Bill MacKenty

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Johan Huizinga

Mastering uncertainty: A predictive processing

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 06 - January 2023 at 01:48 PM (one year ago) 588 views.

Why do we seek out and enjoy uncertain success in playing games? Game designers and researchers suggest that games whose challenges match player skills afford engaging experiences of achievement, competence, or effectance—of doing well...

Yet, current models struggle to explain why such balanced challenges best afford these experiences and do not straightforwardly account for the appeal of high- and low-challenge game genres like Idle and Soulslike games. In this article, we show that Predictive Processing (PP) provides a coherent formal cognitive framework which can explain the fun in tackling game challenges with uncertain success as the dynamic process of reducing uncertainty surprisingly efficiently. In gameplay as elsewhere, people enjoy doing better than expected, which can track learning progress. In different forms, balanced, Idle, and Soulslike games alike afford regular accelerations of uncertainty reduction. We argue that this model also aligns with a popular practitioner model, Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun for Game Design, and can unify currently differentially modelled gameplay motives around competence and curiosity.

Full article (locally hosted) here.

Linked article here.

Procedural fantasy weapon generator

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice Teaching Diary on 13 - December 2022 at 05:47 PM (one year ago) 574 views.

If you ever needed to procedurally generate a fantasy weapon with a history, backstory and special abilities, here's your code!

Here is the file on github, enjoy. I had quite bit of fun making this. Here's some sample output: 

Long ago, during the age of Destruction, Gnomish smiths forged Yosyur Wargebas's exquisite crossbow. The wood on this weapon is constructed in a spiral-shaped combination of dark wood and exotic wood, it is clear careful and extraordinary craftmanship went into the creation. This weapon is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, and is a veritable work of art. You have +2 on any rolls to pick up romantic partners while holding this weapon. This weapon is sentient. Moving your hand near it, you can feel a vague sense of neutral uncertainty. For 30 years, this weapon was used as a table ornament in the modest home of Prince Fumbledick, who was unaware of its importance.

Long ago, during the age of Light, Dwarven smiths forged Vosgrolin Bloodshield's flaming scimitar. Elegantly crafted in a spiral-shaped combination of semi-precious gems and rare metals, it is clear careful and extraordinary craftmanship went into the creation. This weapon is aflame, and does 4d6 fire damage. This weapon is sentient. Moving your hand near it, you can feel a vague sense of neutral pessimisticness. This weapon was once stolen by a goblin. When the litch who owned the weapon found the goblin, he punished the goblin severely, which is why goblin soup is now a popular dish amongst evil wizards and litches.

Long ago, during the age of Doom, Dwarven smiths forged Erirnoick Orehead's exquisite whip. Elegantly crafted in a helix-shaped combination of rare stone and semi-precious gems, it is clear careful and extraordinary craftmanship went into the creation. This weapon is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, and is a veritable work of art. You have +2 on any rolls to pick up romantic partners while holding this weapon. This weapon is sentient. Moving your hand near it, you can feel a vague sense of unaligned uncertainty. This weapon was once wielded by a young Kawian apprentice, who later became a fearsome warrior.

Different categories of games in education

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 14 - November 2022 at 03:19 AM (one year ago) 373 views.

Nuance and discernment, baby

I've used three different kinds of games in my classroom. 

The purpose of this blog post is to help teachers understand the differences, similarities, and characteristics of the three types of games. 

COTS - Commercial, Off the Shelf game. I've covered COTS games for a while. COTS games are designed for the mass market - they are designed for enjoyment, challenge, and fun. COTS games can often cost many millions of dollars to make, and a hit game (AAA title) can generate hundreds of millions of dollars. COTS games are increasingly being released for the personal computer and consoles. COTS games offer: 

  1. High production value (very high quality graphics and sound)
  2. Low technical problems and very strong technical support 
  3. Strong user communities (fan sites, active forums, etc...)
  4. Often these games have very active modding communities
  5. Work on a fairly new machines; older computers (more than 3 years) might have problems.
  6. Run locally (from the internal hard disk) 
  7. Have exceptionally good gameplay
  8. Very good tutorials, which check for understanding
  9. Adjust difficulty based on the players skills
  10. A game kids want to play at home 

Edutaintenment Many teachers are familiar with these titles - Millies Math House, Reader Rabbit, Sammy's Science House The hallmark of these games are kid-friendly graphics with gameplay that follows a "solve these problems and get to the next fun thing to do". Sometimes players are asked to do something like bowl for math problems. 

The general feel of the games is really fun math or reading worksheets. These games are fun, and build basic skills. They are valuable and good learning tools. In my context of games in education, these games generally don't fit well. They are a little to oriented to the drilling model (but who says drilling has to be no fun?). Characteristics of edutainment titles: 

  1. Marketed exclusively for schools / education
  2. Content-specific (titles focusing on math, reading, spelling, foreign language, etc)
  3. Marketed for specific age or grade levels
  4. ESRB ratings are often intended for general
  5. The back-story of the game is minimal
  6. Gameplay is generally segmented and measured around learning objectives 


Serious games Serious games are a relatively new phenomena (although people have been seriously playing games for a long time). Here's wikipedia's view on the matter; I like what they say. I think of serious games a single-topic, highly specific semi-simulations. Serious games have similar profiles: 

  1. They are usually web-based
  2. They usually have a very specific theme (peace in the mideast, health sim)
  3. They are not meant to be in-depth simulations, they are meant to model the most important dynamics of a system
  4. They are short-term games 
  5. They are deliberately designed to teach, explain an issue, or clarify the dynamics of an issue

Of course, playing  a game invites a healthy dissociation and leans heavily towards recreation. As much as I have tried over the years to integrate incredible student passion playing games and learning, I have failed.

If you really want cream-of-the-crop, high-level learning with games, ask kids to develop models and simulations. It takes a long time to do this well, but learning is magnificent. 

Dungeons and Dragons for 6th graders?

Posted in Games in education on 20 - March 2014 at 11:33 PM (10 years ago) 304 views.

Today an earnest, excited 6th grade (12 year old) boy asked me if I would help him lead his Dungeons and Dragons club. He had somehow found out that I like D&D, and really wanted to play.

Why does this make me feel uncomfortable? I told him I didn't have time (which is true) but maybe we could make a simulation club, and build games and simulations. He was cool to the idea.

Anyone out there have any advice? I still have this belief that there is a pejorative association with D&D. I still enjoy playing - but only five or six times a year. But is this an acceptable thing for kids in a school as a school sponsored activity?

Animal dissections should not be computer simulated

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 18 - March 2014 at 06:14 PM (10 years ago) 330 views.

I am participating in an interesting discussion about the role of simulations and dissection. My thoughts are below: 

There is a huge difference between a computer-simulated dissection and a real one. Simulations are great because they: 

a. allow us to abstract an idea, piece of knowledge, or thought-object; 
b. allow us to easily and quickly manipulate objects in a simulation to see what might happen; 
c. allow us to model complex systems (see serious games as an example); 
d. help us model and manipulate an environment. 

If we support the use of simulations over real-life dissections, we should at the minimum include a discussion about the kinds of knowledge that using simulations support. The key point here is that simulation allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 

A simulation is not a series of videos or images, which is what I see most "frog dissection" simulations sites. Please know there is a difference between watching a movie of a frog dissection and simulating a frog dissection. I found many dissection sites that seemed to be a series of linked flash videos that showed different stages of a normal dissection process. For example, this site: is a series of images that describe what students should look for when they dissect a pig. Likewise, a cow eye dissection (eww, gross) is not a simulation, but a "click next and look" activity. This site is good because it has photographs and diagrams, but there is nothing "simulationy" about it. 

This site has interactivity, and could qualify as a good resource. Also is passable, but neither of these sites reach to the standard of a simulation in my opinion. Online resources need to be more than just watching a movie or series of movies; they need to include meaningful interactivity (see as a good example). For the record, the gold-standard for online resources are resources which allow students to create simulations. I had originally wanted to try to stay away from the debate about dissection and stick with "what is a simulation". 

Personally, I disagree profoundly with the notion that a computer can replace a live dissection exercise. Organisms are gooey, slimy, and not "clean and tidy", as a computer would present an animal dissection. I also believe the affective element of dissection is part of learning (but I'm an IT guy, not a biologist nor an ethics expert) IMHO, technology would detract from learning if our goal in learning was for kids to understand the digestive system (and it's place in other systems) of a real frog. 

To underscore my point, the real value of a simulation is to allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 😊 this is not what most animal dissection sites (that I could find) do.

My kids want to use Unity3D for a science project

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 11 - April 2013 at 01:42 PM (11 years ago) 269 views.

From an excellent 6th grade science teacher comes this question. My answer is beneath. I have a couple guys in 6th grade who are dead set on doing a science fair project involving video games. Both guys want to use a program called Unity 3D. 

How in the hell do I turn this into a project with an authentic research question such as "What affect does __________ have on _________?" 

If you have any suggestions or could help me point these kids in a different direction, I would be most appreciative. This is tricky to get right. In a nutshell, you have to be much more strict about the instructional design than with other activities your kids might want to try. The problem is sadly universal. The boys will absolutely light up about this project. They will go full-nuclear in their enthusiasm, energy, and time with this. But at the end, there is a very good chance they will not meet your learning goals. 

They will tell you, brimming with excitement, "look! we made this guy's arm move, and we put in the radioactive monsters that blah blah blah". And you will ask, "have you met these learning goals? And they will pause. And there will be this uncomfortable silence, and then they will say "look at the tank we built!". This is the same thing when kids build a powerpoint presentation that is all fluff, and no content. So if you are willing to hammer them with oversight (and I mean a daily check-in against an obnoxiously clear rubric), then I say go for it. 

Also, please know this project will take longer than other projects because the kids are going to want to do everything, all at once. One last thing: If your kids do choose to use this learning tool, and they manage to model their science project as a simulation, it will be a very powerful learning experience. I can't think of a better way to learn than to create a simulation or a digital representation of an idea. I'm curious how you will proceed.

7th grade Minecraft Project

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 10 - June 2012 at 10:04 PM (11 years ago) 290 views.

The tl;dr version: Our 7th grade went on a field trip and re-created the visited city in Minecraft (learn about minecraft here). It didn't go as well as I hoped because I didn't plan well enough with all the teachers. Lots of awesome-sauce when kids started using the game (which is why we love games in education). 

A slightly more thoughtful description of the whole thing: 

Our 7th grade recently visited Zamosc (wikipedia-linkage here). It was a great trip. Everything about this trip was wonderfully planned; the learning prior, the planned exploration and interdisciplinary questions when the kids were in Zamosc, and the post-trip learning and projects. In many ways, this trip was a text-book example of how to really make the most of a field trip. One of the old post-trip activities was to build a cardboard building in the city. Here's the learning: Zamosc is a very rare (and is listed on UNESCO sites here) example of a perfectly planned and realized Renaissance town. The city was designed and built along the principals of the human body, with the brain or head being the palace, the heart being a cathedral, yadda yadda yadda - read more about Zamosc here). 

After hearing me blather about games and education, one of the teachers approached me and asked if we could try minecraft instead of the cardboard paper towel rolls. This project was her idea, not mine. So we decided to try building a city in minecraft that echoed the principals that we learned about in Zamosc. The kids were given rubrics, parents were notified, pre-built minecraft servers were purchased (Hey multiplay, how about some love for educational and non-profit folks with some educational pricing?). We bought user licenses (thank you, minecraft EDU), installed the clients on the kids computers, and set off! This project was run with four 7th grades (2 teachers, 2 classes each). Immediately, I noticed one class was taking off whilst the other wasn't quite. 

Coincidentally, I spent much more time planning with one teacher, and barely any with the other. Related to this, I didn't spend enough time with the middle school technology coach to plan this activity (I am the director of technology at our school). The coach was very helpful, but again, without clear planning, the project had some holes in the boat from the start. Right away we saw some some great stuff. In one class, kids learned very quickly, helped each other, and began building. Whenever we use computer games (or any game) in education, the enthusiasm and energy goes nuclear. Especially with our boys, their engagement and involvement was a wonderful thing to see. In the other class we ran into technical problems (I'll get to that in a moment), and some "what do we do now" questions. The kids built their cities fairly well. Based on our criteria, it was clear they understood the principals of Renaissance city ideals and had lovingly built their cities to reflect the same. By that measure, this project was a fantastic success. Here are four screengrabs that don't do any justice to the hard work of our kids. However, as noted above, I cant really walk away and hand anyone a trophy. 

Next year? Maybe. But this project had all the classic marks of a first-time run. In the interest of sharing our success and failures, here's the list-o-things-you-should-think-about: 1. Classic: plan, plan, plan. I walked this through with one teacher, and not the other. It showed. I also didn't include the technology coach enough. Big oops. 2. Superflat world worked well for us, we used creative mode. 3. Using a company that rents pre-setup servers was a win for us (all we worried about was bandwidth) BUT.... 4. Better to have a separate server for each class - much easier to manage. So with four 7th grades, I should of had four separate servers. 5. The only plug-in's I used were noTNT and one that stopped lava. 6. I didn't whitelist, and I should have. We had some vandalism that took away from the fun. 7. Kids love games. like, REALLY love them. Watching the time, energy, and motivation they poured into this project was satisfying. If I had put even an hour of more planning time into this, it would of been a home run. 

Other teachers noticed this project, I hope to have more takers next year!

Defining Games in Education

Posted in Games in education on 29 - March 2012 at 05:43 PM (12 years ago) 287 views.

From a wonderful email asking to define serious games, comes this answer: 

To the layperson, a game is a game is a game. However to those of us in educational technology (and those of us passionate about games in education) the difference between Math Rabbit and Spore are gargantuan. To define those both as "games" is akin to calling Shakespeare and William McGonagall [1] "writers". 

An educational game (computer): aka: edutainment, is a deliberately structured and scaffolded learning activity, usually constructed with colorful, fun puzzles interspersed with learning activities. These games often require a set number of solved problems which are followed by a short animation, cutscene, or puzzle game. Learning activities are often framed within the game theme. For example, learners may be playing a bowling game where simple math problems are superimposed on each of the pins. As the player correctly answers the math problems, the pins are knocked down. When the player has knocked all the pins down, they may have an opportunity to virtually roll a bowling ball down the lane, and hit some pins, without needing to answer any math problems. 

A serious game (computer): players controls a limited number of variables to effect an outcome in a specific scenario. They are usually web-based, they usually have a very specific theme (peace in the mideast, health care, politics), they are not meant to be in-depth simulations, they are meant to model the most important dynamics in a specific scenario, they are short-term games, they are deliberately designed to teach, explain an issue, or clarify the dynamics of an issue, and the point is to simplify complex issues to players gain an understanding of this issue. 

Although you didn't ask, there is one other category of games - I will give a very short definition: 

COTS - commercial off the shelf games, where there is no pretense of education. These games are built solely for the purpose of entertainment. COTS games can cost tens of millions of dollars to produce [2] but hit titles can bring hundreds of millions of dollars [3]. When used in the context of good instructional design, COTS games can be powerful learning tools. 


These definitions are mine. I give them to freely to use, but please attribute 😊  Please share your paper with me when you publish it! 


CEESA Games in Education Notes

Posted in Games in education on 16 - March 2012 at 06:19 PM (12 years ago) 305 views.

I just had an opportunity to present a games in education presentation at the 2012 CEESA conference (PDF here and link to google presentation here).

I continue my search and work around games in education. I marvel at the passion, energy, and enthusiasm kids throw into their games. It's amazing. I know we can use games successfully, and my experience informs the potential for success.

CEESA Minecrafting

Posted in Games in education on 16 - November 2011 at 11:10 AM (12 years ago) 284 views.

Amazing, The Central Eastern European School Association (CEESA) has created a Minecraft server that schools from across Central Europe are playing in. The server, located in Moscow, is available for students at any CEESA school. I ran my video-game club through our first trial of minecraft yesterday afternoon, and we had a neat time. This project has just started, but with many schools involved, it is enormously exciting. I am hopeful for a bright future. Here’s our experiences, and some reflections about this experience and learning.

Initial expectation about the experience.

For many players in our video game club, there really is nothing better than killing your friend in the most imaginative way possible. In gamer terms, this is known as griefing. We reviewed a prezi made by a student in Moscow with the rules, which offered common-sense suggestions like not destroying each others buildings, killing other players, and generally being rude. The members of my video game club were shocked and let-down when they realized this wouldn’t be part of their minecraft experience.

When they saw no zombies, spiders, and explody-thingies, they were again disappointed. There was an intelligent conversation about the “essence” of minecraft - what made it a game, what makes it fun, why people come back. There seemed to be a general consensus that with a common enemy (mobs) players would have a reason to visit the game more often. We are going to suggest adding in PvE (or perhaps, just a part of the world can be PvE).

But then, there is that whole “game” thing going on.

Despite their concerns, they were very quickly immersed in the world. We saw the center of the world and set off to build the Polish section of the world. We built a big Polish flag, and started building a platform. There is an idea to build a very big train system linking the different districts, and the center district. Last night, still learning about Minecraft, I started building The Wieliczka Salt Mines.

I was reminded again why I am drawn to games as a powerful tools for learning. The students excitement, motivation, and energy was palpable. They were pointing at the screen, shouting and yelling, impassioned. And then, they started building; trying to make the most beautiful buildings they could. There were complaints about student players being ‘ops’. I promised them I would investigate (I think the server is set up for creative mode). 

As my readers may know, I am an enthusiastic proponent of Dr. Richard Bartle’s player types - which basically states people play games for different reasons (explorer, socializer, achiever, and griefer) there are other types, but you get the idea. I saw my student quickly adapt their playing styles to the confines of this world, and just love it.

Learnings and further steps

1. We have an opportunity to learn, discuss and reflect on online behavior, ethics, and community. This server offers a lens for us to participate in a virtual community - and learn much in the process. These kids don’t know each other - there is very little glue to keep them together.

2. There is an amazing opportunity to build important cultural buildings and places here - why not a famous church in Croatia, the famous metro system in Moscow (or Red Square), old town in Kracow, beautiful sites in Helsinki, etc… Why not create a microcosm of Europe on a minecraft server? Here we see a place where students can virtually represent anything.

3. Teachers have an opportunity to learn how to teach and work with other schools in CEESA. Our athletics department might be able to give us some advice - how do you work with CEESA kids you don’t really know? I would like to begin offering online / blended courses in Warsaw to other students throughout CEESA. This server is a great place for us to fall flat on our faces as we learn to virtually interact with each other.

For further steps, I suggest we:

1. Build a collaborative vision of our minecraft server - At some point, we need to be able to answer the “why are we doing this” question.

2. Institute a “uservoice” type service so the different schools can agree on what sorts of features they would want in the game ( Basically, uservoice allows users to vote on a feature request, and it is very easy to quickly see what your community thinks is important.

3. Maybe have a guiding question or idea in the moodle forum each week. We can then focus our efforts in the game towards answering this question or exploring this idea.

One last thought - games are educational in very different ways; please don’t think “playing minecraft will make their math skills stronger”. Take a quick peek here for some summaries and thoughts about games and learning I’ve written over the last 5 or 6 years.

Game on!

Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death - Part 2

Posted in Games in education Text-based gaming on 06 - June 2011 at 07:11 AM (12 years ago) 263 views.

(Part 1 here)

I have started this exercise late in the year, and haven’t had any luck grabbing students. Drat.  I invited some teachers to participate, but they haven’t bitten. I intend to continue onward, building our text-based space game about quivering communist zombies. 

A simple exercise, to create a reasonably accurate model of the solar system, yes? Let’s dig.

We start with the planets (trivial google search) and then move to modeling them in
hspace. We use the new universe wiki  to help us. We use this fairly well referenced guide to get us started.

Creating the actual planets objects is pretty easy. In pennmush, logged in as a wizard (with hspace running, of course):

@create Earth
@create Mars
@create Venus
@create Sun


We then assign each object an attribute . 1 is an internal attribute for planets in our example, assume #4 is the object for earth, and #5 is the object for Mars

@space/addobject #4=1
@space/addobject #5=1

And then we need to define size, mass, name and location. And here, friends, is where things get interesting. Let’s look at the actual command syntax:

@space/setobject #5/NAME=Earth
@space/setobject #5/MASS= MASS HERE
@space/setobject #5/LOCATION=10000 10000 0

So, what is the mass of earth? Again, a google search reveals: 5.9742×10


(it is referenced to NASA, and I checked the source, so it looks legit.

A first task is to convert scientific notation to standard number that hspace can understand.  We know 5.9742×10


  equals 5,974,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 (which is freaking huge) So we simply plug this in.

@space/setobject #5/MASS= 5974200000000000000000000

We do the same thing for size. I know, MASS isn’t SIZE, but for the purposes of this game, this will work. According to the wiki, hspace uses size of an object for sensor reading (very weak sensors might not see pluto) and MASS for how much an object can “hold”. For planets, this is kind of irrelevant. But if you have a big ship that serves as an aircraft carrier, mass is important.

We are using cartesian coordinates to represent position. We’ve placed the center of the sun at 0,0,0.  So where do we put earth?

We are not modeling orbits, but we are trying to be “about right” with distances. So we return to our resource page and look at how far earth is from the sun. We see the mean distance is 149,597,890 kilometers. so, if the sun is at 0,0,0, we can put the earth at 149597890,0,0 This puts the earth on a straight line from the sun - pretty far away!  The syntax:

@space/setobject #5/LOCATION=149597890, 0,  0

We’ll need a pretty zippy ship to get around our solar system. I wonder how fast a ship would need to be in order to make it from Earth to Mars in a decent amount of time?

Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death - Part 1

Posted in Educational Tech Design Games in education Practical Advice Text-based gaming on 06 - May 2011 at 07:58 PM (about 13 years ago) 320 views.

I'm developing a new game, Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death. It's a text based game with an integrated (hardcoded) space system. What this game means, and why I'm developing it, is what this post is about.

Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death (herein qczsd) is a game where players take on the role of humans desperately trying to save the earth from quivering communist zombies in space. The game is deeply educational, deeply funny, satirical, blatantly ribald, and of course most of all, fun. Basic mechanics are all textual! The player creates a persona (over-the-top stereotypical), get's a ship, and flys on different missions to take out the zombies. There is a leveling up mechanism, and "buy better crap for your ship dynamic". The zombies will be AI bots, and there will be all sorts of funny in-space dangers.

Here's the website:

I'll be blogging frequently about qczsd - talking about my journey of learning as I create this new game. Let's start, though, with the first task to make this game.

We are using trusty pennmush, which can be found by clicking here and hspace, which can be found by clicking here.

Let's start off with the first student assignment. Let's see where they go with this one:

We are going to work with an accurate model of our solar system. What does this mean? It means that we are going to try to accurately model the planets, their distance from one another, mass, and even their moons. We of course also need to know their location from each other. What we are NOT modeling is orbits and gravity (I'll write the "difference between fun and realistic" post later).

So, finding the names, mass, and distance of our solar-system planets is as easy as a simple google search. It might help to cross-reference them so we know the numbers are right. But we will eventually need to represent the location of the planets on a XYZ grid. Here's where it get's kind of interesting.

How do astronomers (you know, the dolts who didn't even see the communist zombies coming) measure and represent distance in space? What scale of measurement do they use? How do they represent mass? Let's start with a simple assumption (that might be wrong). Let's say the very center of the sun is 0,0,0. Where would the center of the sun's closest planet, Mercury, be? Students should answer these questions and have the answers in the comment of this blog post as soon as they can.

Presentation: games in education notes

Posted in Games in education on 26 - March 2011 at 09:14 AM (13 years ago) 285 views.

Presentation notes for the games in education presentation. PDF here

Interview with scholastic - Play to Learn

Posted in Educational Tech Design Games in education Practical Advice on 16 - February 2011 at 05:36 PM (13 years ago) 291 views.

Many thanks to the folks at Scholastic for this great story about computer games and learning (pdf here). I was interviewed for this, and it's always nice for people to ask what you think.

I'm getting my "first year as a tech director" stuff out of the way, and then I plan on aggressively adding games to the learning at my school, and evangelizing games and learning here in Poland. For the curious, I've set up a doorway portal for games and learning here.

Answering serious questions about serious games

Posted in Games in education on 16 - October 2010 at 01:13 PM (13 years ago) 248 views.

Every once in a while, I get questions and queries about games in education. I've successfully used games in the classroom for a while, and I like to share my success and failures with games and learning. I take the role of a classroom teacher, and now a director of technology when I answer these questions.

Here's the latest question, and my answers.

I'm interested in having game developers and others involved in serious games share their thoughts on the opportunities, challenges/frustrations and lessons learned when interacting with schools and other educational institutions. My general impression is that, while people are optimistic about serious games, its impact on education has been slow, and I would like to understand why. You are free to elaborate on this topic, or you can focus on one or more of these questions:

What should game developers start or stop doing when designing, marketing and implementing serious games?

Serious games are one category of games that really work in the classroom (here is a post I wrote about other classes and categories of games). Game developers should keep doing what they are doing when designing and implementing serious games. Marketing? I'm not sure. The challenges in introducing serious games in education is the same as introducing any type of game in education; games are frivolous, waste of time, etc... I suppose a marketing campaign that directly addressed this would be good; "we played a serious game and now our neighborhood is different". In the serious games movement we often hear "games for change" Show me the change.

What do you want schools/teachers/administators to understand about games?

That they are tremendously valuable. They increase motivation, attendance, enthusiasm, and time on task. That especially with serious games, there is clear, measurable learning. For computer games in general, they are powerful learning tools IF THESE ARE USED WELL. If you sit a kid in front of a computer for an hour and expect something magic to happen, you will be dissapointed. My position is in order for games to be successful, you must use good instructional design. Good teaching is good teaching is good teaching.

What kind of research should game researchers conduct? (I.e. what kind of evidence would you like to have that would further support the benefits for using games in education?)

Jesus. Please don't link serious games to increased test scores. This is very tricky in my mind. How are we defining benefit? What is learning? What does successful implementation of a serious game look like? What is success with serious games?

What kind of feedback do you get (if any) and what do you do with it?

From parents: concern but trust. If you are stupid about the way you use games, then you will have earned the wrath of your parents. If you only play games, without discussing or teaching then, really, the kids are "just playing games". But if you carefully use games in a clear manner, you will have no parent problems. Remember: parents have a good bullshit detector, and they trust teachers to teach well until proven otherwise.

From students: they love games, even when you are asking them to think about it. Kids are wired to learn through play.

From administrators: If you have an administrator who is properly evaluating your staff with real teaching evaluations, then they will look at your use of games in the classroom through the lens of improving instruction. The honest truth? Most administrators dont understand how technology makes a difference in student learning. So any discussion of administrators and serious games exsists in this context.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing serious games?

Serious games faces challenges on two fronts; that they aren't "real games" and they aren't "serious". Both challenges are easily countered.

Challenge: Serious games aren't "real games" (spoken from a Starcraft 2 player). Answer: shut up. Serious games are fun, allowing players to manipulate discrete variables to better understand a real-life situation. Go kill some zerg.

Challenge: serious games aren't serious. Answer: shut the hell up. People learn from play. Go watch John Stewart and learn something.

How often do game developers work directly with teachers during the process of game design? Do you think more frequent collaboration would help make games more acceptable?

No. I think teachers and instructional designers fuck up game design - they turn a game into an edutainment title (go answer 5 math problems, and then play a minigame, repeat). Better to invite a game designer. You need to understand the underlying dynamics that you are manipulating (example the swine flu serious games - you need to know how swine flu spreads to model it).

Thank you Baruch

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 28 - April 2010 at 03:16 AM (about 14 years ago) 305 views.

Thanks to all the great students at Baruch today - we had a great presentation about games and learning. Here’s some links for you:

1. the presentation: (also embedded below)
2. Rules of Play
3. Marc Prensky
4. James Gee
5. David Williamson-Shaffer
6. Bartle Test
7. Nick Yee

Computer games during the summer

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 15 - April 2010 at 05:24 PM (14 years ago) 274 views.

Interested reader Trent asked:

The only question that I have is how would this be used outside of the classroom? I know of several way that it can be used in the classroom, I am trying to focus on Visual Data Analysis outside.
For example, how can kids learn using gaming during the summer.

I answer here:

Your question deserves a lengthy response, and I am short of time at the moment. However, I hope to point you in the right direction.

Games are educational in different ways. I think the best way to use computer games to learn is through guided instruction. For example, a teacher would present an idea, students would spend some time in the game world exploring a specific idea or concept, and then the teacher and students would construct meaning from the experience through some sort of discussion or project.

There are other people (who are much smarter than I), who argue merely playing games is educational - Google James Gee for some thinking on this topic. To be honest, there are different types of games, different types of learning, and many different ways we define "educational". It get's a little tricky, but you get the idea.

So to specifically answer your question, games could be used during the summer with a mentor or guide to help guide the student as they play. This is a key point in my opinion - if kids "just play" then any measurable academic achievement will be hard to come by. However (and this is important) there is a hell of a lot more to learning than what we can measure on some test.

In your question you specifically ask about visual data analysis. All games represent their "worlds" visually and graphically. In Eve Online, there is a little green sphere that represents my shield power, and another the represents my hull strength. I've sadly watched many times as these little green graphs have turned yellow, and then red, and then I learn about floating through space.

So here's an idea: pick ANY commercial off the shelf game, and pick apart it's UI. I would ask my students:

1. what is this graphic representing?
2. how is this graphic convey meaning?
3. why is this graphic in the specific space it is in?
4. how does this graphic change?

And then, once your students have begun to see behind the curtain of the game UI,

ask them to redesign the game UI using some free tool and explain how their choices represent meaning graphically.

oh, and by the way, if you're serious about visual data, you need to grok Edward Tufte. Really. I'm not kidding. go to one of his conferences. It will be the best $300.00 you have ever spent on professional development.

Why you tube, indeed.

Posted in Games in education on 15 - March 2010 at 03:34 PM (14 years ago) 257 views.

Question: Why should a school allow youtube?

Answer: Khan Academy

(with thanks to Mr. Byrne for the link)

Do you need more money? We need to win this thing!

Posted in Games in education on 05 - February 2010 at 06:15 PM (14 years ago) 281 views.

We are embarking on our first year in the FIRST (more) robotics program at our school.  Because we are a “rookie” team, we have been showered with help from people, organizations, and our alumni. FIRST is an expensive proposition for our school, and we have been truly, truly blessed with gifts from corporate organizations (yes, Credit Suise, we love you).

The activity is a case-study in experiential learning. The students are fantastically excited about this, and seeing their drive, passion, and energy is truly inspiring.  This project has, in many ways, “woken up” our students.  When a group of 17 year old kids get energized and focused, it is truly an amazing thing to behold.

Funny thing about alumni, though. When there is a competition, and school pride gets in the mix, they get excited. The quote above is real, and reminds me why I love being in education.

Frontline’s digital nation documentary

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Games in education Practical Advice Teaching Diary on 03 - February 2010 at 08:37 PM (14 years ago) 324 views.

I sent this email to my faculty - in the high school and elementary school:

Last night PBS aired a remarkable documentary about digital life in 2010.  I found the documentary truly, truly, exceptional. I would really appreciate if you could take the time to watch this - perhaps this evening or this weekend.

Last week I sent you a link to a study that stated the average child spends 10.4 hours a day using some type of media. I think we could all benefit from a discussion about how technology is changing the way our children learn, think, and see the world.

I hope to lead a more thoughtful discussion about computers, media, and learning this year. Until then, I would really appreciate if you could watch this documentary.

Here is a reply I received from a teacher:

I did watch the Frontline documentary, “Digital Nation,” last evening, and I must say that it was, as is customary of Frontline, very incisive and comprehensive.  Many parts of the program, particularly those addressing the effects of technology on young people, were very unnerving.  The situation in Korea should be seen as cautionary to the western world, particularly to us here in America with our almost idolatrous love for all things technological.  That poor Korean mother has already “lost” her son to computer games, as far as I’m concerned because the son as lost his soul to the machines.  I felt both sad and angry when I saw that part.

For my part, as an educator and specifically as a language educator, I have very mixed feelings about the use of technology in the classroom.  On one hand, it has made it possible to access, literally, the world with the click of a mouse.  But I am equally concerned about the “losses”:  the loss of true attentiveness; the loss of the printed word; the loss of community and relationships and the increase of anonymity and the impersonal.  “Digital Nation” posed many, hard questions about this but offered no easy answers.  That’s where we come in.  But it is very important that those questions get asked.

Designing video games helps kids learn?

Posted in Games in education on 27 - January 2010 at 03:50 PM (14 years ago) 255 views.

Courtesy of Science Daily (pdf here) comes a study that suggests rapid video game development can boost student learning.  From the article:

“Now, computer scientists in the US think that creating computer games, rather than just playing them could boost students’ critical and creative thinking skills as well as broaden their participation in computing.”

This is actually quite interesting.  First of all, I agree with the premise, designing video games has tremendous educational potential.  Especially modding a game.  Why? Students can easily see the relationship between major dynamics.  If the kids build a civil war simulator, they can see how transportation, economy, technology, public opinion, foreign relations, etc… are related.  However, I have never been successful designing video games with my students because it takes a long time.  Even a reasonably simple mod can take several months.  When students do design a game, I find the quality is often quite poor. This is why I often think it is better to mod a commercial, off the shelf game than to create something from scratch.

This particular article discusses an idea about rapid game creation - I think holds promise.  I would like to see the model or an example, to get an idea of what the final product is like, and how it was designed.

Poland goes PEGI

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Games in education on 08 - January 2010 at 09:32 PM (14 years ago) 270 views.

The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system is analogous to the ESRB.  Looks like Poland has recently adopted PEGI for games. The classification system they use is quite similar to ESRB, and I welcome any effort to help parents understand how to make informed choices about games.

Game Research - updated December 2009

Posted in Games in education on 14 - December 2009 at 07:37 PM (14 years ago) 275 views.

I hate link rot.  I had all these great games in education research links, and now 90% are defunct.  Whenever I can, I upload the PDF’s directly to my server so the information can be easily found. 

I’m now re-writing my research in games in education list. Everything will be stored locally - with links back to the source, of course.  If I am breaking some obligation or license agreement, please contact me and I will be happy to remove the offending PDF or change the link so it complies with your license agreement.

That being said, here’s my current list of great research in games in education:

The use of computer games as an educational tool: identification of appropriate game types and game elements
APA: Playing Video Games Offers Learning Across Lifespan, Say Studies
Computer Games as a Part of Children’s Culture
The Learning Game
Why Are Video Games Good For Learning?
Changing the Game:
What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?

Epistemic frames for epistemic games
Video games and the future of learning
What Can K-12 School Leaders Learn from Video Games and Gaming?
Games Development
Kirriemuir on games
Turkish Prospective Teachers’ Perceptions Regarding the Use of Computer Games with Educational Features
Women and games
Prospective Teachers
Summit on Educational Games
Games, Cookies, and the Future of Education

Balanced Gaming

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education News Personal on 01 - September 2009 at 05:06 PM (14 years ago) 282 views.

Hello there!

I’ve started a consulting business called Balanced Gaming.  Balanced Gaming is targeted towards three groups:

1. Gamers - I’d like to talk to you about how to enjoy computer games in the context of a balanced life. Click here to learn more.
2. Parents - I can help you understand how to guide, support, and evaluate computer games and media use for your kids. Click here to learn more.
3. Schools - Computer and video games are powerful learning tools - when used correctly.  I can help you understand how games work in education. Click here to learn more.

If you’d like to connect with me, and learn a little more, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

I would appreciate your help is spreading the word about this.

Why do people play computer games?

Posted in Games in education on 07 - July 2009 at 04:56 PM (14 years ago) 391 views.

People play games for different reasons at different times.

Richard Bartle was one of the first to present a coherent theory about this -  the bartle test. Another researcher, Nick Yee questioned Bartles findings in his daedalus project.

Bartle initially started with 4 player types below:


Bartle increased his graph to 8 types. He discusses these types at length in this article on his website :


source for above content.

Nick Yee had a different perspective than Bartle, and presented the following reasons play mmorpg’s source) :


I think people probably are generally one specific player type, but drift into other types as they play.

a good idea, a great idea

Posted in Games in education on 26 - June 2009 at 06:17 PM (14 years ago) 232 views.

Learning games network has this really cool contest - from the horses mouth:

(I) My “Aha” Moment
What’s an “aha” moment, you ask? Have you ever played a game and unexpectedly made a connection with something you learned someplace else? Something that made you think, “Aha!” If you’ve experienced that spark of realization, that moment of epiphany between an idea from a game and something you learned - at school, at home, or anywhere else - tell us about it in your video.

What game were you playing? How did you connect it to something else you had learned? When and where were you when you made the connection — re-playing the game, studying for a test, reading a textbook, doing your homework, crossing the street? We want to know!

(II) My Dream Assignment
Imagine you’re a teacher or coach assigning homework or a class activity that requires students to play a game in a favorite class, in one they’re having trouble with, or in a subject area where they just want to do better. Do you have an idea for a great game for learning?

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have connected in-game experiences with real-world stuff. And I see this happening with my students all the time.  The neat thing is, as kids get very excited about games, they also connect that excitement with classroom content. I have told this story many times, one of my 8th grade students (a low achieving student) had been playing Age of Empires and during social studies class excitedly starting talking about his experience in the game with his class (this from a kid who normally “laid low” in class).

Actually, this is how games work in education. The kids play the game, and then refelct on the experience to create tangible (measurable) learning outcomes).  I know many (many) gamers who said civilization got them through world history.

I can’t wait to see the results of this competition, and send major kudos to the folks at learning games network for this idea. If you haven’t joined this contest, please do - and pass the word!

Best way to learn programming for a 16 year old? Build a game….

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice Teaching Diary on 28 - April 2009 at 05:00 PM (about 15 years ago) 297 views.

I work at a school for gifted kids.  One of my great joys is having long, highly detailed technical talks with the kids.  When I first started working at this school, I was shocked when I engaged in a 45 minute debate about cross-side scripting with a 7th grader (13 years old).  I mean, this kid REALLY understood his stuff.

Yesterday I had another such conversation. One of our students is just eons ahead of his peers as a programmer and geek. He generally likes to frolic with low-level code, device drivers, and small servers.  He has a well-reasoned philosophy that light-weight, locally compiled code connected to the cloud is better than scripting languages and monolithic programs.  Really neat stuff.  We don’t see eye-to-eye about everything, but from a geek point of view, he is a delight. He is, in every sense, an implementor.

So, part of discussion yesterday was around “what to do” with a program. Like, what direction to take.  After a few seconds thought, I told him to write a game! As I reflect, almost all of my programming knowledge and experience came from designing games, hacking games, and rolling my own game. Even now, I occasionally hack at a multiplayer text-based game and continue to learn. Time and complexity be damned! I’m sure he will write something really fun, and I can’t wait to play with it.

This is the magic I see in computer games - observe the time, enthusiasm, and energy they spend with computers. It really is intriguing.

Now. A Practical Note (tm) - Making / modding a game takes a long long time in my opinion, not for in-class work. However, as long as there are good guidelines for outcomes (so the kid doesn’t spend 10 hours making a flaming sword with an accurate heat ratio) hacking at a game is a delightful way to learn.

Exceptional article on video game addiction

Posted in Blogging Games in education on 16 - April 2009 at 04:43 PM (15 years ago) 239 views.

This is the best article I have ever read about video game addiction. PERIOD. Fair, balanced, and even-keeled.  I highly commend everyone to read this. 😊

I think, in time, scientists will connect that “dopamine-pattern-fun” thing that Raph Koster talks about with gamers.  I think most people can enjoy games without any trouble, but I think the unique thing about computer games is how they “tickle” our brains. And I think, for a small percentage of people, that turns out to be problematic.

Please click here for a pdf in case the link goes dead (as of this post, the page is being slashdotted).

The fourth type of game - kagfs

Posted in Games in education on 13 - April 2009 at 05:21 PM (15 years ago) 235 views.

When I talk about educational games, I usually talk about three types of games (see original blog post here).

Without belaboring it:

COTS -commercial, off the shelf
Serious games

There has been an emergence of a fourth category of game, I’m calling it kick-ass-game-for-schools (kagfs). The qualities of a kagfs include:

1. Very high production value
2. Content-accurate information (like, accurate representation of history, medical information, government structure, etc…)
3. Really good tools for reporting individual student progress to teachers
4. All the stuff that make COTS games good like:

4.1 ...dynamic, adjustable difficulty
4.2 ...easy early goals
4.3 experience invites entrance into Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of “flow
4.4 ...allows different player types to enjoy the game
4.5 a game a kid would want to play at home (this is kind of my ultimate litmus test for games in education)

I have only seen one instance of a kagfs, at muzzy lane but a recent feed popped up on my rss reader: t.h.e. journal had a piece titled: Researchers Study Effects of Educational Games on Math Achievement by Scott Aronowitz. I think this might be another example of a kagfs link here for dimensionM. But I need to play this game to see.

It looks like there is some snazzy instruction stuff on the front end, and then the kids explore a pretty cool-looking interactive world, applying the math skills they are studying.

The only thing I don’t enjoy: stopping the game while the kid solves a math problem. Update: after playing their demo, I kind of nudge this particular game into the edutainment arena. Gorgeous production values, great tutorial, but zapping all the transmitters that have an even number? That doesn’t quite fit into my kagfs category.

Anyone else see any kagfs?

Informal Learning and Video Games

Posted in Games in education on 28 - January 2009 at 07:16 PM (15 years ago) 235 views.

Great article entitled: Public Pedagogy through Video Games by James Paul Gee and Elizabeth Hayes (pdf here)

I think about computer and games learning in basically two ways.  Informal learning and formal learning. These aren’t exclusive viewpoints, nor are they necessarily contradictory. 

Formal learning using video games happens in a classroom, with highly structured lesson design, and clear assessment of learning objectives.  I advocate this type of use of video games because it fits with my occupation; an instructional designer and computer teacher.  I’ve always been focused on proving that video games are effective instructional tools.  if you are interested in a quick guide for games in education, click here (you can also click here to see everything I’ve written about games in education).

Informal learning refers to the inherent, automatic, and natural learning that happens when people play video games. It is this area that scholars like Gee and Schaeffer write so eloquently. My summary of their thinking is that games are inherently educational and computer games are excellent and complex learning systems. Just playing a complex computer game is educational.

I happen to agree with the informal learning ideas, but I spend more time thinking about formal uses.

In comes the above article, which is really good for understanding why computer games are inherently educational. The article discusses design, resources, and what the authors call call “affinity spaces”.

Board games in the classroom?

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 30 - December 2008 at 11:22 PM (15 years ago) 255 views.

Another beautiful question:

Hello, I am a fifth grade teacher and would like to use games to help the students learn. My school, though, does not have the resources for computer
based games. I was wondering if their were any simulation board games that I could use. I was thinking something similar to Avalon Hills Blitzkrieg. I
have heard of some that teach the pioneer life. I have been scouring the internet for help but have come up with nothing. I thank you for any help.

My answer:

Hey Craig!

Nice to meet you.  Actually, board games have more educational value than computer games, in that players often see the mechanics behind game outcomes, whereas computer games people only see outcomes. 

Any teacher can make anything education (almost.) The key thing is to ask the kids to think about what they are doing.  So you can play great games, but if you don’t ask the kids to reflect on the experience, then while minimally educational, they won’t get as much out of it.  I hope this makes sense - it’s the basic “how games in education work” message I’ve been pushing for years now. 

Create essential questions about XYZ. Teach the kids about XYZ, play a board game, reflect on the experience, build assessment tools. This is bread and butter teacher stuff.  The game will get your kids very excited and involved. Make sure they know all the rules, and ask them how this game is (and isn’t) like your topic of study.  Ask them to simulate certain scenarios.

I love that you are looking at war games - fun and exciting. Here’s a list I think you can use with 5th graders:

1. Diplomacy
2. Axis and Allies (there are different theaters - all work)
3. Risk

There are more, of course - but as long as you use strong instructional design, you’ll be fine.

Good luck, and please keep me in the loop.

What would you teach a group of 11 year old kids about text based games - part 4

Posted in Games in education on 10 - November 2008 at 04:51 PM (15 years ago) 202 views.

part 1  part 2 part 3

We began our explorations of MUSHes today.  In a nutshell, the activity was slightly disappointing, but I learned something important (especially at the end of the class).

We logged into a world war 2 mush and began character generation.  This was the first difference the kids noticed - interactive fiction had no CG and the mud we played had a minimal CG process.  The kids chose skills, attributes, nation of origin, looked at descriptions, and backgrounds. After about 10 minutes of character generation, the kids started to complain “I just want to play!”.

We continued, though, and they enjoyed looking and choosing the skills. There was a very entertaining conversation about flamethrowers. Still, though there was some impatience. They chose complimentary roles they thought would make a good party, and as with other text-based games we have played, they were incredibly excited and interested (but a bit impatient). 

We finally got to the training grounds, and the kids learned the commands for targeting and shooting. This was very different for them, as the combat system worked on a time-based point system (we are on mush, after all). The talk soon turned towards “this is boring” and “when do we get to attack stuff”? One of the kids seemed especially disappointing there wasn’t a flamethrower around for him to use. Heh.

So I realized at this point I had made a mistake. The mush we were on is actually very well designed, and well coded.  The problem was we were trying to play a mush like a mud. With the kids becoming exasperated, I told them we were going to role play new privates in the army during world war 2. We had already gone through character generation, so the kids had a sense of their character.  I taught them how to pose, and we discussed our pose order, and we got started.

The complaining immediately stopped, the room became quiet, and the conversation began! The kids were acting like solders, and having a blast. They were in-character, and acting like, well, new recruits. They responded to each other in character and were having fun.

I told them we might play a “pure rp” mush next week, and I apologized to them. They were quite understanding. They remain very excited about making their own game. We are going to explore how different games are made over the next few weeks before settling on a specific text-based domain.

Paper and Pencil games

Posted in Games in education on 23 - September 2008 at 02:02 AM (15 years ago) 230 views.

So here’s an interesting tidbit:

I recently visited my two brothers, (15 and 17).  Being a Self Respecting Geek, I decided to introduce them to dungeons and Dragons (4th edition, thank you). The games went swimmingly, and they are both excited to play again (and did you know 2 third level characters can beat a young white dragon? I was impressed…). 

Both of my brothers enjoy computer games (one a bit more than the other) and they both play Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

First of all, I was delighted that D&D still has the fun factor.  After just 3 gaming sessions, the boys were laughing about critical misses, low initiative rolls, and funny moments during the game. The concentration, the intense arguing about tactics, the frantic grab for the Players Handbook - everything clicked in the game.  It was really fun.

Secondly, I observed how they dealt with complexity.  Unlike computer RPG’s, D&D doesn’t try to hide to hide numbers, armor class, or math that influence a combat or action.  In computer games, there is button mashing, and the computer runs the numbers.  In D&D, I was pleased when I saw my brothers split apart so the archer would be flanking the dragon they were fighting (this confers combat advantage, which adds a +2 to hit).  I was also pleased to hear them argue about how to effectively use their at-will, daily, and encounter powers effectively.  The boys were actually arguing about dice averages!!!

An all-around win.



Teens video games and civics

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 21 - September 2008 at 06:07 PM (15 years ago) 251 views.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has published a very interesting report entitled Teens, Video Games and Civics (PDF here).

I can’t believe 97% of teens play video games.  I mean, 70% to 80%,  ok, yea. But 97%? Wow. 

The report is a must-read for anyone who is interested in teens, technology,  and education.

My interest in using games in education stems from the observation I made while I was the club advisor for the yu-gi-oh club. “Low ability” students were spending crazy amount of time, energy and mental muscle on this game.  The rules were complex, with branching conditions and fascinating strategies.

As I looked at computer games, I saw the same thing; kids who might be labeled as dis-invested in school or “low scorers” were crazy about these games!  The inequality between school behavior and game behavior was stunning. Joey is a poor writer? Why is he writing 200 page game guides?!?!?

I don’t claim to have a magic formula, but the basic idea is to use COTS games in the classroom with strong instructional design; that is, include the game the way you might include a DVD, field trip, guest speaker, or special project. Talk about the content area, play the game, and then talk about how you can apply the lessons in the game to the content area.

Text-based games with a group of 11 year old kids

Posted in Games in education Text-based gaming on 17 - September 2008 at 09:45 PM (15 years ago) 243 views.

I’ve started teaching a small group of 4th and 5th graders (age 10 and 11) about text based games.  We are meeting in an after school program. I wrote my first introduction about this project here and cross-posted it to to a couple of community listserves.

Yesterday was our first class, and I admit, I was nervous.  How would a 11 year old kid respond to a text-based game in 2008? My anxiety increased as one of the kids asked me if we were going to design video games. I told him no, we might design text-based games if we have time. I started with an introduction “you are about to play one of the very first computer games” (ok, a bit of a stretch, but it’s kind of close). Enticed, they started typing

On the screen, a blue screen with the words “You are standing West of a white house….”

I wrote the cardinal directions on a whiteboard, as well as some commands they might need (look, i, open, close, etc..).  Then they began.  There was some initial playing with the parser:

kid ->  “you are stupid”
Zork -> “I don’t know the word “you”
kid -> “what am I supposed to do?”

I teased them a bit. “Make sure you examine everything, and if you find a weapon, I strongly suggest you get it…never know when you’re going to run into a troll who wants to eat you….”

The kids looked at me in disbelief. Troll? Weapons? Combat? WHERE?! They became glued to their screens and excitedly started pointing and yelling.

I was almost brought to tears (literally) when a young voiced piped up “Um, Mr. MacKenty, What’s a Grue?”.  I immediately halted the class and we reviewed the wikipedia entry about grues. I carefully explained that grues are sort of like rattlesnakes, in that they like to be left alone - but if they are annoyed, they might eat you. I told them if they want to avoid being eaten, it’s best to have some light available.  Immediately they started asking each other about the brass lantern in the old white house.

It was about 35 minutes into the class I realized how utterly and completely captivated the kids were. I mean, they were literally glued to the screens; in a state of flow - they were consulting invisclues, they had printed maps, and they were trying to write a guide to solve the game quickly.  It was a wonderful experience.

They didn’t solve zork, we ran out of time. But they did download the interpreter and the z machine files to usb drives so they could play it at home.

We’ll continue with Zork I next week, and I hope to introduce MUD’s the week after. 

This is why I love teaching.

2008 Conference Notes Games in Education Conference

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 19 - August 2008 at 07:45 PM (15 years ago) 261 views.

The Right Circumstances for Games to work in Education (1.8mb pdf file)


News story: Video games help children learn

Posted in Games in education on 19 - August 2008 at 12:28 PM (15 years ago) 222 views.

CNN is running a story about video games being educational (pdf here).

A quick note: there are different ways of understanding “learning” and “educational”.  I do believe that many video games improve and strengthen cognitive skills. I also see how video games can help students frame certain issues.

However, when I talk about video games and education, the type of learning I usually talk about is how teachers can use video games in the classroom effectively.

So - it’s not that I find this story incorrect or troubling in any way - I’m looking at video games in a slightly more structured manner (that is, inside the classroom).


Three types of games in education

Posted in Games in education on 28 - July 2008 at 06:45 PM (15 years ago) 224 views.

I’ve used three different kinds of games in my classroom. The purpose of this blog post is to help teachers understand the differences, similarities, and characteristics of the three types of games.

COTS - Commercial, Off the Shelf game.

I’ve covered COTS games for a while. COTS games are designed for the mass market - they are designed for enjoyment, challenge, and fun. COTS games can often cost many millions of dollars to make, and a hit game (AAA title) can generate hundreds of millions of dollars. COTS games are increasingly being released for the personal computer and consoles.

COTS games offer:

1. High production value (very high quality graphics and sound)
2. Low technical problems and very strong technical support
3. Strong user communities (fan sites, active forums, etc…)
4. Often these games have very active modding communities
5. Work on a fairly new machines; older computers (more than 3 years) might have problems.
6. Run locally (from the internal hard disk)
7. Have exceptionally good gameplay
8. Very good tutorials, which check for understanding
9. Adjust difficulty based on the players skills
10. A game kids want to play at home


Many teachers are familiar with these titles - Millies Math House, Reader Rabbit, Sammy’s Science House The hallmark of these games are kid-friendly graphics with gameplay that follows a “solve these problems and get to the next fun thing to do”. Sometimes players are asked to do something like bowl for math problems. The general feel of the games is really fun math or reading worksheets.

These games are fun, and build basic skills. They are valuable and good learning tools. In my context of games in education, these games generally don’t fit well. They are a little to oriented to the drilling model (but who says drilling has to be no fun?).

Characteristics of edutainment titles:

1. Marketed exclusively for schools / education
2. Content-specific (titles focusing on math, reading, spelling, foreign language, etc)
3. Marketed for specific age or grade levels
4. ESRB ratings are often intended for general
5. The back-story of the game i
6. Gameplay is generally segmented and measured around learning objectives

Serious games

Serious games are a relatively new phenomena (although people have been seriously playing games for a long time). Here’s wikipedia’s view on the matter; I like what they say. I think of serious games a single-topic, highly specific semi-simulations.

Serious games have similar profiles:

1. They are usually web-based (flash or shockwave)
2. They usually have a very specific theme (peace in the mideast,
3. They are not meant to be in-depth simulations, they are meant to model the most important dynamics
4. They are short-term games
5. They are deliberately designed to teach, explain an issue, or clarify the dynamics of an issue
6. The point is to simplify complex issues

I’ll blog more about these types of games, and provide some examples of each game in action - in the classroom.

Railroad Tycoon III in the classroom

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 19 - July 2008 at 06:59 AM (15 years ago) 278 views.

I got this great question and thought I’d answer it here:

Wow, great site. I teach 8th graders and avidly incorporate games into my
classroom and in an after school strategy gaming club. We play Civ II,
Stronghold, and Medieval Total War II.

This year I will be teaching a class of 10th grade American History and am
excited to use the demo of Railroad Tycoon III (official site) with the students. Do you
know of any lesson plans or links to sites that give suggestions on how best to incorporate Rail Tycoon 3 into the classroom. Thanks so much.

First of all, my congratulations to you! It sounds like you are pretty advanced.  I applaud your efforts to use games in your classroom. I’m running an after-school program next year for text-based games - maybe we can compare notes. I suspect your strategy gaming club is more fun, though. I once ran a micro-armour club after-school club and the kids loved it (despite the complexity of a paper-and-pen rule set). 

First of all, some lessons on railroads and the Transcontinental Railway (via this google search) :

1. General lesson plans for the industrial revolution (but not directly tied into Rail Road Tycoon III)
2. PBS Railroad lesson plans
3. Discovery Railroad lesson plans
4. Edsite Transcontinental railroad lessons
5. Another decent looking lesson for railroads - with an emphasis on reading

The second part of your question, “links to sites that give suggestions on how best to incorporate Rail Tycoon 3 into the classroom” can be answered here:

When I’m using games in the classroom, I don’t think ” I have a game, how can I use it to teach INSERT LESSON OBJECTIVE HERE ?”.  Instead, I think “I have to teach LESSON OBJECTIVE HERE, are games the best choice, and will they do the trick?”.  I’m sure you are using games wisely - but please read some basic criteria I’ve discussed before decided to use games in your classroom.  And please remember, the single most important part of using games in your teaching is instructional design. As I often say, if you stick a kid in front of a game for an hour, and expect something magical to happen, you are going to be disappointed.

You are teaching 10th grade American History, and I’m sure some part of that teaching will involve the transcontinental railroad. In New York State, there are plenty of standards you could use. The cool thing about Railroad Tycoon series is the simulation element - so you could ask your kids to set up some “what if” scenarios, and perhaps incorporate the game into a bigger role-play in your classroom.

You could also use Railroad Tycoon to talk about economic development during this period.  From wikipedia:

The objective of the game is to build and manage a railroad company by laying track, building stations, and buying and scheduling trains. The game models supply and demand of goods and passengers as well as a miniature stock market on which players can buy and sell stock of their own or competing companies.

I hope I’ve answered your question - again, I’d like to offer my congratulations to you, and I’m eager to hear how Railroad Tycoon works for you!

Text based games in an after school program

Posted in Games in education Text-based gaming on 22 - June 2008 at 04:13 PM (15 years ago) 264 views.

I’ll be running an after-school class in text-based games next year (starting September 2008).  I’m quite excited about it, and there seems to be interest from many in the school community.

I’ve developed a tentative outline, and I have begun reaching out to others in the text-based gaming community to get some ideas and feedback. I’ll keep track of my progress here on my blog, and I’m really looking forward to running this class.

The class would last an entire school year (September through June), meeting once a week. So we would be looking at about 30 class meeting times (probably more like 20 with interruptions and field trips).

I have thought about this a bit, and here’s my basic outline:

Text based games

The classics:

play part of Adventure
play part of zork I
play a multiplayer text based game (but this is tricky as they will
all be minors)


Talk about different code bases
Play some muds:
science fiction
popular fiction
build a mud using (mud code base 1)
build a mud using (mud code base 2)
interviewing a mud builder
interviewing a mud creator


Talk about different mushes
Play some MUSHES:
science fiction
popular fiction
Build a mush using the pennmush server


playing muxes
playing a Battle tech mux

Interactive fiction

The big difference in interactive fiction and MU*‘s
playing IF: play some games
designing IF using Inform 7
Puzzles: what makes a puzzle fun?

Good writing

How to write a good story
How to write a good bad guy
General game skills
How to run a TP (tiny plot, from the mu* world)
Coded systems versus free form RP


MMORPG’s in education

Posted in Games in education on 01 - June 2008 at 05:18 PM (15 years ago) 253 views.

Mark Wagner has finished his dissertation! Many congrats to Mark.

His dissertation, MMORPGs in Education, asks if MMORPG’s can be educational, and under what conditions.  This paragraph, from a draft of the conclusion, is so perfect about some problems of implementing games in education:

If such a paradigm shift is a desired destination, the road will likely be a long and difficult one. The results of this study suggest that significant infrastructure and logistical challenges may lay ahead for any implementation of MMORPGs in schools. Infrastructure challenges may include student access to computers, hardware requirements, and bandwidth requirements. Logistical issues may include great costs, in terms of finances, time, and human resources. Even more significant may be the kinds of organizational change necessary for successful implementation, particularly given the likelihood of resistance not only on account of MMORPGs being seen as videogames, but also on account of the tendency of educators and educational institutions to resist innovations in educational technology.

Again, that games are educational is without doubt. but the devil is in the details - and they are formidable. But this study contributes heartily to the informed discussion of how we can use these important tools. I’ll keep working on it!

The right circumstances for games in education to work

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 24 - April 2008 at 03:35 AM (about 16 years ago) 289 views.

That games in education “work” is without question. When used properly, games can uniquely motivate, teach, and encourage our students. If you really use games effectively, you can motivate poor performing or under-performing students; you can help bright students ask important questions and relevant questions about themselves and their world; you can help gifted kids simulate highly complex systems.

However, it is not simply a matter of sticking a kid in front of a computer game and hoping for the best.  There are a specific set of circumstances which must coalesce in order for games to work.

The Right Teacher

A good teacher must plan a lesson, measure learning, and ask the right question at the right time. Using computer games for learning, a teacher must have special clarity concerning learning objectives, scope, and assessment. But the teacher must also have strong technical acumen, a sense of adventure, and positive experience playing games.

Asking the right questions and setting context before the game is played is important. The right teacher will probably understand regularly interrupting game play is a bad idea. After the game is over (perhaps in the next class), it’s critical to debrief and discuss the learning experience.

Being a geek helps.

The Right Students

When planned well, games work for 90% of the students I’ve encountered (of all ability levels).  However, there is a group of students who simply don’t “do” computer games - no big deal, it’s simply not their thing.

Gifted and talented students require special mention here.

First of all, when I talk about gifted and talented students, I’m talking about the top 5% of the top 5%.  These students are quite rare, but you must understand something about this kid: they grok patterns REALLY quickly. And as we know, games are essentially really fun patterns (here and here). They also seem to have higher-than-average motivation to learn. 

I’ve not yet found a clear and consistent way for gifted kids to use games to enhance their learning - however, there is great promise in the modding community, and in the building of their own games. I wrote a brief piece about my confusion how to use games with talented kids. But I am increasingly aware that building complex systems fits well into the gifted realm (and games model complex system really well).

The Right Parents

It’s ok if your parents are clueless about technology, but you might run into some trouble with parents who are afraid of computers or computer games.  This is where clear planning plays an important role. If you can approach a parent, and clearly explain the activity, and demonstrate learning objectives, most parents will see that this isn’t a waste of time. It also helps if you’ve spent some building relationships with parents and at parent groups.

As if it needs to be said, this is an area where your choice of game, and your learning objectives will be tested. Most parents have a finely tuned bullshit meter. If you say “we are playing World of Warcraft and the kids are learning about swords”. You will have earned the right for them to complain to you and your administrator.

The Right Game

I have an opinion that the best type of game for use in education are COTS games (more).  Not everyone shares my opinion, for perfectly good reasons. However, as you read on, please understand I’m giving you my opinion - that COTS games are the best choice for games in education.

A game has to be a good game before it can be a good educational game. This is why I shun edutainment titles, and games designed especially for education (there are some magnificent exceptions).

This isn’t to say there isn’t value in edutainment titles, just not the kids of education I’m talking about here. So here is what makes a game educational:

1) The game has an educationally-accessible context (historical, contemporary, hard science-fiction)
2) Game play has genuinely educationally-accessible content (Age of Empires has a great educational context, but lousy educational gameplay)
3) Success depends on intelligent choices and decisions (not twitch)
4) Failure exists and teaches when it happens. It is possible to lose
5) The tutorial is crystal clear, and checks for understanding
6) There are multiple victory conditions
7) The feedback model is short - students can quickly see how a decision effects a larger whole picture
8) The game becomes increasingly challenging and difficult

You have to get four things right when you use a computer game:

It has to work right and well.  Technical problems are disastrous in games in education. Short classes and limited technical support make technical problems a serious issue.

It has to be fun. It doesn’t get boring.  A guiding mantra should be “if it’s not fun, why do it?”.  This is why we always think about the game first and then educational potential.

It has to be challenging at different levels of abilities.  Some students are naturally interested in technology and games, others are not.  As much as something which is very difficult can cause problems, so can something which is very easy.  Levels of difficulty help alleviate this situation.

The game need to be accessible for different types of players (ala Bartle player types). Explorers, achievers, griefers, and socializers.  There should be something in the game for everyone.

The Right Administrator

If you are working in a school with colossally stupid administrators, you will not be able to use games in your classroom.  However, I’ve found most administrators are not stupid. Most of them are open to new methodologies, but demand some sort of evidence or plan. 

I often talk about building credibility and trust with administrators. It is important to build trust with your building leaders. Games in education are a novel thing,and frought with potential failure. Most administrators should approach the topic with a measure of distrust. Thus it is up to the teacher to provide clear learning objectives and clear plan for using games. 

The Right Support

The right support comes from the teacher who is using the games in class.  In my experience, schools often have little technical support.  If there is a technical problem, the teacher must be able to solve the issue in class. It’s really that simple.  I suppose I could of put this in the right teacher section, but support deserves it’s own mention.

Can Eve Online be played casually?

Posted in Games in education Personal on 02 - December 2007 at 10:26 PM (16 years ago) 234 views.

This is the second in a series of blog posts  which focus on eve-online. The last question I focused on was could eve-online be educational?  The answer: maybe, but probably not.

Now I’d like to focus on casual gaming (also see here for casual game).  The question: can eve online be played casually?

Eve is, of course, a MMORPG. These games have traditionally catered to hardcore gamers, and demand from players a large investment in time.  That is, the longer you play, the more quickly you ascend and become more “powerful” in the game world. Some games become quite difficult for new gamers as the older, more powerful players have a monopoly on the best items, skills, and power (this is actually a criticism of Eve which I do not agree with). Another common experience of MMORPG’s is the “really fun” stuff is reserved for the more seasoned players (who are often pushing on the limits of the game world!). Adding to this interesting situation is the idea of guilds (or companies) in eve-speak. any missions in Ev simply cannot be won playing solo - it must be a team effort; this adds to the time sink that eve can become (although this is mitigated by Eve’s single-server solution).

The question is then, can I play Eve for a hour a day, or maybe an hour every 2 days, and still have fun?

My answer is yes. Eve is absolutely playable as a casual game, a few hours a week, and remains a fun, dynamic game. Among the more interesting aspects of Eve’s “casuability” are:

1) The skill system, which moves in real-time; it doesn’t matter if I am logged in or not, my avatar continues to gain in skills and “place” in the game. This is especially important as playing more doesn’t make your skills progress any faster.
2) The PvE game in Eve is rich. There are hundreds of agent missions, where I can login, take a mission, go have fun, and then logoff. The missions are cumulative; the more I do, the more I “stand” in an organization.
3) Eve is a single-sharded game. This means the game isn’t segmented into separate servers. Instead, the game is one giant virtual world; there is always someone on to help, or play with.
4) The storyline is not one. There aren’t epic quests one must complete; Eve is more of a sandbox which is fun to play in - you can really do your own thing (mine, produce stuff, fight, etc…)
5) Moving isn’t slow - jumping from one system to another system is pretty fast, so if I want to meet some friends, I can do so without having to wait for a long time.
6) For me, Eve works brilliantly on OS X, so I can play at home for an hour or so, and still have time for fun, exercise, and life.

There is huge PvP aspect of Eve, but I haven’t played it. My sense is it doesn’t lend itself to casual gaming (since the other people who play PvP seem to play in groups!).

I think Eve is a great game, and is quite enjoyable as a casual experience. When starting Eve for the first time, I suggest setting aside 2 full hours to fully play the tutorial (it’s good, and it is supposed to get better with a new release).

Is Eve Online Educational?

Posted in Games in education on 25 - November 2007 at 06:03 AM (16 years ago) 237 views.

update: sorry for the odd characters, I pasted this in from pages and haven’t quite figured it out yet.

For those of who don’t know, .  Basically, Eve is a massively multiplayer online game (MMORPG). It is thematically a space game - taking place in the far future, allowing for fantastic technologies.

Eve holds the distinction of hosting all players in one virtual universe. This is different than other popular MMORPG’s, where the game is split into shards or different servers. Often times, there can be over 30,000 simultaneous players online at the same time, from all over the world.

A player in Eve chooses a race, and then travels through a richly realized space - trading, fighting, and interacting with players from all over the world.

I have 2 areas I’d like to explore about Eve: the educational potential, and if Eve can be played casually. 

Using my criteria for evaluating games in education let’s look at Eve-Online.

The game has an educationally-accessible context (historical, contemporary, hard science-fiction)

The Eve story: humans left earth many years ago and basically splintered into 4 different factions - factions which are so different after thousands of years that they are unrecognizable to each other.

There really isn’t anything to grab onto here; I would hard pressed to find some thread I could bring from the Eve story to a classroom. However, there are some really interesting things about Eve which are intriguing - but not the context.

Eve is a non-linear, morally ambiguous game. Good guys and bad guys aren’t clear, and there are no clear events which might trigger action by a player. Eve is very much a sandbox for choice - I’ll get to this in a moment.

Game play has genuinely educationally-accessible content

This item demands attention from the teacher guiding the students.  Distances are calculated using standard Au ( There is impressive choice tree for play path; be it pirate, merchant. industrialist, explorer, or miner. The skill tree is impressive, and it is extraordinarily difficult to become a master of all skills. Choices are real - that is, different choices make a noticeable difference in game play. The size of the game-world is staggering, and there are multiple, dynamic variables students must juggle in order to be successful. Players simply must work together in order to be successful.

Success depends on intelligent choices and decisions

Eve-Online is not a “twitch” game - success does not depend how quickly you can click on things (although in combat you may need to be a little fast). Success is more defined by the types of choices you make. For example, if you plan on mining, you will want to look at different types of Ores, where they are, and which markets are buying them at the highest prices. You also might want to have good skills in mining - you’ll quickly figure out the faster and more you can mine, the more profit you can make, and the more ships you can buy, etc…

Failure exists and teaches when it happens. It is possible to lose

One of things I love about games is how kids can fail in them and not get depressed and sad about loosing. Failing in Eve is VERY possible, and it is even possible for your avatar to be killed! Fortunately, Eve has instituted:

* High security space, where acts of aggression are very rare.
* Insurance on ships, so if you lose a ship, you can buy a new one.
* Clones, so if your avatar “dies” you can come back to life.
* Good chat channels, so you can learn what you did wrong by simply asking.

The tutorial is crystal clear, and checks for understanding

Yup. The tutorial in Eve-Online is good, walking the player through the GUI and checking for understanding. There is actually quite a bit of helpful instruction. There is a special “tutorial agent” you can activate if you have a question about something.

There are multiple victory conditions

Heh. There are /no/ victory conditions in Eve. This is Eve’s greatest strength and it’s biggest weakness. I don’t see a point in Eve where a player might say “I’m done” except when they are…there is no magic level, or year of completion. Very interesting stuff, actually. Eve can be played in many ways and be a fun game (this is a very difficult thing to do from a game design perspective).

The feedback model is short - students can quickly see how a decision effects a larger whole picture

Well, sort of. Although I have only played Eve for month, I am not aware of a larger plot in which I am involved - the game is purely self-interest for now. This may be due to my playing style, which is casual and occasional.

The game becomes increasingly challenging and difficult

Yes. Eve has two primary modes of play: PvE and PvP (Player versus Environment and Player versus Player). I am a PvE player, and I have found myself increasingly challenged.

The Final Verdict?

There is plenty of educational potential in Eve. However, I don’t think this is a game which would fit well in a traditional classroom - Eve is to big. Students see cause and effect, decision matrices, reputation management, money management, resource planning, and tactical decisions in every aspect of the game.

As I continue to explore Eve, I’ll continue to write about it. When I’m online, feel free to look me up - I’m Boris Enichov (a long time nome de plume for me).

Games and compulsive internet use

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 18 - November 2007 at 08:39 PM (16 years ago) 208 views.

Good article in the New York Times about compulsive Internet use and a special boot camp in South Korea to help kids.

My short response to the article

Relax. Some teenagers go over the deep end and get hooked on internet games and chatting.  Some teenagers drink to much, some teenagers don’t eat enough. Like anything else, teenagers need guidance, boundaries, support, and involved adults in their lives. There is no evidence that playing a computer game makes someone an addict.

But we often hear and read stories about such things happening in the news.

There are some unique characteristics about computers and the internet, though, that may invite teenagers to become hooked.


My slightly longer response to the article

All teenagers deal with some sort of angst as they move from an identity centered on child to an identity centered in adult. In fact, the central struggle in adolescents is one of identity.

I think many teenagers play computer games because in the computer game, teenagers experience success, control, and power. In fact they may not be experiencing these things in real life. Logging onto Eve Online or WoW, a teenager is a powerful presence; they help new players, battle powerful opponents, and see their abilities and stature grow. They may become part of a guild, and work together to solve especially complex puzzles.

But the central issue is one of identity. Games let teenagers explore the very important question: who am I?

And this is what I think is the central hook - this is why computer games are more likely to draw teenagers into them than other mediums - teenagers can pretend to be another person, get away from angst, and troubles, to a virtual place where they are (often literally) a king.

The problem, of course, is when teenagers get stuck in these games. As I mentioned above, teenagers need guidance, boundaries and support - involved adults need to balance care and letting go as teenagers find themselves.


Um, EA? What are you smoking?

Posted in Games in education on 10 - October 2007 at 07:53 PM (16 years ago) 237 views.

Interesting article in todays New York Times.  Looks like EA has made an agreement with BP the oil company for some in-game advertising in the new upcoming Sim City Societies (SimCity 5) .  Now, in-game advertising is sort of old news - slightly troubling as I don’t think it adds anything to a game and I find it offensive to market to kids - but that’s not what got my gander up.

The issue is that the oil companies engineers spoke with the sim city geeks. I’m sure BP’s engineers are smart, and I’m sure EA’s geeks are smart - that they accurately tried to define a decent relationship between pollution, type of energy, and happiness of your people. But here’s my question to the nice folks at EA:

How is BP’s commercial investment in the new Sim City effecting the pollution / energy / happiness algorithm?  If I put down a coal plant in the middle of my city, is my citizens happiness different than in previous versions?  What about clean and renewable energies? Are they fairly and accurately represented and modeled?

Here’s the thing: Simcity is a stable, well-know, respected game in the games-in-education space. It’s been used before we even started talking about serious games, and the COTS in education. If you’ve screwed with the simcity formula to pander to special interests or corporate interest, you will have killed one of the best games we’ve ever had.

Some answers to some common questions:

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 17 - July 2007 at 07:19 PM (16 years ago) 278 views.

1.  How can teachers who haven’t yet used video games in the classroom get started?

Play them!  I suggest you snuggle into a comfortable chair and try your hand at ANY of the following titles:

Sim City (any version)
Civilization (there are 4 versions, play any of them)
Age of Mythology (any version)
Age of Empires (any version)
Muzzy Lane - the Calm and the Storm

I’d stick with these. There are a bunch of games, which although quite popular, would be spectacularly inappropriate for the classroom.

2. What if there’s only one computer?

This is a common scenario in many schools. I would shy away from using the above games in a one-computer classroom for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s tremendously distracting for other students
  2. Games in the classroom work when we buffer the learning activity with questions and discussions before and after. This would be difficult with only a few students.
  3. Three or four kids can play around a single computer - but no more. I think managing time would be tough (if each group played for 40 minutes).

I would however, strongly recommend a computer lab for these activities (we could talk about the dysfunctional relationship many schools have with their computer labs if you want). If you have jigsaw learning games might work in a one-computer classroom.

3. What are some examples of clear learning outcomes for using games such as Civilization, Sims or Sim City in the classroom?

With Civilization, there are clear connections between science, growth, transportation, civil rights, history, and war. In Sims there are clear connections between working, education, and lifestyle.  In Age of Empires, we can see the relationship between kings, peasants…and we can ask kids to think about economics (cost/benefit, limited resources, etc…)

The truth is, any teacher can create good connections with these games…it’s about planning and assessment.

4. What are some of the most popular games teachers are using today?

Hmm. Popular? I’d say Sim City is probably the king of the hill. As we investigate games in education, Civilization emerges as a top contender, and Muzzy Lane’s title, the Calm and the Storm, is a great title (Muzzy Lane is an important step forward for games in education - I’ll tell you why in another blog post). I would also look at Age of Empires series.

5. What are the top three to five tips you would offer teachers who’d like to start using games to enrich curriculum?

1. Plan
2. Plan
3. Plan


The more specific you are with your learning objectives, the higher chance you have to succeed.  I think is true for any learning activity, not just games!

10 easy ways to miss the boat

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 17 - July 2007 at 06:06 PM (16 years ago) 257 views.

I encounter many teachers who are interested in using games in their classroom.  Most of them ask me how they can use games, and the nitty-gritty details surrounding lesson structure, assessment, and the like.

I decided to approach this questions backwards - what would be the best way to make sure games don’t work?!

1) Don’t plan anything. Just buy a random game and make the kids play it.

2) Don’t ask any important questions before they start playing.

3) Make sure you don’t connect playing the game with other learning activities - the kids should be isolated and disconnected from learning.

4) Ensure you don’t have clear learning objectives - be as foggy as possible.

5) Make sure you won’t assess the instructional activity

6) Choose a game that isn’t fun, or is a thinly veiled drill-and-kill activity. don’t use a COTS game.

7) Make sure you choose a game that does not allow saving and restarting from save points

8) Make sure you don’t talk to your technician about using games. Make sure you don’t check that the game works on your computers.

9) Under no circumstances should you play the game. No way. Make sure you don’t know anything about the game.

10) Choose a game that only allows one way of playing - make sure you VIGOROUSLY squelch any exploration or curiosity about the game.

Using Civilization in class

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 07 - July 2007 at 08:47 PM (16 years ago) 271 views.

Got a great email question about using civilization in the classroom:

  Could you give me any details you have on how I could devise a programme
  that allows students to do this, or could you put me in contact with a
  school that has done this? I am sure there is much more to it than
  explaining the game and then letting them play for a few lessons, so please
  help me make it as worthwhile and brilliant as possible.

The key point is objective clarity: what do you want your students to know?  That Civilization is a brilliant learning tool goes without saying it’s fantastic, and your students will be highly motivated and engaged.

1. I want to enrich student understanding of history by _______________ . (describe the activity)
2. When students are done with this educational activity they will understand _____________ . (be very specific - what will they know?)
3. I will prove they know more about ____________ by ______________ . (assessment)
4. Before they start playing, I will ask them the following Key Questions:

5. After they are done playing (about 10 minutes before class is over) I’ll ask them to answer the questions again.

Here’s some specific suggestions about actually using Civilization:

1. Make sure everything works - the game is installed, no technical hiccups. Make sure the kids can save

2. Tell the kids when they first play “when you first start playing, you are going to be very confused. You will only be confused for about 30 to 45 minutes, and then you will understand how this works, so please be patient”.

3. Attach a computer to a LCD projector and play the game while the kids watch. Make sure to vocalize EVERYTHING you are doing ie: “Now I’m going to start building a granary…I’m going to click on the civopedia link to see what benefits I get from a granary.”

4. If you think your kids can handle friendly competition, set up a civilization score chart

5. Don’t interrupt game play - let them get into “flow”. Give them 10 minute warning and then 5 minute warning prior to the activity ending

6. Allow for open reactions and responses - this is why you got into teaching, yes? To help students make connections about themselves and the world around them.

If I may direct your attention to some relevant blog posts:

I wish you the best of luck, and please don’t hesitate to ask more questions!!

Interviewed on podcast

Posted in Games in education on 07 - May 2007 at 06:49 PM (about 17 years ago) 238 views.

I’ve been interviewed by javelin, the ex-maintainer of pennmush. He does a great job asking questions about getting to z, and games in education.

It’s a great interview - thank you Javelin!

Grand Theft Calculus

Posted in Games in education on 27 - April 2007 at 06:26 PM (about 17 years ago) 219 views.

The ever indomitable David Warlick has conference-blogged an excellent presentation by Scot Osterweil.

One of the things which struck me about David’s account of the presentation is how right it seems.  I see kids learning more when playing a game than traditional instruction…I feel as if I’ve beaten this idea to death, but when kids are immersed in a game, they take away a far richer experience than a lecture.

However, this understanding comes at a price: it takes longer than a lecture, and isn’t as easy to quantify (learning from games can be quantified, but not as easily as drill and kill instruction).

Thanks David, as always.

Designing games

Posted in Games in education on 18 - April 2007 at 06:24 PM (17 years ago) 216 views.


Mark Wagner is taking a long-needed look at teachers designing games.

Here’s why this is important.

In the (ahem) old days, educational games were usually thinly-masked drill-and-kill activities. So kids played the games, and enjoyed them, and probably learned something from the activity.  But what these games missed, and what Mark is starting to talk about, is game design. I think the game must come first. That is, it must be a playable, fun, challenging, good game. If content-specialists (teachers) start using the ideas presented in Rules of Play, we could see some fantastic works emerge.  The key point is make a good game first.

Salen and Zimmerman  talk about the relationship between rules, play, culture and games. Their work deserves accolades because they define the framework we can use when we talk about games, playing games, and designing games.

I am really looking forward to Mark’s work, and encourage other’s to check out his writing.

New Games in Education custom search !!

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 05 - April 2007 at 03:12 AM (17 years ago) 215 views.

Google has just released google coop which lets people make their own customized search engines!!!

I have taken all the sites I consider to be relevant sites on games in education, and added them to my search engine.  Now, when someone comes to, they will be ale to search for games in education for those specific sites!
It’s a wonderful development for the Games in Education movement!

Text-based games podcast

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 30 - March 2007 at 05:50 PM (17 years ago) 217 views.

The ever-helpful Javelin has started a podcast centered around text-based games.  Javelin is a smart guy; his thinking around play, games, and text-based games is invaluable.

This is a worthy podcast, I heartily recommend it.

I want to approach buying the game as a learning opportunity

Posted in Games in education on 15 - December 2006 at 05:24 PM (17 years ago) 200 views.


It’s questions like these which keep me moving forward, you know?

From the indomitable David Warlick comes this question from a parent.

My 10-yr-old daughter is starting to show some interest in gaming. She is
very computer savvy, IM literate, regularly blogs, and is a geocaching pro.
Which games or gaming systems can you or your readers recommend for us (her)
to get started? I would like to see this succeed, and bring it to my
elementary school campus as an after school club, if it looks like it really
is productive and can produce some meaningful effects.

I don’t want to get her (us) started and then justify it by saying that she
may be learning something. I want to approach buying the game as a learning
opportunity. Tell me where to start, I’ll buy it, and report back in three
months. I’m serious…I have no idea how to get started. I need specifics.

First of all congratulations on looking like an educated, media-savvy parent. If you stick your kid in front of a computer game for an hour, and expect something magic to happen, you are going to be disappointed. It’s your engagement with your children and their media use which will define how your kids understand this new world.

As your daughter plays, she’ll learn…it’s just how kids are wired.  But if you want to really make a difference, get in the habit of engaging her in the games she is playing.  I don’t know if she’s in that “OMG POS” (oh my God, Parent over shoulder) phase yet, but you should make effort to ask her about the games she is playing.  Hypothetical questions work best (what would happen if…), as well as “why do you think this is happening….”

The short answer to your question is here:

DDR - dance, dance revolution
The Sims
Sim City
Age of Empires III
Civilization IV
Spore - (when it comes out)
Wii sports
Final Fantasy XII (a particularly deep RPG)

A slightly longer answer to your question is here:

As I am a computer teacher, I generally think in terms of “learning units” or “learning blocks”. This sort of thinking lends itself to games in the classroom, but not at home.  I wonder if you continually engaged with your daughter, and talked about other things in her life as they might relate to the game?

I prefer console games to PC games for a few reasons:

1) Consoles are cheaper
2) They are more stable
3) The games are fantastic - deep, rich games. Many of the games listed above are availbe as console titles
4) They offer multi player play
5) The new generations of console games offer some modding and user-created content
6) You can easily rent games to try them out
7) Especially with the Wii, your daughter will be jumping around and moving as she plays
8) There is no need to upgrade, or struggle with new drivers and graphics cards

I want to also avoid gender stereotypes, and I think you should be careful as well. Be open to trying games which might be associated as “boys” games.

Please keep us posted on your progress, we would very much like to hear about your progress.

Harnessing the power of video games for learning

Posted in Games in education on 26 - October 2006 at 05:06 PM (17 years ago) 204 views.


The Federation of American Scientists have released a report,  Harnessing the power of video games for learning (1.3MB PDF).

It’s an exceptional research report, and rightly calls for more investigation and understanding.

Getting your foot in the door

Posted in Games in education on 25 - October 2006 at 05:32 PM (17 years ago) 199 views.


A question:

Hello. I am very interested in games in education and would love to get
involved in this as a career move. Please contact me.

An answer:

First of all, thank you for asking. It’s actually a great question. 

Become a teacher or school librarian

Almost every state offers a friendly certification process. Usually you need to take 3 or 4 standardized tests. These consist of basic math and writing,  human development and learning, subject matter, and pedagogy (every state is different, but that’s the basic gist).

Once you are a teacher (English, science, history, math, etc…) start using games to teach!  As long as you have high standards for your students, you will be fine. 

Being a teacher is great work. Very difficult, and very rewarding.

You could start an after-school club, or do something at your local library, but the real potential of games in the classroom is content-specialists using them to teach. This is an article I wrote about how to use games in your classroom once you are a teacher. Lot’s of stuff to think about before you throw the kids in front of Sim City, or the Sims.

School librarians are often at the center of technology in a school, so it is a logical place to advocate and encourage the use of games (and other technology) in a building.

I suppose you could enter academia, and study the use of games in education (we could always use more research to help inform our thinking about games in the classroom) but I believe it is actual practitioners who can really show this stuff working.


Spore in the NYT”

Posted in Games in education on 11 - October 2006 at 04:55 PM (17 years ago) 220 views.


The NYT Magazine has a great read by Spore creator Wil Wright (I’ve written about Spore before here).

The article:

It occurred to me as I wandered through the halls of the Spore offices that a troubled school system could probably do far worse than to devote an entire, say, fourth-grade year to playing Spore. The kids would get a valuable perspective on their universe; they would learn technical skills and exercise their imaginations at the same time; they would learn about the responsibility that comes from creating independent life. And no doubt you would have to drag them out of the classrooms at the end of the day. When I mentioned this to Eno, he immediately chimed in agreement. “I thought the same thing,” he said. “If you really want to reinvent education, look at games. They fold everything in: history, sociology, anthropology, chemistry - you can piggyback everything on it.”

Not bad, eh?

My little existential crisis about COTS games….

Posted in Games in education on 04 - October 2006 at 11:51 PM (17 years ago) 199 views.


The reason I was so drawn to COTS games is because the energy the kids put into them. 

I want you to imagine this:  kids who simply didn’t care about school unmotivated to learn, sort of drifting through the system. It was depressing (especially compared to China, where the kids seemed to universally value education and it’s promise)

But then I see them incredibly interested in these dynamic, complicated, intricate games, and I think “Hey…why not?”.  with good instructional design, these could be a potent vessel for learning in the classroom.  Coupled with my interest in computer games, simulations, and text-based gaming, I thought (and still do) COTS games are the way to go.  COTS games can meet the learner. The kids can use their high motivation and learn!  It’s the key thing about COTS titles; they bring out motivation, motivation, motivation.

But now I’m working in NYC at a school for very, very bright kids.  Yesterday, I spent a good 40 minutes having a delightful conversation about PHP, SQL injection attacks, managed hosting, and my favorite CMS with a seventh grader (13 years old)!  This kid was so far ahead of anything I’ve ever seen. I was impressed and awed at the same time. 

So where do COTS titles fit into a school where 90% of the student body is already highly motivated, energized about learning, inquisitive, and interested? 

...bit of an interesting dilemma, yes?

I’ve really no doubt of the value of COTS games, and I’m equally certain COTS titles are the way to go (as opposed to non-cots games) I’m thinking of modding COTS titles with the video game club, which I think holds great promise, but for now, the question remains: Where does COTS titles fit within the high-achievers sphere of students?

Look forward to your input.


Digital Games based learning article

Posted in Games in education on 27 - September 2006 at 05:48 PM (17 years ago) 204 views.


Thanks to Raj Boora who was lucky enough to find this great article (pdf) on digital games based learning. There are so many exceptional quotes from the article, and so many points I found myself saying “yea…that’s what I think…”

Update: Tony Forster was good enough to mention he has a review of this article on his blog.  He has really done a good job, and the review is worth a look!

PLEASE read this if you are even remotely interested in the topic of games in education.



Where is the game research?

Posted in Games in education on 26 - September 2006 at 06:30 PM (17 years ago) 241 views.


I just got this great email, and thought I would share my answer here. In short, the researcher is looking for data about games in education at the primary and middle-school levels.

I understand you need data regarding how, when, where, why and who is using games in American Education - especially around primary and secondary school.

I am not aware of any large scale studies which have investigated this. I know of many small schools who are using games in an informal, non-rigorous way, however empirical data may be difficult to come by.

May I suggest you take a look at the following sites:

...and of course…

I’ve included some research sites, but it’s slim!

In my opinion, mainstream adoption of games in the classroom is very far away. You are seeing all the classic signs of a nascent movement, one which I hope grows into mainstream adoption by our public school system.

I believe once the current generation of older teachers have retired, and more technically fluent teachers come into the profession (Kuhn, anyone?), we will see a more emboldened use of technology, which will surely include games as effective teaching tools.

There is a tremendous of interest in the role of games and learning, but I think there are very basic types of questions which haven’t been answered - in fact it was only recently that Salen and Zimmerman released an utterly magnificent book entitled “Rules of Play” that gives us a vocabulary to talk about games, play, and culture. Even asking a simple question like “What is an educational game?” can bring a heated exchange of opinions.

So I encourage your research path, and I would be more than happy to answer any specific questions, but as for now, and please forgive my use of idioms…

This pond doesn’t have a lot of fish.

Games and Socialization: are MMO’s bad for your social life?

Posted in Games in education on 12 - September 2006 at 11:16 PM (17 years ago) 211 views.


Rather interesting article in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (Link | PDF).

From the abstract (emphasis mine):

“Our conclusion is that by providing spaces for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace and home, MMOs have the capacity to function as one form of a new “third place” for informal sociability. Participation in such virtual “third places” appears particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital - social relationships that, while not usually providing deep emotional support, typically function to expose the individual to a diversity of worldviews.

I really enjoy these studies, and especially like the careful discernment and depth of computer-games research.  After reading this study, it is no longer easy to simply say “computer games are socially alienating” but rather, “some types of of games are in some ways alienating…”.  It’s fantastic.  The more we understand how our culture fits in with games, and we fit in our culture, the more effectively we can use games in the classroom.  Very cool.

I also personally reflect on this study.  As a long time computer gamer (I still play text-based multi-player games), I very much agree with the idea that whilst I have an expansive number of online relationships, they are in the context of an online relationship…fun, idea-based (and role-based), and not normally emotional.

It’s important to make this distinction; there are real-world relationships, which have value and importance, and online relationships, which have a different type of value and importance.

Steinkuehler, C., and Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as “third places.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), article 1.


John Kirriemuir does it again!

Posted in Games in education on 06 - September 2006 at 11:18 PM (17 years ago) 195 views.


John Kirriemuir is graciously sharing his latest powerpoint presentation (4 MB ppt file) on digital games and digital libraries.

It’s a fascinating piece, and after looking through the presentation, I wish I was there.

John talks about:

Some learning using digital games.
12 areas of interest to the wider library community.
Online games: World of Warcraft and Second Life.
The attributes of a gamer.

It’s really quite good, and worth a look.

A COTS game with potential: SPORE

Posted in Games in education on 06 - September 2006 at 06:52 PM (17 years ago) 219 views.


Spore is a game by Wil Wright, the same guy who made Sim City and The Sims.

The game allows players to evolve from single-celled organisms to sprawling civilization. Pretty heady, huh? Although this game hasn’t been released yet,
(and I doubt it will become vaporware), I think it merits our attention.

What science teacher wouldn’t want to use this game to explore how organisms adapt to their environment and grow?

Cool stuff.

Know any good books on educational gaming?

Posted in Games in education on 31 - August 2006 at 05:44 AM (17 years ago) 200 views.


In reply to the above question, here’s my list so far.  Anyone have anything they’d like to add?

1) Theory of fun by Raph Koster
2) Anything by Mark Prensky
3) What video games have to teach us about
4) Anything by David Williamson Shaffer
5) I would also wamrly encourage you to check out: this link and poke around the “research” section.
6) There is also a seriousgames mailing list! click here It’s exceptional.
7) For a very thick book full of game theory (not math-game-theory) read Rules of Play by Salen and Zimmerman, It’s not directly related to your question but it’s sooooo gooood!!!
8) I also love Richard Bartle’s book, Designing Virtual Worlds - again, it’s not particularly targetted to educational gaming, but the ideas which it develops are outstanding.

Games in education wiki

Posted in Games in education News on 26 - July 2006 at 10:46 PM (17 years ago) 273 views.


I’d like to extend a special welcome to the fine readers of School Library Journal.

I’m also pleased to introduce a games in education wiki.

Please register if you haven’t, and contribute to the wiki!  If you are new to wiki’s, I invite you to check out this small help guide.  The best way to understand how a wiki works is to is to login, and click edit on a wiki page!


Virtual Worlds in education

Posted in Games in education on 27 - June 2006 at 05:47 PM (17 years ago) 205 views.

Found this paper hereSecond Life and School: The Use of Virtual Worlds in High School Education.

Here’s a quote:

There appeared to be common themes as to what properties of virtual worlds made them educationally useful. One was the collective learning and sharing of
information that lets students learn from teachers and other students alike. Virtual worlds also kept the students engaged with technology. They also encourage role playing, a valuable teaching tool. As virtual worlds are a subset of games, they too can be used as models for lessons and can encourage social interaction.

Wiki help

Posted in Games in education News on 09 - June 2006 at 11:04 PM (17 years ago) 267 views.

Hey folks!

A new COTS games in education wiki is coming soon.  I’m just putting this up to create a page where I’ll add wiki help files.  If you are very curious to see what an empty wiki looks like, go ahead and take a peek.

I’m using textile formatting for the wiki.  Basically, instead of using HTML (which isn’t very friendly), we are using a way of formatting text.

The best way to learn how to wiki, is to simply register, and then edit a page. You can see the editing I’ve used to make the wiki. Very straight-forward stuff. If you have many more questions, please let me know.

Here’s a list, taken from textile’s site:

Quick block modifiers:
Header: hn.
Blockquote: bq.
Footnote: fnn.
Numeric list: #
Bulleted list: *

Quick phrase modifiers:
-deleted text-
+inserted text+

To apply attributes:

To align blocks:

< right

= center
<> justify

To insert a table:

To insert a link:

To insert an image:

To define an acronym:
ABC(Always Be Closing)

To reference a footnote:

So, if you wanted something to be strong, you would type it like this:  *I want this to be strong*

Pretty easy, huh?

USA Today quoted WHO?!

Posted in Games in education on 01 - June 2006 at 02:05 AM (17 years ago) 213 views.


Great story in USA Today about Serious Games! 

I’d invite readers from USA Today to check out an introduction for teachers, and as always, please feel free to post a question on our forums (which are totally RSS’ed now, thank you very much).

Thanks to the ever-vigilant David McDivitt for the link.

Getting to Z: Part 6 - Final

Posted in Games in education on 11 - May 2006 at 10:56 PM (17 years ago) 209 views.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5.

We have finished, and here is the after action report:

The Good Stuff

Three of the five boys demonstrated working knowledge of the Z axis.  They were involved in engaging an opponent in three-dimensional space.  This opponent was moving, and they were moving as well.  They coordinated helm and science information to effectively position themselves in 3D space.  They demonstrated an understanding of yaw and pitch.

The other 2 boys did not demonstrate knowledge of the Z axis. They could not articulate how to best approach another ship, or demonstrate relative position using pencils as ships. They were, however, utterly engaged with this process. They would quickly type ‘sr’ (which generates a sensor report), loudly report if they saw anything.  The also repaired damage, and scanned for damage on the other ship.  Despite not “getting it” they continued to actively participate.

The activity was an outstanding success in terms of engagement and motivation.  The boys came as early as they could, and I often had to ask them two and three times to leave when class was finished. 

The textual nature of this activity should not be underestimated.  Everything was in text (see a space battle for an example.)The level of engagement was really quite remarkable, especially considering some of the boys were quite reluctant towards school-related activities related to reading.  They read and demonstrated comprehension very rapidly.

The administrators of the MUSH we used (Paradox) were fantastic.  After dealing with some potential safety issues (all the players were minors, after all), they were encouraging, enthusiastic, and supporting.  Paradox is a great MUSH which always welcomes new players.  Feel free to give them a look.

The Not-Good Stuff

Our biggest problem revolved around time. Field trips, band concerts, snow days, and other school-demands taxed out short time together.  Next time, I plan on arranging meetings after school, twice a week for about a month.

“What does a Klingon look like?”  I made an assumption they would be able to access the Star Trek mythos.  They could not. Next time, we’ll watch a couple of Star Trek movies together and maybe review some Star Trek websites.

Formalized pre and post testing. I didn’t do this, as I wanted to “sneak the learning in”.  While creating a good environment for play, I would have had stronger statistics as evidence.  As it stands, next time, we’ll do a formal assessment piece.


This was a tremendous activity, generating positive energy in a rarely-used milleau in education. The educational potential was clear and evident.  It would be fascinating to explore other text based worlds, with different themes for the kids. 

This activity highlighted the following characteristics of games in education:

1) Tremendous motivation and engagement
2) Failure is not an obstacle to learning; in fact, it encourages learning
3) Learning happens in the context of play, fun, and engagement. Students are intrinsically motivated to learn
4) Graphics, sound and “jazz” are not supremely important - it’s the essence of the game which matters
5) Suspension of time, place, and identity support learning and play

Inform 7 released! Interactive fiction

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 07 - May 2006 at 10:09 PM (about 18 years ago) 202 views.

I’m a long time fan of text-based games and text based gaming.  So it is with great delight I found a new version of Inform has been released!!!!

Evidence, evidence!

Posted in Games in education on 26 - April 2006 at 02:36 AM (about 18 years ago) 189 views.

David McDivitt has some very interesting initial statistics from his world history class.

David is a results-focused educator, and his voice is valuable in the games in education space.

meta-analysis shows games work

Posted in Games in education on 13 - April 2006 at 07:53 PM (18 years ago) 196 views.

Courtesy of the Serious Games mailing list this interesting study looks at some promising evidence for the roles of games and learning.  From the abstract…

“Empirical findings from 43 studies concerning learning, costs of learning, and transfer of learning from computer games and game-like simulations are reviewed and discussed. These findings suggest that games and simulations can improve cognitive processes and that motivation and immersion are factors in these improvements. The findings suggest positive transfer to real life tasks when the tasks required by games and simulations are similar. Cost arguments for simulations can be strengthened by the addition of game-like qualities to simulations. Limits to the generality of these conclusions, issues in research on games and simulations, and suggestions for further research are discussed.”

Richard Bartle on Games and Learning

Posted in Games in education on 10 - April 2006 at 07:42 PM (18 years ago) 197 views.

For those of you who don’t know Richard Bartle, I suggest you read his exceptional book, Designing Virtual Worlds.  It’s a well-earmarked favorite of mine.  Richard wrote one of the first text-based multiplayer games on the internet, MUD. 

Richard recently posted a blog entry about Games and Learning. Although he comments on “educational games” (which he seems to frown upon), he makes some good points about how games work in learning.

Richard says “Games work by teaching incidentally, that is by missing the point;”.  This is exactly what I see.  When kids play Age of Mythology, they are not memorizing Greek, Egyptian, and Norse gods. But if they know about the gods they will be more successful.  If you were playing a scenario based in the ocean, would you pray to Hades or Poseidon?  In order to be successful in a game, you need to master the skills in the game necessary to win.  I think this has also been called “stealth learning”. 

This is a central idea to COTS games in education;  kids have a great time, and learn as they are playing.  So it’s not a “direct instruction” thing - it’s an “incidental learning” thing.  And with good instructional design (when a teacher reflects with children about the lessons learned) games become a particularly potent learning tool.

Thanks Richard!

Why dual booting Apple computers are a big deal in games in education

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 05 - April 2006 at 07:42 PM (18 years ago) 223 views.

Apple has just announced boot camp, a simple dual booting utility for inte-based Macs.

As a public educator, with a school filled with Apple computers, this is very encouraging news. 

No longer are we stuck in a world of Apple OR Windows.  Now we have a fantastic opportunity to use the incredible tools which come with OS X (iLife , iTunes and all the beautiful OS X software) and the great games available on Windows.  Simply fantastic. 

This is great news.  OS X is reallly quite superior in so many ways - ease of use, available software, unix roots, iLife, etc…. However, the one area OS X has been lacking is mainstream games.  Now with dual booting, there is really no reason not to buy a Macintosh.  I would love to use Muzzy Lane’s great game Making History but alas, no luck on OS X.

With OS X’s windows-friendly Server managing the two platforms is a cinch…kids can even access their documents on a shared resource!  It’s great news for education folks who are looking for the best of both worlds! 

The only drawback?  OS X users /will/ need to be very careful of the virii and spyware on Windows boxes now!!!!

Edit: Raph Koster asks: are Mac Games going to die?  I say: probably.

Serious games conference notes available

Posted in Games in education on 04 - April 2006 at 07:03 PM (18 years ago) 204 views.

Fresh from the serious games summit at the Games Developer Conference, conference notes are now available!

These presentations represent some superb thinking in the serious games sphere.  Worth a look.

Podcasts feed finally working!

Posted in Games in education on 02 - April 2006 at 11:43 PM (18 years ago) 203 views.

Thanks to the hard work of Sue (who is a first-rate miracle maker) my RSS podcast feed is working.  I’ve only two episodes right now, but I’ll be adding more - usually weekly.  I podcast on games in education.

I suggest you use iTunes to manage your podcasts. 

URL to the podcast page is:
URL to podcast feed is here:

Enjoy, and thanks again Sue!

Games Developer Conference: Jesper Juul on broadening the game-meme

Posted in Games in education on 22 - March 2006 at 12:20 AM (18 years ago) 205 views.

Jesper Juul’s presentation was really great.  He talked about, as promised, broadening our definition of what games can be.

Jesper had many good points, but I think his most important ideas centered around goals.

Basically, he said goals, while providing a framework for forward momentum, narrow the scope of the game. He explored this a bit in depth, pointing to The Sims 2 and Grand theft auto: San Andreas.  Both games offer an extraordinary play-space.  You could choose what you want to do, and it’s still fun. While there are goals in GTA, they are totally optional.  The idea of free choice in a game world presents as a compelling and engaging medium.  One in which players who might shun games are invited to meet the game on their own terms, and in their own way.

Kind of like how we need to meet our students, eh?  Instead of offering a looong line of easily digestible lessons in which the “teacher knows all”  we are exploring and encouraging our kids to explore, a learning space.  Cool stuff.

Another point Jesper made I think worth mentioning is equating games to languages.

Some games have:

Small vocabulary, flexible syntax
Small vocabulary, rigid syntax
Large vocabulary, very rigid syntax
Large vocabulary, flexible syntax.

It is basically a neat framework for understanding what we can do in a game world.

I’m off to Florida after this, to accept an award for  I can’t wait to see the folks from eSchool News!

9 Paradoxes of learning through video games & simulation

Posted in Games in education on 18 - March 2006 at 05:07 PM (18 years ago) 202 views.

The Serious Games mailing list recently received a wonderful note from Clark Aldrich (blog).

Mr. Aldrich has written some books on the topic of games of learning (which I haven’t read yet). Simulations and the Future of Learning : An Innovative (and Perhaps Revolutionary) Approach to e-Learning and Learning by Doing : A Comprehensive Guide to Simulations, Computer Games, and Pedagogy in e-Learning and Other Educational Experiences”.

The First Paradox is that people learn more from the underlying systems and
interface in any educational experience than from the surface content.

The Second Paradox is that educational simulations can never be completely
comprehensive and accurate.

The Third Paradox is that one can’t even begin to understand a sim by watching someone else play it; one has to play it him or her self.  One can’t even begin to evaluate a sim by playing it; one has to measure the results of someone else playing it.

The Fourth Paradox is that things that seem simple, narrow, and isolated when “taught” through traditional linear means are deep, complex, and extendable when practiced in simulations.

The Fifth Paradox is that when educational simulations are first created, they are heavy on simulation elements, and casual players complain they are too hard. Over iterations, as a result of the complaints, educational simulations are made easier and more fun, and serious players then complain they are not
deep enough.

The Sixth Paradox is that vendors and builders of simulations like to describe them as vaguely and mystically as possible:

The Seventh Paradox Most deployments of simulation based programs look successful if measured forward from what a student learned, but most simulation deployments look like failures if measured backwards from what percentage of material that the students could have learned, they did learn.

The Eighth Paradox, is that things get worse before they get better, even when the transformation is sought after and desired.

The Ninth Paradox of Educational Simulations states that a good educational simulation takes traditional linear training just to use.

Real teachers, real games. The Games Developer Conference beckons!

Posted in Games in education on 16 - March 2006 at 08:28 PM (18 years ago) 195 views.

I’m happy to report I’ll be speaking at the Games Developer Conference.  My session is entitled Real Teachers: Real Games.

It’s always such an honor to be invited to speak at events like this. I still feel sort of humbled and like “what the heck am I doing here?!”.  Looks like I’ll be speaking with Kurt Squire and David McDivitt

I’ll post up my slides shortly.  While some of my presentation will be typical (here’s what got me started), I plan on discussing my getting to Z project.  If I can swing it, I might even try a live demo.

I’m still using COTS games in my classroom - lately it’s been Age of Mythology, which has been moving in unexpected directions.  I’m seeing great teamwork, and perhaps more importantly, very careful strategic thinking.  I see groups of kids discussing, debating, and opining about various aspects of the game.  I should also note we are not playing against each other, we usually form a group of 4 or 5 students against the computer on the highest level of difficulty (we rarely win…yet).

The Sims 2 figures prominently in class as well - we only have 1 license, but there are often 3 or 4 kids huddled around the screen, pointing and giggling.  Our assistant principal came in,  and immediately accessed the potential.  She is a former consumer-science teacher, so when she saw all the cause and effect in the game, she seemed impressed. 

Games, public schools & religion

Posted in Games in education on 15 - March 2006 at 09:19 PM (18 years ago) 185 views.

We are using the terrain editor in Age of Mythology.  This lets kids build virtually any geographic place in an easy-to-use way.  The terrain editor is clear, easy, and produces decent-looking output.  The kids can choose rivers, mountains, oceans, ice, etc…  The idea?  Explore geographic concepts through this terrain editor, and create real-world geographic maps using this tool.

As a precursor to creating their own terrain, we played a game of Age of Mythology (for a PDF version of a presentation I gave on Age of Mythology, click here). 

Today, a student came in and told me they were not allowed to play the game; after some brief conversation I realized the child’s parents had strong religious convictions, and did not want their child playing a game where other gods were worshipped.

From a strictly procedural point of view, this child can no longer play this particular game.  Once a parent says “no”, that’s it.  I’ll try to contact the parent to sort this out, but for now it’s no AOM for this child.  This is kind of sad, because he really loves this game, and it’s hard to watch your friends get excited about something and you can’t do it.

We fired up Sim City 4, which has an excellent terrain editor, and he made some good looking maps…

It’s an interesting issue; many games present their play in mythological context.  Games often include super-natural powers and flirt with the ideas of gods, creation, the universe, and the afterlife (FF X). I think that is part of good fantasy narrative.  Many books, films and television shows also dive into this area as well.

This is the first parent complaint I’ve heard about using games in the classroom. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised it would involve faith.  But still….

What do you think?

Getting to Z: part 5

Posted in Games in education on 14 - March 2006 at 07:20 PM (18 years ago) 199 views.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Things are going slowly.  We meet every Thursday morning for about an hour - lately, though, there have been a barrage of field trips, assemblies, vacations and other engagements.  I suppose this is just the nature of public education, but I find it slightly frustrating. *sigh*

For those unfamiliar with text-based gaming, MUSHes, and 3D space, I invite you to check out the following videos.  I asked a fellow player on the mush we are playing on to simulate a space battle.  The following videos move through activating ship systems, very basic moving, allocating power to different systems, and of course, an engagement.

Multiplayer text-based gaming part 1- starting our ship, activating systems (4 MB Quicktime movie)
Multiplayer text-based gaming part 2 - allocating power (1.4 MB Quicktime movie)
Multiplayer text-based gaming part 3 - scanning, damage status, and detecting (3.9 MB Quicktime movie)
Multiplayer text-based gaming part 4 - ending the encounter! (10.6 MB Quicktime Movie)

I tried to keep the files reasonably small - I reduced screen size by 30% so some of the text might be a little bit difficult to read.

As you are watching these movies, I encourage you to think about 13 and 14 year old kids accessing the complexity and sophistication of this milieu! 


A stampede ...

Posted in Games in education Teaching Diary on 24 - February 2006 at 09:29 PM (18 years ago) 249 views.

Every Friday, we have some time during lunch recess in the computer lab.  Students are allowed to come up and play games, surf the net, or listen to music.

Today, we had a fifth grade in the lab doing some math problems (here), and as such, had limited seating available.

The result?

During lunch I witnessed an EXQUISITE planning process amongst 9 boys.  Teams were created, different boys planned how they would take multiple routes to the computer lab to get their first, and roles were assigned in the game. They ate their hotdogs & chips at light speed, and, without waiting for lunch to end travelled over the sound barrier to the lab.

They, of course, failed to plan on the following contingencies:

1) Other people on the stairs
2) Our “don’t leave the lunch room until lunch is over” rule. 
3) Each other (as they stumbled up the stairs)
4) The number of available computers (only 11 were being used, we had 18 free)

In the end, I asked them all to come to the   office, and we discussed proper behavior .  I’m happy to report we had no injuries, just some excited boys.  There was an animated discussion and debate about what actually constituted “lunch over” and “running on the stairs” (“Mr. MacKenty, I wasn’t running, I was just moving quickly!”). 

And as I was walking up the stairs, laughing out loud at the ludcridity of the situation, I was again reminded why I love working with kids.


Getting to Z: part 4

Posted in Games in education on 23 - February 2006 at 09:30 PM (18 years ago) 201 views.

This might be a stretch for those of you unfamiliar with text-based gaming, I’ve tried to annotate the events to help unfamiliar users.  I’ve also slightly edited the screenshots for readability.

The kids have groked MUSH syntax. Our syntax error rate has decreased substantially.  We finished CG and boarded the USS Lexington, an intrepid class starship. 
Here’s a screenshot of our fully manned bridge.  All hands are ready.  Jay is our engineer, Andres is on helm, and Dan is our tactical officer.  I’m Duncan.

__________________Bridge - Deck 1 [USS Lexington]____________________________
/  _________________________________________________________________________|
|  /
|  |  The bridge of the USS Lexington is a smallish oval-shaped room. The
|  |  fore wall is dominated by a large curving viewscreen that wraps  
|  |  along fully half the width of the room. The sides of the viewscreen
|  |  are segmented into subscreens for auxillary displays. In the center
|  |  of the room is the traditional Captain’s and First officer’s chairs
|  |  with their own small consoles on swivel-mount arms. In front of  
|  |  those is the sweeping wide dash-like console of the flight-ops    
|  |  officer. Behind, on a slightly raised platform curving around the  
|  |  aft portion of the bridge, are two semi-enclosed console areas for
|  |  operations and tactical. Other minor console clusters are mounted  
|  |  on the starboard side of the bridge wall. A set of frosted glass  
|  |  double doors on the starboard side leads to the Ready Room. To the
|  |  aft of those doors are steps leading down to the main blast doors  
|  |  leading back into the main corridor.                     
|  \__              __________________                      ________________________
|  __| Contents |__________________| Obvious Exits |________________________|
|  /
|  |  Bridge Console 2 (andres)         Turbolift (T) - [Turbolift]
|  |  Bridge Console 3 (dan)               Door     (101) - [Briefing Room]
|  |  Bridge Console 4 (Jay)            Door     (100) - [Ready Room]
|  |  Viewscreen              
|  |  Captain’s Chair 1 (Duncan)   
|  |         
|  \_________________________________________________________________________

We activate console modes, and activate systems on the ship.
You say, “Engineer…type “mode eng” without the quotes
You say, “Tactical. Type “mode tac” without the quotes
You say, “helm…type “mode helm” without the quotes

Each one of the students then started activating different systems on the ship.
[Jay]—[M/A reactor set at 100.000%]
[Jay]—[Fusion reactor set at 100.000%]
[Jay]—[Batteries set at 100.000%]

[dan]—[Short-range sensors online]
[dan]—[Long-range sensors online]
[dan]—[Electronic warfare systems online]

[dan]—[Forward shield online]
[dan]—[Starboard shield online]
[dan]—[Aft shield online]
[dan]—[Port shield online]

and then, with a simple command, we were flying!
You say, “helm: warp 2”
[andres]—[Speed set to warp 2.000000]

Now I think it’s worth pausing here, and trying to describe the scene.

There are 3 8th grade students, absolutely glued to their screens.  We aren’t sitting in the Edgartown School computer lab, we are on the bridge of a starship, preparing for our first flight into space!  Keep in mind, this is completely textual!!.  No graphics, no sound…just text.  What happens next is really outstanding.

We immediately encountered something rather odd…
[WARNING]—[New sensor contact (12): Ship]
[contact (12) engages its cloaking device]

You say, “helm? Tactical?”
You say, “did that ship just cloak?”

dan says, “ya i think”
You say, “helm! Tac! type “det 12”
You say, “tactical: type “alert yellow”

We try to contact the ship, and establish it’s intentions.  Unfortunately, I know when a ship cloaks right in front of you, it’s not normally a particularly good sign….
USS LEXINGTON: Hailing the Advocate General. What are your intentions?

Duncan looks concerned
Duncan pushes some buttons on the captains chair.

SS ADVOCATE GENERAL: “You will halt and surrender your vessel”

I’m not sure we are ready to surrender!  Before I could try to reason things out…
[WARNING]—[Weapon lock from SS Advocate General (12) detected]

You say, “TAC! ALERT RED!!!!”
You say, “TAC ACT ALL WEAPONS!!!!!”
[dan]—[Alert condition changed to Red]

{COMPUTER}—[Red Alert initiated by: dan]

[dan]—[Beam Weapon 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Missile Weapon 1 2 3 online]


Here is the very first glimmer how knoweldge of the 3D axis will help us. We can see the other ships bearing, heading, and range relative to us.
You say, “HELM! DET 12!!!! WHAT IS HIS BEARING?!?!!!”

—[Detailed Sensor Report]——————————————————————————-
Type: Ship                           Resolution: 151.409%       
Name: SS Advocate General     Cargo Capacity: 81000 mt        
Class: Norexan                    Displacement: 3240000 mt      
Design: Rihannsu BB             Specialization: General Use      
Docking Capacity: None          Landing Capacity: 6480 mt        
Flags: ASBEeM        
Contact Arc: A                    Contact Shield: Aft shield     UP
Course: 83.000 2.000                     Speed: Warp 2.001000    
Galactic X Y Z:      100.009       -99.924       103.003
Territory: Unclaimed               Quadrant: Delta          
Bearing: 111.285 4.831               Range: 1374194 SU      
Firing Arc: F                         Facing Shield: Forward shield   UP

You say, “HELM: INT 12!!!”

[andres]—[Intercept course to SS Advocate General (12) set 263.000 358.000]
[Pitch now 358.000 degrees]
[Yaw now 263.000 degrees]

We turned to face him. He fires, and thankfully for us, misses. Using some simple @emits, we raise the suspense and dramatic tension
[WARNING]—[SS Advocate General (12) firing: B1:—]

You say, “NO!!!!!”
Duncan slams his chair

Our beams fully charged, we try again to establish contact and end this confrontation
[Beam capacitor fully charged]

SS ADVOCATE GENERAL: “What is it Lexington”
USS LEXINGTON: WHY HAVE YOU FIRED ON US? We are on a peaceful training exercise!

[WARNING]—[SS Advocate General (12) firing: B1:75]
USS Lexington rocks violently from an impact.
[Aft shield: 100% Patched Damage]
[Superstructure: 100% Patched Damage]

Well. The old “let’s try to talk this out” strategy isn’t working.  Time to let him know we will poke back.
You say, “TAC: “snap 12”“

[dan]—[Beam Weapon 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Missile Weapon 1 2 3 locked on SS Advocate General (12)]

We are hit. The B2 means Beam 2 hits.  The number is the level of damage
[WARNING]—[SS Advocate General (12) firing: B2:70]
USS Lexington rocks violently from an impact.
[Aft shield: 100% Patched Damage]
[Superstructure: 100% Patched Damage]

Meanwhile, our engineer was busy trying to patch the damage to our ship.
[Jay]—[Superstructure repairs complete]
[Repair capacity maximized]
[Jay]—[Aft shield repairs complete]

Again our advesary fires and hits.
[WARNING]—[SS Advocate General (12) firing: B1:75]
USS Lexington rocks violently from an impact.
[Aft shield: 100% Patched Damage]
[Superstructure: 100% Patched Damage]

Ok. Enough is enough. With fingers flying over the keyboard, we defend ourselves! We hit the Romulian ship with 8 banks of phasers.
You say, “TACTICAL !!!!! “FIRE”!!!!!!!”

[dan]—[Firing at SS Advocate General (12): B1:100 B2:70 B3:70 B4:70 B5:50 B6:50 B7:50 B8:50]

It was about now when we learned a valuable lesson about “staying away from photon torpedos”
[WARNING]—[SS Advocate General (12) firing: B1:75 M1:800 M2:800 M3:800]
USS Lexington rocks violently from an impact.
[Aft shield: 90% Light Damage]
[Superstructure: 91% Minor Damage]
[M/A Reactor: 98% Patched Damage]
[Beam Weapon 5: 54% Moderate Damage]
[Beam Weapon 7: 21% Severe Damage]
[EW Systems: 97% Patched Damage]
[SR Sensors: 99% Patched Damage]
[Transporters: 93% Minor Damage]
[Warp Drive: 93% Minor Damage]
[Life Support: 95% Patched Damage]

That was quite a hit.  With a neophyte crew and a badly damaged ship, we turned tail and ran away. Our engineer must of used duct tape to keep us flying.

[Jay]—[Superstructure repaired to 92%]

You say, “HELM!!! WARP MAX!!!!!!”
[andres]—[Speed set to warp 9.600000]

You say, “We are running away. We cannot beat this ship.”

The encounter ended as class ended.  The encounter was a fantastic opportunity, and the kids are absolutely hungry to play more.  We’ll really start to dig into navigation and moving around in the next lesson.  For now, though, we have seen how games can provide a rich and compelling learning experience!

New interview from the San Francisco Chronicle

Posted in Games in education on 21 - February 2006 at 08:09 AM (18 years ago) 200 views.

The San Francisco Chronicle has published a wonderful story on games in education with a mention of yours truly. 

I shared an experience when I kind of screwed up with games in education, and I’m delighted they printed it. I hope other teachers read this and see it is ok to take risks!


Getting to Z: part 3

Posted in Games in education on 16 - February 2006 at 09:47 PM (18 years ago) 221 views.

Getting to Z: part 3

We have started Character Generation!

Students have begun the process of crafting their alter-ego in our text based universe, choosing race, attributes, skills, basic appearance and even merits and flaws.

When we are done, it won’t be my students flying around space, it will be their alter egos, their characters. This ability to explore a virtual world in another identity is a really important thing. Students are more likely to take risks and experience failure differently than if they were IRL (in real life).

Moreover, when we start learning ship and navigation basics, it will be in the context of a “new recruit” - opening the student to learning as a total novice. Richard Bartle talks about this identity exploration in his exceptional book, Designing Virtual Worlds

Here are some choice quotes from our recent adventures:

Eric: “Mr. Mackenty, what does a Klingon look like?”
Mr. MacKenty image-googles Klingons.
Eric: ...I think I want to be Human….

And here’s me trying to act cool.

You say, “we have to move quickly”
You say, “we are going to start Character Generation today”
dan says, “ok”
Jay says, ” alright”
andres says, “already”
You say, “the thing is…before you can play, you gotta have skillz”
Jay says, “ur way too cool”

I was very pleased how quickly they picked the syntax of character generation. Most of them finished within 30 minutes, needing very little guidance. They created generally balanced characters, and I was excited to hear the kernel of a good team emerge in our classroom. They started discussing the different roles we would need on our ship; a captain, pilot, tactical officer, engineer, communications, helm, damage control, etc… I hope to clarify their roles next week.

The last step for Character Generation is to create a brief description and then a very brief biography. 

Next week, we will probably get into a small, pre-arranged fight to heighten the excitement and dramatic tension. This will also reinforce the importance of the skills they will need to move around 3D space. 

I’m thinking it will start of as a “typical training mission….”

Games and multitasking. A good thing?

Posted in Games in education on 14 - February 2006 at 07:22 PM (18 years ago) 209 views.

Courtesy of The Globe and Mail comes this interesting study (72 KB PDF file) about games and multitasking.

Although the sample size is quite low (N=100), the study is suggestive, and should be investigated more thoroughly.

“Prof. Bialystok suspects video gamers, like bilinguals, have a practised ability to block out information that is irrelevant to the task at hand.
“It’s like going to the gym,” she said. “You build up the ability to control impulses with practice.”

Raph Koster talks about this in his book - the brain is really good at isolating stuff; only what it wants to see.  The example he uses in his book talks about a group of people who are asked to count the number of clowns in a picture.  When asked to recollect the picture, though, the people seemed to miss the giant pink gorilla in the background!



An invitation to try computer games in your classroom

Posted in Games in education on 11 - February 2006 at 05:45 PM (18 years ago) 206 views.

Who this is for:

This guide is primarily written for K-12 teachers who are interested in using computer games in their classroom. This guide may also be helpful for administrators and system administrators.

The invitation:

Are you a K-12 teacher interested in using computer games in your classroom?

Maybe you want to harness the energy, time and enthusiasm students put into games. Perhaps there is a historical simulation which perfectly addresses a curriculum idea. Maybe you want to try something fun with your students.

We are going to explore some hands-on strategies, some do’s and don’ts, and points for successful implementation of computer games in your classroom. As a point, I hope much of this will be similar to solid instructional design…I’ve also included some examples to get you started.

As always,  you are warmly invited contact me with any questions or comments.

QUESTION 1: What are your goals?

The best place to start planning a lesson is at the end.  By the time this unit of instruction is over, what will our students know?  What understandings will they be able to demonstrate?  This is

quite important

.  When the goal drives the lesson, we are able to plan more clearly. 

Learning goals communicate to administration, community members, colleagues, and our students. Specific, clear goals, with specific and clear learning objectives. The more specific, the better. 

Example: My learning goal is to teach a class of 7th grade students the role of sea commerce in the mid to late 1700’s. By the time this lesson is over, my students should be able to:

a. Define commerce, identify 4 or 5 factors of commerce, and assess the supply/demand model of commerce in the 1700’s. Look for related supply/demand in their town or city.
b. Name four major sea routes, explain why these sea routes were popular, illustrate these routes on a map.
c. Discuss the ships which were used. explain how the “technology of the day” is related to commerce. Provide concrete examples.
d. Identify the risks involved with mid to late 1700’s shipping.

QUESTION 2: Is a computer game the right choice?

Just as with other instructional strategies, there are some things to consider when we think about using computer games in a classroom.

1) Your learners. Are your kids amenable to technology? Are they able to draw inferences from experiential activities? With the proper structure, can they stay on-task? Are there any disabilities which would prevent a child from using a computer? Note: most of these things can be heavily influenced by instructional design.

2) You. Have you played the game?  Are computer games fun for you?  Are you comfortable using technology?  Can you fix simple computer problems?  Are you willing to go the extra mile to create a good framework for the kids to learn? Have you developed really clear learning outcomes?

3) Time.  Although some parts of some computer games can be completed in 40 minutes, my experience has been 3 or 4 40 minutes classes do the trick. We usually spend the first class learning to use the game, the second just playing, and the third and fourth playing the game with good instructional design.

4) Technology. Have you discussed this with your system administrator? Well before the class?  As a rule of thumb, system administrators don’t like surprises.  Perhaps you could include them early on in the planning process.  Will the game work on the technology? Are any of the computers different (older stuff)?  Will you be using a 1 computer to 1 student model, or 2:1, 3:1?

As a side note, I’ve found students to work very well together when we use games to teach.

5) Outcomes. Are they written down, super clear, and linked to a state standards? 

You may wonder why I am so insistent about this.  I believe we need to use a higher standard when we use games in education…I often tell teachers to be prepared to justify your teaching to anyone who walks in. The initial reaction when a colleague, administrator, or community member walks into a computer lab full of game-playing-students is disbelief. I like to be ready, “Well,

, the kids are learning about


6) Support. Don’t try to use games without support from your administration, and your tech support team. The energy and power games invoke is really cool.  If we wake that energy and passion, and then squash it with a technical problem or a procedural problem, kids can feel genuinely disappointed.

Example: My students are very computer savvy, with over 98% having a computer at home. The average student spends between 1 and 2 hours per day at their computer.  I’m a computer geek, and have played computer games for a looooong time. I have allocated 5 to 6 classes to teach a specific subject.  I have assessed my technology needs and tested the technology to ensure the games work. My learning objectives are concise and a printed copy is on my desk. I’ve asked my principal for permission to run this activity, and I’ve shown him my lesson plans, and outcomes…he said yes.

Violence and Computer games: a response

Posted in Games in education on 11 - February 2006 at 05:24 PM (18 years ago) 214 views.

I am never want to start any sort of flame war, or create controversy. However, when I encountered this utterly myopic and ignorant piece on the role of games and violence (with references to learning), I thought a reply was in order.

I’m sure the authors are good folks, with the right intentions, and I thank them for this invitation to clarify the role of games and violence. 

Ever since their escape from the arcades, electronic video games have claimed increasing shares of leisure time for teens and tweens (11-12 years old) from the tedium of homework, parental control and   daily life.

This is an overly broad, inaccurate, and wholly incorrect portrait of the life of teens and tweens. Perhaps a brief stroll through Google scholar may prove helpful in disputing the idea teens/tweens are unfulfilled?

I also take exception to parental control being equated to a tedious thing.  I teach grade 3-8 (ages 9 to 14) and know many children who have vibrant, healthy, and satisfying relationships with their parents/primary caregiver. 

These children may well be the 21st century version of the droogie gangs depicted in the novel, “A Clockwork Orange.” Sadly, these teens and tweens (mostly boys) are soaking up dangerous lessons rooted in the social pathology of ultraviolence and addictive behaviors.

Sadly, you have no clue what you are talking about.

I offer hearty congratulations for clumping ALL teens/tweens in the same class as robbers, thugs and rapists (the boys in Clockwork orange were not normal chaps).  Again, overly broad, sweeping generalizations which don’t fit all teens. I think we’ll be seeing this theme resurfacing soon.

All games are rooted in the social pathology of ultra-violence and addictive behaviors?  Are you insane?

Here are some fantastic web-based games:

Here are some wonderful console/PC/MAC based games:

Shrek 2
Spongebob Square Pants Movie Game
The Incredibles
The Polar Express
Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster
Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game
The World of Harry Potter
Nancy Drew: Secret Of the Old Clock
Scooby-Doo Two: Monsters Unleashed
Finding Nemo: Nemo\‘s Underwater World of Fun

..there’s literally thousands of wonderful titles for kids.

As far as addictive behavior is concerned, does every person who drinks become an alcoholic? Where is your moderation? Where is your reasoned consideration of this issue?

Nourishing such behaviors are different genres of video games. One of the most common is the role-playing game in which the sole player is on a quest to save the world. Many of these games are medieval-themed because in these Dark Age games, it is easy to introduce every kind of fantastic magical element and demonic creatures as obstacles to a quest. What kid can refuse a quest?

What sociologist can’t refuse taking a cheap and easy shot at computer games?

“[D]emonic creatures as obstacles” aren’t the ONLY obstacle players encounter in RPG’s.  We also have logic puzzles, and a rich tapestry of Tolkien-inspired creatures. We also find classic monsters from Greek, Norse, Oriental, Native American, and Middle-Eastern mythologies.

So every kid who plays a Role Playing Game is going to be nourished into a thug or killer? How pessimistic!

Unfortunately, these quests usually pass through ultraviolent challenges like tar pits, death holes, ax and sword combat, and catapulted stones, with enough blood and gore to spare.

Have you ever PLAYED an RPG? I would not call the combat in Neverwinter Nights ultra-violent. In fact, the only “ultra-violent” games I have ever seen is a small percentage of first person shooters, and a couple of grand-theft auto style-games. What computer games did you look at? Do you even play computer games?

We can change graphic settings to be less graphic. Quests usually involve some type of challenge, or dramatic tension, but so does EVERY literally device. Does watching a clockwork orange make kids susceptible to committing the acts portrayed therein?

To paraphrase Little Alex, the protagonist of “A Clockwork Orange,” why is it that blood and guts seem most colorful and real on the TV screen?

What’s up with comparing a well known hyper-violent movie with computer games? I don’t see the connection.  It’s like you are only looking at one very small part of computer games, and comparing them to one very graphically violent movie.

Players are deliberately placed in situations where only fighting can solve the problems. What does this teach the player? The answer to all problems is violence.

Ah. of course. Let’s follow this thinking, shall we?

All games are violent => all players are effected by violence in the same way => all players learn violence is the answer to all problems all the time => all players then go out into the world, and act out the violence.

um, huh?

Again, you present this issue (games and violence) in overly broad, non-representational ways. You seem to make sweeping generalizations and sweeping conclusions. Your feet are firmly planted. In mid-air.

Both humans and their society are demonized and therefore worthy targets of wrathful destruction, from burning the homeless to slaughtering the cops. The efficiency of these enterprises might have raised both eyebrows of Little Alex and his droogs.

Some games portray this, I agree. But not all games, eh? Are teens able to discern and make sophisticated judgments about the difference between fantasy and reality?  Do you trust teenagers to make intelligent, moral decisions?

In this connection, we recall the horror of Columbine High School in Colorado. Both Columbine shooters were drenched in the play of ultraviolent video games. At the time, the murders caused a backlash against violent video games, but nowadays, the old ultraviolence has returned like an old friend.

You know, I wasn’t going to reply to this story. I was going to simply ignore it, the way I ignore most stuff founded in uneducated and simplistic opinion.

But in invoking Columbine, and equating that to all computer games, you have unwittingly contributed to the real fuel of todays malaise. Fear. I see it as a duty for all educated people to fight ignorance and fear - two things this article offers in droves.

The children who acted so terribly at Columbine were sick. They were sick. Sick. Games didn’t make them sick and games didn’t make them sicker. A very small percentage of people simply aren’t wired right. It’s been happening waaay before video games. 

Your entire article feeds the fear machine.

Now read this.  Some games are inappropriate (just likes some books) for kids. It’s a fact of life. But not all games are.  And not all people respond to all things in the same way. 

This is the key point:  there are to many variables involved to point to games and say, “this thing is singularly responsible for creating ultra-violent behavior”.

Graphic violence is not the only reason video games are a social problem. They are an obsession with many people. It’s OK to play a game once in a while, but when the play is for hours on end, that is not healthy.

..and you’ll be releasing the “amount of time you should play games” guide shortly?  Is reading for hours at end not healthy? What about writing, or playing an instrument?

Players become addicted, living to beat the game. Recently, there have been a number of deaths in Asia from playing video games for days at a time.

I think there were 3 reports of people playing until they died. That’s out of 100’s of millions of players.  It is inane of you to support your opinion with such shoddy statistics.  These players were predisposed to addiction!  Are you suggesting all players will become addicted? Are you suggesting there is no choice?  Playing a game equates with addiction?

Some kids even dress up as characters for Halloween, but often players do it just to look like or be the character. Is this healthy?

Yes.  I watch kids dress up like book characters all the time. When a person starts to identify with a game character, this is when we see troubles emerge. But this happens when the underlying psychology of the player is way off base, right? Do all players dress up like game characters? No.

Where is your moderation? Where is the “some games and some kids, and some times, and some types of violence” don’t mix thinking?

How many of our youth have become emotionally stunted from years of seclusion, unable to relate in normal fashion to the demands of ordinary social relationships?

How many of our


academics have become emotionally stunted from years of seclusion, unable to relate in normal fashion to the demands of ordinary social relationships?

Psychologists will be doing a brisk business. Eventually, the reclusive video-head must go to college, join the Army or get a job. But the only skill he or she possesses is the ability to rule a world littered with death and destruction, and perhaps a warped appreciation of classical music.

Yup. because when people play games, they are hopelessly tossed from their good-sense and life, only to be trapped in a fiery pit of utter damnation.

To be sure, not all video games peddle violence. Recently, manufacturers have been making learning consoles that teach kids math, English, science and other subjects. These games reinforce education in fun ways that a classroom might not be able to provide.

What? Educational games have been around for years!  I don’t think you’ve ever played games. Why are you writing about something you know nothing about?

If parents enforce rules that children should only play educational video games, we can mitigate the scourge of video ultraviolence.

If parents enforce rules that children should only play educational video games,

we can mitigate the scourge of video ultraviolence.

they will teach their kids to learn to hate a medium with revolutionary potential to change the way we learn and teach.

But parents are important to kids. What happens when kids don’t have parental guidance and support and clear. They suffer. But to say kids should only play educational games is myopic. What is an educational game, by the way?

There is plenty of room to design quests that involve strategic thinking toward moral, just and peaceful ends through concepts such as mutual understanding, negotiation, compromise and peacemaking. We hope such games will attract more girl players.

Yup. There are tons of great games which do this. To bad you don’t know about them.  Ever heard of the Sims?  Civilization? Sim City?

Say, how about developing an Internet game called Peace in the Middle East. Let’s project the energies of teens and tweens the world over in solving the most intractable problem of our age. Now that’s a quest.

Say, how about taking 5 minutes and thinking before you start writing.


You have written a poorly researched, overly broad, general op-ed piece with little basis in reality.  You have no clear knowledge about computer games, and have even less about the effects of games and violence.

The issue of games and violence is important. SOME kids playing SOME games in SOME ways will SOMEtimes be effected in SOME ways by the violence in them. This article does nothing to further the intelligent discourse on games in education with the only exception to demonstrate how not to talk about games in education.

Criteria for evaluating games in education

Posted in Games in education on 11 - February 2006 at 05:53 AM (18 years ago) 192 views.

Keeping in mind it’s the teaching that counts, this is a list of factors I use to evaluate educational potential in games:

1) The game has an educationally-accessible context (historical, contemporary, hard science-fiction)
2) Game play has genuinely educationally-accesible content
3) Success depends on intelligent choices and decisions
4) Failure exists and teaches when it happens. It is possible to lose
5) The tutorial is crystal clear, and checks for understanding
6) There are multiple victory conditions
7) The feedback model is short - students can quickly see how a decision effects a larger whole picture
8) The game becomes increasingly challenging and difficult

While the above points are important, it’s how teachers use a game which makes it educational.  A computer game is educational when teachers consistently probe for understanding.  Teachers who set up rubrics, or expectations, for understanding. Teachers who encourage students to share their understandings with their classmates.

Hold the bar higher

Posted in Games in education on 11 - February 2006 at 05:33 AM (18 years ago) 196 views.

Our standard must be higher

Using games in education requires a higher standard of educational efficacy than other, more traditional forms of instruction.

Because it’s a game
Because games are thought of as strictly recreational tools. 
Because many people think “students spend to much time in front of games”.  Because we can’t stick a student in front of a game and expect miracles.
Because games are not thought of as educational.
Because public education is the last industry in the United States to still be debating the efficacy of technology as a whole.

Are we using civilization 3 to teach the relationship between science and civilization prosperity? Prove the understanding with authenitic, accesable assessment. Demonstrate the learning. 

We are teaching students to

think about the game

. To develop those higher order thinking skills. To evaluate and analyze subtle and complex interrelationships.  We need to be able to point at the game and say “See? It’s working!” 

The burden of proof is on us, and we must deliver.

Assess, assess, assess

Simple understandings are simply measured.  Complex understandings are not.

How do we know a student knows?  Are there different levels of knowing something?  Surely simple memorization is different than analyzing, evaluating and synthesizing.  Computer games (and technology in general) confers a deeper lever of knoweldge than simple drill and recall learning activities.  Therefore, we must use correct assessment tools. 

Portfolio assessment, ipsative assessment, authentic assessment, and standardized assessment all offer meaningful ways to measure student understandings. Computer games (and technology in general) impart sophisticated levels of knowledge.  Playing Sim City allows players to test and simulate urban, suburban, exurban, and rural city designs.  Does a true/false test measure this understanding? Does multiple choice measure this understanding?  The answer is yes, it does, but it isn’t optimal.  A better assessment tool might be an oral report, or perhaps a movie of successful city growth vs unsuccessful growth with an analysis of what factors contributed to the success and failure.

We have an old saying in the educational field, fetch and wretch (as opposed to the much older drill and kill).  We send students to an internet site with 15 questions on a piece of paper, and they throw up the answers on the paper.  We then enthusiastically wave the paper in front of our bulding principal and prove our children are learning. Um, no.

Finally, assessment should be connected to the content classroom.  If a student is using computer games to strengthen understanding around persuasive writing, the student should recieve credit in their English language arts class.

Instructional Design and games in education

Posted in Games in education on 11 - February 2006 at 04:15 AM (18 years ago) 184 views.

Instructional Design

When this lesson is over, what is the learning going to look like?  What is going to be different?  What lasting understandings will the students be able to demonstrate? The best place to start planning a lesson is at the end.

Using computer games in education is more than sticking a student in front of Civilization 3 and hoping for the best.  Very specific learning objectives, accurate assessment, consistent feedback, and an engagement in the learning process are critical for the successful implementation of computer games in education.

It’s really no different from any instructional activity.  Well organized lessons and instructional activities make for a more successful learning experience.

It is important to include as many national, state, and local state standards as you are able.  Make sure the standards are truly linked to learning activities, and not added as an afterthought.  You should be able to clearly point to something a student is doing and connect it with a state standard.

Take into consideration different learning styles, different ways of using the game to illustrate understandings.  For example, could a student take a series of screen captures in Sim City, and create a large artistic collage in the hallway to show the growth of an urban and suburban areas?  Could another student interview a mayor of sim city, with a decidely cynical slant, and post the interview online?  How is our lesson plan addressing different intelligences and learning styles?

At the end of the day, well planned, well organized lesson plans will define the success of computer games in education. The more specific our objectives, the better we will be able use computer games to teach.

Helping teachers use games

Posted in Games in education on 11 - February 2006 at 03:46 AM (18 years ago) 223 views.

The real value of technology is when it is integrated into primary learning activities. As an instructional tool, technology really has no peers. of course, I know this, but many teachers raise a (healthy) skeptical eyebrow.    Moreover, many teachers have had less-than positive experiences using technology.

Apple Computer has some nice stages of technology use by educators.  I’ve found it to be a good framework for thinking about how teachers use technology.

Even with very tech savvy teachers, using games as instructional tools is a bit of a jump.  How then, can we encourage, engage, and excite teachers to use games to teach? (It should be noted we very rarely have a problem encouraging kids to use games to learn).

The relationship

The teacher’s relationship to the technology is important.  Every interaction a teacher has with technology should be viewed as a potential opportunity to evangelize technology.

How do we help strengthen a teacher’s relationship with technology?

1) Prompt and courteous technical support
2) Excellent professional development with hands-on, time saving strategies
3) Simple kindness
4) Sensitivity to a teachers need/style

I could write 2 or 3 pages about each one of these points…but let’s move on

Using the structural dysfunction of technology in schools

In many schools, the computer room is separate and divorced from classroom teaching.  Many teachers use computer time as planning period. This isn’t a pejorative thing, it’s just a simple fact.  If we accept technology works best when it is in the classroom, we begin to see a real disconnect in technology use in many schools. 

The advantage to a system like this becomes apparent quickly.  If the social studies teacher is teaching the 7th grade all about Europe, we can dedicate our computer time to targeting specific learning objectives.  We can use games to teach the nuances of 13th century Europe. We can use games to help the science teacher better explain cells or DNA. We can use games to strengthen Spanish skills. Good games, games that don’t stink…meaningful learning.

Relevant and real connections between content and the game

This has happened to me on many occasions.

When I’m using games in class, students really get into it.  They are eager to share their knowledge and understanding with anyone (gasp…even an adult). When a student hears their History teacher discussing the Dark Ages, hands fly into the air as student seek to share their knowledge.  The really cool part of this is when students self-identify with the content!  “My castle doesn’t have enough food”  or perhaps “my kingdom isn’t strong enough” or “these droughts are killin’ me”. 

Teachers GET this. They actually tend to get it REALLY quickly.  When a student is excited and motivated about something they need to know on some Standardized Test, the teacher “gets it”.

When I approach a teacher, and ask how I can help their students, I usually hear about a particular topic the kids are really struggling with.

COTS game design that works

Posted in Games in education on 10 - February 2006 at 11:29 PM (18 years ago) 203 views.

How COTS games can work.

Leave it to Firaxis to articulate some great design points in Games in Education.

From the horses mouth:

Design Value:  Rewards: Early and Often
Player Impact:  Feel smart and believe you can succeed and achieve!

Design Value:  Immersive Flow
Player Impact:  Forget time and place. Get lost in an engaging process!

Design Value:  Progression
Player Impact:  This is all leading somewhere…just one more turn!

Design Value:  Surprise
Player Impact:  Expect the unexpected and learning is even more fun!

Design Value:  Re-Playability
Player Impact:  Try again. Just one more turn. New surprises.

Design Value:  Stealthy Education
Player Impact:  The more you know, the better the flow

I think one of the most interesting quotes from this site: Again, it cannot be overstated that Firaxis has never set out to make an educational game, however, it turns out that the company’s basic design tenets tend to create games that work quite well for these purposes.

Evaluting educational potential in a COTS game

Posted in Games in education on 10 - February 2006 at 11:06 PM (18 years ago) 194 views.

Things that make a game educational

It’s important to note the word educational. A game has to be good before it can be a good educational game…(please see games that don’t stink, below).

That being said, what is it that makes a game educational?

1) The game has an educationally-accessible context (historical, contemporary, hard science-fiction)
2) Game play has genuinely educationally-accesible content (Age of Empires has a great educational context, but lousy educational gameplay)
3) Success depends on intelligent choices and decisions (not twitch)
4) Failure exists and teaches when it happens. It is possible to lose
5) The tutorial is crystal clear, and checks for understanding
6) There are multiple victory conditions
7) The feedback model is short - students can quickly see how a decision effects a larger whole picture
8) The game becomes increasingly challenging and difficult

Remember, it’s the teacher who ultimately defines the educational efficacy of any learning activity. So while the above points are important, it’s how teachers use a game which makes it educational.  A computer game is educational when teachers consistently probe for understanding.  Teachers who set up rubrics, or expectations, for understanding. Teachers who encourage students to share their understandings with their classmates.

Games that don’t stink

You have to get four things right when you make a computer game.

It has to work right and well.  Technical problems are disastrous in games in education. Short classes and limited technical support make technical problems a serious issue. 

It has to be fun. It doesn’t get boring.  A guiding mantra should be “if it’s not fun, why do it?”.  This is why we always think about the game first and then educational potential.

It has to be challenging at different levels of abilities.  Some students are naturally interested in technology and games, others are not.  As much as something which is very difficult can cause problems, so can something which is very easy.  Levels of difficulty help alleviate this situation.

The game need to be accessible for different types of players (ala Bartle player types). Explorers, achievers, griefers, and socializers.  There should be something in the game for everyone.

Getting to Z: part 2

Posted in Games in education on 02 - February 2006 at 10:12 PM (18 years ago) 202 views.

This is the formal lesson plan I submitted to my administrator. It’s probably worth noting I’ve spoken at length with our math teacher, who is very curious about this. I’ve also connected with parents and gotten their permission.

The conversation and issues raised with the wizcore on the MUSH is worth an entry of it’s own!


Getting to Z. Text-based multiplayer games and the 3-dimensional cartesian coordinate plane.


This lesson is designed for grades 7 and 8 (ages 13 and 14). This lesson is currently designed for small groups (no more than 5 students).


This lesson is designed to last 2 months, meeting once a week for about 40 minutes.


ISTE Tech Standards

Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.

Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.

Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.

Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world

National (NCTM) and Massachusetts State Mathematics Standards

Using ordered pairs of whole numbers (including zero), graph, locate, and identify points, and describe paths on the Cartesian coordinate plane

Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry and other representational systems

Analyze properties and determine attributes of two- and three-dimensional objects

Use Cartesian coordinates and other coordinate systems, such as navigational, polar, or spherical systems, to analyze geometric situations

Investigate conjectures and solve problems involving two- and three-dimensional objects represented with Cartesian coordinates

Draw and construct representations of two- and three-dimensional geometric objects using a variety of tools

Visualize three-dimensional objects and spaces from different perspectives and analyze their cross sections


Bill MacKenty, M.Ed. Edgartown School


Students will play an online text-based multiplayer game. They will create a character in this game world, and take on the role of captaining a ship. In this context, as the captain of a starship in the Star Trek universe, the players will navigate through a text-based, 3-dimensional universe. For the curious, they will be using a derivative a-space system called ParadoxSpace.

There are no graphics, sounds, or graphical-user-interface. The entire lens through which students experience this game world will be textual.

It is in this interesting milieu students will understand and play inside the coordinate plane. They will successfully pilot a ship through the X Y and Z plane, dock with planets and starbases, avoid obstacles, and perhaps even engage an opponent! They will not be able to succeed in these tasks unless they understand X Y and Z.

[Major Understandings]

Students should learn:

To articulate the position of X Y and Z on a cartesian coordinate plane.

To plot a line from one area on a cartesian coordinate plane to another area, considering potential obstacles.

To apply knowledge of 3D cartesian coordinate plane to a theoretical/imaginary space and maneuver in this space.

[Essential questions]

What does XY and Z describe on a cartesian coordinate plane?

Apply your knowledge of XY and Z to our text based multiplayer game. How is knowing about XYZ helpful?

What jobs might require a good knowledge of X,Y and Z? How?

[Assessment Evidence]

What is the evidence that students have learned the standard?

1. Self-assessment. Students will rate their understanding.
2. Pre/post test in X,Y and Z.
3. Successfully navigate and engage an opponent in 3D cartesian space

[Learning Activities]

Teaching and learning experiences to develop and demonstrate desired understandings.

The majority of this activity will involve playing in a text-based multiplayer game.

There will be 4 major stages of instruction:

1) Introduction to text-based games, connecting, moving, talking, posing. Rules.
2) Connection to the MUSH and engaging in character generation
3) Introduction to aspace (this will be a major component of instruction)
4) Continuing familiarity with aspace concluding with the mother of all space battles!

Games and assessment: a closer look

Posted in Games in education on 02 - February 2006 at 05:39 PM (18 years ago) 200 views.

Assessment is critical. It’s one thing to ask a few questions, or just trust that “they’re learning” but it’s another to really measure enduring understandings.  With the rise of No Child Left Behind, and state standardized testing, this becomes even more important.

Of course, it’s slightly more complicated than this. If we want basic understandings, we use basic assessments. If we are aiming for deeper understandings, we use more complex instruments.

Again, we return to our learning objectives.

Are we looking for simple understandings? Use a simple quiz, true/false, multiple choice, etc…

Are we looking for complex understandings? How about machinima, or an interactive website? Perhaps a documentary project? Maybe a presentation to some younger students? An art project? Perhaps they could put on a small play, dressing up as different pieces of cargo which travel around the world (if we stick with our example)? 

The thing of it is, simple assessments are easier to measure. But technology, as a rule - confers complex understandings…thus requiring more sophisticated assessment tools.

1) When you use games in education, you must use good assessment.
2) Assessments should be “displayable” - if you do a play, or some live project, “webify” it and share it.
3) Make sure assessments answer your original questions!

Example: My learning goal is to teach a class of 7th grade students the role of sea commerce in the mid to late 1700’s. We’ll use a documentary-style machinima…this involves taking 40 or 50 screen-shots from our game (we’ll use Sid Meier’s Pirates) and then record ourselves speaking about different events in the game.  We can then upload this to a website, share it on a CD, etc…We’ll ask students to answer 10 different questions related to our learning objectives.

QUESTION 4: What are some teaching techniques?

If we just put a kid in front of a computer game, wait an hour, and expect something magical to happen, we will be sorely disappointed.  There


be some learning, but it will be unstructured, and difficult to assess.

However, if we build an instructional framework around the game, we are able to guide the learning activity.  I’ve found this is true for learning activities involving TV’s, movies, and even field trips…the better the guiding (or structure), the more the children can organize their thinking around something (I’ll talk about to much instructional design in just a moment).

Here are some strategies:

1) Put a list of questions and a pencil next to each student. Questions are linked to gameplay and your learning objectives.
2) Begin the lesson with a brief question period. Ask more questions than you answer. Encourage students to develop questions related to the content material. Write the questions on the board. At the end of the lesson, spend at least 10 full minutes answering the questions.
3) Working in teams of 2, have students solve a puzzle related to the content (a fill in the blank puzzle would work).
4) Use a rubric for an oral presentation related to the content material.
5) Ask students to spectacularly fail. Ask them why they failed. be very specific.
6) Make a guide for a new player - top 6 great strategies, or top 10 helpful hints.
7) Ask students to make a FAQ about the content material.

The key point with all these strategies is to develop an


.  If you are a teacher, and you know what you are doing, you should be able to fan the flames of active interest. I’m sad to say it would not be very difficult to kill the fun in a game by picking it apart to the point where children were not able to enjoy the game as a whole.  We are just asking them to think about it.

A brief word about to much structure. One of the really cool things about games is they are fun.  We need to balance this fun energy with our responsibilities as professional educators.

Getting to Z: part 1

Posted in Games in education on 01 - February 2006 at 10:07 PM (18 years ago) 200 views.

part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6

For a few years, I have been increasingly interested in how COTS (commercial, off the shelf games) can be successfully used in the education space.

For a basic introduction to games and education please click here. This covers a teachers perspective of the games in education movement.

As a long time fan of text-based games, bringing a MUSH into my classroom seems a logical and natural progression of my interest in games in education.

This is an introduction to a multi-part series in which I hope to detail my successes and challenges using a Star Trek MUSH to help 8th graders (14 years old) understand XY and Z on a cartesian coordinate plane.

Most of my entries here will be cross-posted from my blog, However, I’m sure some mush-specific material will emerge as we explore this exciting new instructional strategy, which I will post here.

Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked

Posted in Games in education on 02 - January 2006 at 11:13 PM (18 years ago) 214 views.

This is copied and pasted from

Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked

Henry Jenkins
MIT Professor

A large gap exists between the public’s perception of video games and what the research actually shows. The following is an attempt to separate fact from fiction.

1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It’s true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers

A new year and some new games

Posted in Games in education on 01 - September 2005 at 06:55 PM (18 years ago) 205 views.

We’ve just finished installing three new games on the computers in the computer lab.  Zoo Tycoon, The Sims 2 and Never Winter nights.  These games join our other games, Civilization 3, Age of Empires 2 and Sim City 4 (there are others, of course, but these are mainstream, AAA titles).

I think the easiest game to target learning objectives will be Zoo Tycoon.  I’ll be using the Revolution modification for NeverWinter nights…as far as the Sims2, I can’t wait to speak with our health and relationships teacher.  I think this game is perfect for kids to understand relationships and lifestyle choices.

Of course the really fun part of this is playing all these games so I can teach them to the kids. very cool stuff.