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Education Games

University of Wyoming Studies Video Games 81

krou writes "The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about how the University of Wyoming's English Department is helping fund a collective called the Learning Games Initiative to study video games. Jason Thompson, an assistant professor at UW who is part of the group, explains that 'it's a group of people [who] do research on games, do development on games, and keep an archive of games printed matter such as manuals, ... systems, all of it. We really look at games as cultural artifacts; things that reveal theology, things that reveal power. Things that should be studied in the academy.' The English Department has been very open-minded with the project, because they understand that gaming can educate people, and that 'we can expand our notion of what text and study is; the idea that it might be fun doesn't necessarily preclude its study.' Thompson believes that it's important for academia to study gaming, because games could be used in the future as a type of textbook: 'if games can teach, then as teachers shouldn't we understand what kind of teaching's going on?'"
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University of Wyoming Studies Video Games

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... for those who want to play games and love analyzing the shit out of games.

    An academic discipline full of fanboys, I can't wait!

    • Re:A great excuse... (Score:5, Informative)

      by paeanblack ( 191171 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @02:33PM (#31454352)

      An academic discipline full of fanboys, I can't wait!

      I took a game analysis class last fall at MIT/GAMBIT, and went in with a similar attitude.

      Yeah...there was a ton more reading and discussing heavy philosophy than I was expecting.

      Deconstructing "fun" may seem like wanking, but it's serious business to the folks analyzing whether to gamble $50M on the next title.

      Video game buyers are pretty fickle, and their answer to "what is fun" is generally "I know it when I see it". Development budgets have gotten large enough that investors need a little more than warm fuzzies before opening their wallets.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        ""Video game buyers are pretty fickle, and their answer to "what is fun" is generally "I know it when I see it"."

        You do know that Mass effect 2 director said "listen to fans"? He said the MOST important thing you can do as a developer is listen to your fans critiques, they took a list of all the major complaints of Mass effect 1 and used it to design Mass effect 2. There are whole articles on it @ Gamasutra.

        Academically analyzing games is fine, no doubt about it. But you have to remember games are huge p

        • Listening to the fans works pretty well for single player games. In the MMORPG context, it can, however, lead to the dreaded nerf - forum nerd rage - counternerf cycles from which no game really profits. Some independent analysis may be helpful there.
          • by Keill ( 920526 )

            And this is why there is a big difference between merely what the fans SAY they want, and understanding WHY, as well as WHAT it is they are complaining about...

            But again, we all come back to fully understanding what it is that makes a game, a GAME - which isn't fully understood at this point, (which is why there are so many 'problems').

        • list of all the major complaints of Mass effect 1 and used it to design Mass effect 2.

          That's fine for developing sequels, but that's not where the money comes from, because a string of lucrative sequels can't exist if you don't get the first game right.

          In the class, we studied quite a few of the developer post-mortems from Gamasutra. A common theme in those articles are the gut-wrenching wild-ass-guesses that need to be made when breaking into a new genre. Fan feedback is pretty useless if you are not build

          • " A common theme in those articles are the gut-wrenching wild-ass-guesses that need to be made when breaking into a new genre."

            Hahah well I don't buy that shit that "it's soo hard", almost all new IP's are retreads with reskinned lore/graphics.

            MASS EFFECT 1 was an FPS with RPG stuff tacked on, ME2 was gears of war in the mass effect universe.
            Fable = action rpg, nothing really "new" about it except the universe.
            Dead space = another pseudo- thid person FPS from the third person.

            All these new properties are li

            • by Zerth ( 26112 )

              Break into a new genre, not invent a new genre.

              You can't ask your fans how they like your shooters if you've never made a shooter before and you can't "reskin" previously successful education games if all educational games suck. The best you can do is find out why previous games sucked and say "don't do that", which isn't the logical equivalent to "do something both fun and educational".

              If you hadn't quoted GP, I'd have thought you responded to the wrong post.

      • “fun” is actually well-defined in the game design business.
        Fun is happiness with surprises.
        Happiness is when something that does you good happens. (Mindset/biomass expansion/improvement/preservation. Even if only virtual/simulated.)
        And surprises are when something happened that you didn’t expect. (The more differing from your mental model’s predictions, the more surprising.) With surprises you learn something new. And that is usually an advantage.

        Hence the reason that combination mak

        • by Keill ( 920526 )

          And, again, we see more symptoms of the problem my paper, (will, hopefully), be there to solve...

          Fun, is defined mainly by things we DO, and the consequences of doing them.

          GAMES, are about things we DO. None of what was said above about fun is tied to things we do, and therefore isn't precise enough:

          I could just stand there and have people throw money at me - I'd certainly be happy and surprised, but if I don't have to DO anything, is it really 'fun'?

          I have a MUCH better way of explaining all this, but it'

          • by Keill ( 920526 )

            I've been thinking about this, and I've come to the conclusion that neither of us are right - the truth is actually somewhere in the middle...

            Although I was talking about fun in the post above purely as related to games, I've been trying to think of it in a more general sense...

            Fun is about us being fully active or reactive in an activity we enjoy doing - (makes us happy). Anything which is totally passive, therefore doesn't really count as being 'fun', merely 'enjoyable' - (i.e. passively watching films,

      • by Keill ( 920526 )

        Unfortunately, we still have a very big problem at this time, lying at the centre of ALL of this, but I'm trying to write a paper about it, and so can't really discuss it fully (:-/).

        Suffice to say, that at this moment in time, GAMES, (as a whole), are NOT fully understood/recognised for what they are... Things such as game theory etc. cover the psychological aspects underpinning the mechanics of games, (i.e. how and why they work), but don't fully explain what they actually ARE, and how they fit in and ar

        • Wondering if you've read Rules of Play, by Salen and Zimmerman. Really opened up my thinking about what games and fun are and how to create them within a game.
          • (though not that one), but to be honest, (although this may seem like I'm blind with arrogance ;) ), I don't think I really need to.

            The reason why, is simple:

            I have found two extremely simple and basic fundamental problems within the English Language.

            One of these problems has lasted for over 800 years, since it isn't recognised to even exist. (Until now ;) ). The other problem has ALWAYS existed, and from what I can tell, is NOT just limited to the English Language, and again, has never been recognised for

            • You're heading into mad scientist territory, although in your case it's more like mad social scientist. Best of luck.
              • by Keill ( 920526 )

                mad scientist? No-where near, lol.

                What I have is something SO basic and simple it's ridiculous. Here's an analogy:

                Imagine a world where people only knew about birds when they were flying overhead, and so, because of that, they defined birds not just for what they are, but also by the ACT of flying.

                Imagine that this then caused problems when it came to fully understanding other animals and objects that can also fly.

                Imagine then, that someone came along later - (800 years later!), and pointed out that within

  • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

    I wonder if having a name so similar to Jack Thompson caused any problems for this guy...probably not, but who knows?

    • Omg I just skimmed the summary and thought I read "Professor Jack Thompson". I almost fell out of my chair.
      • Same problem, I got partway through his quote when my brain just locked up the gears and said "Wait a minute, there's no way JACK thompson said this." and went into reverse.

        I'm still wondering whats up with his defense of Mass Effect though, he goes after The Sims for child pornography and then says he's got no beef with ME and the whole issue is ridiculous and blown out of proportion. Has to have been an april fools joke or something.

    • by Etrias ( 1121031 )
      Jason Thompson...Jack Thompson's smarter brother.

      Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.
    • by sorak ( 246725 )

      I wonder if having a name so similar to Jack Thompson caused any problems for this guy...probably not, but who knows?

      His first study was entitled "Why do people keep punching me?" Unfortunately, he concluded that gamers _are_prone to violence.

    • It's come up around the water cooler once or twice ;)
    • Nope, never did. Besides, that other Thompson--I could take him.
  • by bjk002 ( 757977 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @01:53PM (#31453850)

    Challenging status-quo thinking has always met with resistance. It is refreshing that the university is embracing a non-traditional approach to thinking about education, and the opportunities for education that exist in the current media children and students are actively embracing.

    • by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <ememalb@@@gmail...com> on Friday March 12, 2010 @02:01PM (#31453964) Homepage Journal

      I have found, overall, that the majority of resistance to change comes from older people. The younger you are, the easier it is to adapt your thinking because you haven't been conditioned to "how things should be" yet. A perfect example is this onion I wear on my belt.

      Now, get off my patch of yellowed, mostly dead vegetation, you damned kids...and take your stoner dog with you.

    • Universities tend to be the place where this kind of "out of box" thinking takes place.

      However, just because an approach is tried doesn't mean it filters down to the rest of the education process.

    • Exactly. And actually, scientifically, games ARE education. They are the original natural form of education. How we are meant to learn.

      School has taken out the fun (and hence the natural drive that made us learn all by ourselves) and replaced with drill (blind following/belief and repetitive execution). Which is obvious for a system that has its origins in being military drill, but for children. (Bismarck invented it for just that purpose.)
      Seen in the long term, school is the non-traditional form. Games are

      • by Keill ( 920526 )

        Actually, humanity always learns in BOTH directions - including things we do - (which of course covers games) - as well as things that happen TO us...

        This is all related to paper I'm (trying) to write, that helps to explain how and why everything fits together. (I need help :-/ (I've never tried to write anything like this before)). If you read some of my past postings on slashdot - you'll see some of the process I went through to figure things out). (And what I have is IMPORTANT).

  • "I understand the music, I understand the movies, I even see how comic books can tell us things. But there are full professors in this place who read nothing but cereal boxes."

    Delillo, White Noise
  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @02:05PM (#31454020)
    they understand that gaming can educate people So... what lessons have we all learned from playing World of Warcraft, etc.?

    Actually, I believe if you play as a team, you do learn valuable lessons about how to organize a team of diverse individuals over the internet to achieve a common goal, and that does help prepare you for connected knowledge work in the future. Unfortunately, I almost always play solo, in which case it is little more than mental masturbation.
    • If you are able to achieve the same goal solo in a game where others have to band together as a team, that also trains you in a different manner. You would be more than likely to think "outside of the box" when presented with a problem and explore all none-intended options.

    • You know, as damaging as WoW can be, it does actually require a good deal of skills that children could benefit from. When you look at lower-class students in middle and high school especially you can see some benefits.

      I mean, to play WoW you need to be able to:

      • Read
      • Do mathematics
      • Solve complex reasoning problems (building a character

      These really are pretty good things to teach children, to speak nothing of the teamwork aspects. WoW is a lot of things, but it is not a mindless diversion.

      • Give them Anarchy Online instead of WoW, if you want them to do maths and solve complex reasoning problems. That game had the maddest skill/equipment system ever. I fondly remember scribbling 3 pages of calculations to find out in what way to insert one implant...
        • Yeah, there are things I'd far rather do than play WoW, and are far harder. But the point is that playing WoW requires basic skills in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, and that we have an unfortunate number of students that lack these skills. Even something as questionable as WoW could have a purpose in spurring them to basic proficiency.

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @02:18PM (#31454192) Homepage Journal

    no job can be the 'best job ever'. remember this : once you start doing something as job, it starts to be less 'fun' every day on and on, until at one point becoming a mere job itself.

    no exceptions. it goes that way because people tend to dislike things that they are doing mandatorily and regularly, instead of doing them whenever they want to do them and desire to do them.

    for any job to not go down the same way, the person needs to have a passion, an obsession with that particular job/activity. however, this is the reality for only a tiny percentage of global population. and we generally end up seeing them as prominent members of their fields, if they work in a field that has any media coverage or peer recognition.

  • This is hilarious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Klatoo55 ( 726789 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @02:20PM (#31454202) Homepage
    I was actually a classmate of one of the two guys doing this (Aaron Perell) and I distinctly recall being incredulous when he described a project he was working on as "playing a lot of video games." It's funny to see this get thrown on to the CSM, since I got the impression that it was a minor exercise to keep bored college IT folk occupied. Hopefully this ends up producing some interesting research so we can justify further studies of this nature - to the delight of grad students everywhere.
    • Hopefully this study would actually increase the quality of story lines in RPGs today. There are plenty of games that have incredible graphics, but the stories behind all those graphics are so horrendous that we just throw our hands in the air and rage quit.

      Script writing for games are very different from writing books, that is obvious. However, those scripts are also very different from movie scripts, and game developers do not get that. I see plenty of games with cheesy third rate action flick movie scrip

      • by Keill ( 920526 )

        Note - GAMES are NOT about TELLING stories, so I don't know why learning how to make a better game would involve telling a better story?

  • TFA:

    Perrell explains that he sees great potential for video games to be used in the same capacity as today's college textbooks.


    • Graduation requirement: StudentScore of 4500+ and a minimum of 20 achievements from each class in your major.

    • ... as overpriced, required purchases that the teacher never ends up using in class?

      ... as ways for the teacher to push up the sales of things they wrote?

  • Video gaming is already the subject of academic study elsewhere, for example see this summary of work by Daphne Bavelier, "Action Video Games Sharpen Vision 20 Percent" [rochester.edu]

  • Maybe (Score:3, Informative)

    by lyinhart ( 1352173 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @02:39PM (#31454422)
    This project might produce interesting results, depending on how they run things. Theology? Well, some Japanese games had references to Christian theology removed when brought to Western countries, including early Castlevania games and more recent games like Grandia 2 and Maken X. Politics? Poly Play, developed in Communist East Germany was awful (yet popular, since there wasn't much else to play there), but Tetris, developed in... wait for it... Soviet Russia became a cultural phenomenon. Then there's the supposed North Korean arcade: http://www.ukresistance.co.uk/2008/09/inside-north-korean-arcade.html [ukresistance.co.uk] Culturally, there's the usual topics of sex and violence in games. And increasingly, ethnicity and gender. Big whoop.

    I just hope it doesn't turn out to be just like other university subdepartments dedicated to "specialty" studies, home to a bunch of self-righteous blowhards who don't really know what they're talking about.
    • I just hope it doesn't turn out to be just like other university subdepartments dedicated to "specialty" studies, home to a bunch of self-righteous blowhards who don't really know what they're talking about.

      *sigh*.....yeah..... but it will.

      There's a lot about video games that's interesting, but I seriously doubt these people will focus on those things. Really, games are formal mathematical systems. It could be interesting to study them as such.

      • by Keill ( 920526 )

        Well, I've been studying games all by myself, never been to university, and can definitely claim I probably understand them for what they are as well as anyone else. If only I could get this damn paper out of the door, it would certainly help... :-/

  • I've lived through the video game era.. (Yes, I'm that old!) No need to study what I experienced first hand.

  • TFS: "... because games could be used in the future as a type of textbook..."

    In ancient times: "Life is the best teacher"

    Technological progress enables mankind to virtualize life into a perfect game.


  • I hope he is no relation to Jack
  • This kind of systematized academic attention to games is long overdue, specifically in the soft sciences and humanities. Video games have now become the most profitable means of entertainment, and it is kind of amazing that so little attention is paid to them in terms of serious academic study. As a literature grad, I can tell you that many of the books I've devoted serious academic effort to have print runs that would make shovelware developers for the DS laugh. Although that's kind of an apples-to-oranges

  • ... there's a game studies collective called the "Critical Gaming Project" (http://depts.washington.edu/critgame), which is ran by a few English graduate students. I've taken a class from them once, and it was interesting to see what sort of ways we can actually read into games. We've read stuff from Henry Jenkins from USC (he used to be at MIT's Media Lab for a decade I believe), Espen Aarseth, etc. Games studies is still an emerging field, and there seems to be a lot of interesting things coming out of

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