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CBC News – Technology & Science – Schools use video games as teaching tools

Mass Effect, a game with a complex story developed in Edmonton, will be required 'reading' for a course in contemporary Canadian fiction at Concordia University. Mass Effect, a game with a complex story developed in Edmonton, will be required ‘reading’ for a course in contemporary Canadian fiction at Concordia University. (Bioware)

LittleBigPlanet is more than a video game in which little creatures made of sackcloth run and jump. It was designed to make it easy for players to make their own levels, turning gamers into game designers, which is why it was one of the games in the curriculum at a New York public school last year.

Students at Quest to Learn, for Grades 6 through 12, usedLittleBigPlanet to adapt, create, and perform one of Aesop’s fables. Katie Salen, a game designer and an architect of the school’s program, explained in an interview that the eight-week project had connections to language arts, literature, math, physics, and computer science.

Katie Salen is a game designer and an architect of the Quest to Learn school program in New York. Katie Salen is a game designer and an architect of the Quest to Learn school program in New York. (Courtesy Katie Salen)Students at Quest, she said, are expected to meet the state requirements for achievement in standard subjects like math and science, but they learn in a “problem-based context. The learning is game-like.”

Learning to adapt

It sometimes involves playing games, but the real objective, said Salen, is to give students the ability to learn. “We’re looking at the notion of how to equip kids in the 21st century to be flexible, adaptive learners.”

Games and game environments are good learning tools, Salen explained, partly because players understand, from the outset, what the objective is. And while players think they are in control, the truth is that games have been carefully designed to give players that belief. Well-designed games are structured to give players the knowledge they need to solve problems just when they need it.

‘[Gaming is] not a marginal pursuit anymore. We’ve got to start thinking about games with all the tools of analysis that are available to us.’Darren Wershler

Then there’s the social piece of the puzzle, an essential component to well-rounded children. Gaming, said Salen, is “hardly at all about the artifact of the game itself, and much more about the social fabric and interaction that gets built around that games as kids play and as they learn how to play and have conversations about that play.”

At Quest, the students aren’t just playing games, they’re inventing them, too.

“We’re interested in putting kids in the role of designers,” said Salen. “We believe that in making games, kids have a chance to go deep into a range of content.”

Sparking student interest

At Argyle Secondary School in North Vancouver, students in the Digital Media Academy (DMA) are also learning to become game designers. In the DMA lab on the school’s second floor, Murray Bulger, who established and runs the program, said the game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids, many of whom spend hours of their free time learning from online tutorials.

Murray Bulger of the Digital Media Academy says a game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids. Murray Bulger of the Digital Media Academy says a game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids.(Courtesy Murrary Bulger)

Students who could not be convinced to read a book before taking the classes would devour training manuals in an evening, Bulger said with a smile, in preparation for hands-on time with software packages used for design, animation, and 3D modelling. Kids are already playing games, he said, so it makes sense to leverage that interest in the education system.

The DMA begins its second year this fall, adding 24 Grade 11 students to the cohort of 13 that are entering Grade 12. They take core classes in art, design, and information technology. In their first year, all students take a project management course built around game design, which is, Bulger asserted, “one of the greatest models for project management there is. You have to have a number of specialists and you need a large team.”

Other skills developed in project management include creativity, organization and planning, teamwork, and the iterative production process. The subject of game design is so rich, said Bulger, that even if students never do it again, they’ll have learned much that’s useful and applicable no matter what career they choose.

And while the average student already has a basic understanding of video games from playing them — “they’re coming in with this huge knowledge base,” says Bulger — they lack the ability to analyze them. So a key component to the game design class is playing and deconstructing games, everything from Space Invaders to BioShock, to figure out what makes a good experience.

Staying relevant to students

Darren Wershler of Concordia University says Mass Effect is a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives.Darren Wershler of Concordia University says Mass Effect is a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives. (Courtesy Darren Wershler)

Darren Wershler thinks the field of video games in education is filled with possibilities. “To keep pretending that we can leave it out of the classroom, I think, is a grave mistake.… It’s not a marginal pursuit anymore. We’ve got to start thinking about games with all the tools of analysis that are available to us.”

Wershler has been teaching video-game studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., for two years. This fall he joins the English department at Concordia University in Montreal and will be adding Mass Effect to the “reading” list for his course, Contemporary Canadian Fiction, when he teaches it in 2011.

On the phone, Wershler said the game satisfies the criteria of being contemporary (it was released in 2007), Canadian (it was developed by Edmonton studio BioWare), and fiction (it’s an action role-playing game with a deep, complex story).

It’s a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives, he added. And because the game allows players to choose whether their protagonist is male or female, and to have sexual relationships with other characters, “It’s a good way of introducing topics of gender.”

Today’s writers, Wershler insists, are creating fiction in many different media. The typical English department curriculum, he said, pretends that things like comics, the internet, and video games don’t exist.

“And yet,” he says, “that’s the environment that people who want to be writers or scholars are growing up in.”

Taken from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2010/09/09/f-videogames-education-learning.html


Identity Crisis: A Gamer’s Epic Journey

In the span of 3 days, I have encountered 3 posts on the topic of gamer identity right here in the ocean of information. The first is by a local gaming magazine Playworks, you can read the post “Defining the Gamer“. The next was Kotaku, I’m sure most gamers are familiar with it, similarly, you can view the original post “Is Gamer A Dirty Word” and lastly, a post by Transmythology, you can view the post “Wake Up Geek Culture: Time to Live“.

Each of the posts are tackling the same problem from different angels and approach, one questions the word “Gamer” itself, the other questions the connotation  of said word and lastly a post about fandom and the elitism inherent in it.

Alright, lets tackle this one by one, starting off with Gamer as a term. The thing we must understand, is the fact that  words are social constructs, words by themselves are gibberish, they are without meaning or form. It is the people that give meaning to words. I covered a similar topic in one of my earlier posts “Mind Your Language“.

The fact that words are social constructs being with it, implications, and in the case of gamers, the implications can be rather unpleasant to the uninitiated. Gamers is a term given to people who play alot of video games, I’m gonna recycle a post I put up on Playworks.

Do we truly need ‘Gamer’ as a label? As a title? Games encompass a wide spectrum of medium, board games, miniature games, table-top games, video games even sports.

Chess is a game, but do the people who play chess regularly or even professionally consider themselves a gamer? I highly doubt it. How bout the myriad of people who play Farmville on Facebook? If by strict definition, they can be considered gamers in the strictest sense of the word, but do the people who play those games label themselves as gamers?

A gamer, in a cultural sense, is someone who plays video games very often and keeps in touch with the latest gaming news. Video games are usually the gauge of a person’s gamer-ism but are not necessarily a strict benchmark.

As games and reality continue to converge, we will be forced to reevaluate what game is, and what being a gamer means. “Gamer” should not be a label, title nor a category, it is a concept. A concept is malleable, a category is not, so a gamer is simply a person who enjoys playing games, regards him or herself as a gamer and is proud of gaming as an act itself.

One should just be comfortable with what they are and what they enjoy doing, it doesn’t matter what people call you or what social niche you feel inclined to fill, the simple fact is, just be yourself. Who cares what other people think, haters will always be haters, why waste time on them when you can spend it getting more exp.

Moving on, let’s take a look at the history of video games, because that is after all the most common association of what a gamer does. You may be wondering why I’m looking into the history of video games, simple, it is the source of all the stereotypes. So the first video games came out around 1940s to the 1950s, not to mention the first video games were on an extremely rudimentary computer, a technological wonder of its age. New technology has always been treated with some suspicion and the amount of knowledge required to even make and use such technology can be staggering. This acts as a barrier into video gaming, technological jargon.

Who were the people who made the first video games? Technology experts with their thick glasses and their lab coats, this mental image of what geeks are kinda stuck, especially the glasses. What does this do with the negative association of being a gamer? I’ll get to that in a short while, bear with me.

Let’s move on to another aspect of video gaming, time. Video Games, especially the bigger titles, demand a great amount of time from its players. This leads me to the point of human evolutionary psychology, an animal with a highly evolved brain is still an animal, we are driven by primal needs and the most powerfully of them is the need to procreate. Most human activities either involve survival or socializing. Socializing can be viewed as a way to find potential mates in a deep-seated psychological sense, the fact that we spend so much time on games, reduces the chance of one going out and socializing. Admittedly this is not necessarily true but acts as a good marker for how most people might subconsciously think.

If we just look around, most people who do not play games are more often than not involved in a social activity of some sort.  Analyzing further, we see issues like gender classification as well, which we still see today, women are suppose to like ‘girly’ things and game systems just ain’t girly with its big bulky wired manliness. Women were never expected to get into the nitty gritty insides of a high tech computer, even now, there is still an overwhelming difference in the number of male technical workers to that of females. This of course, is caused mostly by social pressure and the status quo.

So women hardly play video games and gamers do not have time to go out and meet people. I think on some level, everyone can see this, the hard part is to look past this rather shallow but unfortunately true idea and see the people that gamers are, and the thing is, more and more gamers are finding a balance between life and games.

So let us take a look at the elitism that surrounds the gaming community, admittedly, most of the hostility was borne more of a reactionary hostility, I mean if you have people making fun of you and what you do, you will eventually snap and strike back, this makes the gaming community passive aggressive or just outright hostile to the new comers (newbs) of a gaming community, a hostility borne out of suspicion. As we look down the road, this has evolved into a niche, something these outcasts can rally to and take comfort that they are alone, this exclusivity builds upon the very human need to belong and yet be an individual at the same time. We are rare enough to make us exotic, but prevalent enough to find friends.

In a very masochistic way, I think most gamers enjoy this exclusivity. With the advent of facebook games and the whole casual game industry, gamers find their once clear definition challenged, when you are challenged, the most common reaction is to lash out, which brings about the need to redefine what a gamer is. The people advocating this are, not surprisingly, the gamers themselves. I mean even I have lashed out at the in my post “The real fake fans“. Gamers see this as an intrusion into a space they once have a clear definition and a place they belonged.

The world is changing, old stereotypes are eroding and labels are becoming less important, people are who they are, it doesn’t matter if you are a music connoisseur, a movie buff, comic book nerd, Otaku or a gamer, in the end, we are all just people who enjoy what we love and that is what matters. It is natural to want to protect the things we are passionate about, but how we feel do not apply to how people perceive it and people need to accept that and just live with it.

So be proud of who you are, no matter what stereotype you fall under.

The End of an Era

For a good nine years, I have followed this manga series and on June 2010 this epic saga has finally came to an end. It is  a story of friendship, determination as it is common for Shonen mangas. But really drew me to the story was the intellectualism inherent in it.

From the formulas of alchemy and the principals that govern it  were all masterfully done and well fleshed out. The manga is not afraid to let people see the horrors of human nature and even embodies the seven sins in seven deadly homunculus. The conspiracy, the tragedy and the comedy. They were wonderfully blended together, true Fullmetal alchemist may not be as dark as some other existing Mangas, but it definetly capture an honesty rare in a world of fantasy.

I thank you Elric Brothers and I have enjoyed the journey we had.

Mind Your Language part 1

So, what language do you think in? What goes on in your head as you read this sentence? Do you think in Mandarin, English, Latin, Japanese?

See I believe that how you think is greatly affected by the language in which you process information. A clear concise mind produces clear concise sentences and internal monologue. Different language has different social, cultural and structural implications. What would make perfect sense in Mandarin will not make sense once translated directly to English or any other language for that matter.

A language has finite vocabulary and each vocabulary has different connotations and implications. When stringed together into a sentence, each word will have vastly different meaning and impact. When a person learns a language, he/she tags an associated word with an image/sound/purpose. I will not pretend to even begin to understand how a child is able to still identify a chair as a chair when two vastly different designs are presented. Perhaps both chairs have a unifying purpose of form that is the basis of observation? That is definitely something to think about but I digress.

Like Facebook pictures, we tag words with an image/sound/purpose instead of friends. What we create in our mind as child is a neural network of word association. This is in addition to mimicry of the sounds our parents produce when cajoling us. As we get older, our understanding of a language diminishes/increases. This allow more complex sentences to be formed and also form in my opinion the basis of thought. Language is the physical representation of thought.

Of course, we go on to independently consume more language and vocabulary, assimilating this new learned words. The more we consume, the more we are able to build a sentence with more variation and each word itself can contain more meaning then a whole sentence. Which comes back to the my case of language. It is my believe that each language helps mold a brain differently. As I mentioned earlier, each language has its own cultural and social connotations.

For example, there is a rural village cut of from the rest of the world. Their language mainly revolves around agricultural terms and references. There are words for religious use and thing you need to get by day to day but that is it. How is one to describe a computer to the tribe in their language? Impossible without the introduction of new words.

Language and society/culture is so intricately tied it is almost impossible to disentangle them, so if you think in a certain language that favors certain philosophical thought. You are more likely to be drawn towards that line of thought due to the limited exposure of other ideas when language becomes a barrier.

On another note, having good command of a language also helps structure your thoughts. Clear concise language is an indication of a clear concise mind. People who do not take language seriously will have a hard time expressing themselves without other form of language aka art if they are so inclined.

A person unable to form proper sentences are more likely to be idiots. Grammatical mistakes are forgivable as a general rule but how you speak, write or otherwise express yourself with a language shows how you think and your general attitude towards learning.

So bottom line, language plays an important part both in society and personality so go out there and learn more. You never know what you may think of next. Incidentally hear is a little article about language. http://englishsutff.blogspot.com/2010/05/language.html

Deus Ex: Human Evolution

No actual gameplay trailer as of yet, but the cinematic trailer really looks kickass. The whole allusion to myth of Icarus is a nice touch, fly too close to the sun and you are gonna get burnt. Says tons about human ambition.

Upon My High Tower



The High Tower

I sat atop my high tower, aloof and proud

Looking down at my envious crowd

With disdain and contempt I greeted them

For they are the soulless and the damned

I sat atop my high tower seated upon my throne

My subjects are many but I needed none

For only I alone have the will to see the stars

To see beyond the heavens and my mortal bars.

I sat atop my high tower, without mate nor peer

I have seen the stars but no one sees my fears

I look down from my high tower, my home, my prison

My vision of the stars were my prize, my poison


I sat atop my high tower longing for release

My only company were the ghost of the decease

I suffer alone the knowledge won from the heavens

Though all is revealed to me, my soul lays barren

I sat atop my high tower screaming

The crowd stirs but no one is listening

No one sees my anguish, no one hears my cries

I sat atop my high tower, in the tower I shall die


The world as I see it

So true indeed. In all honesty, I hate people. I hate the world we made, I hate my peers, I hate humanity. The world as I see it, is a decadent place akin to ancient Rome. The hypocrisy and the illusions of grandeur humanity has of itself makes me sick. We fill our lives with vapid pursuits. We scorn the intelligentsias of our society and hide within our delusions of adequacy.

The world is poisoned by the unthinking, self-serving, pleasure seeking pursuits of lesser minds. I have to admit, even I am gripped by this poison that so afflicts us all. The very fact that I see myself as the chosen few who can see this invisible poison serves only as a testament to my own failings. I wallow in the same pit as the rest of humanity, comforting myself with my ‘moral’ righteousness and my ‘superior’ intellect. I try to enforce my vision on the less worthy while I drink lavishly from the poisonous well that we all share.

Such bitterness you can almost taste it. But you do not, so do not pretend that you do. People, people, people. I see myself as a Saviour and a destroyer. With all my might I wish for the utter destruction of the human race, yet at the same time I hope that there is indeed something worth saving. But I can not find it. The people I meet only confirms my dreaded realization years ago, Humanity must be extinguished if we can not as a species elevate ourselves to a higher calling, a destiny if you will. We are self destructive creatures with perverted based desires which we mistake for cognition. So what if we are sentient when we indulge our every whim. Despite all my misgivings for my grotesque race, I have seen beauty in it.

These are people who stand outside of society, not by birth or circumstance, but by choice. To study the monstrosity that is modern society we abandon our ties with society and look at it with apathy and disdain. We see society for what it is, and it is in these people are find solace. The beauty of the mind is at its brightest amongst these outcast, I see this outcast as the hope of humanity, philosophers each and every one. Perhaps in an age where Plato’s vision of philosopher kings can truly be manifest. Perhaps, perhaps humanity may be worth saving once more.

The Meaning of Death

Being brainy means people would often ask you some of the dumbest things and the most profoundly simple philosophical question. So there I was, sitting down reading Dante’s Inferno when my friend approached me and asked “What is that you are reading?”

“Read the title” I replied curtly.

“What is it about” Was the reply

So I described the premise of Dante’s Inferno and his journey through hell,purgatory and finally heaven.

“So it is about religion and life after death?”

“In some sense”

“Have you ever thought about the meaning of life?”

This finally caught my attention, and was replied with contemplative silence. Does life really need a meaning? Is it not already complicated enough?

Life, we can call it a measure of how a person has lived his or her life, but in the end, there is only death. The futility that is life, for no matter how powerful, how kind, how meaningful your life has been, you will still die. So in a way, the only way to life is to die. For death is the summation of all the tragedies and triumphs of an individual and perhaps, at that very moment you know you have lived a life. No matter how abruptly your lives are ended, it is at those moment that you have truly lived. To have struggled through the futility of life and to rest eternally in death.

Grim? Perhaps, but what are we compared to the cosmos that surrounds us. Our petty lives are but droplets in an endless sea. So maybe there is no meaning in life. Maybe one should ask. What is the meaning of death? And maybe just maybe, the meaning of death is to have lived. No matter how futile, meaningless it was, we existed in a time and we exist as cosmic dust. So live like a firefly, brief but oh so bright.




What a beauty you are

Personified you are not

Pictures you are not

How perplexing

How confusing

Oh beauty what are you

Torment me so

Hurt me so

Your nature eludes me

For words you are not

For pen do you no justice

Nor are you an action

For the ballet makes you weep

You are not the voice

Even when nature sings you praise

Oh beauties real are you

Or just a dream

A dream for fools

Fools who claim to know you so

Accusing you to be all that is holy

All that is right

All that is good

Beauty you rouse me so

I burn for you

Yet never capture you

Oh beauty you make me feel

To tear with emotion

To seethe with rage

To laugh with joy

To make me human

Oh beauty what are you

Are you real or just a dream

A fleeting dream that comes and goes

Like ages old and new

Beauty where are you

Are you the soul that burns for thee?

I chase a dream

A dream for beauty

But you are a dream

You are not real

I searched for beauty for naught

For there is no real beauty

I am beauty

I am the thought

I am an idea

I am a dream.