Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Time to take a direction

Today I was pondering about this blog, what direction should it take?
I'm no programmer and most good games are not made by one programmer, so I won't talk code.
I do have some knowledge on usability and programming but I'm no expert on those.
However I almost have my Bsc communication-science, balanced towards new media content production and media psychology. Additionaly I stumbled across an article on the problems educational games face. Therefore I'll shift my focus mainly to introducing measurement tools and theory to review the effectiveness of serious games in the broadest sense.

This is something that present day field of usability research lacks, especially in a standardized and scientific sound form. Something most programmers are unfamiliar with, but still a great addition to game development. Even more important, it will be cutting edge and new : ), probably even relevant to other fields of game development.

Of course there will be other subjects, though I felt it was time to take a clear direction.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Serious Games and Detrimental effects

The buzz on serious games is unbelievable. Every dimwit seems to be creating them without any pedagogical insight on its consequences. In my not so humble opinion I'd like to have some strict regulation or self-regulation in the field of serious games. This is not a plee to deter the use of serious games but a critical review.

The whole uproar on action games is cute for layman. Even television programs are rated in an age system to keep children out of possible harm's way. The moment that we're talking about educational games people lose their minds and without much effort you'll be able to sell it to parents thinking that they do good.  However educational games may well be more damaging to children than any other form of media if the game mechanisms are not pedagogically tested.

We've all got our own preferred fields of knowledge and entertainment and fields of which we've got a certain aversion. I love arithmetic and don't care much for grammar as an example.

We are motivated to do the things we love for the sheer joy of it. This is called intrinsic motivation.
We are only motivated to do the things we don't care for if the reward we get from it is high enough (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

A good game keeps us engaged to play. There are many factors that may engage us; storyline, characters, different rewards, challenge of skill. The most fun games are theorized to bring us in a state of flow,
a balance of challenge compared to our skill triggering our intrinsic desire to seek out challenge and to master it (Deci & Ryan, 1985). But the balance might be off. Social rewards like status in MMORPG's, tangible rewards like new weapons or items in a game might have a undesirable great role. For some the rewards in a game will become more important than the challenge if the emphasis is placed wrongly. I don't care much for the precise motivations people play MMORPG's, in serious games this motivation does truly matter.

A serious game should have the ability to stimulate players to learn using rewards if those players don't care much for that which should be learned. Rewards are more or less their last resort. You might try linking grammar for example to something that does interest them to get players motivated to learn grammar, though the difficulty is obvious. Not a lot of research has been done on decreasing the reward in the long term but there's a good possibility for a motivation shift towards the positive side (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

The problem lies with those already intrinsically motivated to use grammar. They might enjoy it because it allows them to more fully express themselves. However if you let players that are already intrinsically motivated play the game and put to much emphasis on the rewards they'll get for finishing challenging tasks (controlling their view) instead of placing emphasis on doing the best they can and improving themselves, the consequences might be undesirable. If this is the case intrinsic motivation may well decline because of a misattribution of their joy to rewards, instead of the challenge. This in turn influences their learning behaviour in class and cause long term detrimental effects.

Luckily ill balanced games are no fun to play. Let's just hope Zynga doesn't make a serious game that uses their click-click-click reward concept.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Educational Games

Sorry for the wait. I was asked to do a guest blog for TedxAmsterdamED and felt quite honored : )

Today I want to show a bit of my academic skillset. As part of my study I've build a survey for children to measure motivation towards arithmetic and an arithmetic game to look at the correlation between those factors. To build the survey I've devoured hundreds of pages of research on motivation.

Motivation towards a certain action exists out of at least two parts. Intrinsic motivation; motivated to act because a certain action like arithmetic simply gives you joy. Extrinsic motivation; motivated to act because of external rewards. Generally we perform actions better if intrinsically motivated.

Intrinsic motivation is mostly viewed as a better form of motivation.  Lepper, Corpus and Iyengar (2005) add that both forms of motivation can add to your overall motivation to act, motivation to play a game for example. Extrinsic motivation should not be used to much though because that can even influence intrinsic motivation negatively.

There have been multiple surveys that try to measure intrinsic motivation like the Intrinsic Motivation Index. Lepper et all. (2005) have chosen to measure both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is measured with questions on "a desire for challenging (school)work", "general curiosity towards school" and "a desire to complete work indepent". Extrinsic motivation is measured with questions on "a desire for easy work", "desire to please the teacher" and "a desire to get help from the teacher". The interesting thing is that only desire for easy work and a desire for challenging work correlate negatively. The other two dimensions of extrinsic motivation don't correlate.

Well what can you do with this?
For my internship I've translated and rephrased the scales to use is specifically for educational games and learning specific knowledge domains like arithmetic or language. It's possible to use surveys like this to show scientifically that your product enhances motivation and follow motivation over a longer period of time. Hopefully it's even possible to correlate motivation to play an arithmetic game and to learn arithmetic.

Next time I'll write something on profiling a game to compare it with other games.


Lepper, M. R., Corpus, J. H., & Iyengar, S. S. (2005). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations in the classroom: Age differences and academic correlates. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 97(2), pp.184–196.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Serious Games are an old concept

It's time for an interesting history lesson. Some are of the opinion that the present educational system is archaic. I agree that it can be improved of, but recognize that is has brought global society quite far. Most of it is still based on unfounded didactic principles upheld in teaching since ancient Greece, like learning by heart for example.

Games as societal integrated learning devices, I argue, are an old concept as well. The origin of serious games can be traced to at least 1794 with "Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man" writen by Friedrich Schiller.

I haven't read the book yet but I surely will. It is partly supposed to be about "play as a force of civilization, which helps humans exit their animal conditions and aspire to become members of enlightened communities" .
A vision I atleast subscribe to.

Now let us go a bit further into past to find a new future with the words of Schiller "Live with your century but do not be its creature.". Because an aspiring vision of serious games in the future can be read in the brilliant short story "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" by Lewis Padgett  (the movie adaptation is quite sappy though). Basically it's about a boy and his younger sister accidentally stumbling across toys from a far away future. These toys are games that supposedly train and condition children in the future to allow connection with a society that we are not able to conceive of yet. The younger sister is even a better player than her older brother, because due to her age she has a larger capacity for learning new structure.

In short; serious games have a serious position in philosophy and can be tied to seriously astounding visions of the future. How's that for a history lesson.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Khan Academy and Co. just let them rise

A lot's been said about the Khan Academy and the wave of massive online open course providers like Codecademy.com, I'm not going to say anything about those MOOC's, I'm going to talk about the old boys network that rules over present-day education. The network that should not be defended by teachers. Teachers are mostly passionate, putting all their effort into the upbringing of responsible citizens on just a meagre salary. While we recognize that children are our future, we should put our money where our mouth is. I thing we all agree on that.

This article is just about the Dutch situation, however I imagine it's more or less equal across the western world. Recently I've come across the "schoolboekenscan" or "schoolbookscan" a paper presenting the view of the Dutch market authority (Nma) on the concentration of educational resource providers across the board. It paints a grimm picture of the market concentration. The turnover of eductional resources in the Netherlands of primary education alone is 115 million Euro per year. 80% to 90% Of this market is divided up between three mayor publishers (ThiemeMeulenhoff, Noordhoff, Malmberg). The rest is divided among smaller publishers.

The market authority adds that the teaching-methods are more or less customized to the wishes of the publisher with only a small amount of effort being spend adjusting the content to the wishes of actual teachers. This same pattern is projected on middle school and high school educational resources in the Netherlands.

The sad thing most of the money of educational resources is public expenditure. Just imagine 115 million Euro being spend on open source teaching methodes, pedagogically and didactically based on present day scientific knowledge. One country is all it takes to shake the foundations of education if they began with opening eduction with maths and arithmetic (both widely adaptable across the globe).

It might even create some room for the games I so love.

How about your countries? What is it's situation?

Video content in a game setting.

Videos are used in a wide variety of ways  in games. Like the next video on Texas hold'm poker.
 Visuals may be appealing and may look flashing but will it get the desired teaching result. Card games are for example mostly learned in a real-life setting with all cards laid open, which get you playing really fast. A non-life game example may be an interactive tutorial game against NPC's (non-player characters).

The point I'm trying to make is that the choice of media-mix in games should depend on the desired result. Research comparing newspapers and tv news have shown that the retention rate of newspapers is significantly higher. Therefore video's should never be used to transfer dense amounts of information.

It can of course be used to inspire awe and add drama. Or even to clarify a spatial orientation of characters in a game-world. But refrain from transferring to much information with animations or video's.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Games and Physical Activity - Thinking in Opportunities

http://www.pixelitis.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ddr-mat.jpgThis is a game a friend of mine used to play a lot, "dance dance revolution". These players are at a very high skill level. It's recorded real-time...

It is a dancing game using an electronic button mat, those buttons have to be touched with your feet on the right rhythm.

Personally I'm more into martial arts then dancing and was wondering how you could teach martial arts or practice sport at all with a game. There's nothing wrong with real life sport, but in martial arts for example you need a partner or teacher and they're not always around. Additionally some exercises have to be repeated for a minimum amount to improve your movement and skills.

Gamification of sport exercises or even using it as a full-grown game element may very well open up ways even for professional athletes to improve. Games won't go away, but in the battle of obesity in the western world I think we should recognize exergaming as a serious opportunity to improve the lifestyle and most importantly make exercise fun!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Epicentre of programming

During my internship I'm confronted with a lot of interesting views.
One of the views of some programmers I've come into contact with is that children should atleast learn one programming language in school. Most research on programming courses with children to create games have shown signs of improved technical self-efficacy. It may even decrease the so called beta divide between boys and girls. Additionally it allows people to gain incomparable knowledge of the digital world instead of just sitting behind facebook wondering about it's concept (the concept is elegant, the evil isn't).

One of the programmers has even had the idea to implement exercises with the adaptive Rekentuin.nl algoritm. It's probably doable. A lot of programming subskills like logic statements can only be practiced through forms of repetition, making some form of gamemechanic a good option. A challenge...

Codeacademy.com can serve as best practice example. A brilliant site, offering free programming starters courses online. User friendly and actually beginning at the Noob level.

Just imagine one country that replaces a dead language like Latin with a live rapidly evolving language like Java.
An interesting future sure is approaching...

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A wide perspective

Nobelprize Games

This is a site with some lightly entertaining games. The bloodtype game for example
makes you aware of different bloodtypes and how you can be tested for one.

Probably something for biology class. The games are not entertaining for me, but a challenge in class
to be graded on highscore will probably drill the bloodtypes right in. A serious game should always be used in addition to external real-life feedback, application or stimuli.

There are a lot of subjects to choose from on this site, all nobelprize related.
Explore a little.