Sunday, November 30, 2008

Educational Games Inspired by Noble Prize Winners

In 2002, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Centennial Exhibition of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm, Sweden. The exhibiters published a book titled "Cultures of Creativity" that explored the various creative strands of the achievements of Nobel Laureates from diverse fields. The books introduction states that the concept of creativity has deep associations with Alfred Noble and is something that unites all Nobel Prize recipents via the recognition of their innovative work. The Noble organization remains committed to the tradition of creativity and innovation and has developed several free online games and simulations. The games allow learners of all ages to experience and understand the achievements of several Nobel Laurates in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, peace, and economics.

I've included a screen capture of the game introduction page for each field.

Physics Games Page

Chemistry Games Page


Medicine Games Page


Literature Games Page

Peace Keeping Games Page

Economic Games Page

Friday, November 28, 2008

Quia

Quia is a educational game site that makes creating games easy. I used it a few years ago. At that time I had 15 computers in my classroom. As students finished working on their classwork, they had the option of going to Quia and playing a game I created. Creating the games was easy, I picked the type of game I wanted to make and then entered the questions and answers that I wanted the students to see. Sometimes I out in the upcoming test questions, sometime I just gave them practice at what we were working on. The kids loved to play the game and didn't realize that they were learning stuff! They had a battleship game that your "hit" would only count if you could answer the question correctly.
By getting a Quia account, you can create games, track student progress, and see how many people are playing your game. But you don't have to have an account to use it. You can simply search for a game that somebody else has already created that matches what you want to be taught. If you have an account, you can copy that game and modify it, but if you don't, you can just have your students play it as it.
There is a 30-day trial if you want to try it out. I have let my account lapse in the past few years. I have changed schools, and with less computers I found my students just weren't using it enough to make it worth the expense. (I was paying for it out of personal funds, not my school's)
If you are looking for an easy way to make a game that will be fun for your students check out Quia!
http://www.quia.com/web

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Army to Invest $50 Million in Training Games

There is good new for game developers! Interest in games and their use in training has spread to the US military. According to an article in the November 23, 2008, online Stars and Stripes magazine the Army has received approval to invest $50 million in a “games for training” program starting in 2010. These games and gaming systems are designed to train soldiers for combat.

The Army is planning to use a commercial product for their gaming system and is apparently already reviewing offers from several game developers. The $50 million budget is in addition to programs already being developed by the Army such as the “dismounted soldier” virtual reality game that is expected to be deployed in 2009.

Currently the Army, along with the other branches of the military, uses a modified version of a commercial video game called “DARWARS Ambush”. This “first-person shooter” game is played on desktop computers and helps train soldiers on how to respond to ambushes or roadside attacks on convoys. Several weaknesses of this game were identified including the limited number of players and the inability to interface with the Army’s battle command systems.


In addition to correcting these problems, the article also lists several other key features the Army is looking for in a gaming system. The Army would like the ability to edit the terrain, be able to change scenarios during the game, and a play-back function to allow the trainers to review the recently completed scenarios with the participants. The game also needs to be portable so that it can be moved between the various military units and be easily maintained.


To read the full article, go to http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=59009. It’s nice to know that a large organization such as the US military sees the need for and benefits of using games in training.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Third World Farmer Game

A female peasant interviewed on Mexican radio news that shocked me proved to be the inspiration for me to explore the “Third World Farmer Game” among the “Games for Change” selection.

In the interview the woman explained why she chose to rent some of her land to “Narcos” (drugs dealers). She explained she had no option as the head of a poor family; the children were starving, her husband had left for the U.S. and she had never heard from him again. She commented: “I prefer to be in jail than see my children dying…” That phrase made me shiver and reflect on the dilemmas that farmers from a third world country like mine face.

When I explored the “Games for Change” selection, I saw the “Third World Farmer Game”. I thought it could be my opportunity to put myself in the shoes of a farmer with equivalent contextual characteristics to the woman I heard on the news.

As a farmer in this game I face many dilemmas related to corruption, trade barriers, lack of education, health issues, hunger, lack of infrastructure, etc. I have to take decisions on things such as: the combination of crops, the tools used for sowing, weeding or harvesting, whether or not to educate the children and seek health care for the family.

Being a poor family is not easy, particularly in a third world country where you have little support from the government to cover your most basic needs, such as money to buy seed and tools, and secure the health and education needs of your family.
The mechanics

In this simulation you have several turns; at each turn you are provided with $ 50 dollars with which you make choices on how to administrate it, for instance:
“What kind of crop should I buy?”
You can choose from corn, wheat, peanuts and cotton; each crop has different attributes, for instance: peanuts is a high risk crop, however it is potentially highly profitable; corn is both versatile and resilient. Another choice could be between peanuts or wheat, which depends on how much money you are willing to risk. You click on items you want to buy and you drop (place) them in the appropriate area (ex: for crops, green field land).


The next turn you can click on the upper right hand side of the screen to enable calendar time to pass.









You receive an annual report of spending and earnings, livestock, crops, events of the year and a summary.






You can also click on each family member to see their profile and decide if you want to provide them with health or education or if you consider it appropriate for she or him to leave the farm, get married or have offspring.


The instructional message is very clear as the game aims to analyze the mechanisms which cause rural poverty in underdeveloped countries. It provides an opportunity for simulating small farm management and family decision dilemmas.

This game is straight forward to play, however it is not very challenging and becomes tiresome after playing it several times.




















































































Sunday, November 23, 2008

Check out these educational eGames

Hi all,

I found a few educational eGames this weekend that I wanted to share with you.

They are all related to science/physics, which seems to lend itself well to eGames. Using simulation software makes it possible to play with lasers, put bowling balls on levers, and launch counterweight trebuchets- experiments that wouldn't be possible in most everyday middle school science labs.

I had fun playing with each of these games, and learned a bit in the process too. Give them a try when you get a chance. Have fun!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nuclear Weapons: The Peace Dove Game

When a child discovers and completely comprehends the horror of nuclear weapons on their own, it is a difficult matter for any parent to address. My seven year old daughter saw the nuclear explosion scene in the new Indiana Jones movie and instantly became terrified of nuclear weapons. I have been distracting her from it with lots of hugs and by giving her other things to think about, but telling her we probably won’t ever be nuked in our lifetimes was just not working.

I realized I had to educate her (and myself) about nuclear weapons and nuclear power to help her overcome her fears. I am hoping by teaching her about them (their history, which countries have them, and what people are doing to get rid of them, etc.), she will develop a better understanding of the situation, and overcome her fear. Maybe someday she (and the rest of her generation) will do something about getting rid of them. Too bad our generation could not.


While searching the Games for Social Changes web site, I discovered a game called Nuclear Weapons: The Peace Dove Game.


This game was too old for my daughter to play, but it was an easy enough game for me to play and learn about which countries have nuclear weapons. Several people and organizations have received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts concerning nuclear weapons disarmament. Worldwide, the white dove is a symbol for peace. In this game, you take on the mission to disarm the world of nuclear weapons! You have eight "Peace Doves" to help you, each able to disarm one of eight countries possessing nuclear weapons.

When you activate a peace dove in the game, they get into a conversation with the other peace doves through a series of speeach bubbles on the screen. These conversations really are a means to present various facts about nuclear non-proliferation like the one shown here about the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.






After the conversation ends, you are presented with a fact about the country the peace dove will target and disarm.


You pick a destination for the peace dove on a world map and "Launch" the peace dove when you're ready to send it on its mission. If you fail to send a dove to its proper destination, you get to repeat the procedure from the beginning. You have only two chances! If you manage to send a dove to its proper destination, you simply go to the next dove in line.



At the end of the game you are provided a summary of the countries that have nuclear weapons and how many weapons they possess.









Overall, this is a very educational game with a strong message in support of nuclear non-proliferation. You learn about various non-proliferation treaties, about which countries have signed (or have not signed) the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and how many nuclear weapons each country has. As for for drawbacks, it was hard to read the text-based clues for determining the targets for the peace doves. The game appears to be outdated too - I am certain there are more than eight countries with nuclear weapons now. The main problem with this game is that it really can only be played once. Once you finish the game, you know all the answers.

Ant War Game


I learned all about how to build a successful ant colony by playing the Ant War Game.  This game has you first pick which type of ant colony you would like to develop. It gives you a brief description of your ant species to choose from (leaf cutter, harvester, weaver, carpenter or fire).   From there you establish how much of your colony you want to do the different activities. The grandfather ant will give you tips on what you should be increasing or decreasing.

Once you have decided how to distribute your forces, clicking on the "go" button takes you to your ant hill.  Here you will see how your choices have played out for you. You will earn or lose points as seen at the bottom of the screen. Again on this screen grandpa ant gives you more advice on what you should be doing to create the best aunt colony.

I found the game to be very simple. My daughter, age 8, was  interested in playing once she saw the game.  The only thing that I would like to see improved in the game is the instruction. There is no "help" or "how to play". I see that there are other screen shots in the game of the ants going to war, but I have no idea how far I have to be in the game to go to war.  There is also a store that I can purchase things with the gems I have earned, but I don't know
 what everything is.  Even looking at the screen where I decide how to distribute the forces of the colony, I can't tell what all the graphics represent.  It would be helpful if as I scroll over them, there was text that tells me what it is.  I would also like a screen prior to the game being started that gives me a chance to read the objective of the game and how to play.

This game could very well be used in a classroom to teach students about the different species of ants.  In addition it could be used to show how ants increase their colony size and what their predators are.  I think kids would be receptive to playing it, and I think they could play it many times since the game offers such variety with the various species of ants and the choices you can make.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

INNOV8 - a Business Process Management Simulator

INNOV8 is an interactive, 3-D business simulator designed to teach the fundamentals of business process management and bridge the gap in understanding between business leaders and IT teams in an organization. This type of serious gaming - simulations which have the look and feel of a game but correspond to non-game events or processes such as business operations - has emerged as a successful method to train students and employees and accelerate the development of new skills.

Are you a professor at an MBA program looking for a fun, innovative (and free) way to teach Business Process Management? IBM presents INNOV8 , a state of the art 3D business simulator that takes you through the entire lifecycle of discovery, collaboration, and optimization of a company's business processes.

Below are two links about the game, one is a YouTube video from USC professors and students, and the other is the link to download the game itself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bid79HDZUZs

http://www-01.ibm.com/software/solutions/soa/innov8.html

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Garbage Game

In the Garbage Game, http://www.gothamgazette.com/games/garbage.php, you decide what to do with the garbage of New York City. The purpose of the game is to showcase how decisions made by both individuals and city officials will affect the overall garbage situation. Each decision made by an individual to throw something in the trash or recycle it can cost the city and its taxpayers money and affect the environment. In addition,the decisions made by the city on how and where to process the garbage and recyclables can also cost money and affect the environment.

After a few introductory slides discussing the amount of trash generated by New Yorkers each year and the cost of disposing of it, the Garbage Game is divided into two parts. In part one, the player answers several questions about their personal recycling and garbage habits. These questions cover standard topics such as what they do with plastic bottles, food scraps, diapers and electronic devices. For each question, the player is presented with several options. By resting their mouse over the option, an information box will appear that provides statistics or more details about the option. The player selects the option they are most likely to take and then receives immediate feedback. Players will have their sorted recycling increased if they made a good choice and poor decisions will result in more unsorted garbage being added to their totals.

In part two of the Garbage Game, the player assumes the role of Sanitation Commissioner and must decide what New York City should do with the recyclables and remaining garbage. The Sanitation Commissioner must make decisions such as where to collect recyclables, how and where to process the recyclables and garbage, and who should do it. In this part o
f the game, the player does not receive immediate feedback on their decisions. Instead they are provided more information on how these types of decisions have affected New York City in the past. At the end of the section, the player does receive a summary of the distances traveled by the vehicles used to move the garbage and recyclables and how much it would cost.

The creators of the Garbage Game also included a script that the players can add to their personal blogs or websites that announces how much refuse they moved and across what distance. The script includes a link to the game, which will help generate more interest in this topic. They also include an option to sign-up for newsletters related to waste management in New York City.

Overall, the Garbage Game is very educational. It provides lots of details about current recycling trends, the costs of various options, and may cause the player to think twice about some of their personal habits. Many players will want to repeat the game to see what happens if they vary their choices. One drawback to the game is that the scoring process is not clearly explained at the beginning of the game. In addition, some of the initial feedback screens contain lots of text, so it is hard to pick out the scoring information.

Free Rice: Fighting World Hunger

Reason: While perusing the site, www.gamesforchange.org, I encountered the title of an online game that I had seen people playing on Facebook (or at least a very similar game). The name caught my attention, which is why I decided to review it for this assignment.

Game: FreeRice at
http://freerice.com/

Premise/Cause: The premise and cause behind the game is simple: the average person can do something to assist in the fight against world hunger. This educational game purports to teach a variety of subjects, but the main topic highlighted on the front page of the game is English vocabulary. The site states that “For each answer you get right, we donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.”

Background: Some fast facts about hunger (from World Hunger and the American Obesity Association

  • Poverty is the primary cause of world hunger
  • More than 982 million people live in abject poverty, earning the equivalent of less than $1/day
  • More than 798 million people suffer from chronic hunger
  • The world has enough capacity to produce food equivalent to approximately 2700 kcal/person/day
  • The average adult requires about 1200 kcal/day to sustain basic functions
  • In the wealthiest country in the world, the United States, 127 million Americans are overweight (~65% of the population), 60 million are obese (~30% of the population), and 9 million (~5% of the population) are morbidly obese

First Impressions: Though not as complex as some of the games shown to us in Bernie’s and Karl’s lectures, the simple user interface has an elegant appeal. The main color theme are two earth tone colors, green and brown, with a picture of what looks like grass or wheat as the dominant graphic. From the time the site loads, the game’s objective is obvious, even without reading the instructions and game objective that appear on the screen. The “ease of play” contributes to the feeling that players of this game can do something simple to fight against world hunger. I like that.





Objective: For the vocabulary game, the objective is to choose the correct definition of the word displayed on the page. For each correct answer, the sponsors who advertise on freerice.com donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. It’s that simple.



Variations: The game has other topics, including “math, science, geography, art history, other languages and more.” Assuming a similar mode of play, in these subjects, players would just choose the correct answer to the question posed. Below is a screen shot of the simple Chemistry topic, in which players choose the element represent by the chemical symbol displayed.






Another variation is the ability to choose your difficulty level. At higher levels, the questions are more difficult. Changing levels is easy to do. There is a Change Level hyperlink at the bottom of the play window.


Game Play:


  1. Read the question.
  2. Click one of the answers.

Game play is so simple that it’s almost painful. No, I take that back. It actually makes it more enjoyable, especially because of the immediate feedback the player receives. Feedback is given at two levels:


  • Response to the question
  • Running total of rice donated







Another aspect of this simple game is that the simplicity and immediate feedback make it addicting. It’s difficult to break away from racking up the rice donated. The player score is given in terms of a benevolent donation of rice grains. This is truly gratifying.


Player Controls: Other than the basic browser commands and site men tabs, the player has four basic controls during game play:


  1. Answering the question by clicking one of the choices
  2. Choosing a different topic by clicking the hyperlink Change Subjects
  3. Choosing a different difficulty level by clicking the hyperlink Change Level
  4. Restarting by clicking the hyperlink Re-Start
Plusses:

  • Simple to play
  • Addictive
  • Supports a great and worthy cause
Minuses:

  • Not as complex
  • Players can become easily bored
  • Not much complex game technology
  • No player-to-player interactivity or competition

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stop Disasters

*Click to enlarge images!*

Stop Disasters is a free online single player game that teaches disaster prevention awareness and is aimed towards 9-16 year old children. It is a Sim City-esque game that focuses on saving lives and reducing the financial impact that natural hazards cause when they turn into disasters. There are five scenarios to play (Tsunami, Earthquake, Wildfire, Hurricane, Flood) and each can be played on easy, medium or hard. Since I live in California, I naturally chose to play the wildfire scenario.

At the start of the scenario a helpful citizen tells you how much time/money you have and how many civilians to look after. I was also given an objective to protect the local water pipes - I guess they're important. The interface is straightforward and the 3D graphics are pretty impressive for a flash game.

Developing the map is simple - just click on any square lot on the grid and several options pop up depending on what currently occupies the square. In empty squares you have to option to build structures (3/4 bedroom houses, hospitals, schools) or fire resistant trees, you can firebreak squares occupied with brush or trees to protect the area and make room for more structures, and you can click on existing structures to upgrade them. You have about 10-25 minutes and a certain amount of the map to prepare depending on difficulty.

Once you are done preparing your community or run out of time (whichever comes first) the disaster will start and the situation will be out of your hands. A gloomy news report will appear shortly thereafter - at this point you can take a closer look at the aftermath or check out a detailed report. Pretty cool stuff.

All in all, I found the game to be enjoyable and educational at the same time. The interface does a good job of providing "more info" buttons for almost every clickable element - through those you learn about risk factors, regulations, structural upgrades and many more quality awareness tips. I did encounter a glitch that froze my game the first time I played through, which was quite upsetting since I was about to run the fire simulation. Other than that, it's a very smooth yet detailed game and I look forward to trying out the other disaster scenarios.

The game is brought to you by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.


Dimension X: Evolver Pre-Algebra is a game that definitely deserves a look. It’s designed to have the feel of a first person shooter and an RPG in one. It’s storyline and graphics will hold a student’s attention, while the math is incorporated into the game in a subtle puzzle solving nature. The game begins with us choosing a character to sign up for a mission to save a scientist on an island. Each character has a full background story that makes them seem real.

Then a small training is given to allow players to become accustomed to the game settings. This section even provides practice in the quiz that follows each stage of the game. The answers are shown to be correct or incorrect. If incorrect, a voice will tell the player that there is “error in the data.” This could be improved by providing explanations for why the answer was wrong but the instantaneous feedback is nonetheless helpful to the player’s learning.

Learning does not just take place in the quizzes in this game. Players collect numbers to break codes in the technology of the antagonists’ lab in order to open gates and gain entry to their bases. Players also fight with creatures and others in the game using numbers and equipment such as EMP’s to do damage to enemies.

With great visuals, a good story line, math application and quizzes, I would recommend this game to any student of pre-algebra. 

See the site: http://www.tabuladigita.com/  

See a brochure for the company: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/4C71F275-FE47-4C20-8268-BDA4B56936F1/0/TabulaSoftExpoFlyervFINAL2.pdf

Against All Odds is an online game created to increase players’ awareness and knowledge about refugee situations by putting players in the position of a refugee. The game was created by the UNHCR, A United Nations Refugee Agency and is accessible to players in multiple languages.

The game starts out informing you that you are living in danger and must flee your country to survive, immediately submerging the player into the experience of being a refuge.

Next you go through three stages,

  1. War and Conflict: This section contains information about the rights that all people, including refugees, have.

    In the first scene you are subject to interrogation. Depending on your response you may suffer some severe consequences. After each response you have the option to continue with interrogation or gather “Webfacts” which is more information about the content of the interrogation question. All along the way you are required to make difficult decisions.

  2. Borderland: This section contains information about who is considered a refugee and descriptions of the different options they have for finding a safe haven.
  3. A New Life: This section contains information on how refugees try to transition to their new life in a new country.


Throughout each stage players will encounter several obstacles. Along the way players can read profiles of real people who left their homes to escape political persecution, profiles of people who are trying to find new homes, and read stories and watch personal narratives of individuals describing the refugee experience. This game is very engaging and interesting to play and while it is designed for school age children, adults can also benefit from the experience.


To learn more about the UNHR click here
http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home

To play click here
http://www.playagainstallodds.com/

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bert & Phil's WaterBusters

Game Synopsis: Phil's water bills are high. The player is tasked with manuvering Phil Dumpster around the house to locate water pollution and resolve the issue with tools and wit.

Game Overview: The player uses the arrow keys to move Phil around the house: a kitchen, 2bathrooms, a backyard, and a utitliy room. There are 4 levels to the game with 5 water challenges in each. Once the player spots an act of water pollution, they place Phil in close proxomity of the water issue to resolve the issue.




Each time the issue is resolved Bert, the salmon will congratulate the player and provide information on how solving the issue saved money. During the player's search, Phil will also need to acquire some tools to help fix some of the water issues. The player can view the tool guide to help locate the appropriate tool to repair the problem.


There is a timer in the form of water leaks (water drops). The longer there is a water issue, the more the water drops will fade away. However, 15 gallons of water is saved for every water issue that is resolved. When the player completes all of the challenges in a level, the player is given the total amount of gallons of water they have saved and provided with more information on conserving water. The player can also earn bonus points by answering multiple choice questions about water conservation.

Personal View: Upon first glance I didn't think much about this game. I understood the premise and how to manuver Phil, however there was much more involved once you got further in the game. Each level was a bit more challenging than the first. The game was appropriate for elementary aged students, which I assume is the targeted audience.

I did enjoy the tips and information given by Bert, the salmon. I didn't realize the importance of the tools until reading the "How to Play" section after I had started. That section was easy to get to if I needed to revist the instructions by pressing the "Help" button. The "Tool Guide" was also helpful in providing the player with information on how the tool could help conserve water. Some of the information was new to me. This is an appropriate and interesting game for anyone wanting to learning ways to converse water.

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Free Rice is an educational quiz-type game. Players answer multiple choice questions. Immediate feedback is provided in the form of 20 grains of rice for correct answers. Incorrect answers are corrected and repeated later until answered correctly. This shows the player that they are learning something. The player can select among categories to be quizzed including vocabulary, grammar, art, chemistry, geography, languages and math.

In addition to seeing the growing amounts of "rice" earned for correct responses, players can take satisfaction in the fact that their earnings will be distributed to hungry people around the world. The sponsors of the Free Rice game aim to provide free education to everyone everywhere and to help end world hunger. Rice is paid for by sponsors shown on the page and distributed through UN world food program.

This is a very simple game but it is engaging and fun. The questions keep coming so it hard to stop. Seeing the amount of rice adding up for a good cause motivates the player to continue. Check out www.freerice.com and help feed the world.

WFP Food Force Game




WFP Food Force Game




Description:
The Games for Change website describes Food Force as " is an educational action computer game that teaches kids about the problem of global hunger and the importance of humanitarian aid work. " The game was developed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and is available in many languages.




Target Audience: The game is designed to be played by 8-13 years old in a classroom setting. Teachers can use it to teach about world hunger and how humanitarian organizations help to relieve hunger.




URL: Use this URL to access and download the game to your computer. http://www.food-force.com/




Game Overview: This video game simulates the six missions process that a crisis team follows when responding to a hunger disaster. The game opens by setting the context, which is to save the displaced, starving people of Sheylan. The estimate is that one million people have fled their homes because of drought and a civil war. The goal is to save as many people as possible with the delivery of food. The player becomes a member of the four person WFP crisis team. Each mission step begins with an animated team member explaining the mission. Then there is an action game phase followed by a narrated mission summary while real life photos display.



Game Six-Step Missions and Activities:

Mission 1. Air Surveillance to locate and count displaced people. The game action is to move a helicopter over different sectors of a map and click when group of people is located. At the end of two minutes, you see the total, get feedback on results, and can replay the action if you want.



Mission 2. Energy Pacs - The game action is to measure appropriate amounts of rice, beans, sugar, salt and oil to create energy pacs that cost no more than 30cents .



Mission 3. The Food Drop - The game action is to click mouse to drop food loaded in airplane onto loading zone. You need to compensate for wind direction to land food in proper spot.



Mission 4. Develop Food Supply Plan - The game action is to drag and drop food supplies onto food supply plan. The pieces fit like a jigsaw puzzle.

Mission 5. Truck Delivery - The action is to drive truck through dangerous roads to deliver supplies. You have to change a tire, mine sweep, and build a temporary bridge to get supplies to distribution camp.

Mission 6. Future Farming - The action is drag food supplies to different areas of a village to support five different activities - schools, community project work, health services, farming, re-training so that village is self-sufficient in 10 years.

Summary: I liked this game. It was educational and fun and I think 8-13 years will learn from playing it. I learned about the complexities of relief efforts and the longer term goals. Most of the video game actions maintained my interest and I replayed three of them in which I didn't do well the first time. The summaries at end of each mission were valuable - they expanded on the issues and the real-life photographs brought me back to reality, which was suspended during the action phase.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

JASON Project learning simulations



The JASON projct website offers numerous simulations and e-games to increase student understanding. A nonprofit subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, JASON connects young students with great explorers and great events to inspire and motivate them to learn science. Its core curriculum units are designed for 5th – 8th grade classrooms but are flexible enough to be adapted for higher or lower grades.


The games are adapated to all grade levels and provide students with a visual and active experience that strengthens understanding and coincides with the print curriculum. The curriculum system is available to teachers, parenst and students alike and is free for basic access. Complete access is available at a cost.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Harpooned



In Harpooned, players control the Japanese Cetacean Research boats, conducting "research" on whales.

Players are rewarded for shooting whales and collecting the whale meat. The whale meat is then brought back to the research station where the meat is sold for pet food and whale burgers.

Players must avoid icebergs, the protestor boats, and the news helicopters and still arrive to the research station with a load of whale meat that can be turned for profit.

Yes it is gruesome- it is explosive and bloody. I found myself flinching as I repeatedly shot harpoons at whales. The music is very dark, mysterious, and depressing. The waters turn blood red as more and more whales are killed.

I found the satire to be extremly effective at exposing the problem of whales being slaughtered disguised as research by the Japanese. You get the point immediately and feel the severity of the issue.

Here's the YouTube trailer for Harpooned. As you can see, the interface is simple and the graphics are gory.
The Harpooned website (http://harpooned.org/) contains several interesting links which demonstrate the controversy that this game exposed.

As a serious game, Harpooned was very effective at eliciting my strong reaction against this kind of "research". It successfully, albeit gruesomely, achieved its objectives.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

McDonald's Video Game



I looked at McDonald’s Video Game by Molleindustria. Molleindustria “Radical games against the dictatorship of entertainment." Molleindustria aims to re appropriate video games as a popular form of mass communication. Their objective is to investigate the persuasive potentials of the medium by subverting mainstream video gaming cliche (and possibly have fun in the process).

In addition to English, this game allows the choice of playing in eight other languages including Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Danish, Turkish, Portuguese, French, and German. This videogame is a digital parody of McDonald’s corporation and the objective in this complex strategy game is to make money. Behind every burger, french fry, and ice cream cone, there is a complex process you must learn to manage from the creation of pastures to the slaughter, from the restaurant management to the advertising of the product.


I perused the 30 page game tutorial that teaches how to control each of those four sectors:

Agricultural
Use land in South America to create pasture or soy cultures. Options include raising more cows per acreage of land. Soy can be grown more abundantly by using genetically modified plants otherwise known as GMOs. GMOs allow the use of more potent pesticides to minimize insect damage. GMOs are grown next to grain production used by human consumption of the local people. Rainforest can be decimated to establish pastures and soy cropland.

Feedlot
Overfeed relatively skinny cattle with high-calorie soy-based fodder to help produce fat and greasy burgers for consumers. Make sure to produce enough fodder and avoid the epidemics. Automatically slaughter cattle ready to be changed into hamburger meat. Soy-based fodder is stored in a cistern. Time and money can be saved by adding the industrial waste i.e. oils, waste, and other “s---“. The trade-off is not so healthy cows versus the convenience. Use hormones to fatten up the cows and get them to market faster as time is money. Let’s use the organic matter from slaughtering the cattle, make animal flour, and mix it in the fodder - remember, waste not, want not! Get rid of diseased cows that eat the too unhealthy fodder before slaughter. Avoid scandal by destroying diseased cows with BSE caused by the use of animal flour. Cattleman will oversee the feedlot and alert you when something is going awry.

Restaurants
Make them efficient and optimized. Make sure restaurants are well-supplied. Keep human resources prompt and motivated. Motivate your crew by rewarding them with “employee of the week” badge or reproach them. Fire the most ungrateful. Stock the fridge with plenty of meat from the feedlot. Train the cooks like efficient assembly workers, cashiers need to be ready for customers by standing at their registers, attract customers with advertising, and train managers to alert you when things are not right.

Headquarters
McDonald’s is not just a chain of restaurants but rather a brand, a lifestyle, a symbol of western culture’s superiority. Make strategic decisions regarding McDonald’s corporate image. Your marketing department will set up the most sophisticated and pervasive (annoying and obnoxious) advertising campaign. The PR office will help to fend off environmentalists, consumer associations, and other radicals. Make sure to please the board of directors by making sure their capital bears dividends. The vice director will notify you when the board is unhappy.

I tried playing this game several times but was unsuccessful at each attempt. Each time I wasn't able to supply the restaurants with enough hamburger meat and the restaurants in turn lost business. In addition, corporate became very unhappy! It was challenging since the game progressed much too quickly and there were many other factors to consider while playing the game. I would certainly say that for the most part, this game closely simulates how the fast food industry operates. If nothing else, this game aims to educate and perhaps entertain, if I can learn how to play it!

This game reminds me of the time right out of college and before becoming a teacher. In my desperate attempts to land a career, I hastily agreed to being recruited by McDonald’s. They wanted to fast track me into a management position. After being growled and yelled at by the hungry lunch mob, I decided that working in the fast food industry was not for me. I should have learned that after my six-month stint at Carl's Jr. after graduating from high school. Working at Carl's Jr. was a real eye-opener in terms of how the fast food industry is designed to gain profits with the least amount of expenditure. It thrives on the available cheap labor force i.e. students, immigrants, seniors, etc. as it pays minimum wages without benefits. One of the few people who actually reap the benefits of profit sharing at the restaurant level are the managers who in turn train their employees with the least amount of invested time. It is standard practice in the fast food industry to "recycle" their employees every 3 to 6 months; they will quit or be fired and move on to another fast food restaurant.

At lunchtime, I ate my free meal and drove home never to return. On a positive note: one week later I received a pay check for my four-hour workday. ;-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mission: Migration - Game Review

The game, Mission: Migration, by the National Audubon Society is a game intended for young audiences although I have to admit I was entertained for a bit trying to perfect my score. In this game, the player chooses a bird to lead the flock in their migration. It begins with an easy flight over a rural area where the player has to steer the flock clear of airplanes and thunder clouds. These hazards will cause the flock to loose energy. In addition, the player has to flap the wings at the right time to conserve energy and catch jet streams to reach the finish line faster. Once you reach the finish line, the player has to land the flock to re-energize and it is here where the learning begins.

When landing, players are informed of things to look out for and it helps the player realize how everyday objects we use can impact the migration of birds. As the player progresses through the levels, play becomes more difficult as birds encounter more challenges in urbanized areas. Over all, I think that this is a great game for elementary or young middle school children to teach them about their impact on the natural world. The play was not too difficult and keeps the attention of the player. For young players who may not be used to reading long passages, this game seemed a better fit than some other games on the site.

The second that really caught my attention was the Free Rice game. I had played the game before and I think it may have been in one of the classes in the past. In this game, players are given a word and have to select its meaning. For every correct answer, the organization donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. Students are often motivated to complete a task when they know that they are contributing in a positive way to the world. One challenge I have teaching AP World History is that students still have a limited vocabulary that interferes with their reading comprehension. This game provides a meaningful way to learn vocabulary. The creator, John Breen, created the game after watching his son study for the SAT. It is an example of how technology can be used by anyone to make a world of difference.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Peter Packet Game "Fighting Global Poverty"



Peter Packet is a game from NetAid and Cisco, that is geared toward children in an effort to bring them to social awareness. Peter Packet is an action figure that gives the players data about social challenges around the world. Players are given information about clean water problems in Haiti, education in India and creating opportunities for girls, and preventing AIDS in Zimbabwe. Along the way it also teaches the children about the Internet with a lot of terminology along the way. Therefore, it can be a bit confusing because there seems to be too many factors that are unrelated going on. However, I did feel that it had interesting factual information about these world social problems. This game is geared toward kids, having a cartoon, arcade type feel the music provided is entertaining and would help keep the interest of the players.
When this site first opened it allowed the participants to raise money to help the global causes (only for ten days), so it was considered one of the first online service learning. It no longer offers this option, but you can still play the game. At this point I think the game is marketed more as an tool for children to get familiar with the Internet, but it does still have information about the three social problems mentioned above.
http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/779/edu/peterpacket/

Peter Packet Game, "Fighting Global Poverty"

Peter Packet is a game for children to become aware of world poverty. It is an entertaining game that has great visuals and music that kids would enjoy. You go with Peter on missions around the world, you may for example go to Haiti to help build a water filtration system. Along the way you are taken through a journey through
http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/779/edu/peterpacket/

Peter Packet Game, "Fighting Global Poverty"

There are missions such as helping Haiti get clean drinking water.
http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/779/edu/peterpacket/

Ayiti: The Cost of Life


http://gamelab.com/game/ayiti

The game I played and will review here is called Ayiti: The Cost of Life. The game was created to give players an opportunity to manage the survival of a family of five in Haiti. The game takes place over four years, divided into sixcteen seasons. During the course of each season, the characters perform their assigned roles. Situations occasionally appear which changed the conditions of the job, and led me to have my family work hard or work casually. Special events occasionally came up that affect my family's fortunes.

The goals to reach in the game are to keep your family healthy, happy, get the children educated, and just survive. If my family survives, our success is measured in the education my family got. The more baccalaureates in my family, the better we did.



The purpose of this game is to teach players about the interconnected forces that confront people living in deep poverty.

This a review of "Homeless: It's No Game", from www.gamesforchange.org/. In the game, the player takes on the role of a homeless person and must survive on the streets for "24" hours while trying to increase self-esteem. To do so, players must do the following:
  • Earn money by begging, foraging for and selling items from dumpsters, collecting and recycling bottles, and/or washing car windows

  • Eat

  • Find access to restrooms

The game is very simple to play, arguably too simple. All the player has to do is move his character around a neighborhood grid using the arrow keys.


The player causes things to happen by moving his character over them, such as over the knife and fork to eat at a cafe (if you have money and the cafe owners are actually willing to serve you).

What's good about this game is that the player gets to experience, though in a very simple way, the difficulties homeless people experience. In the game, it's impossible to find a restroom to use in the middle of the night, even when you have a little money people aren't always willing to let you spend it at their establishment, and your money-making opportunities are extremely limited. The game allows the player to see that a homeless person's biggest concern is making sure basic bodily needs are met.

However, the pace of the game is frustrating because the character moves VERY slowly. Also, periodically throughout the game, the player is told through a small blurb of text that something is happening to him, such as a police officer harrassing him. It might be more effective if these things could actually happen to the character rather than just presenting these occurrences via text.

This a review of "Homeless: It's No Game", from www.gamesforchange.org/. In the game, the player takes on the role of a homeless person and must do the following:

"Darfur is Dying" Review

The game I chose to review is "Darfur is Dying," found at http://www.darfurisdying.com/.

The game is meant to give insight to the plight of refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan, an area decimated by genocide and civil strife. The player's job is to contribute to the survival of a refuge camp. There is a selection of avatars to choose from, including a grown man, a grown woman, and children ranging from 10-14. As grown men are the first target, he is not allowed to forage for water, the first step of the game, so as the woman or any of the children, the player must make it to the well without being captured by roving Janjaweed militia. If you are captured, you receive a grave message that you were raped, killed, or face some sort of abuse at the hands of the milita.

This screenshot shows the playing field on the way to the well.


If captured, that avatar is removed from the list of choices.

If one makes it to the well, you have to make it back as well, where you can then choose to enter the refugee camp to complete various other tasks. This screenshot shows arriving at the well:


In the village, there are various tasks to complete to maintain the health of the camp, including delivering water to crops, picking up grown crops, picking up medicine, and repairing buildings destroyed by the militia. The following is a screenshot of the camp.


One cannot say the game is fun or enjoyable-- it's about genocide in Darfur! It is a game where the player is destined to lose. Eventually avatars will be picked off foraging for water, and you cannot be in the camp long without having to fetch more. While working to grow crops or repair buildings, you are continually attacked, creating more work to do. Whenever you are attacked, the game offers the player the chance to do any number of real-life activities to aid in the cause-- from writing letters, sending money, etc. Although to me it is macabre to make cartoon games about real-life tragedy, I can see that it is one way to draw attention to the plight in Sudan.

Third World Farmer


Summary
Third World Farmer is a game that simulates the life of a poor African subsistence farmer. It Begins by giving the farmer a healthy family of four, a hut, farm land, and fifty dollars. The farmer must survive year after, making decisions on whether or purchase crops. farm animals, equipment, buildings, or medical care. All this happens as a yearly onslaught of disasters and crimes are perpetrated on the farmer, seldom allowing him to get ahead.

How to Play
The game rules are very simple and could be learned by students at almost any level. Students need to buy crops and other items from the left hand menu. Then they need to place them in the fields. Once they are done buying items, they press the play button and a year of game-play will pass by with flashing months. Then, with whatever money and resources are left, the player repeats the process until the player and his family die, or until the player becomes a successful farmer.

Playing the Game
Playing the game is fun and intellectually challenging. It is a fairly simple simulation to play, but it has a lot of nuances. The simple part is that all a player needs to do is buy crops and supplies every year, and press play. Then the year passes by, and the results from the years crops, farm animals, and disasters are flashed at the end of the year. The results are displayed like a budget summary, with the crop prices and livestock prices fluctuating every year.

The item that impacts players the most is the "Event of the Year", usually a disaster, that can dramatically alter the fortunes of the player. Some of the yearly events that occur are Guerrilla attacks, refugee squatters, bank failures, crop failures, livestock diseases, and family sicknesses. Every once in a great year, farmers will have a good year and earn a decent return on their crops.

While maintaining crops and farm animals, the player must continually keep watch on his families health, decide when to have children, and decide whether or not to invest in expensive infrastructure, political representation, animals, and farm equipment. In the end, most players usually die off from the hardships of being a subsistence farmer. In fact, the game leaves players with this statement: "


Reflections
This game is stacked against the player and it is very difficult to win. This difficulty is not a result of poor game design, however, and is clearly meant to teach a lesson. At the end of the game, this quote is displayed on the screen: "Rules unfair? Game rigged? Think about the people to whom this isn't a game, but everyday life."

I played the game three times. Two times my farmer and his family scratched out an existence for several decades before they all died a slow starving death. I would just get my player ahead a little bit, and a disaster would come and wipe out all I had worked for. It felt so unfair and I really got frustrated. I was often faced with making decisions about whether to buy crops or whether to pay for healthcare. Some years were so desperate that I was more than willing to violate my principles by planting opium poppies, storing toxic waste, performing for tourists, or allowing paramilitary groups to rent my land. I felt like I was compromising my principles, but I really needed the money being offered.

I actually won the third game and ended up with an advanced farm, a healthy family, educated children, and $25,000 in the bank. Somehow, through good planning, decisions, and luck, I was able to gain enough profit to buy enabling tools and equipment, expensive farm animals, political representation, medical clinics, a road, crop insurance, and a school. Once I became safer and more secure, I noticed that my decisions became more principled and financially oriented. I turned down unethical ventures, and I invested in cash crops like cotton that would pay the most, and I replaced my farm animals with expensive elephants. My choices became all about making more money, because I was protected from many of the problems that I had as a poor farmer.

This game was surprisingly addictive and moving. I didn't want to stop. As a poor farmer, I was just wanting to survive and waiting for a little luck. As a rich farmer, I was trying to do good by my family, stay in perfect health, and make wise investments. It really opened my eyes up to the hopelessness of life and extreme hardship faced by farmers in third world countries. It just made me want to do something to help them out. As a side note, I am going to go to Ethiopia this year on a school district "blessed" trip to assist a school with teaching and technology. I think this game will help me to look at their plight in a new, and more sympathetic light.


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Park Planning...What a challenge!














I have new found appreciation for the intense time and effort it takes to plan public recreation projects.  I stumbled across the "Play Your Future Park" game while exploring Social Impact Games.  Before you can even begin playing, the participant is asked to ask a question about a current par
k project in process in New York.  I got every answer wrong, until there was only one choice left. Oh well.  

After finding an appropriate location to build a park, I had to build up public support and find funding for the project.  What a task! I eventually decided to let the corporate money pour in and let the big businesses leave their name on everything in the park.  The park was becoming beautiful and lush, but there is something about Martha Stewart's name on an information booth that just doesn't seem quite right.  I wanted a beautiful park not a K-mart linen's section! I continued to deliberate over a series of tough choices, all of which did not settle all too well in my gut.  Do I build a playground for kids or a Bocce Ball court for Senior Citizens? Do I build athletic fields or do I foster a nature reserve, or both? How clean do I want the bathrooms? Should i be cheap and get a porto? What about food? Picnic or snack bar...picnic...snack bar? I don't know! What about crime in the nearby area? Should I have the police out in full force, or let things run their course?  

Even after juggling many tough decisions, the overall space of the park became consumed with all of the outcomes.  The end result, didn't really look much like a "park" It looked like an attraction! I would rather have a nice lush space where people can run and roam.  What I created was a crowded landscape that looked more like Disneyland on crack.  The underlying point of the entire game is to look at the consequence of choice.  It's inherent that there is a detailed process involved in the planning and designing of public spaces.  Is it all necessary? I felt overwhelmed with choices and decisions to make.  In the end, the original idea I had for a park, had transformed into a recreational nightmare.  Although my vision for a park disintegrated, witnessing the process was definitely fun and challenging. At any rate, I highly recommend it. Have fun! 

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Serious Games:Ben's Game



Ben's Game was the culmination from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Ben Duskin, at the time a 9-year old Leukemia patient. Ben was an avid video/computer game player and wished to have a game designed for kids with cancer to relieve some of the stresses with chemotherapy. However the idea was was put into a quandary because executives believed that the game would take a couple of years to make and millions of dollars in cost. Fortunately, Eric Johnston of LucasArts volunteered to create the game and worked together with Ben to help his wish come true. The object of Ben's Game is the player must shoot the infected blood cells and collect seven shields that symbolize protection against the side effects of chemotherapy. The features include new characters to choose from or creating your own and the game is in several other languages.

As I played this game, the action was suited for a younger audience. I found it a little difficult to maneuver my character as it speeds past everything, but since I'm an adult I think my patience runs a bit thin compared to someone twenty-years younger than me. I like the symbolism as monsters represent the ill side effects of chemo and I can see where a child could get into destroying an effigy of something that makes them sick. The weapons are pretty cool as they give a bit of variety to what power-ups you can gain for your character. Being able to pick differenct characters also creates a personalize game for whatever child that plays it. Overall I think the game is great for kids with or without cancer and it gives control and meaning to taking treatment for chemotherapy.

http://www.makewish.org/ben

Games For Change

I browsed and briefly played quite a few games from the Games For Change and Social Impact Games sites, but will describe only two here in this post. As I explored those sites, it became very clear what was meant by Serious Games. These are certainly not fun topics. Those that are well-made are certainly engaging and I could find myself getting involved in them, even experiencing the concept of 'flow', but I don't know if I would call myself entertained. This was almost certainly the purpose of many of them.

The first game that I'll describe is Global Warming Interactive, a game created with funding from the NSF to teach high school students about climate change. The game as it exists right now allows students to interact with and affect the policies of one
country, Brazil, in order to modify this country's impact on the environment and preserve its resources and quality of life for its citizens. The player does this by analyzing the available data and forecasts for resource use and air quality, then taking on the roles of the Policy, Economic, and Science Advisers for the country in order to make decisions about how to use resources.

The game does a great job of modeling the situation for one country, and I'm curious to see what the result will be when and if the designers receive funding and expand the game to a global model. The ambition of the game is also to involve students from different parts of the world in a multiplayer simulation in which they would control the policies of different countries struggling to set policies for that are in their countries' interests, but that also protect resources and the quality of the environment for all. Though the model of the data and forecasts is great, the interface is difficult to manage, and I consider it the weakness of this game. It needs to be streamlined and clarified to make it more accessible to its audience.


The second game that I'd like to describe is Mission Migration from the New York Audubon Society. This game's mission is to educate children about the needs and challenges of migrating birds.

The player takes control of a flock of birds and attempts to guide them to their migration destination. On the way the birds must avoid storms and planes and find safe pesticide and pollution free areas to rest. The game would probably be fun for younger kids and it does a nice job of informing players of the challenges and dangers for birds without being preachy about it. The drawbacks are that it quickly becomes a challenge of eye-hand coordination when the clouds and planes start coming at you quickly. Finding landing sites is just a crapshoot since the icons that represent safe or dangerous locations are too small to see until its too late. But the intended audience would probably be entertained and educated, so I guess my complaints aren't all that important.

Serious Games and Disabilities

Handigo The Game - Ubisoft

3 mini-games, placing the player in a situation of disability: motor impairment, sensory impairment and learning difficulties.

Play a part!

Emergency!

An earthquake has just taken place. Put yourself in the shoes of a doctor or a volunteer and help the victims as quickly as possible!

Play a part!

Learn to read Braille!

You may have good eyesight but how good is your memory? You can test it by learning the different letters of the Braille alphabet.

Play a part!

Learn to lip-read

Have you ever thought of the difficulties deaf people have to face when lip-reading?

Play a part!


Use this game to imagine that you have a hearing impairment. You should get a better understanding of the dificulties faced by heard of hearing and deaf people.

Lipread the words said in the video and contruct the sentence by putting the words on the screen in the correct order.
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These games simulate disabilities, which is a serious issue in our society. People without disabilities really have no way of understanding what it is like to live with a disability. These serious games give some insight into some possible scenarios encountered in everyday life.

After trying the lip-reading game, my appreciation for my own sense of hearing was greatly increased.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Discovering Serious Online Games


Discovering a variety of serious games on the web was an easy task, playing some of the games was the difficult part, especially if you aren't a gamer!

I unearthed the Gameland site created by Shockwave, I played
several of the online games.
http://www.shockwave.com/gamelanding


Oil God Game

http://www.shockwave.com/gamelanding/oilgod.jsp

This online game is a strategic puzzle game developed by Persuasive Games. The Oil God Game gives the gamer a chance to "control the oil industry" by trying to double the cost of gasoline over a period five years. If you are tired of big oil companies running the show, this game is for you.


To start the game you are first asked to select your difficulty level: Regular Unleaded, Super Unleaded or Premium Unleaded. During the course of the game if you make the correct strategic moves you will accrue "Hand of God" credits every month, which in turn gives you the option to purchase new disasters to send down upon the unsuspecting countries.

The goal is simple, you are given "the hand of God" to control oil prices among several countries on three islands. You can use whatever means necessary to accomplish the task at stake. You can command natural disasters such as hurricanes
, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Or you can change the politics of countries by spinning the wheel of fortune to discover what change Capitalism, Communism or Socialism will have on the cost of oil. Or you may want to control the form of the government in each country; you may try your hand at Totalitarianism, Capitalism, Imperialism, Theocracy or a Republic. Participants can even overthrow the government starting a civil war or creating a war between two or more of the countries. "The Hand of God" can even command an alien invasion throughout the counties with an extra-terrestrial attack!

The game was easy to play once you understood the point system. I can envision this game used by high school Economics students who would thoroughly enjoy controlling "The power of God" in this game.


Xtreme Xmas Shopping Game

http://www.shockwa
ve.com/gamelanding/xtremexmasshopping.jsp


This Xtreme Xmas Shopping game is a strategic action arcade game developed by Persuasive Games. Although I believe that calling this a strategic game is a long shot, I would consider it more a game of chance.

The game requires participants to run around and collect items as quickly as possible and if someone else gets them first, you can knock them out and take them for yourself! Only in America can shopping be considered contact sport! As a shopper, you have a list of "must have" toys. You will need to use any means necessary to gather those gifts before someone collects them first! You can actually use p
hysical harm to snatch the toys out of the hands of other greedy shoppers!

Players learn to use the arrow keys to move around the board and the spacebar to pick up items. Xtreme Xmas Shopping credits are earned each time you snatch up a gift from the "most wanted" list. I found no entertainment and had difficulty using the recommended and required strategies to do well.

And this is supposed to be Christmas??? Good Luck with this one!

KarmaTycoon


Karma Tycoon is game in which players choose a city's population to serve and the type of non-profit organization to open within it. Players earn Karma points by attracting their target population to the site. How can you improve your site to attract a larger number of individuals? Should you pay cash or use your credit line to fund your site's expenditures? Do you qualify for a grant? Keep your balance sheet in the black and earn a 100% Karma score to advance the next city.

Karma Tycoon's web site offers a comprehensive, 34 page teacher's guide that includes pre-and post-game lesson plans, vocabulary resources, and worksheets. Resources for instructors adds value to this game and increases it's potential for use.

Karma Tycoon's Web Site Description

"It has cool, splashy graphics and is fun to play, but instead of trying to make a million dollars, users are making the world a better place by running nonprofit organizations (homeless shelters, animal shelters, youth centers, senior centers, and performing arts centers) in different cities across the United States. Players apply for grants and loans (and learn the difference between them), outfit nonprofits with the basic necessities, and watch the news ticker to make sure a hurricane doesn’t interfere with plans. With successful management of funds, players are given additional grants and donations, enabling their organization to grow in scale and offer more services to further help the community. The goal of the game is to serve as many people (or animals) as possible, which will maximize karma, so players can move on the next city and make a difference there, too. Simply put, the more people helped by each player, the more karma is gained. "

One Round of Game Play
Players choose to open the non-profit in one of several cities across the continental United States. Each city is marked with one of three icons to note level of challenge non-profiteers face in the city. Karma Tycoon presents each city and it's population realistically.

Once a city is chosen, players must determine which type of non-profit to establish and operate. Players can view authentic demographic information relating to the target population for each type of organization and links to real organizations by clicking "learn". The information in the "learn" links provides insight into the city's unique social challenges.

I chose to open a Youth Center in San Francisco and was presented with a map of the area. Each red dot represents a youth than can be served by my center. I was able to place my center in any location of the city.


I began play with with a $45,000 start-up grant. I was immediately faced with difficult choices for the features of each center. Choices for the Youth Center include a study hall area, computer lab, indoor games, dining hall, kitchen (complete with chef), basketball court, skate park, and swimming pool. I decided to purchase two buildings and then equipped each with different big-ticket items, a skate park and basketball court respectively, to eliminate competition between the two sites. I provided a kitchen, dining area, and computers at each site.

The pace of the game picked up after I opened my centers. There was constant movement on the screen. Each month I was presented a billing notice for expenses. Operating costs were deducted automatically from my balance sheet's total. I was excited to watch the red dots on the map move to each center and my Karma points increase. During play, the Karmmeter keept track of my expenses and funding sources. My excitiement waned as I ran out of cash and needed to find more money to keep the centers in operation. I stubbornly stuck to my non-credit funding strategy. I applied for and received several small grants, however, was denied larger grants. After a few months of operation (about 15 minutes) my non-profit's bottom line was in the red.





Players advance to another city when 100% Karma points are earned by a non-profit whose bottom line remains in the black. My play ended after my balance sheet was in the red for two months in a row.
My cumulative progress is tracked in a score card. The need for social support organizations in a particular city is again emphasized through the organization of cities into categories.

Conclusion
Karma Tycoon is a challenging game that could be used to enrich or supplement curriculum in several content areas. The resources for teachers provide comprehensive materials that teachers can implement easily. Karma Tycoon offers authentic data and descriptions of social issues faced by particular populations, both human and animal, in cities across the continental United States. Players engage in activities that increase social awareness and develop a myriad of managerial skills.

Free Rice is a vocabulary game I found through the Games for Change website. FreeRice is a sister site of Poverty.com and their partners are the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the United Nations World Food Program.

FreeRice has two goals: To provide education to everyone for free and to help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free. The Free Rice game gives people the opportunity to expand their vocabulary while at the same time donating grains of rice for every word they define correctly.

While the game is not very high tech, it is something that can definitely be used in any classroom. As you progress through the game, the words get harder to define. The levels range from 1-60 and they even offer the option of changing the level or subject at any time. You can choose from Art, Chemistry, Geography, Language Learning, and Math. Each time you answer correctly, the bowl starts to fill with rice, which I think the younger students would find interesting.

I really enjoyed this game because it was entertaining, educational, and it made me feel even better knowing that I was helping others out. I think this game sends a great message to anyone that would play it. I will use this game for my ELD students.

Serious Games Taxonomy






As a newbie, still trying to find out what’s so serious about “serious games”, I ran across a helpful site offering a Serious Games Taxonomy. Ben Sawyer & Peter Smith (U of Central FL Retro Lab) developed the slide pres for the Serious Games Summit in Feb 08.

Ben is also the author of Serious Games: Improving Public Policy through Game-Based Learning and Simulation Whitepaper for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was a contributor to Game Developer magazine. He’s co-director of the Serious Games Initiative found at http://www.seriousgames.org/ (Home page)

http://www.seriousgames.org/presentations/serious-games-taxonomy-2008_web.pdf (PDF link)

If you link to the Taxonomy PDF, Slide 29 offers a nice table of serious game industry segments cross-referenced with game objectives. Industries currently investing in serious games include Government & NGO, Defense, Healthcare, Marketing & Communications, Education, Corporate and Industry.

Game objectives include Games for Health, Advergames, Games for Training, Games for Education, Games for Science and Research, Production, and Games as Work. There’s a drill down from this chart for greater levels of detail within each category.

The presentation offers good information about precursors to serious games, the relative strengths of industry segments, levels of game play, and references to serious game projects. It’s a worthwhile overview if you’re into serious games.

Ben will be back at the 2009 Serious Games Summit March 23-27, 2009 in San Francisco.

Gum Beat

Gum Beat purports to be about a teenage girl who stands up against the oppressive government. In the game, bubble gum is illegal, which is seen through many postings plastered across the city. So, naturally, your character chews bubble gum, which is used to attract followers, inspire happiness in others and derail police efforts. Even with this impressive set-up, the game falls flat. There isn't a heck of a lot of learning. It feels like a poor man's Legend of Zelda (minus the puzzles, adventure and fun). I would not recommend this game to anyone, unless as a practical joke.

http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/gumbeat.php

The Peace Doves

The Peace Doves is a nuclear disarmament game, developed by the United Nations and can be found on Nobelprize.org
http://nobelprize.org/educational_games/peace/nuclear_weapons/index.html
(Originally found on the web site Games for Change listed under "Global Conflicts")

The object of the game is to send peace doves (that have magical powers) down from outer space to countries that have nuclear weapons to disarm them. There are eight doves that can only disarm one specific country. The player must read descriptions of the country's nuclear profile to determine which country to send the dove to. The player uses a map of the world to pick the country and launches the dove. If the dove is sent to the correct country, it is disarmed. If it is incorrect, the dove flies back and the player is given another description. If the next launch is incorrect, then the dove will be out of fuel and will not be able to fly back to the spaceship.


This game teaches about the nuclear culture of the world (what countries have them, the different treaties, etc.). At first I wondering if this was truly a "serious game" because it is not realistic at all and it offers no real solutions to the problem of getting countries to disarm their nuclear weapons. But if the definition of a serious game is that its primary goal is education first, than it definitely qualifies. Did you know that there has been a treaty signed that outlaws nuclear weapons in outer space? Did you know that Israel had nuclear weapons? I didn't. This is definitely a game that you would only play once, but you can learn a lot from it and you certainly understand that nuclear arms is still an important topic in our world.

Darfur is Dying - A Simulation Game




Darfur is Dying is a human-rights based simulation game where players must negotiate threats by the Janjaweed militias to live. Players must forage for water and risk death. Players must try to live for at least seven days in a refugee camp. The game is not fun, just like life in the Sudan, and I do not think a player can "win." It is a very challenging game, and it is difficult to stay alive.



“Darfur is Dying is a viral video game for change that provides a window into the experience of the 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan. Players must keep their refugee camp functioning in the face of possible attack by Janjaweed militias. Players can also learn more about the genocide in Darfur that has taken the lives of 400,000 people, and find ways to get involved to help stop this human rights and humanitarian crisis.” The impact of this game may be very upsetting to people, and I would only recommend it to mature high school level students who have already learned about the problems in Darfur. Most of the players will die, and it is very depressing. The facts that are presented, while true in this region, are very disturbing.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Global Conflict:Latin America



Global Conflicts: Latin America is a 3D simulation game that sends you to Latin America to explore internal conflicts within key Latin American countries. In the online demo, players take on the role of an american reporter inestigating pollution and birth-defects/illnesses resulting from chemicals being dumped into the local river. Along with pollution and health issues many people have rfecently lost their jobs and are now desperate to find ways to make money to support their families. The closing of a local maquilador, factory, is at the center of the conflict.

The graphics of this game are on par with those of other 3D simulations such as Second Life. The player has less control, movement is restricted within the game but this may be to the players benefit as there is a time limit. For example, in the demo players have an appointment with the factory manager at 6pm and only have a few hours to interview the local villagers to gather sufficient background knowledge before the interview. During this time you are given conversations organized by topic. Your job is to use your time and conversations wisely. Sometimes extra "clues" may pop up during a conversation that may lead you to another interviewee.


The game requires players to be able to read and comprehend at a high school level but does a nice job of explaining key vocabulary and concepts. I enjoyed playing the demo, there was a high level of interest and I was engaged throughout the game. I liked that all of the important information I gathered was automatically noted in a small virtual notebook that was easy to access. Unfortunately, I did not score very high due to lack of information and arguments (which you aquire through interviews). Overall I thought it was a great game and I highly suggest using it high school or even college courses.






The Garbage Game



The Garbage Game
http://www.gothamgazette.com/games/garbage.php

My mentality about garbage really doesn't go beyond putting my recyclables in the be blue can and my 'garbage' in the gray can. After I put the cans out on the curb each Thursday night, my role in the process stops (except for paying my bill every other month...) This game, although specific to the garbage production and processing in New York City, sheds a lot of light on what happens after the garbage truck drives away.



This game puts you into different roles. The first is a familiar role of consumer, or garbage producer. This part of the game prompts you to deal with different types of garbage like plastic water bottles, disposable diapers, leftover food items, etc. Your task is to weigh the different options for what to do with this stuff. For example: you have received a new cell phone with your contract renewal. What will you do with the old one? Each choice you make throughout this part of the game adds up to the total amount on garbage you produce.



The next part of the game allows you to make the decisions of the city's Sanitation Commissioner - how will the garbage that is put out for pickup be transported, processed, or "Trucked to Jersey." Each decision you make along the way is weighed against the other choices you didn't make. It turns out that even with a simple little flash game, you begin to realize that there is no overall good solution to dealing with our societies' garbage. The best way to really deal with it is to not produce so much in the first place; a solution unattainable by any one part of the chain of consumption.


In the end, your game choices are summarized in terms of transportation miles, modes of transport, total cost, total volume, and total CO2 emissions. And this is only a small part of New York City's 64,000 tons of weekly garbage.
All in all, this game is good to raise awareness of the larger impact of garbage on our society after pickup occurs. It seems like this would actually be a good topic or area of study for a field trip for students. Take them out to the landfill and let them marvel (probably not really a good idea...)




Mission Migration


Mission Migration
http://ny.audubon.org/game.html

Mission Migration is a game created by the Audubon Society. The object of the game is to migrate your flock safely through three regions, the country, the suburbs, and the city.
The game became an entertaining challenge in-flight because the flock has to dodge aircraft and storms, which diminish the life of your flock. When the flock touches down to rest, the player must target areas that will improve the health of the flock. From a bird’s-eye view, it is difficult to differentiate between a clean puddle of water or a poisoned one. A tasty berry bush might have a cat in it. That sweet mole you saw from the sky could actually be one that was poisoned.


Mission Migration gives the players an opportunity to see the challenges that face migrating birds and how choices that humans make impact the trip. Migration is a difficult concept for elementary aged children, because they don’t really see it. Therefore a game like this would benefit my curriculum regarding animals, habitats and adaptations. I appreciate that if focuses on the choices we make as humans that can affect the lives of the migrating birds. Through playing this game, I learned that using pesticides has the greatest impact because wildlife because it not only kills the bugs. but also poisons the other food sources for birds such as berries and water.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Reliving the Orange Revolution: Are You Sure You Want To?


As a teacher of World History I have found myself particularly interested with the waning days of the Cold War and the plight of former Soviet republics. I found the "Orange Revolution" off of the Games For Change website.

The game's tries to recreate the key events that took place during Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution in which two Ukrainian presidential candidates, Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko struggled for power in the hotly contested 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections. Yanukovych is the pro-Russian candidate who initially wins a slim majority over the pro-Western Yushchenko. But soon allegations of election fraud bring legal challenges from the Yushchenko camp sparking protests from both pro-Russian and pro-Western Ukrainians. The player is charged with making key decisions for both Yanukovych and Yushchenko during a tense 34-day political standoff. Each turn allows players to read a short summary of the daily developments and choose from one of three actions that each candidate must take. A rather simple public response meter tells players how the Urkrainian public reacts to the decisions made by candidates. The correct combination of answers from each candidate keeps citizens content, pleased, or otherwise peaceful. Poor decisions, or rather, a poor combination of decisions causes the public to steadily escalate from contentment to violence or all-out rioting. Decisions resulting in all out rioting result in losing the game (I lost after 3 rounds of decisions after my first attempt).

The object of the game is to keep the Ukrainian public content throughout the 34-day crisis and move your nation towards fair and peaceful elections without sparking all-out riots. I found the idea behind the game to be interesting, however I get the sense that this is an early beta-version of the game. There were several "fast facts" available through pop-up flash animations on the screen, but I found them irrelevent to the decisions that needed to be made. Each daily scenario is introduced through photos of the 2004 Orange revolution, but aside from the graphics onscreen there is an eerie silence to the overall gaming experience. After a few turns I found myself a bit bored by the experience. If this was to be used in the classroom setting with high school students, I think the game would need to have more pictures, animation, and sound to hold their interest. After a few failed attempts at "solving" the game, I lost the will to find the right combination of decisions to see the Orange Revolution through to its historic and peaceful solution.

The Anti-Bush Game (alas, it is only a game)

On Election Night, 2008, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the Anti-Bush Game , a video game for the truly virulent Bush-basher. It seemed appropriate to explore "serious game" of this nature as a historic election took place in this country. Somehow, the phrase "from the ridiculous to the sublime" kept running through my head as I explored the game.

The game can be viewed from a couple of perspectives; either a educational, albeit depressing journey through the mishaps of the Bush-Cheney regime, or through a violent, expletive-laden video game aimed at destroying the powers of evil. Let's take a look at 
both.

From a education perspective, the game lets the player pick from several issues (Surplus/Deficit, Jobs and Benefits, and God and Terrorism are three of the nine explored within the game) and explore those issues from the point of view of the game's author. Much of the information is quite good, though a bit on the "oh my god, it's a conspiracy" side. (This is to be expected, given the game title.) While investigating the issues, there is no real play, though it appears as though you are in a video game. All one can really do is read the author's harangues about the evils of Bushism
. (Disclosure: I agree with almost all of it.)

From a game play perspective, the game is a simplistic shooter game where the player tries to take down Bush, Cheney, and Voltron, a Transformer-like being representing the loss of America's freedoms and liberties. (The graphics really greatly on previous ideas, such as Transforms and Star Wars. Don't expect
 lots of originality.  You choose to be Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, or some other character to go out and take down Bush and his evil minions. The problem is that each one turns into a powerful monster as you approach, making it difficult to destroy them.  As you proceed through the game, you are given some information about what mistakes Bush-Cheney have made, but most dialogue is more graphic novel-like, and less informational. There is a great deal of inappropriate language unless you had previously experience the Nixon White House. The game itself is simplistic and repetitive, but succeeds in making the author's main point:  Bush headed one of the most morally corrupt, incompetent administrations in American history.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Ayiti: The Cost of Life

I found this serious game, Ayiti: The Cost of Life, on the Games for Change website. After playing Heifer Village Nepal, I found this game to be more interesting, entertaining and easier to follow. Ayiti can be played at your computer using this link: http://ayiti.newsfrew.org/globalkids/

The developers and designers of this game used youths as part of their design team to create an authentic experience. The concept behind Ayiti is similar to Heifer in that the player lives in a poverty stricken country. This game takes place in Haiti rather than Nepal. Ayiti uses complex elements including five family members, work, medicine, education, money and a store to buy goods. This makes the game multifaceted and requires strategy and decision-making to calculate the relationship between the various elements and overcome different unforeseen obstacles.

To begin the game, the player chooses one of four strategies to support the family: education, health, happiness or money. Depending on the player's choice, the goal of the game varies. This personalizes the game, but does not make it any easier to “win.” The game progresses through different seasons in Haiti and you must determine what the 5 family members do (work, go to school, volunteer, or rest). Whatever you choose affects the family’s economic situation and each family member’s happiness and health. I found it difficult to keep everyone happy and healthy which I assume is the point of the game. Education was almost impossible to acquire and everyone had to work to stay economically afloat.


In the write-up about the game, the developers said that the most challenging aspect to the game design was making a realistic, yet sensitive representation of poverty while making the game fun. I have to admit that the game was not exactly “fun.” Instead, I was challenged and felt stress to keep the family members happy and healthy which kept me from giving up on the game. The game presented motivation in the form of challenging my skills and choices and making me think about different solution strategies. The game achieved its objective in that it was not too complex too play, but the decisions you made affected the outcomes and the game moved along quickly. I think most learners would understand the stresses of poverty and how this lifestyle affects happiness and health and makes getting an education difficult.

Serious Videogames to Educate Kids about Diabetes

While surfing the Social Impact Games website, I came across a number of interesting learning games on Health and Wellness. Since I work for a company that deals with Diabetes drugs and people who have Diabetes, I was drawn to a particular game – Escape the Diab. This game is due to be released in 2008, but had a Serious Trailer with amazing animation. View at: http://www.archimageonline.com/diab.cfm

The game’s concept was simple - to educate kids about eating right and exercise. The goal of the game is to get children to have healthy lifestyles within the game which is essential to winning. This game looks like it will be very attractive to children and adults because of the amazing features, graphic artistry and narration. It shows that a simple game can be fun and interesting with the right elements and an attractive look and feel to catch the learner’s attention. One interesting component about the game's creation was the number of different institutions and companies that collaborated to create this game. While the funding was provided by a grant from the National Institute of Health, the game was developed by the Baylor College of Medicine and produced by a company called Archimage that does video animation. Obviously much thought, research and analyses was put into the game creation and trailer for the purpose of promoting healthier eating in children. I like the idea that a government institution is investing in a game to promote education around a national health problem, diabetes in children, using innovative and technology-based approaches to reach their target audience. This technique seems to be better than most solutions I have seen because it offers a "fun factor" for kids while learning about their health.

I can’t wait to see the complete version of the game, but if you have a chance, it’s definitely worth watching the trailer. In addition to Escape from Diab, Archimage had a screening room including a videogame Nanosworm, whose objective was also healthy eating and Tutti Fruty which promoted children to each fruits and vegetables. Check out the screening room for Archimage:
http://www.archimageonline.com/

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