Online list of theses related to serious games

Serious Games Pathfinder features a growing list of Master’s and Doctoral theses related to serious games. Currently, most of the theses are Canadian but the site welcomes submissions from other countries to add to the list. While not all of the theses are available online, it’s worth browsing the list to see the changing interests of the academic community.

Here’s a selection of some of the more arresting titles:

  • Informatization of a nation: a case study of South Korea’s computer gaming and PC-Bang culture
  • Infinite regress : the blurring of an architectural game-space
  • Gamers as learners: Emergent culture, enculturation, and informal learning in massively multiplayer online games

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Will Wright and E O Wilson on educational games

Take a look over at NPR for a summary of an open mic session between game designer Will Wright (with credits including SimCity, The Sims and Spore) and biologist E. O. Wilson.

Wright asked Wilson if he saw a role for games in education:

“I’ll go to an even more radical position,” Wilson said. “I think games are the future in education. We’re going through a rapid transition now. We’re about to leave print and textbooks behind.”

Wilson imagines students taking visits through the virtual world to different ecosystems. “That could be a rain forest,” he said, “a tundra — or a Jurassic forest.”

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Videogames improve working memory


Following on from last week’s claim that Tetris increases brain efficiency, BBC News reports that war-simulation videogames can improve players’ ‘working memory’ – i.e. the ability to remember information and to use it. Dr Tracy Alloway, from the University of Stirling, suggests that studies have shown that videogames such as the Total War series enhance this element of intelligence, and similar effects are produced by completing Sudoku puzzles and, oddly, spending time on Facebook. Examples of activities likely to weaken working memory are text messaging, posting on Twitter and watching Youtube videos.

Gamers won’t be too surprised by the claim that playing the challenging Total War series can boost intelligence. Given that many videogames require resource-balancing and forward-planning, I wonder how less overtly strategic videogames would fare in Dr Alloway’s intelligence trials.

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Video Game Name Generator

A bit of slightly off-topic fun for a Tuesday morning… Take a look at the Video Game Name Generator for an endless list of scarily plausible videogame titles. My favourites so far include Legendary Kitchen Deathmatch, Tactical Llama Revisited and the peerless WWII Hillbilly II.

Quest to Learn: NYC’s game-based school

New York City’s Quest to Learn, created in collaboration with New Visions for Public Schools, is a proposed 6-12th grade school based on game-inspired teaching.

Mission critical at Quest to Learn is a translation of the underlying form of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders. Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core.

Rather than playing commercially-available videogames, the school aims to utilise ‘game-like learning experiences’ via partnerships with third-party development studios.

Via Flux.

Tetris increases brain efficiency


More fuel for the games-are-good-for-you argument:

Albuquerque, N.M.-based Mind Research Network said over the course of three months, it tracked adolescent girls who practiced playing Tetris. Compared to control subjects, these girls exhibited greater brain efficiency and a thicker cortex, as evidenced by brain scans.

Areas of the brain that showed thicker cortex were sections believed to play a role in “planning of complex, coordinated movements,” researchers said, and areas responsible for “coordination of visual, tactile, auditory, and internal physiological information.”

Other parts of the brain, which are associated with “critical thinking, reasoning, and language and processing,” also showed greater efficiency after practicing Tetris.

Via Serious Games Source. Photo by Hybridrain.

Information design in Casablanca and videogames

In his column in the new edition of Edge magazine, Randy Smith discusses similarities between movies and videogames. He comments that he tends to dislike old movies because of poor information design and offers the opening sequence of Casablanca as an example, where he argues that the importance of the transit papers is not made clear to the viewer. He suggests that modern movies often achieve a higher level of information design, such as the Keyser Soze reveal at the end of The Usual Suspects, which, while surprising to many viewers, is telegraphed so that few viewers will misunderstand the new information they are receiving. Smith argues that The Usual Suspects may provide a better template for good videogame narrative, simply because it ensures that all viewers come away from the experience with the same level of information.

I’ve been chewing over these comments all morning. To be fair, a large part of my disgruntlement is the suggestion that The Usual Suspects is ‘better’ than Casablanca, although I’ll try to suppress my film snobbery here. But I think this information design approach to both movies and games might be rewarding, and Randy Smith’s conclusions bother me.  (Click to read more)

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