Thursday, January 5, 2012

Video Games and Learning

This was written on January 5th, 2012.

To begin I would like to ask you a simple question, answer with a yes or no in you head before reading this article and keep that answer in mind. See if that answer changes by the end of my article and then please post a response letting me know if it changed or why it didn't change. Now, the question is this, "Do you believe that video games can viably used for education?"

First and foremost I'm going to start with my personal experience. I have been playing video games since I was about years old. Starting with the original Nintendo, then the Super Nintendo and on to the Nintendo 64. From there I moved on to gaming on the Computer and the Xbox, then to the Xbox 360 and further into the world of Computer gaming. I have played many genres of games, though my personal favorite genre is role playing games. Now that is out of the way, it is time to move on to the heart of my article, what each genre can individually offer in terms of teaching and expanding on the knowledge of the world and your interaction with it.

I'm going to start with the most casual genre of games first, that is sports games. They don't have a steep learning curve and you can just pick them up and have fun. These types of games can teach you about sports, obviously. They teach and enforce the values of teamwork and different sport tactics. Let's take the game Madden NFL 2010. This game offered up a great game based entirely on real life football. You didn't have to be a football player or even a big fan of football to enjoy it though, or at least I didn't. I don't play football and I don't really watch football either. What I mean though is that it was self contained, it provided all the stats, probabilities and scenarios in a football game. It offered you up different playbooks and all kinds of fun. You can learn a lot about sports from sport games because they are made by people are sport fanatics and they create this database of a game with all their sports knowledge. It is the most casual type of gaming because it is most easily related to real life activities that many people participate in or are fascinated by.

The next genre I'm going to cover is strategy games. These games are less casual but still pretty easy to get into, though overall they are the hardest of the bunch to exceed at. These are games like Civilization V, Age of Empires II and III, Starcraft II. They are games with a large variance of types of strategies: economic, military, diplomatic. All of these games require resource management, both gathering and wise spending. They teach you the basics of these by playing through the "story mode" version of the games. You start with a small batch of resources and only a few units. By the end of the story you are running various outposts, using different units in a variety of ways and doing your best to use your resources wisely. The biggest thing that these games teach isn't actually strategy, but resource management. They teach you how to gather materials and how to use them in the most effective way you can to produce the results that you are looking for. Whether that be a diplomatic victory in Civilization V or a military uprising in Starcraft II. Taking those games online provides even more experience and causes you to go more in depth into resource management and production speed because you're being pitted against or allying with other players who have learned the same things from the game that you have and finding ways to apply those strategies to overtake or help you.

The next genre I am going to cover is massive multiplayer online games. By the way, if someone would explain to me why the acronym is MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Onlines?) and not MMOGs (Massive Multipler Online Games) I would much appreciate it. Onward and forward, these types of games can teach you the most about the world and how to interact in it, even though for the most part they are often the farthest from reality. Let us take a look at World of Warcraft, one of the most common in the genre. World of Warcraft offers a vast world with open areas where you can explore, quest, kill various monsters with your friends, craft all kinds of items and then sell them on a marketplace as expansive and deep as can be allowed by a game that is not real life. The biggest thing this game offers is learning how to operate inside of and flourish on a world scale marketplace. It teaches you things like buying low and selling high, it teaches you how to read the market for what is selling well and what isn't selling well. The marketplace in World of Warcraft is a truly representative human created marketplace. The first thing I learned on the marketplace in my time playing was that the resources to build materials sold the best and were the easiest to acquire. The next thing I learned was that if you want to sell well you undercut the sale price of what everyone else was listing their version of your product for. Then I learned that you could still sell your product just as easily if instead of undercutting everyone, you priced your product between the cheapest and the second cheapest. The reason for that was that once the cheapest has all been sold, yours becomes the next cheapest. It takes a small amount of time more for your product to sell, but that little bit of extra time also ended with a larger reward. The final thing I learned was that no matter how much effort someone puts into gathering, it is just as hard to read the market buy what is worthwhile and sell it for a small profit margin. Of course World of Warcraft can also teach you what is socially acceptable and what isn't. For instance, nobody likes beggars in WoW and most people will insult you diligently for being a beggar. The only person to blame for your lack of wealth is yourself. That's a hard learned lesson in real life and in video games. Still I feel like even though it is quickly learned in video games, that knowledge becomes hard for a lot of people to interpret into real life, but it's there.

Finally I'm going to come to my favorite genre of role playing games. This genre of games has lots of little bits and pieces of knowledge to offer that are easily applicable to real life without any effort whatsoever. Probably the most humorous of which is that a woman's wrath is not something you want to mess with, sure you can learn this in real life just as easily, usually though in real life incurring a woman's wrath is more subtle and sometimes you don't immediately realize that you've pissed off a woman in real life. Role playing games teach you what kind of things piss women off and what kind of things don't piss women off, though not necessarily how to charm their pants off. I'm pretty sure that's just genetic or a god given talent. Anyhow, lots of role playing games offer puzzles, things that cause you to think outside the box, break the barriers of your mind and look really hard at some problem to solve it. This is becoming less true as time goes on because most people are casual gamers and most casual gamers don't want to spend ten minutes figuring out a problem. So game developers are implementing less and less problem solving to bring in more casual gamers, but it's still there. It is my hope that after more people start gaming and realizing that there are lots of interesting things various games have to offer, more of those puzzles will start to come back and in more difficult ways. Portal is a great example of a game with purely puzzles, by the way. Role playing games also offer moral dilemmas and show you what happens when you apply various morals, the impact that has on the people around you and the world around you. One of the best examples of this is Fable III a game developed with that sole purpose in mind when Lionhead created it. You are a king and you make decisions that affect the kingdom, do you abide by the promises you make as you make your way to your throne or do you go back on them? Do you turn this house into a home for the poor or do you allow it to become a brothel? You have all these choices that affect the world around you and the way that people view you, then you get to see those affects plain as day. Games like that easily teach right and wrong and provide a moral compass for those who aren't avidly religious, and even some of those that are.

All in all, video games have so much to offer in the sphere of learning and I've barely brushed the surface. I've covered four genres of gaming that easily the most enjoyed genres, aside from shooting games, in the business.

Here is a list of genres and short list of what they offer in terms of learning:
Role Playing Games - Morals, Conversation Skills, Puzzle Solving
Massive Multiplayer Games - Marketplace Assessment, Social Interaction, Social Standards, Supply and Demand
Strategy Games - Resource Gathering and Management
Sports Games - Sports Applicable Knowledge
Puzzle Games - Puzzle Solving
Shooter Games - Hand Eye Coordination, Tactics, Mechanical Skills, Reflex
Party Games - Trivia, Word Association
Serious Games - Math, Writing, Reading, Science, Social Change, Military, Government, Economic

All in all, there are lot of things offered from video games for the generation of visual learning. I remember back in the days of "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" and "Oregon Trail" when adults didn't have a huge problem with kids playing video games. I remember a ton of games that we played for educational purpose in the computer lab when I was attending elementary school, though for the life of me I cannot remember their names. Most of those were "Serious" games, even when the way they used to portray that serious information wasn't serious in the slightest.

Please give me feedback on this article and talk about your own experiences with video games and whether or not you view them to be viably used for education.

Final Note: What I have said here in this article is nowhere near a complete representation of vast world of video games or what they have to offer. It is only a nugget and certainly it may offer as much bad as it does good. Though that is always subject to opinion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

In a World of Choice

This was written on April 15th 2011

We all make choices in our life. You get up every morning and you decide what you're going to eat for breakfast. Is it cereal or are you going to go all out with the eggs, bacon, sausage and toast? You take a shower and then get dressed for work or school. You wanna look good, and you know what you look good in, but maybe you want to have some fun today. You make the choice between formal socks and those tacky mismatched Christmas socks you got last year from your Aunt Linda. In this world of choice we choose everything. Where we hang out, what friends we have, who we ignore on Facebook, where we work, what we eat. We've even begun to realize through more recent scientific research that we can choose how much we sleep. Teenagers have had this down for years, we stay up until the wee hours of the morning and somehow still manage to get up at 6 o'clock for school. Albeit grudgingly, blaming our parents for our own decision to stay up all night.

However, that's not all we can choose is it? We can literally choose anything in this day and age. There are procedures to change what we look like and how our body functions. They're even doing studies on making anatomical (cyborg) body parts for people who need new livers. Made from our own body cells and grown in a tube. Many movies joke about cloning, but it's real. You can choose to partake in the various types of research in development right now. So, if we can literally choose anything in this day and age; why can't we choose who we love?

We've all had our heartbreaks, our relationship failures. We've watched someone we loved walk away, or forced ourselves to walk away from someone we loved. We shut ourself off from people in meaningless ways because we're all afraid of being hurt. There are a few people out there who make the decision, the conscious decision to just love people for who they are. They are a dying breed as our society forces people to become more cynical and self-centered. We tell people that the right one will come eventually, that we need to stop trying and then they'll just be there. Is that really what we want to leave our kids with? We want to tell them to wait, tell them that everything else needs to be fought for, tooth and nail. When it comes to love though, they have to just wait it out, suffer through relationships until "the one" finally shows up? I say that we've all been watching too many Disney movies with our kids.

We have allowed ourselves to be fed a load of horse shit. Capitalism allows us to choose everything. Yet we keep telling ourselves that there is only one soul mate out there for us. So what am I really getting at? Well we know now that our brain functions on electronic frequencies, that chemicals and cells reacting with each other make our brain work. In a world where we can choose everything else, where self-control has become necessary to make it through a walk downtown with your pocketbook intact. We need to stop with "the one" philosophy where we just sit back and wait, letting all these wonderful people walk away from us and slip through our fingers. Opportunity is just that, a window that slips on by if you let it. We need to be telling our kids that they have a choice to make, that they can choose who to love and who to hate and that ultimately they determine their own future in every shape and form.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spelling and Grammar

This was written on September 9th, 2010

So my friend asked me this question that she considers controversial yesterday, "Should technology ever be an excuse for poor grammar?" At first I was more concentrated on the fact that to me that's not even a controversial question as in my eyes there is only one answer. That is to say that there is never an excuse for bad grammar, not in writing at the very least. If you're having a conversation with someone and you say things wrong, well as long as you get the message across its fine, but in writing, you have as much time as you're willing to devote to make sure that everything is proper.

If you don't take the time to make sure everything is proper then obviously you don't care about what you're writing. Which naturally makes me wonder, "Why are you writing it if you don't care?" If you do care, then why won't you take the time? Why would you not make sure that there are absolutely no distractions from what you have to say by making sure that everything is spelled correctly, punctuated properly and written with grammatic accuracy. It doesn't make sense that you would slack on something you care about.

So for someone to ask me, "Is it okay if since I'm just texting on my phone, that I don't write everything with proper punctuation and spelling?" I'm just staring at the word texting and I forget about the rest of their sentence. How did this word come into existence, is it in any computer based dictionary, because personally when I write the word. It has a giant red squiggly line of death underneath it. One that breaks my focus and forces me to reconsider the intelligence of what I'm reading and writing.

My answer to this question, when not distracted is this, "Is it okay for me to burn the Koran just because I don't believe it is relative to me?" The answer is obviously no. Burning any text, let alone a religious text, is the highest form of blasphemy I can conceive. Yet you people choose to destroy text and language with your misuse and misunderstanding. Naturally by, "you people" I am referring to the entire world, including myself. We are all guilty of it, "lol" and "roflmao" or even "hahaha" when we're laughing in a text. How else are we supposed to explain our emotion, which can't be read in a message unless you have serious experience with reading and understanding language. Which most people don't have in this day and age.

So to your question, Rachelle, I will stick with my answer. However, I will also pose a question to you, "If I say that we all need to learn to better ourselves and our usage of language and its rules, regardless of technology. How is it that we incorporate the technology that makes it harder to communicate and give ourselves a way to communicate well without brutally murdering our own language(s)?"

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Giant Brick Wall

This was written on August 27th 2010

There's this giant thing that is over the heads of humanity, pushing down on our shoulders and condensing the air surrounding our heads. This thing makes it very hard to focus, hard to stand upright and just hard in general. It gives us all headaches and pushes tension into our backs until we literally can't stand anymore. This thing that hangs over all of us is our own progress.

Now, this may sound funny as everyone believes that progress is a good thing. We all know it's a good thing and that progress helps us grow. Still, so many people are afraid of progress, afraid of change and success. So they see it coming and they start running away from it, running away from the chance of success. They do everything they can to keep success from themselves because they're afraid of what may come from success.

I know I'm guilty of it. My senior year during my final Cross Country season I ran a 18:36 for a 5k. I never ran even close to that speed again, in fact in my final race that season, I faked blacking out and just lost all will to continue racing. I sabotaged my own success because I was afraid of the pressure of being better than I had been before, so I caved.

There are plenty of situations that people have been through like mine. We see something coming and as much as it is unreasonable to do so, we sabotage ourselves out of fear. There's this giant brick wall in front of you, a wall you've tried breaking down, climbing, digging under, going around. You've tried everything you can to get past this wall and all of the sudden a large rumbling begins to roar around you. You can see the dirt on the ground bouncing and leaping and the world seems to shake. You can feel in your bones the fact that something is coming to break down this brick wall of yours, to give you a chance to get past it. You have no idea what is coming, how dangerous it could be to you. It could put you in a struggle for your life, or it could be a kind creature which protects you for the rest of your journeys. You don't know.

This is when fear takes hold, when the unknown stands in our way, when something that we cannot calculate for is produced for us to deal with. It's a reasonable fear, but our reaction to that fear is what changes our character, defining us to be the best we can be. If we are to succeed in life, we need to let that creature crash through our barriers and then grab it by the horns, harnessing its power to move forward for our own goals. For me, that creature was the realization that I could do whatever I wanted. I had this wall in front of me waiting to be broken down and I could feel what was coming and so I stood and waited. Deciding that running away from all my progress was something I didn't want to do this time. My bones shook, my sweat rolled and I could feel the fear welling up inside of me, telling me to get out of the way, but I did everything I could to resist and I kept persisting.

It is my goal to own three houses outright by the time that I'm forty and I was given the opportunity and started down the path toward that goal. Despite my fears of how much it would change my life, I pursued this idea because what matters most to everyone is security, whether it's a house to fall back on, family who loves you, or a lover. Everyone needs security, and everyone finds that at some point their progress may take them further away from that security. That is a scary thing. So, I ask you all to consider, what is it that makes you afraid of your own progress? Then once you realize that, ask yourself this, will you run away from progress again? Or will you stand and fight for what you want?

The Beginning

This was written on August 27th 2010

This is the beginning of what is going to be a collection of essays.