Saturday, July 20, 2013

Insufficient Vespene Gas (ED504)

Today's ramblings were prompted by two articles:
Video Games and Good Learning (Gee)
Not your Grandmother's Library (Perez)

Given the chance to discuss video games or libraries, I think we would all choose to start off with video games. The author's original statement was about getting students to engage in "long and complex" activities. When I look back at my final years as an undergrad, I can see the clear connection between playing video games and learning. Three days before an assignment for Real Analysis was due, I would walk to my room, close the door and disappear. I might take a break for dinner, on some days, but there was a laser-like focus on grinding through the task. I play video games much the same way. I am not the type to play video games for an hour and then move on. When I used to play video games, it was an all day activity.

The author more specifically relates learning and gaming.
A science like biology is not a set of facts. In reality, it is a “game” certain types of people “play”. These people engage in characteristic sorts of activities, use characteristic sorts of tools and language, and hold certain values; that is, they play by a certain set of “rules”. The[y] do biology.
The author then goes on to describe the key ways in which video games relate to good learning. I've selected a few of his points on which to offer commentary (Mostly related to my playing of the original StarCraft and the Brood War Expansion).
IdentityGames give students the opportunity to think like someone else. It is not so much self-awareness, but the ability to create a new identity. I think this is one of the few areas where the original StarCraft failed. Players didn't get to create their own character.
Interaction: In video games, the feedback loop is shortened. Every touch on the keyboard has an immediate result. We can test and try new strategies at a rapid pace. All my siege tanks got toasted by Guardians, better send in some Wraiths next time. Also, upgraded Goliaths are effective against Guardians, too, particularly if you have a Science Vessel to increase the sight, offer shielding or to simply irradiate the Guardian.
Production: With the level editor, I always enjoyed making my own maps. Furthermore, there was a basic level of event-based programing. So, I could make solving the game a series of required steps and offer changing goals as time when on. I could make the story about surviving a siege or rescuing me (Or more likely rescuing Kerrigan, the damsel in distress; my apologizes for propagating that gender norm). Also, I could modify the characters. This ties back into the issue of identity. It was enjoyable to see myself in the game (as a renamed, slightly improved version of Alexei Stukov).
Risk Taking: "Good video games lower the consequences of failure; players can start from the last saved game when they fail." The most important thing anyone can ever learn in a math class is how to fail. Failure is what we do in math. We try something. We fail. We try something different. We fail again. We try one more time and realize that the castle has fallen into the swamp. In the end, after numerous attempts, we ended up with the strongest castle in all these isles [We how we transitioned from a conversation about math problems to a "Monty Python & the Holy Grail" reference]. Video games are great at letter students repeatedly fail and try again. I don't remember how many times I got five minutes into a StarCraft game, realized that I was heading in the wrong direction and just restarted the level.
Well-Order Problems: This is something that we do well in math. We build from small problems to larger and more complex multi-level problems. In StarCraft, the gameplay seemed to mimic this layout. You didn't get to use Ghosts in the first level, but you weren't matched up against Siege Tanks, either.
Challenge and Consolidation: "This cycle has been called the 'Cycle of Expertise'" As soon as you've learned that Firebats and bunkers are effective at battling zerglings, the game matches you up against Protoss Reavers, against which Firebats and bunkers are completely ineffective. You move from mastering one task to the next.
Explore, Think Laterally, Rethink Goals/Performance before Competence: "My schooling taught me, as it did many other Baby Boomers, that being smart is moving as fast and efficiently to your goal as possible. Games encourage a different attitude." There is a great deal of freedom in playing the game. I can set my own goals. I might want the highest score, the quickest win or to mine the most resources. For me, it was about losing the fewest number of troops possible. The kill ratio was key for me. (This is why I played almost exclusively as the Terran while making use of medics, and I hated playing as the zerg). Gaming let's us set differing goals, even while doing the same task. To steal an idea from Dewey, video games let us learn by doing. Most video games have a low barrier to entry.

What the author didn't discuss, was related to the undesirable behaviors that we can learn from video gaming.
Conflict Resolution: Have you ever played a video game with a teammate who was really bad? In that case, how likely were you to take the time to teach them to be better compared with how likely were you to tell them not to play with you? No one likes noobs. It's very easy to quit on other people, particularly when playing online with strangers. If I have a co-worker who does a terrible job, I can't kick them off the team.
Focus on scores/Illusion of perfection: Most video games have some sort of scoring system. Often there is an end of the game or a perfect score. I'm not entirely sure if this is helpful. There is no scoring system for being a good friend. As much as we talk about teacher evaluation, there is no scoring system for being a good teacher. Does playing video games teach us to fixate on measurable data to an unhealthy degree?
Risk Taking: Taking a risk implies both the possibility of reward and damage. If video games encourage risk taking, is that necessarily a good thing? We want students to take a chance in the classroom without being 100% confident of their success. Simultaneously, we want them to avoid unnecessary risks while driving. Life has no reset button.  
Related: NatGeo: Risk and the Teenage Brain

Now I will seamlessly transition to the piece about libraries. Instead of focusing on the content, I am going to talk about the formatting. I think that too often people confuse digital text with
"things that we haven't yet printed".

The article was not a good piece of digital media [The link listed in this blog is not the same copy that we were assigned]. The layout was such that the blurb that started at the top of the first page continued onto the top of the second page. Meanwhile the section that started on the bottom of the first page began in the middle of the second page. The pages were designed to be printed out and placed side-by-side, in which case the text would correctly flow from one box to another. Webpages is a misleading description. We don't really want webpages. We should be making Webscrolls. Pages are made to go side-by-side. Scrolls are set up in a vertical-linear fashion. That is the way we interact with digital text.

I kind of want to go play video games right now.
If only there was some way to gamify writing about my educational philosophy.


  1. Nick,
    Interesting additions on the gaming ideas. I'm not a gamer, but I wonder: Could students develop vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension skills through video games? Consider how that might look in your classroom.

  2. In the classroom: To a certain extent, multiple choices tests aren't that different from video games. If I’m playing a game, I can hit X, O, Triangle or Square (Playstation buttons) depending on what I think is best. On a test I can circle A, B, C or D depending on what I think is best. The difference is the presentation. If I hand students a paper exam and give them an hour to complete the task, then I’m giving them a test. If I create an interactive video game where they had a limited amount of time to match content (Vocabulary with definition or something similar) I am preforming the exact same task. Maybe that is why I like taking multiple choice tests so much; they’re just like video games.

    Beyond the classroom: To a certain extent any video game could teach certain vocabulary. With the movie-like cut scenes today in modern video games there is the opportunity to show rich dialog. Listening to someone else read a script gives students the opportunity to use the tone of voice and imagery to gain meaning from the words. Because of the fixed nature of video games, the dialogue that takes place in any video game is going to be repeated. Now, that may mean that the third time playing a game, a student finally looks up the word “corpulent” and then discovers the meaning of that insult. At the same time, it limits the amount of vocabulary presented.

    On a related noted, consider: “I got fraged by some noob, wait ‘til I respawn.” (An inexperienced player on my team accidentally killed me. Now I have to wait until the next round). To a certain extent, gamers develop their own technical language. In the same way that a pair of mathematicians might talk about solutions for a second order linear ODE’s, gamers might talk about the latest DLC for COD. Both groups know exactly what they are talking about using the most efficient amount of words. Cooperative video games encourage collaborative dialogue, which can lead to the creation of a precise technical language. Now, a precise video game related language might not be that useful in real life. However, we don’t denigrate mathematicians for the technical language they use, even though the extensive vocabulary an expert at math will develop is completely useless for talking to women or discussing philosophy.

    Another consideration related to games is related to the beloved choose-your-own adventure books for my youth. As a young reader, I rid Magnamund of the evil Darklords, twice prevented the resurrection of Vashna and saved the Moonstone as I read Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series. The content for those stories wasn't particularly challenging, but the concept is sound. With technology, literature need not be linear. Check out We could write a novel and then let readers follow the characters they desire. Students could read through the same book twice or three times and slowly uncover the back-story. To a certain extent, this what flashbacks do in movies and novels, but with the use of hypertext we would just give readers the choice of reading the flashbacks in whatever order they desire.