Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Sploder Game-Types"

For the next phase of our class we are going to be exploring and creating our own games using Sploder which can be found at

In the coming days and weeks look for my games under Jmarconi415. I will also detail my thoughts on the different game types sploder offers and take you along my journey through meaningful game design and creation in the quest of  a "good" game.

What makes a good game?

This was an interesting question to tackle, because the range of answers and personal preferences can play a significant role in defining a "good" game. Ultimately whether a game is good or not is up to the player. What we can do is quantify elements that are found in games that a majority find "good". After listening to Dr. Ruben Puentedura: podcast on good games (something I think everyone should listen to who has an interest in understanding game elements) I came away with a list of common "good game" elements. Check out his free podcast on itunes:

Let me explain what made a good game in my personal opinion before listening to Dr. Puentedura. Graphics, story, over the top set pieces, multilayer progression, freedom, and the right length of time. My ignorance however only took into account the generation of gaming I personally lived through. As I grew up, I also grew up as someone who enjoyed relaxing with games. Art work and intelligence crept in to my must haves. These ideas to me of what a good game was turned out to be shallow  surface elements. I never thought game design and why I liked some games and not others. Usually the cheaper games looked cheaper and games that recieved great reviews were great. I never once thought, why is that so? Dr. Puentedura, and my Gaming and Education class have slowly peeled the onion back for me that gaming mechanics, design, and theoretic understandings matter just as much.

The first common core for "good" games center on the word "variety". Think about games that you consider "good". Now think about the variety that game had. Mario, Sonic, ZELDA, Metal Gear, Splinter Cell, ICO, God of War, Halo, minecraft all these games had an incredible amount of variety not only within themselves but within their industry and Genre as well.  For this exact reason I feel that TITANFALL will be the new "variety" standard for next generation games.   Another element is the right mix of difficulty and range of patterns. This can be included in the defining element variety as well.  Now think of a game you considered bad.  Were the reasons you felt it was bad because of sloppy game controls, repetitiveness, and a poor core game mechanic?  When Xbox 360 started adding indie games in their Xbox arcade a lot of what was being produced fell victim to these problems.  Games should feel fresh for the entire experience ,and gamers should feel the gains of power and skills as they progress as well.  These are the types of elements I would like to focus on in my own creation. My major focus will be variety and a range of compelling challenges. My narrative will carry the "lesson" and the game play will deliver the lesson through action. The only way they can truly work together for a great experience is if I adhere to what makes a "good" game.  Below you will find my likes and dislikes for various games found on sploder. I know hope to take all of this practice and critique with me on my own game development creation.

Shooter game:

The first game I played on sploder in my quest to determine what game I would like to create was a top down space invaders type shooter. While there is no denying it was enjoyable, it did however lack the substance I would like to include in my own game. For high score enthusiasts and arcade players this type of game will satisfy your basic need to compete for time and high score. The game itself is straightforward and easy to pick up and play. The ease of operation within the game is something I did enjoy. For a wider audience this could lend itself to popularity. However, what I have come to take away as a "good" game asks the question is ease of play and high score enough?  For my game I would like to include a lesson within the play and the ease of access this shooter allowed its players. As I play the other game type I hope to find this. I do understand the limitations of a drop and drag game builder but still hope to work with in the box, while challenging it's limitations to narrative and play.

Ease of play
Pick up and play
Addicting qualities around beating a time clock
Addicting qualities to beat high score
Power ups

Lack of purpose
Lack of narrative
 No call for a greater cause to play
No lesson or larger meaning to be pulled form it

Arcade Game:

This was a game I found that more represented what I would like to accomplish, just with an economics or larger lesson overtone. The design itself was friendly and the stop and read tutorial walk through was simple and handled introducing me to the game with ease. I liked the familiar "mario" feel. What I found that I decided was a must have for me, was the sound design. The game itself sounded great, which in return made it more of an "experience" . The gameplay echoed Mario but the coins really sold the emotion for me. The level designs were progressive and changed appropriately. If I could figure out how to add a Narrative and economic reason for the play to follow I may have what I'm looking for.

Sound Design
Sound Effects
basic quick tutorial
pick up and go feel
a reason to play collect coins
 Character choice

No grand story

Physics Game:
This is not the game for me. I wanted to learn towards an economics lesson plan and I would struggle heavily with making sense of that with this type of game design. While I'm sure it is possible for the creative ones, the limited time we have makes that impossible for me. I liked the challenge of this game, but the time limit seemed almost mean. Again the lack of a narrative is not my style, the "reason" behind playing for me at least needs to be more than beating a clock. 

Exploding coins

No reason behind the play that I could create
Lack of narrative
time limit


This is the game for me. I can incorporate a good narrative to drive game play and correlate economics easily for a reason to progress. I liked the ease of access to what is required of me. The design of the game itself was unforgiving. The ladders with nothing on the other side left me starting over again a lot. Also the sound effects were good, but music could have set the emotion and mood a little bit better. Over all I liked the "adventure aspect".

Possibility for deep narrative
Moves, left, right, up, and down, for a more play driven feel
Sound Effects
Pick up and play

No music to set the mood
Level design made the game more difficult (maybe on purpose)
Could have had a engaging narrative

3D Mission Game:
I like the story aspect of this game alot. The cut scene and flight to the destination was a nice break up that helped make you feel like it was a large game. The controls were a little "wonky" but over all I wanted to save my dad and blow up the reactor.  The shooting was fun and 3D environment was a great addition. There seems like a lot of potential for this style of game. For my own game however, I would like to take the cut scene and story elements and maybe drop the shooter element.

level design felt free
good music
good sound
good multilayer possibility
story driven, even if just a little story

shooter aspect (for my own use)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Seduction of Video Games

Reflection after reading:

A 50 Billion dollar a year medium seems to me like a medium worth studying and researching instead of opinionating against. The article does a good job showing how TV has seemed to skirt issues that fall squarely on the shoulders of video games so easily. During the time when the Supreme court was ruling on video game violence very little parallel was being drawn to violent TV as a problem compared to the barrage of words and opinions being fired at video games.  Even further those who have read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri specifically the brutal and violent portrayal of Dantes Inferno have come to understand just the level of brutality even literature has demonstrated. All of this absent from the fight against violent video games. What I appreciated about this article is, it worked in a systematic way to defend video games from a research standpoint, specifically in the tenants of psychology and sociology. In place of chastising what kind of people play video games we should be researching the true effects video games have from both ends of the spectrum. We should do this instead of branding every violent act with or without weapons an effect of the video game revolution.  If you visit the history of school shooting in the United States wikipedia page you’ll see violence as an issue has been discussed and debated as far back as 1760s. Clearly violence is a human issue that cannot be pegged to one medium.  Below I will discuss further my takeaways from this article.  

In the article author Keith Stuart says “central to it all is a simple theory- that games are fun because they teach us interesting things and they do it in a way that our brains prefer-through systems and puzzles”.  This was very similar to a paper I read by Kurt Squire in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Department who states

“In this paper, I argue that video games are such a popular and influential medium for a
combination of many factors. Primarily,however, video games elicit powerful emotional
reactions in their players, such as fear, power,aggression, wonder, or joy. Video game
designers create these emotions by a balancing a number of game components, such as character traits, game rewards, obstacles, game narrative,competition with other humans, and opportunities for collaboration with other players”(Squire, 2003)

Taking both thoughts further author Keith Stuart  goes on and states that games are more effective because failure is okay. This was something that really struck me because I haven’t thought of games in that context with education before. Yes, failing at a puzzle in a game that is asking you to solve a history riddle IS fun. Failing a quiz that is asking the same history problem, is ultimately less fun, and thus creates the memorization of learning problem. The freedom to learn is a great concept, but the freedom to fail without consequence is an even more powerful concept that I picked up from this article.  For years gymnasts learned their trade first in a controlled environment with safety nets, foam blocks, and spotters. This is an example of that freedom to learn and fail without penalty or in this case injury. Then they express what they’ve learned in an environment where those safety precautions are taken away.  Having an environment where every learning assessment comes with the weight of a “grade” may be stifling to some learners.  In the article abstract of Its a Good Score! Just a Bad Grade authors Canady and Hotchkiss list twelve common problems with how student success is typically evaluated including: “varying grading scales, worshipping grade averages, failing to match testing and teaching, ambushing students with pop quizzes, penalizing students for taking risks, and inconsistent grading criteria. The writers suggest that if schools are going to help the ever increasing number of at risk students there must be greater emphasis on providing opportunities for students to succeed”.(Canady & Hotchkiss 1989)

The shocking truth about this article is that it is a call to arms in 1989 years before and it could be argued the many in education have not heeded the power of embracing a safe failure-friendly environment. Let me be clear, I am not condoning failure for those who do not attend class or have a myriad of other problems in the cause of failure (I am speaking about failure not in a grade form but in a “trying new learning ways form”, but I am arguing for an environment that is conducive to innovation and learning with freedom.  

The article then goes on to discuss something that can give those who feel out of control (which can lead to depression or learned helplessness) the platform to take back control through the autonomy that games provide. In the article they cite The Sims as a game that gives players complete control over the lives of other people.  My initial reaction was music has been trying to do this for many years essentially letting the listener bond with the lyrics and represent that bonding through lyrically positive affirmations (think of the countless songs about overcoming a breakup). Gaming takes this one step further by giving you the actual control, and not just trying to get you to connect through words that you may or may not connect with.  This autonomy and power doesn’t always present itself in real life as fast as you can acquire it in video games. For example, I have been playing hockey for a couple of years, and while I always want to out work my opponents and turn in the best game possible sometimes the puck just doesn’t bounce in your favor. When I log into NHL and play a couple of games that feeling of control that can get lost in the real life actual game comes back to me, and with it, a sense of hard work paying off. Even though it is in a video game, I still feel like my hockey IQ lead to my victories, which in return garnishes more confidence for me in actual games.

The next thought I connected to the other with was that of “disproportionate feedback”.  Or the act of being rewarded for something rather simple. It seems this speaks to our need for success more than anything else real life can give us. It is nice to hear and feel you are a success as often as you can. However, once you are at a certain point in life that seems to happen less and less. For some people that perhaps grew up with a poor support structure may have never felt it at all. Thus,  disproportionate feedback can be a potent tool used to help these individuals overcome insecurity. A child that grows up being verbally insulted instead of hugged will think verbal assault is the prevailing way to demonstrate feelings. Imagine when they are in a school system that only judges their success by their grades, which for these student in this example aren’t that great for any number of reasons. Now that child who has grown up believing everything about themselves isn’t good enough has that same feeling reaffirmed by a failing educational design. If that same student could be introduced to gaming and instructional gaming design the disproportionate feedback could be used to re-wire that students’ thought process by acting as his or her new support structure. One that grows and changes with the student.

Overall, I enjoyed the article and the authors look at a politicized industry from a different lens.


Canaday, R., & Hotchkiss, P. (1989.). It's a good score! Just a bad grade.. It's a good score! Just a bad grade.. Retrieved February 18, 2014, from
Squire, K. (2003.). Video Games in Education. Comparative Media Studies Department,. Retrieved February 16, 2014, from,d.cWc&cad
Stuart, K. (2011, May 15). The seduction secrets of video game designers. The Observer. Retrieved February 18, 2014, from

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Defining Game and Play- Hamster in the wheel effect

The first part of this reflection contains my original thoughts on defining play as shared in my post "The productive struggles in defining play".  Below is my new found respect for similar productive struggles tackling "game".

Defining Play:

After a recent class I became Wildly obsessed with trying to define play. I crowdsourced my co-workers and came away with some pretty interesting conversations.  In an exchange of ideas I had a co-worker ask, "well how do you define what animals do? For example, when we see two lion cubs playing is that play?" My other coworker said "no that is actually practicing, they are practicing fighting but, we've labeled it adorable play". Which then sent me on a thought process of playing as practice, which as it turns out some researchers and intellectuals have already discussed.  I read “In the Laws, for example, Plato views play as a form of anticipatory socialization. If children were to become builders, he suggested, they should play at building houses”(Brehonyk, 2008). I found this was similar to how lions play in our discussion. I then stumbled on some research papers that detailed a brief history of play which I found as a good starting point for my own definition.

First the classical theories. Dr. Verenikina, Harris and Lysaght writes “according to the earliest classical theory, ‘surplus energy’, humans play when they have excess energy, Schiller, a German philosopher, defined play as the aimless expenditure of exuberant energy” (Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)

The theory above was then questioned to mean quite the opposite sometime later. “Play as recreation or relaxation theory, like the surplus concept relates to energy levels. However, the recreation school of thought theorized  play serves to restore energy. The last classical theory I wanted to highlight  was the Recapitulation Theory. Recapitulation claimed children play to relive the evolutionary past, like swinging, climbing, and fighting which all come from what they view as our ‘animal stage’.(Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)

After reading these, I gained insight to the historical concepts of “play” but mostly from a rudimentary level focused on energy expulsion. This still did not help me with the creation of my own definition. It was hard for me to use the classical theories in forming my own meaning. This lead me to my brief review of modern theories.

After going through more research I found the psychoanalytical concept.

“Focusing on the emotional domain of development psychoanalytic theorists such as Anna and Sigmund Freud looked at play in terms of catharsis.( which if you needed a reminder definition like I did is: the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.) Psychoanalytic perspectives explain the value of play in allowing children to express negative emotions that relate to situation in which they have no control. Play is seen to provide a safe context for expressing these emotion and gaining a sense of control”(Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)
While sometimes  I couldn't quite wrap my head around  psychoanalytics this definition brought up some interesting thoughts. Does gaming create a controlled sense of power for the player? Is that part of the draw? Is that why we can harness the power of gaming or play in education for positive learning results? To be honest, personally I have no idea, that is where deeper research on my part is needed. I am new to this entire field study and taking it one day at a time.

I found John Huizinga (1950) discussed a new understanding of play as an activity that exists only for its own sake.

“According to Huizinga, an activity is play if it is fully absorbing, includes elements of uncertainty, involves a sense of illusion or exaggeration, but most importantly, true play has to exist outside of ordinary life. I like this definition. Furthermore, I enjoyed the modern definition of play as being “characterised as a spontaneous, self-initiated, and self-regulated activity of young children, which is relatively risk free and not necessarily goal-oriented. Play is intrinsically motivated” (Verenikina, Harris,& Lysaght, 2003)

Alot of the information tied play to early childhood development.  Below you will find more thoughts on play in a specific childhood development theory from Theories of play. Retrieved from
Expansion of Social Contacts or Relationships with Others
Play is the work of childhood. Even if you disagree with the paradox, it is clear that infants and toddlers relate with others through play. Moms and Dads play with little  babies. Older infants explore their immediate surroundings by playing with toys. Toddlers like to run, jump, and climb - a form of sensorimotor play. Young children learn to relate to peers using simple games such as Simon Says. The  ext lists 6 criteria that define the nature of play in childhood.
  1. Child's play is intrinsically motivated because youngsters find it enjoyable.
  2. Child's play is pragmatic. Children are more  interested in the process of playing than in the product of play.
  3. Child's play is creative and nonliteral; it resembles  real-life activities but is not bound by reality.
  4. Rules govern most of children's play, but they are implicit. When children are playing "school" they all  seem to understand the rules, but seldom are they stated as in a game of chess.
  5. Spontaneity is an important element of child's play, it occurs freely and is under the control of the child.
  6. Play is a behavior that is free of emotional distress.

While this was a good start to understanding why children play, I have a hard time explaining what it is that makes me still like to (and want to) play as a thirty year old (with no signs of slowing down). I disagree with play as a behavior that is free of emotional distress. I have seen play between children grow into emotional distress on more than one occasion, which may just be an outcome of interaction instead of the play itself. There is a game called Dark Souls, that is painfully difficult, on purpose. So difficult in fact, I have gotten emotionally stressed trying to beat it, part of the stress was I was being beaten, and it touched on a feeling of inadequacy for not being able to best a mere game. When I lose to another person I can say to myself train harder, or that person is better than you, when losing while playing a game I don’t find that same comfort.  I find that to contradict play is free of emotional distress. I think the more video games embrace the art of interactive storytelling, the more emotions they will be able to illicit in this new modern age of technology ‘play’.

Those 6 criteria are defining the nature of play in childhood. I began to think maybe we can define the nature of play in adults.  When I started to search if any type of research has been done into the nature of play in adults, I found a little bit of a dead end. Maybe someone can help me find research for this topic if any exists, and if not maybe someone can direct me how to be the first to start researching haha. It is possible that the extensive research done on "play" mostly what it is and what it isn't, is non age specific. I did find papers detailing the importance of having an imagination as an adult, which would lead me to believe there is an importance that adults still engage in play on some level.

To answer the question what is play I find myself being sucked into the popular world of researchers and academics before me defining what play is not. I do not want to do that, I want to define what play is to me. Play to me is safe escapism where i'm free to correlate my own meanings and create my own reality.  This just happens to be possible with playing educational games, simulations, role playing, and other forms of "games". I can create my own civilization and play economics, but its still a safe escape where I can create my own understanding and not worry about bankrupting actual people or starting a geopolitical war. Similar to playing 'war', I would be safe. I would also have created an escape where I can pretend to be the hero. I said in the class discussion a definition I'd like to stick with, Play is the ability to engage in a set of actions and interactions where learning, and other outcomes are achieved through a non traditional approach that focuses more on imagination, engagement, and participation in alternate realities. All of this is to achieve a desired outcome. Outcomes that can be reward, learning, or relaxation based.  Whether its competitive, goal oriented, simulation, high score or open ended.  I guess I think of play as an open ended definition that can't be pigeon holed to mean unproductive or outcome-less b/c a structured play like we're engaging in right now (I stated this during a class session in Second Life, where we were virtually having this ‘play’ discussion, ironic right!) can be both.

For my definition of game, I'd like to follow the classical definitions. A game is something that has rules, definitions, outcomes or goals. Something that has an achievable effect that makes participants want to 'do' something, be it, win, gain points, or avoid a bad outcome that would result by failing to adhere to the rules.


When you think you have a handle on something as complex as defining game and play you should know you’ve only scratched the surface of a deep abyss of possibilities. That is how I felt after reading Narrative, Games, and Theory
by Jan Simons  

I feel back at square one with Plato all over again. I still feel confident in my personal feelings regarding play. Game, however is becoming an elusive theoretical idea thanks to Simons. I believe the creation of narrative to all elements of play adds to the level of escapism the players can feel. In my opinion narrative is  present in games and that gaming should help grow how narratives are shared and told in the future. The difference can be found in genre types of games and gaming. There is not “one” game type but many game types. Much like there is not just one style of narrative.

Now that my personal thoughts on gaming having a rightful place amongst narrative have been shared, the circle of discussion around game has changed for me since reading Simons thoughts. My ignorance to describe what a game is, was reflected by a limited view on how far we use the term game. In introduction to economics you’ll find that in order for an economic system to work the rules of the game must be followed. Economically speaking those rules are to make rational choices and decisions for the greater good of society. I shouldn’t drive south down a north expressway just because it would be faster.  The rules of the game apply to private property right as well. The question I can now ask is, what game are they talking about? What is the game economics is speaking of? Is it life, economics itself, free markets, choice, social behavior?  Is everything a game? Am I playing a game right now writing my thoughts in hopes to win some sort of notoriety and respect or in hopes of finding my niche for a doctorate degree? Sure I am, but i’m also doing it for other reasons that may not be gamified.  Game has such a far reaching transformative definition base on many different topics that just saying games have rules and goals is foolish. We should respect that games and gaming are in all academic corners of the earth.  Instead of what game is, its harder to describe something that isn’t a game. It’s hard to describe an instance that doesn’t have some sort of underlining rule set. (ethics, society are ground rules set forth in life). I might have to make a cop-out reflection here.  I don’t think we can define game until, what is, and is not a game is clearly, definitively, and exactly defined(can it ever be?).  Until someone can find the boundaries of how far “game” can reach to be expressed for something we may not be able to define it with exactness. We have to find the distant outer rim boundary, that edge that says after this mark game has no defining characteristic with anything else, but all things prior to this mark define game.  For me space’s end point and trying to define game have a lot in common. I feel that I’ll forever be the hamster in the wheel trying to show what game is and what it isn’t. To me games share common traits but not one hundred percent of one game transfers over to the other.  Simons talks about something similar when describing game theory but she didn’t share that game theory has a common feature of interdependence.  The economics library says that game theory games all share interdependence for all outcomes. The reason is because every participant depends on the choices of all the other participants. This seems to me like a rule that is being followed within the confines of game theory. Simons points out that Game Theories birth was founded because of unruly behavior, such as poker bluffs. My point is while the rules may seem non existent, are there not still societal rules put forth that still confines us. For example, in the prisoners dilemma I’ve heard some economist point out that two best friends that may have grown up as street kids and formed an unbreakable bond would never find themselves in the quadrants where essentially the player rats out the other player for zero jail time.  What rule is this? Its a rule created in their game of life called loyalty.

So in the end I am no closer to being the first one to define games or play than I was last week, but I love the open discussion about both.

BREHONY, K. (2008). Theories of play. Retrieved from             

Gordon, G. (2010). What is play? In search of a universal definition. Play and Culture, 8, 1-21.

Verenikina, I., Harris, P., & Lysaght, P. (2003). Child's play: computer games, theories of play
and  children's development. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series.

Ted Talk Quest-Gaming can make a better world

Below I am going to share my thoughts on this Ted talk.

First the most powerful statistic to me was that of the 10,000 hours and reference to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. I read Gladwell’s Outliers and remember thinking to myself after reading that section what it would have taken for me to be a virtuoso at multiple things. I thought if I studied economics at an earlier age perhaps I could have solved  tribal divisions in Africa and their logistics problem. I thought if I devoted my 10,000 hours to business I could have been a mogul. I thought more  about time wasted sleeping in, being lazy, and looking for shortcuts. That  brutal honesty is what haunted me when I started to think about the 10,0000 hour theory. It was more haunting when McGonigal discussed the parallel track for education. My initial thought was of the power that could be harnessed by combining the 10,000 hours people are already devoting to their “productive downtime” in gaming with education. Publishers are the ones in my opinion squandering the opportunity to engage their customers and players with educational opportunities within their games.   We need the infinity wards, Treyarchs, Bungies,Activisions and other gaming publishers to produce something that can be both money making, fun and educational. In my previous posts the thought of tangential learning is at the forefront of this possibility, but their lies even more opportunity than that. Something that could be for the greater good on all levels.  That parallel exists, but right now it exists as a lost opportunity for publishers to give back on a societal level.  We should demand more from them, after all, look at we are giving them. 5 years of eight hour days with weekends off ( for some).  Those were some initial reactions to this inspiring call to arms video. Below I will answer some specific questions we were asked.

The first question we were asked was can play and learning be combined. I generally don’t like to answer anything with a definitive answer. One thing economics has taught me was that a 360 degree approach to everything is often the safest bet to see all sides of a statement or issue. I’m going to break that rationale approach and say with 100 percent confidence play and learning can not only be combined, but should be combined. The only reasoning I can offer is through the day to day learning my three month year old daughter and I give each other.  Everything we do with Brielle is based on play which came as the suggestion from our pediatric doctor. Play is really a key component in her development. She is learning everything for now through play, so my opinion is play and learning should be combined especially given its importance in early childhood development. I guess a question that remains is, what happens when we grow up that starts to deviate from learning through play. I don’t think we stop learning through play, maybe the lessons we learn are just different.  I’m not sure if that even makes sense except in my own mind. What I mean is, I understand that collaboration., teamwork, and communication are all skills we learn and develop through play, but as a child, play is used for essential skills. What if we use play for essential career skills, or academic skills? Play to create some sort of specific meaning that has powerful real world achievements, not that teamwork, communication, and collaboration aren’t powerful real world achievements, but how many players take notice that these are skills being gained through play?  
What role does acknowledging progress play in successful gaming and is their transfer to education?
Another powerful statement in the video was the suggestion that many people escape to virtual worlds because of the constant positive feedback. Progress of play speaks to us directly and psychologically.  In a classroom that is perhaps not gamified one thing I fear is maybe a traditionalist (not that its a bad thing, every teacher and style is different) effect of teaching that may remain. The mighty red pen with all the items circled that were wrong or worse yet, only providing a number on an exam and nothing else(meaning no feedback, positive remarks, or encouragement just the number grade). Classrooms that run in this manner are only providing achievement and progress through a standard assumption of grading. A is good, B is okay, C is average, D not good, F failure. Suppose that was the ONLY feedback students were getting. These classrooms are missing the opportunity to keep students engaged and working towards a goal on a constant basis.  Instead they may  have to wait until an exam for the feeling of achievement (or sometimes the opposite effect if the student does poorly on the exam).  Below is my attempt to be creative with the point i’m trying to make. (please understand i’m not calling all educators and classrooms this traditionalist style, unfortunately my fear is some do still exist)

Achievement is a benchmark like rungs of a ladder, the further you climb the closer you get to your goal. When climbing a ladder that goal is the top. When taking a class the top of the ladder is to achieve learning objectives and standards. Now imagine a really really long ladder, one with 180 rungs. Your job is to climb the ladder to the 180th rung. Much like students are to go to school for 180 days where I am from and at the end of those 180 days the student passes to the next grade. Climbing this ladder is challenging enough but now suppose you only received feedback or the chance for positive remarks maybe every 30 rungs. At the 30th rung you were tested and told whether or not you were on track to reach the top of the ladder. Depending on the feedback maybe you’d be motivated to keep going, maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe you’re losing focus, or other things are starting to fight for your attention and climbing the ladder is easily becoming a notion of secondary importance. Now suppose at every rung of the ladder there was engagement that allowed you to accomplish a challenge and reward you with points to level up. Something that is positive that you felt you earned, better yet, you are aware  that the next rung is even better than the previous rung of the ladder and all of a sudden getting to that next rung and eventually the very top is an incredible challenge and task that you can’t wait to accomplish. Instead of being motivated every 30  rungs, your motivated every single one to get to the next. Rungs could be replaced by weeks or days and the achievement motivation or positive progress can be used to keep students engaged and progressing with interest daily.

Reflect on Jane's 4 things that games do to make us "virtuosos": Urgent Optimism, Social Fabric, Blissful Productivity, Epic Meaning.

The first one is urgent optimism. I like to think of gamers as the “keep calm press continue and game on” type personality. Dr. Angela Duckworth labels this type of long term goal purusit as grit. “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals” (Duckworth, Peterson, & Matthews, 2007)
I think the more we understand about GRIT and gamers the more we’ll see optimism is truly a great bond many gamers have.  For those who have never had the help of a complete stranger while getting worked over by the sith or watched people do good things for others in the virtual world this may all not make any sense. Malcolm Gladwell once said“ to a worm in horseradish the world is horseradish” To a non gamer this saying will fit perfectly with those who think differently about the urgent optimism characteristic.  Blissful productivity is my second favorite characteristic.  To some lurkers that do not try to understand gaming from a narrative or humanities standpoint, gaming is a time waste.  Those who game understand its like watching a 8 to 10 hour interactive movie unfold. It’s more about solving puzzles and making tough leadership decisions on the Normandy.  It’s working with a friend in Portal to find out the cake is a lie.  To them It is not a mindless relaxation. As matter of fact “Identifying a direct connection between the stimulation of neural circuits and game play is a key step in unlocking the potential for game-based tools to inspire positive behavior and improve health,”said Brian Knutson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University and co-author of the article. Active involvement in video game play sparks positive motivation in a way that watching and hearing information does not,” said Steve Cole, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development at HopeLab, professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles

In another study “After playing the shooter game, the changes in electrical activity were consistent with brain processes that enhance visual attention and suppress distracting information,” said Sijing Wu, a Ph.D.

clearly not mindless wasting. Not only is it blissful productivity to the player who is engaged  studies are showing it is also blissfully productive on a neurological and motivational standpoint.

Overall I think this video touches a large overarching call to arms . The small nuances that can be used in everyday life through the power of gaming came out of the larger picture as well. A society that games for a better society seems like a  noble cause to me. On par with that noble cause is drawing attention to the camaraderie and human emotion virtual worlds offer, which holds a question. Why are we the best version of ourselves in video games and not in real life. Whether for education purposes or societal purposes there is no doubt a lot can be learned from studying online and gaming behavior.


Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance And Passion For Long-term Goals.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.
Nauert, R. (n.d.). Active Video Gaming Changes Brain Waves | Psych Central News. Psych Retrieved February 12, 2014, from
Streeb, K. (n.d.). Video Games in the Brain: Study Shows How Gaming Impacts Brain Function to Inspire Healthy Behavior. PRWeb. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mash-up Learning theories: Sandbox Educational Gaming.

Welcome to Learning Theory Mash-Up

The goal of this post is to describe an assignment where we were tasked to develop a mash-up learning theory. This was extremely challenging. For starters every learning theory at a quick glance seemed right for my cause. I wanted to focus on different learning theories as a start or base to a mash-up gaming theory for education.  The problem was I had no idea where to start. My final product came to me like most ideas do. It came in that moment when you are trying to go to sleep except your mind won’t let you. You flip through your workday and other life events like a book as you try to force yourself to power down. Flipping through my mind was this assignment. I started to slowly piece together what I wanted to write about. 

The first thought I had was from a personal experience as a martial artist and martial arts Instructor. I remember being brand new to the karate class I attended as a child. You had to complete ten introductory classes in order to receive a white belt. I began drawing similarities as I thought about taking and teaching these classes. The classes detailed manners, expectations , and towards the end of the ten classes basic martial arts moves. As I thought about teaching these classes, I realized they are strikingly similar to a game tutorial. Furthermore, they are also similar to the beginning of new lesson plans teachers create. The more I drew from teaching martial arts the more my mash-up theory evolved. 

 In martial arts you receive stripes on your belt for knowing and performing Katas. A Kata is a traditional mix of movements and strikes that were used to practice while pretending to fight hundreds of individual enemies. We also used Katas as a test of ability. The beginning Katas required students to perform very basic movements. The student would perform their Kata for the instructor and if their movements, stance and strikes were correct and they remembered the entire thing they would be rewarded stripes on their belt. Their ability to demonstrate this proved the student was on track and progressing. The student was then rewarded with a stripe and could begin studying the next harder Kata. As I was remembering this I thought back to progressing through easier Katas and then being tasked with performing technical and difficult katas the higher in rank we climbed.  To me this was a great start for what learning theories I wanted to include in my personal gamifying theory.  I decided that for these early martial arts moments; individual constructivism, elaboration theory, and Montessori education blended seamlessly to what traditional martial arts teachers were doing for centuries. While I didn’t know it at the time, my instructor took the learning theory one step further during our brown belt tests. While individual Katas were difficult enough, in order to obtain the rank of 1st degree brown belt,(the last rank before qualifying for the black belt test) you had to perform partnered Kata. This was were you and another student had to perform in sync the highest ranking Kata a student can know before becoming a black belt.  What learning style within constructivism does this closely resemble?  The answer in my mind was social constructivism. Learning this Kata as an individual was a completely separate beast then learning and performing it with someone else. Adding a second person forced the student to look at learning the Kata in a different way, one that was more technically and physically sound. Technique became the highest form of expression when performing a kata with a second, third or fourth person trying to flow as one. You learned from the other students and developed a deep understanding behind the reasons for every movement. Like social constructivism the key to being successful in this was building meaning from multiple perspectives.  Below are how far some martial arts can evolve from a beginning Kata to a Kata that is free form built by experience gained:

The first video is of a traditional form performed by Rudy Reynon.

The second video is of the same student performing a creative form. Notice how he has taken the tradition of everything he has learned and turned it into the ultimate form of creative expression.

This was powerful imagery to me, as I came to an even more powerful realization.  Martial arts maybe one of the oldest forms of teaching to use a pure form of gamification. The experience system, learning styles, and reward systems of belts and stripes gamify perfectly. Even further, in the days of feudal japan and the beginning of martial arts as a career choice instructors would require students to travel on quests. Quests would be to learn from other master’s in far away journeys or take a spiritual quest into the wilderness for clarity and understanding of deeper martial arts philosophies. In my opinion as a new student of gamifying education, martial arts may have revealed this powerful learning style centuries ago. These three theories built the foundation for my own mash-up but I wanted something to draw all the theories together. This inspiration came from open world games and in martial arts the ability to create and make up your own form of Kata as a black belt(as seen above with Rudy’s creative form).  Made up black belt forms in our system took basic moves and turned them into the most extreme representation of what the body is capable of.  To me being able to make up your own form was a way to prove you had mastery understanding of the art you were practicing. It reminded me of open world games towards the end where you’ve learned all the little details to the game you could now branch out with full access to the map and abilities to create your own fun.  This is where I’ve come up with “Sandbox Educational Gaming” or S.E.G (all good theories should have equally award winning acronyms haha)

Now that you know where my inspiration came from for this mashup I plan to detail more about the pre-existing learning theories I am drawing from. First, the over arching theory behind S.E.G. is freedom. Freedom set within certain limits, that will not seem to exists from the learners perspective only from a course design aspect. This lead me to Maria Montessori.  Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori and characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development.(wikipedia)
The freedom held within this approach made sense to fit in with my “sandbox” style creation. The adaptation of sensory importance could be key to represent engaging the student. Gaming attacks your senses to create immersion, often players experience being whisked away into the world they are playing  much like a movie enables you to forget you are watching actors read lines and scripts. The outcome is a sense of involvement where a fictitious character like Rocky Balboa can engross the audience and give them chills with his on screen victory. That sensory overload is heightened in video games by the sense of control players feel. In my educational game that sense of control will be one of the many senses I would plan to attack in order for full engagement.  The power of sensory engagement is best described by Montessori herself “Helen Keller is a marvelous example of the phenomenon common to all human beings: the possibility of the liberation of the imprisoned spirit of man by the education of the senses.”(Montessori 1965)

With my overarching theme of freedom set, I then ventured out to define how the player will define his or her role as a learner in this new mashup theory. For this, I followed authors of the textbook Instructional Design by Patricia L. Smith and Tillman J. Ragan and their definition of Social and Individual Constructivism.”In social constructivism: the key assumptions are learning is collaborative with meaning negotiated from multiple perspectives. Individual constructivism: The Key assumptions of individual constructivism are: knowledge is constructed from experience, learning results from a personal interpretation of knowledge, and learning is an active process in which meaning is developed on the basis of experience”(Smith & Ragan, 2005)

For the final piece of Sandbox Educational Gaming I focused on a design theory that would lead the player in the learning process. I choose Elaboration Theory by Charles Reigeluth. Reigeluth says”Elaboration Theory: is an instructional design theory that argues that content to be learned should be organized from simple to complex order, while providing a meaningful context in which subsequent ideas can be integrated”.

For more information, see:
  • Reigeluth, C. (1987). Lesson blueprints based upon the elaboration theory of instruction. In C. Reigeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories in Action. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
  • Reigeluth, C. (1992). Elaborating the elaboration theory. Educational Technology Research & Development, 40(3), 80-86.
  • Reigeluth, C.M. (1999). The elaboration theory: Guidance for scope and sequence decisions. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory. (Volume II). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

I have taken the approach to mash-up a learning theory based on these four theories. These introduce us to learning  through a build up from simple to complex, alone, and together. We also can attack the elaboration theory even further within the social context of learning through multiple perspectives. Sandbox Educational Gaming can be played as a single player or multiplayer experience. The game itself is presented like most video games. The beginning stages or worlds are fairly easy and focus on introducing you to the game world slowly. As you move on as a learner and player the gaming world or lessons begin to open up and vary in complexity. These stages are  testing the skills you’ve developed in the previous chapters.  The final stage of the game is a complete unlock to an open world sandbox where you are free to create your own reflection and context to the ideas you learned throughout the game. This is where you “build” your own game(like building your own kata) within the game, or your own lesson within the lesson. Students will have to draw their own parallel from all of the previous elements in order to unlock the sandbox map of the world to be free to play in. The multiplayer co-op levels will be specific quests and missions along the way to help build your foundation in order to move on in the game. If you look carefully you’ll see my idea is to build the elaboration theory right into the game itself. In my mind Montessori’s freedom and Elaboration theory represents the game. 

The sandbox game theory approach suggests that learners do best when given a brief introduction and tutorial then are left alone to work it out or play it out.  It also suggests that while working alone is important there are certain aspects to learning that require a social component. Ultimately the complexity in learning must increase the more comfortable the learner becomes with the material. The ultimate conclusion is how the learner creates his or her own context at the end.

Before I pose some questions and concerns for you to answer, lets walk through S.E.G. visually. 
The tutorial stages of learning example for S.E.G:

 The visual for single player experiences example:

From a game design and education design standpoint the campaign can be the main lesson plan for example the campaign could introduce the slowly students to the concept of supply and demand or microeconomics and eventually in the later levels lead to Macroeconomic theories. In the picture scenarios and boot camp could be tutorial phases or refresher courses on theories. 

Visual Examples of Co-op in S.E.G:

Finally the sandbox for a true test of complete understanding and test of creation from theory:

Here is my overall visual for the entire theory and process:

Questions and concerns:

How can this theory be put to practical use in the classroom?

Is there too much freedom to this theory ?

How can we manage the earlier levels to be a complete introduction for better success in the later levels.?


Montessori, M. (1965). Dr. Montessori's own handbook. Random House Digital, Inc.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Stein, R. (1983). Elaboration theory. Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status, 335-381.

Smith, P., & Ragan, T. (2005). Instructional design. (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.