Sunday, December 28, 2008


Also produced by the Center for the Advancement of Distance Education (CADE) at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, this public health preparedness module has many educational and interactive features. It includes choice of roles (clinician, lab pro, or public health official) a case scenario, response options, risk evaluations, subject matter resources, and sample answers for the participant to compare their choices against. It also includes a sample phone call simulating the real-life playing out of the scenario and interaction with key partners.

The presentation is clean, authoritative, and accessible. It is in keeping with the traditional case scenario role plays used in medical education. I suppose it could be considered by some to be game-like based on the interactivity - especially those who are used to data filled Power Points. However, after taking 670, I would not classify it as an actual educational game. To cross the bridge to the gaming realm I would recommend adding components like competition and consequence. Does the patient live or die? How could your delays or missteps impact the outcome? How could you improve the outcome? Is your colleague/competitor closer than you are to solving the puzzle? (Okay, yes House could be an inspiration to my interpretation here!) Perhaps at scoring based on timeliness, communication, and response. The video technique in The POD Game could be used to help the player elicit accurate case histories. What is the motivation to learn the information other than professional responsibility?

The POD Game by CADE

During a public health disaster or emergency, it may be necessary to give large groups of people vaccines or medication to prevent or reduce illness. Public health preparedness efforts have focused on methods for accomplishing this rather daunting task. In the case of an anthrax attack, people in an entire region may need to receive medication within a very short time frame - 48 hours! How in the world can this be accomplished? One method planners have come up with is the POD, or Point of Dispensing site. These are essentially medication dispensing clinics where the goal is to get the medication distributed to the individuals who need it - FAST. Potentially millions of people may need to receive medication so this is not the time for face-to-face time with the nurse, pharmacist, or doctor!

The hundreds, or thousands, of staff and volunteers who would be called upon to work at PODS must focus on following the procedures to provide information, identifying those who are sick, and KEEPING THE FLOW MOVING. Since PODS are only to be used in disasters (the closest model may be a flu shot clinic - without the urgency) it is difficult to train the workers on what they must do and how they can do it during the chaos of an emergency. Also, this is a change for providers in that they are not doing in-depth histories or diagnosis. This online game was produced by Center for the Advancement of Distance Education, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago in 2006.

The POD game provides the scenario of an anthrax attack and the player is asked to select a role (medical screener, forms, or dispensing) and is then thrust into a simulated POD with the task to complete a certain number of a cases within 15 minutes and to help the POD reach its target flow of 1200 people per hour. There is a que of patients who present as video snippets and the player is given a choice of responses and actions they are tasked to complete. The player must select the appropriate response to avoid spending too much time with any one person and to refer them to special stations or call for assistance when needed. The time left and flow rate are constantly visible and feedback and corrections are instantly provided to reinforce the objectives. On top of selecting the right response to the individual, the player must also balance additional tasks such as making sure the supplies don't run out, requesting assistance from the appropriate party, and in the case of the dispenser - selecting the appropriate medication and calculating the dosage.

The POD game is a fun solution to the training needs for mass dispensing workers. Not only does it provide the possibly dry concepts and principles, it also provides experience in executing tasks in a difficult and unfamiliar setting. It also avoids the time and resource intensive half-day training that is the frequent alternative for many planners.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Alter Ego

I've had a fascination for those older computer games that I was able to play on my old Apple II. This is Alter Ego, originally created by Peter Favaro and published in 1986 for the Commodore-64, MS-DOS, Macintosh, and of course Apple II and has evolved thru various versions.

Alter Ego is a life simulator taking the user from birth to adulthood and beyond. It is a rather simple interface; mostly a black background with a white text and multiple-choice buttons.

There is a map that that is laid out pictorially with each image representing a facet of one's life i.e. faces represent the social aspect, brain represents the intellect, hourglass represents your age in the simulation, the graph represents your current stats, etc.

The simulation begins by answering a series of true and false questions.

The answers you choose will have a bearing on your character, personality, intelligence, health, and social aspects of your life. Clicking on the graph on the map will reveal your life status.

Overall, this is a fun and entertaining simulation whenever you want to explore the question, "What if...?"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Do you want to learn more about game engines?

While doing the e-game design, I learned quite a bit about the Unity game engine (and its price tag). I wondered if there was a web site out there that compared all of the game engines available. After browsing the web, I found this web site:

If this course has inspired you to make your own e-games someday, you should check it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Business Simulation Games

The process of starting and running a small business is a complex task suitable for simulation by board or online games. The players seek a desired change of state (no business to profitable business) by following a specific set of tasks. The environment includes competition and risk, and is an area that is relevent and interesting to many individuals.

The Johnny Money Game is presented by The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Young Entrepreneur Foundation to introduce 14-18 year olds to the day-to-day functions of an small business owner.

The simulation can be played individually, or as a class project with teacher instruction and facilitation. The game's length is a minimum of 45 minutes which covers a two-year period. Game hosts, Johnny and Jenny Money offer advice to players throughout the course of the game.

Players can choose between two retail businesses, and make decisions about securing funding, managing employees, and marketing. The game is well documented and guides teachers in the use of the game in the classroom or as an out-of-class assignment.

For younger teens, this game appears to be a high-quality introduction to the concepts of entrepreneurial business. I think the older teens might be put off by the Barbie Doll-like characters and cartoon illustrations. The Home Page/Registration page describes the game for "Young Entrepreneurs" in some circles, this means under 40 years of age. I think a little more information on the home page would be helpful. Otherwise, I was quite impressed by this site.

-Barbara Berkovich

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Augmented Reality

I thought I?d do a post about the technology of Augmented Reality.

Most people have never heard of it. Its actually pretty simple conceptually.

So we know about blue-screens and green screens and how they are used to switch out backgrounds in movies, right? Well Augmented Reality is similar in that its somehow modified by a computer, but rather than a green screen or blue screen being modified it is a pattern, usually of high contrast black and white. The pattern is unique and used to identify a particular object. Anyway what happens is that the computer (kinda) switches out the foreground object, basically covering an area marked by a pattern.

The computer reads a video camera hooked up to it and knowing all (or most) patterns are square attempts to figure out the rotation of the pattern in 3d space based on what it can recognize of its four points. In the computer the object is replaced by a 3d model. The final result is processed and sent to the screen or another visual device such as a tv.

So the result of the block of wood with a pattern you are shaking around looks like a piece of wood to you but look up at computer monitor and you are actually shaking a small village while the residents try their best to hold on.

Maybe this?d best describe it:

Theres a second thing thats being done with augmented reality. In that a 3d model is built that is exactly the same dimensions as a real object. When the pattern is referenced the 3d model can be used for collision detection so the virtual cartoon character can bump against the real physical object.

This is being used all over the place. Its being used as a reference and to train airplane mechanics. By wearing visual monitor glasses by looking at a pattern on an aircraft they can get an overview of the schematics for that section of the aircraft.

There are all sorts of educational applications this could be used for, just think of some, you can probably create a create a greate experience using augmented reality as a tool. Its a great tool to add excitement and motivation to any group of people using it.

The Plural Girls

This is actually going in the list of bad games that could be better. It?s called "The Plural Girls"

I chose to pick a random educational game rather than a good educational game. It suffers from the many failures most educational games do: it fails to be a game but is called one.

You can?t throw cartoon characters or a color changed and horizonally fliped one over some circles and call it a game. The objective in the game is to rescue some people from bubbles. Okay, its a simple enough game about plurality, we don?t need a plot or anything. Mario?s was just about saving the princess, not much of a plot, Qbert just needed to get to the top of a pyramid, why? Who cares! But it was fun. Educational games can be fun to, you just need to try a little harder. I know I shouldn?t say it but what about some animated Technologies such as flash? You could get a much better experience.

Heres where I?m going to start my rant. Games are not forms. Games are not forms. Games are not forms. Games are not multiple choice questions. They are supposed to be fun. There are fifty ways you could take a concept such as teaching pronouns and go somewhere fun with it.

There are different levels of difficulty which is useful in a educational perspective you can chose between multiple choice, difficult multiple choice, fill in the blank, and tough fill in the blank.

What I really think the issue is that companies or institutions want to create some games in large quantities with little attention to quality.

What this game could use is some loving attention to story, pacing, and a purpose. You could add suspense and a sense of urgency by adding a timer, not just a timer but a timer linked to something happening. Add some cheering, some audio. Children that don?t know plurality don?t know how these things sound. As a child would you pronounce cacti, the plural of cactus as cack-tee or cack-tie. You?re educating them where you could just because it doesn?t fit into the narrow objectives you?ve set. It is easy to play an audio file after they answer.

In my opinion educational experiences should also be linked together in a cohesive manner either through a world or a story. Rarely are you educating someone on a singular topic but a series of related topics. You need to immerse the student in a fun educational experience for it to hold and give them the motivation to continue playing. The Plural Girls game could be part of a larger story that children could progress through (or they could start with that one) but that also would give children an incentive to continue playing through curiosity.

Motivation and imersion is everything; the same is the case with casual games, the only difference is you must immerse them quicker and faster. You don?t need a story, but you need to start them having fun right away. You can and should use as many tools as possible to immerse them, animation, music, gameplay, story, anything. But do it quickly, and don?t be lazy. Because if you don?t do a good job noone will play it. So its worthless.

Don?t give them a form. A form is not a game.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ayity: The Cost of Life

Never have I played a game where I felt so heartbroken and exposed when it was all over.  Ayity (Creole for Haiti) puts you in control of a family of five living in the slums of Haiti.  The game is about work, living, survival, health, and happiness.  You, are in complete control of all of these elements.  As the game begins, you are faced with a decision.  Do you strive to be happy, healthy, educated, or wealthy? I decided to go down the path of happiness.  The landscape is defined by several physical elements:  The family farm, the family living quarters, a hospital and a school.  The scope of the game is 4 years, broken down by seasonal weather in haiti: Hurricane Season, Dry Season, etc...As the season come and go, you witness the implications of your actions. You ultimately get to decide which individual does what.  Do the kids go to school? Do the parents go to work? Does the oldest son work?  Does the entire family work?  Where do they work?  In the family farm? As rum distillers at a factory?  As the season progresses you get to see first hand exactly how much goud is made, how much is lost, who gets sick, who gets happier or depressed. 

I had a goal to achieve.  I wanted this Haitian family to be happy.  What I found was the exact opposite.  Under every circumstance, I found that the family was losing happiness, getting sick from the weather and from work, and ultimately losing money for hospital visits and school tuition.  Every season I tried to make it better, but it only got much worse.  The family was evicted from their living space, the family never made ends meat; in fact they stayed in the negative the entire 4 years, the children died, and the family suffered.  Ayity presents a harsh Haitian reality.  The season are harsh and unforgiving.  Individuals die, suffer, and are inextricably tied to eternal impoverishment.  

Overall, I give my highest ranking to Ayity.  Never have I been so affected by a game before.  

The Vynil Game

It is a simulation about the PVC Industry and its sustainable development

The idea of this game is to represent in a very fun way the efforts that the European Industry is making to ensure the sustainability of its production, processes and applications of PVC.

In terms of game design, I found it a bit confusing. I think the instructions on how to play are inadequate. I played the easy level and I had to play it four times in order to get an idea of the logic behind it.

The content and the development of the simulation are very attractive. The background information is good and the game layout is eye catching, however the complex interaction of variables whose behavior is not made explicit can demotivate. Importantly, I really did not feel I was actually learning the content i.e. how to make a PVC industry profitable but green at the same time. I felt I performed actions almost unconciously, which sometimes had positive results, but other times negative, in other words, I did not receive feedback of how my actions improved or made worse my situation within the simulatio.

To conclude, the game is obviously a business simulation game. In order to make decision making more strategic and satisfying, the player needs to understand better what the stakes are. For students who are not business orientated, we need some pre coaching on what makes a business and a sustainable one profitable.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Top 10 Most Influential Educational Video Games from the 1980s

I came across this post from the Educational Games Research blog and thought it would be fitting to share.

Oregon Trail, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, and one of my personal favorites, Number Munchers, all made the list. Sure, the graphics may not have been the best, but looking back the educational value was priceless. Carmen Sandiego took us on whirlwind trips around the globe, SimCity taught us how taxes go to pay for new roads, and the Oregon Trail made us all aware of the importance of axels and the dangers of amoebic dysentery.

My childhood just wouldn't have been the same without these. Does anyone know what the popular elementary school educational computer games are these days?

The list sans commentary for the lazy:

  1. The Oregon Trail

  2. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

  3. SimCity

  4. Reader Rabbit

  5. Math Blaster

  6. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

  7. Lemonade Stand

  8. Number Munchers

  9. Zork

  10. Windows Solitaire

The Piss Screen: Stop Drunk Driving

I stumbled across this interesting website that discusses games, simulations, and virtual worlds used for public health applications, sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Distance Education (CADE). Anyway, it has a ton of interesting, educational games that you can play or use for training.

One game I found particularly interesting is being place in urinals all over Frankfort, Germany. In an effort to curb drunk driving, and encourage taxi use, gaming devices ihave been installed in mens restrooms to get men to test their reflexes and remind them of the impact of drunk driving.

Basically, how it works is when a person begins to urinate, the game automatically starts, the player could then control the car WHILE they are tinkling. For example, if they wanted the car to go right, they simply peed to the right. (and visa versa).

The overall design of the driving game is a lot like the game Need for Speed, which requires a quick response time. Obviously the more drunk you are, the slower your response, reinforcing the effects of alcohol to the gamer. The game ultimately culminates in a shocking crash-sequence, leaving the viewer with little doubt as to the repercussions of driving while drunk.

If you want to watch a video of how the game works or see the game played, visit here. I do not recommend trying this at home.

Global Conflict and Investigtive Reporting

I found this site to be very interesting. The overview game a brief introduction of a land that is corrupt and dangerous. The game is suppose to teach high school students how to write investigative stories that portray the true events of the situation while exposing them to a different culture and global conflict. The game is a 3D role-playing game used to teach players different situations occurring in Latin America.The game is divided into five operations so players can choose the most relevant topics and make the game applicable to them. The interesting part about the game is it is based on true stories from teachers,students and subject matter experts who have experienced these situations. The game not only teaches students about global conflict in Latin America, but it includes geography, history, and current events. Here is the web site . The sample picture would not load for some reason, but check out the web site for more information.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Defense of Hidgeon:The Plague Years

The Defense of Hidgeon is a web-based board game developed to teach research skills to incoming students at the University of Michigan. It is profiled in the article "The Effectiveness of a Web-based Board Game for Teaching Undergraduate Students Information Literacy Concepts and Skill," in D-Lib magazine.

The article discusses the effectiveness of the University of Michigan program to teach undergraduates basic information literacy skills using an web based board game, the Defense of Hidgeon. The research team tested a class of students to play the game, with monetary rewards and interviewed them to determine their experiences, ending with 3 suggestions for improvement.
The Defense of Hidgeon Game Board

Incoming students need to know how to conduct research in today's information rich environment. While many may be familiar with online search methods, many perform poorly when faced with the prospect of researching scholarly journals and evaluating sources of information.

In this context, the prototype team developed a game would teach incoming students these concepts. The game uses a general to specific model of research. Players imagine themselves in the 14th century at the height of the Black Plague. Students play on teams navigating around the kingdom researching a solution to the crisis. Students are rewarded for being the richest, fastest, and most efficient team of researchers.

29 students test played the game, and identified several areas for improvement. For example, players could end up in "The Hospital" on several tasks, and due to design limitations, it would often take quite an effort to get out. The bug impeded flow for the players and many were frustrated.

Likewise, the team monitored the players for patterns of activity with the intent to judge the effectiveness of their application. Their data revealed some limitations of The Defense of Hidgeon and led to the following generalizations regarding game design:

1. Game Play That Counts toward Students' Grades in the Course - students need to see the correlation between participation and results
2. Game Play That Gives Players Mastery Over One Key Concept at a Time - students need to focus one message and have all game elements reinforce it.
3. A Payoff for Leaving the Computer Behind - there must be compelling reasons to motivate students to leave the "game world" to do tasks in the physical world.

The authors maintain that any game not acknowledging these factors will be ineffective.

Nobel Prize Trade Game

How do you explain Nobel Prize winning work? How about with a simulation style game! The good folks at have done just that, as part of their Education Games series, previously featured on this blog. This post will focus on the economic game, called Trade, which is modeled upon the Heckscher-Ohlin theory of goods and services. The into screen invites the player to read up on the theory itself, which being a good gamer I ignored (to my peril, as I was to discover).
The game starts with the player choosing an island to start on, with varying levels of capital and labor:
An then moves on to the usual player configuration features, which inextricably seem to channel a graphic sense perhaps best described as Art Clokey meets Kenny Scharf:

However, after some cajoling I was able to get an avatar that at least resembled a human:
Then the game begins, with very little instruction (should have read that intro)! The player is taken to a somewhat confusing main screen, but with only 3 buttons to choose from on the video, I clicked on the first to start production. After making cell phones, I am prompted to trade with my partner.

I do so and get a message whether or not the citizens of my land think prosperity has increased. This play continues for three rounds, and then ends abruptly, displaying the score and what the optimum score should be using t
he Heckscher-Ohlin theory. Needless to say, I would not make a good island economic czar.
Which brings me to the biggest complaint of the game - the design is confusing, especially if you are tempted to jump right in before reading the theory. There are too many little details on the main page that do nothing except serve as distractions for your mouse. I wish there was a bit more guidance - you are told to maximize prosperity, but never how to do this. I guess if someone were already introduced to the theory this would be a good little sandbox simulation. But if others' experiences were like mine, I would think that they may leave more frustrated than educated.

Free Rice

I’m sure this has been posted before but it is making a big impact in my little area of the world right now.

This game came to me via a former student now in high school as something she was personally taking on for improving the world. This is part of her world history coursework and she is required to work on a project that impacts someone else across the world. She found this and has made it a point to sign up as many people as possible to work on the website at a specific time to see if she truly can make a difference. In the end, she did a great job but the website has stuck with me and I have been using it with my class quite a bit.

Do I really make a difference by playing FreeRice?
The rice you donate makes a huge difference to the person who receives it. According to the United Nations, about 25,000 people die each day from hunger or hunger-related causes, most of them children. Though 20 grains of rice may seem like a small amount, it is important to remember that while you are playing, so are thousands of other people at the same time. It is everyone together that makes the difference. Thanks to you, FreeRice has generated enough rice to feed more than two million people since it started in October 2007.

How do I start playing FreeRice?
In the middle of the FreeRice Home page you will see something like:
small means:
To play the game, click on one of the four definitions (“little,” “old,” “big,” or “yellow”) that you think is correct. If you get it right, FreeRice donates 20 grains of rice to help end hunger. In the example above, you would want to click on “little,” which means “small.” You will then get a chance to do another word the same way. You can play as long as you like and donate as much rice as you like. When you are finished, you do not have to do anything?your donation is already counted.
How does playing the vocabulary game at FreeRice help me?
Learning new vocabulary has tremendous benefits. It can help you:
· Formulate your ideas better
· Write better papers, emails and business letters
· Speak more precisely and persuasively
· Comprehend more of what you read
· Read faster because you comprehend better
· Get better grades in high school, college and graduate school
· Score higher on tests like the SAT, GRE, LSAT and GMAT
· Perform better at job interviews and conferences
· Sell yourself, your services, and your products better
· Be more effective and successful at your job
After you have done FreeRice for a while, you may notice an odd phenomenon. Words that you have never consciously used before will begin to pop into your head while you are speaking or writing. You will feel yourself using and knowing more words.
Total Donations by Date
Grains of Rice

MARCH 2008
APRIL 2008
MAY 2008
JUNE 2008
JULY 2008

December 1, 2008
December 2, 2008
December 3, 2008
December 4, 2008
December 5, 2008
December 6, 2008

Total All Dates

Fat World

FATWORLD: Fit or Fat? Live or Die? You Decide.

After my last game review about Darfur is Dying, I thought it would be nice to explore a game that is a little less morbid and a little more fun. I came upon this game while I was researching a nutrition topic. The name is FATWORLD (gets right to the point!) The game is relatively easy to play and teaches the player about the importance of remaining physically fit. A player can create his/her own character, which includes age, gender, class, or can choose to randomize the character. The player then has to create a daily exercise and nutrition routine, and plan for the future. I like the characters in this game, and I like the fact that the game teaches the player about diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and food allergies. Players have to create menus, recipes, and decide what to eat, learn what to avoid eating, and make decisions about whether or not to exercise. Players have a wide array of food choices and can come up with interesting recipes. The amount of food the player can purchase depends on the amount of money a player has, so the decision to buy organic or fast food becomes an important choice.

From the website:

FATWORLD is a video game about the politics of nutrition. It explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition, and socioeconomics in the contemporary U.S. The game's goal is not to tell people what to eat or how to exercise, but to demonstrate the complex, interwoven relationships between nutrition and factors like budgets, the physical world, subsidies, and regulations. Existing approaches to nutrition advocacy fail to communicate the aggregate effect of everyday health practices. It's one thing to explain that daily exercise and nutrition are important, but people, young and old, have a very hard time wrapping their heads around outcomes five, 10, 50 years away. FATWORLD is the fifth project to emerge from ITVS's Electric Shadows initiative, a special fund for innovative Web-original projects that offer untold, provocative stories by today's independent storytellers.” (Persausive Games).

The website also provides resources on topics such as obesity, diet plans, nutrition for children, links just for children, and much more.

TED: Technology Entertainment Design

I regularly listen to a podcast called TED Talks (TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design). These are recordings of conferences on many different topics from Education to Physics. I thought I'd share it with all of you since many of the talks are very interesting and some really apply to this field. There are talks on the development and future of video games, the evolution of graphics, and new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence. There is even a talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, on the principle of flow. 

Some talks in particular that I found intriguing were an experiment done to teach crows how to use a vending machine and a video on placing specially built computers outdoors in poor rural areas in India to teach village children how to read and speak English. Some fascinating ideas are out there. I hope you enjoy watching some of these videos if you get a chance. 

You can watch all of the TED Talks at 

Food Force: The UN's Game to Show how the World Food Program Works

I came across this game when I was looking at the Wikipedia page on Serious Games. This game, actually published by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), is decidedly serious. The player must distribute food to a country that has been stricken by drought , due to natural and man-made causes. Ideally, the country will not only recover, but also regain self-sufficiency. While playing Food Force, the player learns about what the WFP's mission is, as well as how prevalent the problem of world hunger is.

The game is free with both Windows and Mac versions. A high score table is available if you want to upload your scores, and there are lesson plans for teachers available on the site.

There are six missions, which all take place on the fictional island of Sheylan (located somewhere in the Indian Ocean). A short description of each follows:

1. Air Surveillance: Flying about in a helicopter to locate the people that need food.

2. Energy Packs: Attempting to create a balanced diet of rice, cooking oil, beans, sugar and salt with a budget of only 30 cents per day.

3. Air Drop: Trying to overcome difficulties and successfully drop food supplies in a target zone.

4. Locate and Dispatch: The player must find and purchase the necessary supplies then match them with the area that needs them.

5. Food Run: Lead a food convoy to a distribution center, while coping with landmines, roadblocks, and downed bridges.

6. Future Farming: Using available food supplies to help a village recover. Choices for investments are made between nutrition training, schooling, "food for work" and HIV/AIDS treatment. The goal is to create self-sufficiency over 10 years.

Most of the game-play is arcade-like, with the emphasis on information rather than entertainment. It is difficult to see who the audience is, since the information seems aimed at middle school or above, while the level of game play is very elementary. The graphics are quite good, and the program runs well on a Mac, but there is only so much play you can get from driving a truck around or dragging bags of food from one spot to another. This game might be useful for a quick look at the worldwide problem of hunger, but I doubt most students will get much from playing the game itself.

Lessons on Serious Games from DeveLearn 08

I had the pleasure of attending the Elearning Guild's DevLearn 08 conference in San Jose, CA last month. Serious games were a serious topic at the conference. While my interests were broad, I did attend a few of the many available sessions on learning through simulations and games. Here are a few of the learning points that resonated with me.
  • Developing learning games can be very time consuming and very expensive. It requires a combination of programing, graphic skills and software development that many small training departments like mine do not posses. The budget for contracting for this work can range widely from 20K to 200k depending on the features.
  • Using games is not about making learning fun. It is about using technology as a tool for creating a situated learning experience. Games provide the opportunity for practice and application in an environment where mistakes will create no adverse outcome.
  • The state of technology is changing. It is now easier than ever to create high cost, ineffective and boring learning games. Instructional design and the ability to create an experience that results in learning is more important than the flashy graphics, sound track and hype surrounding a game. You need to screen your game development vendors carefully, review samples of their projects and be confident in their ability to deliver a product that will result in learning and improved performance. Be sure to conduct multiple rounds of testing and feedback with low fidelity prototypes before investing time in producing the game objects.
  • Interactivity means much more than moving a mouse and clicking on screen objects. For learning to occur from game play, interactivity must engage the learner's attention, and stimulate thinking, recall and practice with feedback. For learning to occur, mental interaction is more important than physical interaction with the game.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Second Life in the Air Force

A lifetime ago I participated as a cadet for three years in Air Force ROTC.  Though I did not go through with earning my commission as an Air Force officer upon graduation from UCLA, I still have fond memories of my experiences with military training. Twenty years later, although separated by many miles and separate lives, I've maintained contact with friends from my Air Force ROTC days.  It's interesting to note that the company I work for is currently seeking to develop business relationships with the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command (AETC), specifically exploring their training needs for Airmen.

Just this week I've read a few headlines and articles about the AETC's launch of their virtual world on SecondLife called MyBase. For a brief listing of articles see the end of this article for some reference links to articles that you can read.

MyBase is public domain land in Second Life. It's purpose is to educate people about the Air Force and to provide information about Air Force life and careers to potential recruits. The Air Force's future plans to develop virtual worlds for training, learning, and performance include acquiring secure domains for Airmen to receive training.

So I created an account in Second Life to explore MyBase and get a few screenshots for this article.  Once I figured out how to Teleport to various locations in Second Life, I set my destination for MyBase, and landed at the virtual base.

One of the first things you see is the base map, which shows you the various areas to explore on base and the things you can learn about Air Force life.

The first thing I did was to explore the Visitor Center. When I entered, one of the things you notice is the large Air Force emblem on the floor. The Visitor's Center has a few desk with people there to help guide your visit and give you tips for what to explore.

One of the cool things in the Visitor Center is an Opportunities desk where you can see a computer monitor. When you click on the monitor, you are given a new browser that opens the Air Force web site. Another kiosk in the center provides visitors with another Air Force web site based on their latest marketing/recruiting theme: "Do Something Amazing". On the Do Something Amazing web site you can watch numerous cool videos of various people performing their jobs in the Air Force, such as security detail guards or fighter pilots.

You can literally spend all night exploring MyBase. One of the last things I explored was a boot camp-like area called "Confidence Course & Deployed Camp" where new recruits can simulate activities done during boot camp. Inside the virtual boot camp are obstacle courses where recruits do physical training. There's also a virtual shooting range with weapons you can acquire and shoot.

MyBase on Second Life has a lot of potential. It's a very fitting learning environment for the most high-tech branch of the Armed Forces. There's much potential for developing training on the this platform. It poses new challenges for instructional designers who have to make technical limitations a strong consideration for how training is delivered in a virtual world. But that discussion is probably best saved for a different class and a different topic than games.

Reference URLS:

Tropico: Re-creating the Cuban Revolution

One of the more enjoyable computer gaming experiences I've had is when I played Pop Top Software's game Tropico for Mac/PC. The game has you assume the role of a Fidel Castro-like character that has recently come to power in the fictitious Caribbean island of Tropico. On the standard default difficulty level, you take power in the 1950s and work toward re-building your island that is suffering from poverty, being bullied by Cold War superpowers, and, of course, recovering from the revolution that brought you to power.

It's a great teaching tool for students studying about Cold War politics and their affect on third world nations from the 1950s-1990s. During the game you have to find a salvageable balance between keeping your people happy and not antagonizing either the U.S.A. or the Soviet Union. Rub the U.S.A. the wrong way and they're liable to erase your revolutionary regime with an invasion. Cross the U.S.S.R. and they might just fund and equip a pro-left insurgency to topple your wanna-be capitalist paradise. Oh yah, don't forget, you have the added challange of keeping enough of your people happy to earn re-election every 4 to 6 years. Winning the game means surviving as Tropico's leader for 50 years (more if you choose higher difficulty levels).

Players have complete control over building their island's infrastructure. Do you want to become a tourism hot spot or an industrial and agricultural powerhouse? Will you accept financial and military aid from competing Cold War adversaries? If so, can you deal with conditions attached to these American or Soviet goodies?

While the game is showing its age compared to many current PC/Mac games, Tropico still works on most Macs made during the 2002-2006 year range. I've used it before as an enrichment activity (time permitting) when teaching the Cold War for my 10th grade World History class.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Learn to Read with Starfall

I was just searching for educational games that might help my 2 1/2 year old son Orion recognize letters and their sounds a little more consistently. I stumbled upon Starfall and started playing some of the A, B, C games and I now realize that I know some elementary teachers that use it. Although it is somewhat excruciating and dull for me to play the games, I think that they would be engaging to a beginning reader.

In the alphabet game, the letters of the alphabet appear on ordered blocks. The child can click on the letter they would like to learn about and then are presented with both the uppercase and lowercase letter while experiencing a word that starts with that letter. For example, the letter 'H' is introduced with the sound and image of a horn. Once a letter has been presented, the sound it makes is made and then animated words that start with that letter and sound are shown. The words are said aloud by either adult or child voices. After several words are sounded out with the initial letter, the child is given a game to play. The progression through a letter activity seems appropriate and engaging.

There are a number of more advanced games where children can practice phonics as they read a story. My husband and I will definitely be using this site with our son.

Heidi Thibodeau AKA Heidi Beezley

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Triage Trainer - Morbid Yet Clearly Useful

A company called TruSim is developing a serious game for the purpose of training health care workers that are the first responders in the case of a violent disaster. The gamer interacts with a three dimensional environment where the camera views the world through the eyes of the first responder. As the player walks through the world, they encounter debris, injured people with visible wounds of various types, etc. The graphics and imagery are realistic enough to make the squeamish uncomfortable as they move through the environment.

When an injury is encountered, the player can perform an examination and then must decide whether the patient is in urgent need of attention or not. If an injured party is well enough, the player should ask them to walk to the ambulance crew. If the injury is more serious, the player should begin treatment.

The player must make decisions constantly. For example, when the player decides to perform an examination, they must decide the level of examination they will perform since some examinations take longer than others. Once the examination is complete, the player must tag the injured party as to level of priority with four options available ranging from priority 1 (immediate treatment) to priority 4 (deceased).

Article in Government Technology

I guess I can count myself one of the squeamish because the prototype video demonstration below is a little tough for me to watch. There is constant alarming noises such as sirens, moaning, etc. and it is a little unnerving seeing bodies littering the streets even in a simulation. Despite that, the game is compelling and seems like it will achieve its educational goals quite well once it is released.

Heidi Thibodeau AKA Heidi Beezley

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Avatar High

I found this game while I was researching competitive games for the one I am creating for my e-game. The game has come up with a lot of realistic experiences the students in a high school will go through. I plan to allow my freshmen to try it out!!!

Features of the game:
  • Name your high school
  • Name your team
  • Pick 2 school colors
  • Customize 8 students:
    • Name each student
    • Age and grade level are given
    • Select skin color, hair color and hair styles

The virtual high school contains eight unique students whom you can sit back and watch, help them become happy, or ruin their lives.


Each of your students is a unique individual, with his or her own likes, dislikes, and feelings. Your students get better or worse at things like academics, sports, and art depending on how much time they spend doing them.

The right frame of every screen contains the image below. The number of points earned is listed at the top (1) and below is a map of the school (2) showing the four rooms utilized. Next, there are horizontal bar graphs (3) noting the levels of academics, athletics, artistic ability and happiness. Lastly, there are comments on what the student is thinking (4) and details about the student (5) that is currently selected.


Different things make different students happy. Doing things they like will make students happy and when they have to do things they don't like, they'll get sad.


Your students will decide what to do if you don't give them any orders. They decide what to do next based on what they think about things and how they're feeling.

Students will look for someone to talk to when they feel like socializing.

Studying at the library makes their grades go up, playing basketball at the gym makes them better at sports, and painting in the art room improves their creativity. Each student has activities they like and ones they don't.


Your students make friends by talking with other students. If students have a lot in common, they'll start liking each other more and eventually become friends.

After a while a student might develop a crush on another student if they like someone enough. If they work up the nerve to ask their crush out, the two students will start dating if the other person feels the same way. If not, the person with the crush will get rejected and will end up having a pretty bad day.


Your school has four rooms: the art room, the gym,
the library, and the cafeteria. Students will walk between the rooms to go to new activities or to find someone to talk to. Students can go to any of the rooms -- except the cafeteria -- at any time.

The Art Room is where students go to paint, which will increase students' creativity:

The Gym is where students go to play basketball and get better at sports:

Students go to the Library to study and improve their grades:

The Cafeteria is where students each lunch everyday, all at the same time:


This screen lets you customize your student and learn more about him or her.

The journal lets you read your student's innermost thoughts. They'll write about how their day has gone and what they think about other students.

Report Card
This lets you check out how your student is doing at school, and will show what they need to be spending their time on.

Happiness Meter
This readout lets you see the student's happiness level over the past 5 days.

Give Crush Button
If you have enough points, click this button to give the student a crush on another student.

Give Body Odor Button
Make your student smell so bad no one will want to be anywhere near them. The effects last one day and will cost you 100 points.

Special Items
Buy your student one of these items if you think they could use a boost in a certain area. Students can have only one item at a time:

  • Sneakers
    This item improves the student's athletic skill.
  • Brushes and Oils
    This item improves the student's artistic skill.
  • Laptop
    This item improves the student's studying habits.
  • Cell Phone
    This item makes the student more social.
  • Driver's License
    This item makes the student cooler.

Change Clothes
Click here to cycle through different styles of clothing. Changing a student's outfit will cost 250 points.


  • Big Test
  • Big Game
  • Art Show
  • Prom
  • Graduation
  • Party

How to Win the Game:
Once a certain amount of the major events are complete, the graduation button is unlocked. It is then possible for the student to be able to graduate and complete the game.

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Itzabitza - Creativity & Reading in a Drawing Program

A small Seattle-based company called Sabi has recently teamed up with Microsoft to develop an interactive drawing/reading program called Itzabitza for the Microsoft platform. The game is unique because of its ability to recognize drawings and create interactions with the drawings that have been created.

The goal of this educational egame is to inspire creativity and promote reading in target audience of children ages 4+. As children draw, their drawings come to life. The program is able to recognize what has been drawn with the help of a drawing recognition program incorporated into the game called Living Ink. Because the game can recognize what has been drawn, the characters in the game can interact with it in natural ways. So for example, if a child is asked to draw a house, the computer will recognize the various elements that compose the house that is drawn and insert interactive components. A door and windows will appear, and once they have appeared, they can be opened. If the child draws doors, windows, or chimneys for example, the program recognizes them and uses them in the story. The characters can enter the house that has just been drawn by the child, climb the stairs, and be visible in the window on the second floor.

Children play the game by initiating quests. Each quest will prompt them to move or to draw. When they draw, their drawings become a part of the story. Part of the motivation, in addition to seeing your artwork incorporated in a story, is that you can only proceed to the next quest, or story line, after you have received enough stars. This unlocks the next quest.

The game has received high praise as an enticing way to inspire kids to read. Words, when they appear are clickable and can be read aloud. As the child begins playing, words will appear that will begin the quest. Once a child chooses a word, the child is prompted to do something related to that word.

More info.
Itzabitza Website
The Itzabitza Blog
Itzabitza Video Demo - Highly recommend the demo video. It's pretty amazing.

Heidi Thibodeau AKA Heidi Beezley

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Lemonade Stand Game

I came across this game when I ordered a book through Amazon, as a simple way to teach basic accounting.

The book:

In order to introduce the concept of how the students were going to learn about Accounting (and allow them to utilize technology), I searched the Internet to find some sort of attention getting starter game. This is where I found the free and simple lemonade stand game.

The game:

The object:

The goal in this game is to make as much money as you can within 30 days. You have complete control over pricing, quality control, inventory control, and purchasing supplies. In addition, you also have to deal with other factors. These other factors include the weather and the level of customer satisfaction.

Some screenshots:

Here lists four items you will purchase:
  1. Paper Cups
  2. Lemons
  3. Sugar
  4. Ice Cubes
At the bottom of the screen, the day is shown (Day 1 of 30), the amount of money (begins with $20), the temperature (70 degrees), and the weather forecast (Rain) .

After each purchase and day of sales, the money will change, as well as the weather each day.

Decide how many paper cups to buy each day.

Decide how many lemons to buy each day.

Decide how many cups of sugar to buy each day.

Decide how many ice cubes to buy each day.

Lastly, though most importantly, you will decide on the price per cup to sell the lemonade, and the recipe for a pitcher of lemonade.


Overall, the students enjoy this introductory game. Many go home and play it on their own afterwards. Some additional factors students learn during the game are:
  • ice melts
  • lemons spoil
  • bugs may get into the sugar

Competitive Games:

After learning of the lemonade stand game a few months ago, I have since found to similar games:

Lemonade Tycoon - Yahoo games
  • Free trial version for 60 minutes
  • $19.99 full version
  • Better graphics
  • Multiple locations
  • Purchase upgrades (cash register)
  • Advertising

Lemonade Stand - iPhone Application
  • Top 50 Applications
  • $.99 download fee
  • Based upon 1980s Apple II game

Kelly Granfield
Fall 2008