Educational values acquired in Video Games

Transferrable skills acquired through gaming

Constance Steinkuehler. 2007. Massively multiplayer online games \& education: an outline of research. In Proceedings of the 8th iternational conference on Computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL’07), Clark A. Chinn, Gijsbert Erkens, and Sadhana Puntambekar (Eds.). International Society of the Learning Sciences 675-685.

Research published by Constance Steinkuehler in 2007 explored areas around what people who engaged with massively multiplayer online games more than traditional entertainment methods learned from doing so. There was little research that could lead him to find the answer to the question, “what, if anything, was the intellectual merit of playing in virtual worlds?” Cognitive ethnography data collection allowed the research to focus on how actions in a virtual world relate to learning in reality. Steinkuehler proposed a set of six areas, which highlight where online multiplayer environments foster learning of real-life skills. The aim of this report is to show that the areas of learning Steinkuehler demonstrates in his paper can apply to games outside the MMO genre.

Throughout this report I will cover four methods of learning, all mentioned in Steinkuehler’s paper, found within examples of modern video games.

The first learning method to discuss is socially and materially distributed cognition, which involves the organization of time and resources.

“…the coordination of people, tools… across multiple multimedia, multimodal ‘attention spaces’ [1]”

No specific examples are touched upon in the paper; the management of time and resources usually plays a critical role with the real-time strategy genre of games.

Starcraft by Blizzard [2] has bolstered its popularity in recent times through the upheaval of e-sports, attracting viewer figures exceeding 430,000 people [3]. The game received praise for its meticulous management of both army and economy, each with unique nuances. Seasoned players will learn to identify risks and have the capacity to locate solutions or compromises.

It was in light of this that Nate Poling proposed using Starcraft to hone management skills by offering an honours course, 21st Century Skills in Starcraft [4]. The course is designed to take advantage of the intricate scenarios that occur in game, applying them to the workplace [5].

The next method, collaborative problem solving, includes creation of functional teams, both in game or as a community around a game. A game that exemplifies the values of collaboration is Portal 2 by Valve [6]. Portal 2 cooperative gameplay involves solving puzzles where participation of both players is critical to finding a solution.

There tends to be two types of puzzle in Portal. There are those where the first player solving a problem will move the second player closer to the exit followed by the second player solving a puzzle to move the first player closer, a back and forth collaboration. The second type involves both players actively participating in a puzzle at the same time. Typical to both types of puzzle, there may be times when one player must communicate with the other whilst working towards the solution. Voice communication lets another player know your thoughts on the current puzzle, directly improving communication skills by explaining your rationale as coherently as possible. An intuitive pointer is included in the game and functions very well at conveying ideas where voice communication is not possible.

Another element introduced to the game was cooperative challenge mode [7]. In this mode both players must work together to finish a puzzle as fast and efficiently as possible. This requires a thorough understanding of each puzzle and a planned route from beginning to end, where roles and responsibilities are well defined. As with general puzzle solving, each player is accountable for his or her own performance and repeated failure leads to disapproval.

With the incentive of global competitive leader boards, good preparation and teamwork receives a higher ranking. The desire to work well together to achieve a goal reflects the self-organising trait mentioned by Steinkuehler in his paper with regards to MMO teams participating in raiding [1].

Parallel to these points, working well in a team is highly valued in the workplace and many other aspects of life, and being aware of your own roles and responsibilities in a team is a trait sought amongst employers [8].

The next area focuses on novel literacy practices, a method of learning highly specialised forms of language that tend to surround video games. One of the most comprehensive examples of this phenomenon is the Pokémon series. As a video game series, Pokémon has been growing since 1996 and as a result, the terminology and character base has been growing as well.

Currently the official number of Pokémon stands at 655 following recent announcements from the official Pokémon website [9]. This number is set to grow upon release of the next generation of games in the series due October 2013 worldwide [10]. With such a vast number of Pokémon with an equally vast pool of attacks that can be learned [11], the vocabulary alone required to understand the Pokémon games truly is a mountain for new players. However, the learning curve is somewhat unexpectedly accommodating and a general understanding is achievable with in-game explanation.

The complexity of unseen statistics in Pokémon expands well beyond the boundaries of most players, yet many communities explore them. Full communities have grown around the existence of these statistics. The prime example of this is a website called Smogon University, a comprehensive online collection of material centred around competitive gameplay [12].

Most visitors to Smogon University are seeking to research strategy and news around the competitive battle scene. The reason they choose Smogon is that the wisdom of the crowd helps verify strategies and ideas to the point where they become the new standard in gameplay. This method of rigorous design and hypothesis testing mimics scientific testing and is the cornerstone of scientific proof.

The diversity of the online communities that have grown around Pokémon is quite inspired. Worthy of a brief mention, in relation to Steinkuehler’s paper, fan fiction exists in abundance [1]. In the same way as the paper describes, the motivation for many of the authors of fan fiction is to socialise with others in an external environment to their own, fostering inter-cultural communication and integration. There are even Wiki’s that will help less experienced writers form their stories [13]. Practicing creative writing skills can apply to almost any career, communication in written form is always important.

The final learning outcome experienced because of video games is computational literacy. The ability to improve this skill has its roots within communities who enjoy the challenge of creating modifications or additional content for games. In times gone by, and at the time of Steinkuehler’s research, those who mod focused on creation of technical tweaks to improve a game, create a new visual element, or add some functionality. With the introduction of Steam Workshop, these actions are becoming less prominent in the place of user content creation [14].

Games such as Skyrim and Portal 2 help fuel the shift from modification to in-game content. Using editing and authoring tools, users have created approximately 340,000 pieces of content for the Workshop. Experience attained from novel content creation ideas sometimes sparks interest from game developers.

The rise of user created content has not stopped the creation of game modifications. Games such as Minecraft saw developers Mojang place a great deal of importance on supporting game mods through an accessible API. They are currently working with the Bukkit team, a group of modders with a strong understanding of Minecraft, to create this API [15].

As I have demonstrated, aspects of learning exist not only in MMOGs, but also in a much wider variety of games. Skills ranging from written communication to hypothesis testing present themselves to us quite often subconsciously, under the guise of entertainment. Whether we are aware or not, games are building and compounding valuable skills into us every day.

References

1. Steinkuehler, C., Massively multiplayer online games \& education: an outline of research, in Proceedings of the 8th iternational conference on Computer supported collaborative learning2007, International Society of the Learning Sciences: New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. p. 675-685.
2. Blizzard. Starcraft 2. 2010 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://us.battle.net/sc2/en/.
3. Zacny, R. 4.7 million watched MLG Spring Championship, previous viewership records shattered. 2012 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/06/14/mlg-spring-championship-posts-record-shattering-numbers-for-viewership/.
4. Goldman, T. College Using StarCraft to Teach Complex Management Skills. 2010 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/103081-College-Using-StarCraft-to-Teach-Complex-Management-Skills.
5. Florida, U.o. Honors Program Fall 2010. 2010 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.honors.ufl.edu/courses/coursesfall10.html.
6. Valve. Portal 2. 2011 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.thinkwithportals.com/.
7. Senior, T. Portal 2 DLC out Wednesday, adds new co-op missions, challenge mode and leaderboards. 2011 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/10/03/portal-2-dlc-out-wednesday-adds-new-co-op-missions-challenge-mode-and-leaderboards/.
8. Davies, B. What Are Employers Looking For? Skills and Qualifications. 2009 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/careers-advice/interview-tips/1337/what-are-employers-looking-for-skills-and-qualifications/.
9. Gamefreak. 新ポケモン「ニンフィア」. 2013; Available from: http://www.pokemon.co.jp/ex/xy/pokemon02/.
10. Bulbapedia. Pokemon X and Y. 2013 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_X_and_Y.
11. Bulbapedia. List of Moves. 2013 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/List_of_moves.
12. University, S. Pokémon website and community specializing in the art of competitive battling. 2004 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.smogon.com/.
13. wikiHow. How to Write Pokemon Fanfiction. February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-Pokemon-Fanfiction.
14. Valve. Create, discover, and download content for your game. 2012 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/.
15. Wiki, M. Plugin API. 2012 February 15, 2013]; Available from: http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Plugin_API.

Keep collecting coins,
Keep making doors open.
–ccmdo

The Walking Dead

An episodic path to success

Telltale Games enjoyed a particularly successful year in 2012. It’s no secret that The Walking Dead served up a master class in storytelling. In fact, the storytelling and immersion was so strong, that reviewers literally showered the game in end of year awards, sneaking in ahead of competition such as Assassin’s Creed 3, Mass Effect 3, Dishonored, and Journey [1]. However, to claim the strength of The Walking Dead derives solely from story would imply that Back to the Future, one of Telltale’s ventures of 2010/11 also praised for storytelling, was worthy of game of the year awards. In reality, Back to the Future was as likely to win an award as No Luca No [2]. So what separates the success of The Walking Dead from Back to the Future? What impressions did they leave with their players, and were there any other contributing factors to their success?

Making mistakes in the gaming industry can prove fatal. For example, the game All Points Bulletin (known as APB) faced a slew of issues including turning a blind eye to beta testing, miscommunication of pricing models, and unstable servers. [3] Just 6 weeks after the release of the game, the developers Realtime Worlds entered administration.

Telltale Games formed in 2004 consisting of prior LucasArts employees, adopting a development style of releasing games in episodes. Critics from websites such as Gamespot and IGN herald Telltale Games as the one truly successful episodic games developer [4]. Carrying over 7 years of experience, the critical responses to Telltale Games releases have been progressively reaching more and more into the positive.

Starting back in late 2010 the first episode of Back to the Future was released, accompanied by a quite even split of pros and cons [5]. Starting with the strongest elements of this game, the dialogue exudes genuineness and in addition the humor is top-flight. Voice acting talent is as close to the original film as was possible, to the degree where the protagonist’s voice is in-discernibly different. The nostalgia generated by the 1st two episodes in the series provided the bait and hook.

Unfortunately for the fans, and ultimately the developer, it was let down by a faltering in the strength of the story, and it never truly recovered. Once the story dropped, the blur of nostalgia was removed, and thus the connection between the film and game was also removed. An unsatisfying and unconvincingly wrote ending was the final nail in the coffin for a potentially great game that failed to finish its race.

Further deterrents included presentation issues which for a long time have stuck to Telltale Games like chewing gum in hair. Issues such as frame rate, and audio glitches, down to the simplicity of the puzzles throughout Back to the Future all serve as valuable learning experiences. With that said Back to the Future is by no means a bad game, but a game that suffered from a few issues that can’t be ignored.

Near the end of 2011 Telltale Games released Jurassic Park; this game was rather plagued by negatives [6]. Having been released at roughly the same time as Back to the Future, any improvements made with the benefit of hindsight were non-existent. If Telltale Games didn’t have enough feedback on where to improve after watching the efforts of Back to the Future, Jurassic Park provided a torrent of mediocrity that was up to that task.

Unlike Back to the Future, whose first episodes are well written and engaging, Jurassic Park was unable to connect to its roots from the start. The story almost searched its way through a directionless arc. The characters were unable to develop to any degree. Without a main protagonist character control constantly changes. This naturally leads to no connection being formed between player and character, rendering all characters mostly forgettable [7].

The other main problems were the lack of a quality story, poor dialogue options, and the same graphical and technical issues that were present in Back to the Future. The level of these technical issues was intolerable at times in Jurassic Park.

Summing up the negatives from the previous two games, a framework for greater success can be built. When telling a story, give focus to a single character at a time. This way the relationship between characters can be better digested and attachment can be placed by the player. Keeping the writing as consistent as possible over all episodes will help keep players coming back. Technical issues should be non-existent, or as non-invasive as possible. Voice acting can bring a huge amount of depth to a story, but the story itself must still stand up to critique.

The second half of 2012 brought The Walking Dead, which at the time was riding a wave of popularity in lieu of The Walking Dead television series two finale. Immediately having such a large following, Telltale Games did their best to release on as many platforms as possible, and at the same time. This allowed players on the iPhone to talk to players on the Xbox 360 as freely as PC players talked with those on PS3.

The Walking Dead’s rise to game of the year was fueled by giving this wide player base everything they were expecting, and quite probably more than many were expecting. The acting in the game leaves nothing at the door. Where Back to the Future failed with the dampening of its story, The Walking Dead surpassed expectations. Telltale Games delivered a story that evoked more and more emotional attachment from its player as the story unfolded. Each episode expanded fantastically developed characters into a masterpiece that ended leaving players drained in a good way, having reached the end of the journey.

The realism emitted by the main characters, Lee the protagonist, and Clementine, rivals that of any of the most well received television series or movies. The sympathetic bond created by much of the player base bound them into sticking with The Walking Dead, episode after episode. The popularity has resulted in an eagerly anticipated second season of episodes, currently in production.

In a way, The Walking Dead breaks an important rule of adventure games [8]. Stylistically, adventure games rely heavily on a crutch of puzzles to provide a game play element. The Walking Dead casts aside game play in favor of its story and intricate character development [9].

The fine tuned process of character development in The Walking Dead comes about as a result of excellent use of dialogue options and weighted decisions. Simulating a realistic response by limiting the time to choose a dialogue option gives a sense of ownership to the way each player’s story progresses. Once the player is made aware that their decisions have immediate and far-reaching effects on the attitudes of the other characters, emotional responses become much easier to illicit.

There is one more element that contributed to the success of The Walking Dead, and it’s an inherent dynamic of television series’ [10]. This can potentially cause an adverse effect when the intended audience latches onto flaws. However, as seen with shows like Lost, word of mouth and fan generated excitement between episodes has an almost magnetic loyalty effect. The Walking Dead almost perfectly executes three ideals of televisual success, brand association, viewer (player) intercommunication, and an emotional connection to characters (as mentioned above).

Brand association of The Walking Dead was established by spring boarding off the wave of popularity the TV series of the same name had generated. Simultaneously, as a convenient design decision and another method of capturing more users, simple cell shaded graphics were used to faithfully recreate the feel of the original comic books. Fortunately for The Walking Dead game, the story captured the essence of its television counterpart. This proved to be a major sticking point for previous Telltale releases, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. Fans of the movies these games are based on often cite a disconnection between film and game as a reason for dismissal.

Player intercommunication is a major method of spreading awareness. It is present in most forms of entertainment and facilitated more than ever by online communication services such as Twitter [11] [12], and other social platforms such as Steam. The Walking Dead had approximately a one month waiting time between episodes. Whilst lengthier than a standard television series, this wait is still not overly long. The time between episodes allowed for fan theories, discussion of the previous episode, and the ability for new players to catch up or current players to replay.

The Walking Dead overcame the weaknesses of its predecessors. It also capably shows that an adventure game can proudly display its story and character development as its centerpiece, redefining the genre standards. The Walking Dead defines success of a television shows conversion to a video game.

References

1. Spike. Game of the Year VGA 10. 2012; Available from: http://www.spike.com/events/video-game-awards-2012-nominees/voting/game-of-the-year.
2. No Luca No. 2011 January 30, 2013]; Available from: http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/No-Luca-No/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d8025855090f.
3. Emery, D. Massive multiplayer game APB to shut down. 2010 January 30, 2013]; Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11333582.
4. Norris, E. Making a Case for More Episodic Games. 2012.
5. Miller, G. Back to the Future: The Game Review 2011 January 31, 2013]; Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIBXNBAu2yw.
6. Miller, G. Jurassic Park – Video Review. 2011 January 31, 2013]; Available from: http://uk.ign.com/videos/2011/11/17/jurassic-park-video-review.
7. Petit, C. Jurassic Park: The Game Review. 2011 November 21, 201; Available from: http://uk.gamespot.com/jurassic-park-the-game/reviews/jurassic-park-the-game-review-6346470/.
8. Miller, G. The Walking Dead: The Game Season 1 Video Review. 2012 January 31, 2013]; Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYtBU-6aBvM.
9. McLaughlin, R. 2012’s most innovative game ideas. 2012 January 31, 2013]; Available from: http://venturebeat.com/2012/12/23/2012s-most-innovative-game-ideas/.
10. Hotchkiss, G. The Psychology of Entertainment: Our Connection with TV. 2010 January 31, 2013]; Available from: http://www.outofmygord.com/archive/2010/01/28/The-Psychology-of-Entertainment-Our-Connection-with-TV.aspx.
11. Whitta, G.; Available from: https://twitter.com/garywhitta.
12. TelltaleGames. Available from: https://twitter.com/telltalegames.

Keep collecting coins,
Keep making doors open.
–ccmdo

I’ve heard of fan service…

Yay!

Shock announcement (at least to me it was) that Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD will be skating its way over to PC!

I’ve not been the most avid fan of the series as a whole, but I am an avid fan of nostalgia tripping. For myself, and countless others, the early titles of the series represent a time when I was just starting to get into video games. I mean, it was a great period of time for games. 1998 – 2000 holds most of my favorite games of all time. Examples, Oddworld, Crash, Pokemon, and Tekken. Iconic titles to which I hold such great fondness.

I’m personally hoping the PC version will be available nice and shortly after the console versions have had their “moments” in the limelight. I can assure you that THPS HD has already been suggested as a tournament contender for Dundee Video Game Society’s next LAN Party.

One of the most exciting elements of the THPS remake is the online multiplayer. Online play stands out as, in my opinion at least, the most prominent mark the last 5 years in gaming has burned onto us. I literally can’t wait to jump into some online mayhem.

However, the days of dragging your friends round your place to beat them at all the games you have that they don’t seem to be fading away. Maybe I’m just getting too old?

Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD PC Screenshot

THPS HD announced for PC

When all is said and done, THPSHD may just be another stepping stone across the river of remakes. With remakes of Final Fantasy X and Oddworld on the not too distant horizon, I can only wish that one day Crash Team Racing will receive a beautifully faithful remake with multiplayer. I would die happy.

Keep collecting coins,
Keep making doors open.
–ccmdo