participants will voluntarily
spend large amounts of time on
(generally over multiple sessions)
Commercial game: World of Warcraft (WoW)
Educational Game: Supercharged
Launched by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004
Peaked in 2010 with ~12 million players worldwide
Since dropped to ~10.2 million in Dec 2011
Used as a model/simulation for a number of fields
Type of game called a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game"
MMO: In a large, persistent world
with many other players
RPG: Each player controls a character,
and how they develop and act
Fantasy "medieval-ish" setting
Much of the gameplay
(but not all) focuses on combat
View of a city street: Each visible character is controlled by a different player
A starting character: level 1
Few abilities
Can handle challenges alone
Challenges not very threatening
Failure minor issue
More advanced player: after many hours of play
Many more abilities
(typically 50+)
Need to coordinate to overcome challenges
Dealing with advanced challenges
Be able to parse and interpret lots of incoming information
Need to know when and how to use many different abilities
Need to react dynamically to the actions of the game and other players
Gather resources to attempt the challenge (including information)
Coordinate and plan the attempt with other players
WoW expanded the mmo-rpg audience
While not everyone is attempting these challenges, that means people who hadn't previously
played a similar game voluntarily
developed these skills
Notes on current commercial games:
An interesting resource
Background on the the Games Industry
The ESA estimates the American industry sold

worth of games, hardware, and accessories in 2010.
WoW has a subscription model:
each user pays about 15$ a month
Significant private resources are focused on
"improving" games' design
25.1 billion dollars
some goals are aligned
and others are not
Things commercial games have learned
For deeper discussion see Gee's
"What video have to teach us about
learning and literacy"
How to teach systems and skills
How to maintain engagement
How to gather and visualize data
To play the game, you have
to learn how to play it
I view pretty much all games as basic research on how to maintain engagement
In almost all models, the longer you play, the more money you are likely to pay out:
more quarters in the arcade
more likely to buy sequel
more likely to buy DLC
more likely to pay for perks
(in free to play)
The more complex the systems, the more important this is
So there has been allot of work
on designing good "tutorials"
and "content progression"
Portal 1:
A very good game
Arguably ~80% is "tutorial"
Final Fantasy 2
This a newer direction, oddly enough, but becoming a big trend
Industry is realizing it can use data from the games to:
learn about player behavior

improve game design

quickly find issues to fix them

test possible new features or systems
Context effects
Data limitations
Example: Does an NPC (non-player character) group affiliation mean the player agree with their views or wants the in-game rewards of that choice?
Only in game actions
Also collect video or talk through, but then extra demands and new limitations
Does being digital effect behavior?
is really hard, at least designing good ones is.
Its hard to make good games.
Educational games add
additional constraints to design,
making it more difficult to satisfy all of them.
To live up to their potential for education, a game needs to BOTH
communicate concepts and be fun.
Flawed previous approaches
"Chocolate covered broccoli"
divorced mechanics
contradicting messages
Supercharged! : The principles of electromagnetics as gameplay
Squire, Barnett, Grant, & Higginbotham 2004
The objective is to navigate a ship through a maze, which contains charged obstacles
The ship has some limited thrust, but can also change its charge.
Two phases
Planning: can place a limited number of charged particles
Playing: actually navigating the maze
Supercharged! in the classroom
Experience the principles, and develop understanding through trial and error
Looked at the three urban middle school science classrooms
Found that students who played the game:
Equally able to describe fields, but often referenced in-game challenges; non-game students often recited memorized text
Higher performance on common measures and pre-post tests (ex. better grasp of role of distance)
data of interest
Limitations of Supercharged!
How is it the same and how is it different?
The reasons are straightforward:
Bad Dudes (1988)
Fire Truck for iPad
Differences in:
Production quality
When compared to
educators and researchers
Second Life
Still mountains of data
Halo 3: heat map of deaths in 'The Pit
Halo 3: heat map of sniper kills in 'The Pit'
97% play
Counting computer, web, portable, or console games.
~50% daily
53% play
21% daily

81% of 18-29yo
23% of 65+

Why researchers and educators who don't play
should care about them
(Teens, Video Games, and Civics, 2008)
(Adults and video games, 2008)
Because there is the potential to create very powerful tools
A big issue in education
Unanticipated challenges
integrating game into the classroom
Game alone didn't facilitate critical reflection;
didn't connect to classwork
After a day, teachers started having students log actions and reflect on them
Other challenges:
Loss of interest after "beating" the game
Amount of content available
Limited adoption of vocabulary,
though readily picked up concepts
Then using images from the game as examples in class
Information processing
Applying tools to novel situations
Working with a team
Careful design of complex systems/rules
Translation of concepts to playable content
Using Current Commercial Games for Education
Specific games
for topic
Open ended tools to
create content
Full transcript