UA Community Explores VR

University of Arizona faculty, staff and students battled cowboys and zombies, rose high above the MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins, and toured Chaco Canyon this summer – all from the air-conditioned comfort of the Science-Engineering Library.

Their adventures, a mix of virtual and augmented reality, were part of the UA’s inaugural VR Summit, held Aug. 4 and 7 to bring researchers and students together for demonstrations and discussion on the state of technology and its use as an instructional tool.

“When we put on the headsets, we are accepting a constructed reality – an alternative reality – and the danger is that there is a point at which we accept that alternative as real,” he added. “We have to be careful, see how far we can go, and then decide not to go there.”


Modern Combat 5: Ka-Boom!

Just having fun trying out the screen record feature. My current rating is between 1350 to 1450. To put it in perspective, this is about the middle level. Beginners are at about 1000 and the very skilled players are between 2000 to 3000 points. I’ve played this game for about 4 months and easily clocked over 100 hours (can you say game addiction), which is regularly updated with the game’s internal data recording system. I’ve sort of hit a plateau, which could be a problem because a lack in progress will eventually disengage a player. One reason for continuing is that multiplayer mode provides a unique experience for each play even though the environment is constant. The other reason is curiosity (and desire). I’d like to know how the heck some of these players are able to aim and shoot so efficiently. I’m using a good rifle — Tier 5 out of Tier 7. Hopefully my reflexes aren’t that slow!  I thought it could be due to a computer system’s capability with people playing on different game systems, but the game is primarily for mobile devices so the play should be consistent unless the device is old or there’s static internet connection, which then could create some sluggishness. The other factor might be the VIP feature. In the video I said that there are no in-app purchases. Most of that is true except for the VIP packages, which I haven’t really explored very much. But I haven’t really had a need to since I was making good progress. Perhaps this experience was intentional from the game developers. To allow players to test the game for significant amount of time before determining if it’s worthwhile to make additional in-app purchases. I would say that’s pretty generous. It’s made me a fan, and one of the reasons why I wasn’t fond of Clash of Clans. In that game, players almost immediately need to make in-app purchases to have the option to speed up the simulation process or else consume a lot of time waiting.

Moderate Results from Game Based Learning

The experiment done by Tsai, Yu, and Hsaio showed moderate effects in game based learning designed to help students learn about electricity.  The study, done on sixth-graders, showed that four students performed well on a test following the game while the other four performed poorly.  The game, which was specifically designed for this experiment, required players to make the most deliveries as possible using a motorcycle that operated on batteries. Players had to effectively calculate the charge of electricity in order to keep their bike running.  Some of the students had difficulty in grasping the concept and applying it in the game. Other students when confronted with this problem neglected to spend the time to read the resources that provided the solution.

Much can be learned as a result of this experiment even if the results were less than favorable.  The data highlighted skills and topics students had trouble with such as calculating the cost of electricity.  By knowing the trouble areas teachers and/or game designer can plan to correct this. One solution is to teach the skill before playing the game with the idea that students can practice and reinforce the skill during gameplay rather than spending time on figuring what to do.  If the goal is to get students to figure this out on their own, it might be beneficial for them to work together in groups or have the game designers embed more clues within the game.  The other problem mentioned in this experiment was that students were not spending the time needed to read materials to solve a game problem.  I think this was due to a couple of reasons.  One is that many of the games that students play do not require them to use reading in the game, and so this could create conflicting expectations.  The game looked similar to a driving game and so the students may have expected the gameplay to be similar.  Students may have found it odd that they needed to do calculations at the service station to charge the motorcycle battery. A few of the students complained that doing this was a waste of time.  It does bring up an interesting point in that people don’t do this when they take their cars to gas stations.  If the calculations are essential it might be better to do different calculations.  For example, if multiple routes are available, have students calculate the distance to find the one that’s most efficient.  To add complexity, roads could have traffic lights or be congested with traffic and so students would need to calculate battery consumption in these situations.  It wasn’t clear from the experiment if students realized that saving money or energy was a key goal in the game. Connecting this action with monetary value or reward may stimulate more interest.  Game designers could slightly modify the game by telling students that they are the business owners and that their goal is to find the most efficient delivery routes and save energy.

The game alone helped some students reach the learning objectives.  But it shows that instructors are also needed when using games for an educational context especially when teaching challenging concepts. They can supervise the learning experience, provide extra support to specific students and spend additional time on troublesome topics and skills.

Fu-Hsing Tsai, Kuang-Chao Yu and Hsien-Sheng Hsiao. (July 2012). Exploring the factors influencing learning effectiveness in digital game based learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, Vol. 15, No. 3, 240-250.

How We Learn from Games

Entertainment Software Association did a survey in 2014 which showed that the average age for video gamers is 35 with 44 percent of these being females.  It showed that people are spending more time playing games and less time in other forms of entertainment such as watching TV, going to the movies, or watching movies at home.  Video games have become a multi-billion dollar industry since their development in the 1950s.  Games serve as a major form of entertainment but they can also be used as a tool in schools or businesses for training and learning.  The book Play This Learn That explained that commercial games are particularly good because these games have large budgets and a professional development team that bring layers of richness in a game.  They are ideal for teaching skills and concepts even if that game might be Grand Theft Auto V, which had a production of cost of $265 million and revenues that reached $1 billion in the first three days of its release.  The purpose of this writing is to explain how learning occurs in video games and how it can be used in an educational setting.

Games incorporate well designed principles that are conducive to learning (Puentadura, Game and Learn).  A fundamental principle is that learning occurs through play.  It has an advantage in that it contextualizes the learning. Players are given information and asked to learn and develop skills and concepts and use them as they were designed for the game. Learning is efficient in that it removes the need for extraneous information, which then puts less demand on the  brain to process and absorb new information. James Gee recommended that play be done first and follow that with content information related to the topic.  With minimal instructions, many online games follow this recommendation because much of the game mechanics can be learned through play.  When content related to the game is presented, players understand and apply the information more effectively.

In video games learning occurs gradually.  When a player encounters a new game, the brain is like a blank slate to take in, organize, and use information. As players gain more experience, new knowledge is gained by integrating and applying it with existing knowledge and skills. John D. Bransford stated that when there is a continuous building of knowledge, learners become experts in a subject. Experts share a pattern in the way they organize information and the thinking process used to analyze situations and solve problems. They  use their extensive knowledge, experience, and reasoning to recall knowledge in a manner that’s most useful for a particular situation. The same cognitive process can apply to games.  In chess, experts know in advance through recognition the different move possibilities that an opponent will likely make based on the way that the pieces are set up. Having extensive knowledge allows a gamer to reorganize the information in their brain so that they divert more attention on learning new patterns, skills, and unfamiliar situations because existing knowledge has been over learned.  It’s a method used by novices to reach expertise.  Researchers claimed that it would take about 10,000 hours to reach this level.

Games promote learning by adjusting it to the player’s pace and interest. Players come from different backgrounds in reference to game experiences and abilities in learning, and as a result they learn the mechanics at varying rates and a learning path that’s uniquely individual. Games give players choices, and they can spend as much as needed to develop and master particular skills or comprehend information. In the game Modern Combat 5 players are presented with a landing page that is loaded with information.  These include different stats, methods for playing, promotional events for a variety of categories, and customization.  Through choice and play,  players personalize the learning and begin to understand the functions, characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.

Landing Page – Modern Combat 5

Learning through games occurs through repetition. Games are special in that they are able to take a repetitive action and make it interesting or less noticeable through tools and techniques.  One is to use variable patterns, which allow the gaming experience to be different and challenging even if players re-play the same game or level.  Tetris is a good example where changing the shapes’ position and rotation affects play and outcome. Simulation and strategy games are also good.  These games allow players to plan and manipulate different variables leading players to a unique path to reach the end goal. In Clash of Clans players must consider the best methods for managing their budget and resources for building their offense and defense to battle other clans.  Having multiple variables increases the complexity and makes the patterns less predictable.  The unpredictability makes the game more engaging and one of the reasons why multiplayer mode online is popular.

Game designers graduate the level of difficulty.  The game starts out easy but it requires players to develop and overcome new  skills and challenges. Completing these impel the players to play on as result of a sense of satisfaction from reaching their objective.  In addition, they are rewarded through such things as points, bonuses, and gifts.  These can also be used as a way to monitor their progress, which can further serve as motivation to practice and learn.  Chapter 2 of Modern Combat 5 has 4 missions with the following skills to achieve:

Mission 1: complete the mission, score 3 headshots, score a multi-kill (explosives)
Mission 2: complete the mission, use a scout drone, score 5 headshots
Mission 3: complete the mission, score 5 headshots, 60% shot accuracy
Mission 4: complete the mission, kill the executioner (boss), score 2 multi-kills

Players are awarded a star after completing a skill.  These are accumulated to unlock the new chapters of the game.  Experience points and weapon points are also awarded to unlock special skills for a particular class of soldiers and weapon customization.  These serve as rewards and they play a significant part in getting players to practice and improve their skills.  In one YouTube video a player expressed his frustration because Gameloft (developer of Modern Combat 5) had lost all his data, which meant he would need to reinvest his hard work and time.

Multimedia technologies are essential to video games for several reasons. They help to tell the story by giving players audio and visual references to make connections in the game. They stimulate the senses using a blend of colors, images, visual, audio effects, and music to add layers of complexity to enhance gameplay. And in combination with the game mechanics, they can have an emotional impact on a gamer and thus make the activity enjoyable.  In Modern Combat 5 players may feel excitement, tension, relief, and fear. A player may be moving his character in stealth mode and all of sudden total chaos engulfs the senses through explosions and gunfire to startle and excite players. Tension can be created by not knowing if the enemy is coming from the left, right, or back. Games activate particular regions of the brains with chemicals like adrenaline and dopamine, which explains why some people are addicted to them (BrainHex).

Layering a story adds to the gameplay and allows players to take on the role of a character. It contextualizes the game and makes it more meaningful. The depth of the story depends on the game but unlike books, it allows players to interact and make decisions as a character. Games can have multiple outcomes and even allow co-creation of a story. Researchers at the Pericles Group stated that role play allows players to learn through situated cognition by being and thinking like the character.  When players are immersed in a story through role play, it preoccupies the brain so that repetition is not as noticeable. The virtual world of Mysts of Eyr in Second Life is an example of an in-depth role playing game.  The site provides a supplemental website that explains the background of the island and how the competing factions became a part of the it.  Participants are instructed on the rules of role play that are specific to the world but also on the general rules. Players interact both in character and out of character.  The role play here is more advanced because players create the characters, its attributes, and interactions that are unscripted. This means that players use the game as a medium to communicate with each other in character. Traditional video games do not do this.

As a communication tool Second Life emphasizes socialization. Members can explore multiple virtual worlds that are both realistic and imaginary and along the way chat and befriend others that they meet. Friends can collaborate and participate in virtual worlds together. They can split up to gather information to share later on for discussions.  Like many traditional games, video games are a social activity.  Not only is it more interesting to play with other people, they can also learn from each other. The internet has expanded this possibility so that gamers can play together from different parts of the world 24 hours a day.  Players set up communities to make teams and learn from one another.  Users can expand their learning and connect to additional resources on the internet to further explore topics.  It reinforces the idea of learning a topic based on personal interest and pace but also in making learning a social activity.

Finally there’s motivation which acts as driving force to learn and improve, and thus determines outcome. John Keller talked about motivation in terms of attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction (ARCS).  These principles apply in games but differently as a result of Kelley’s theory on motivation being based on instructional learning while games are normally thought of as a recreational activity. Motivation in games are relevant because it determines the amount of time and effort a player puts into it.

Many of us have fond memories and positive associations with games and  so the idea of playing a game is receptive.  Leisure time is when we connect socially with family and friends and as result people value and are likely to have an interest in games (video games, board games, sports, party games, etc.).  Like many commercial products, video games are brought to our attention through peers, advertisements, and reviews.  Kelly described relevance as usefulness and having a need.  In context of a school, is a subject worthwhile to learn?  If the answer is yes, it creates motivation.  Some schools do implement games as part of the curriculum, and in those situations they could be examined using the criteria outlined by Kelley (Kelley ARCS and Play This Learn That). Games, normally thought of as entertainment, do not have a need because they are an optional activity. Instead a game’s usefulness is determined by its gameplay and preferences. Games have different categories, which require players to think and react in different ways. Playing a game and having the desire to continue determines it’s usefulness. Game designers help players gain confidence by gradually increasing the level of difficulty. As players complete missions and develop skills this increases.  Satisfaction is gained by a number of different factors including game design, gameplay, and making progress.  If the game becomes boring or too difficult, then motivation to play will stop.

Two important factors, not mentioned in Kelley’s ARCS, are competition and the desire to win.  These two aspects of motivation drove Kobe Bryant to practice shooting all day the day after he missed the winning shot of a playoff game.  When there’s an end goal to be the best in a craft, it fuels effort, and it’s during this period that players assess, develop skills, make mistakes, and learn.  It’s a cyclical process until the player reaches the end goal, which then gives players confidence, pride, and satisfaction.  The fact that video games are a social activity with a concept of winning and losing and embedded with tools to measure progress, competition and the desire to win is a logical consequence.  If a player decides not to compete or win, it may be that the ideal game has not been found or the player has accepted defeat.

Games and Education: Learning that occurs in games is similar to many other disciplines. It occurs through experience by applying the knowledge, tools, and skills into an authentic or simulated context. It takes hours of practice to develop expertise and much of this is driven by motivation.  Many of the underlying principles found in games are also in an education system and so games can serve as an effective tool for learning.  Fletcher and Tobias reviewed 42 research papers which showed positive outcomes for a number of educational goals.  These included facilitating performance and learning, positive effects on cognitive processes, and transfer of skills into real-life tasks (Puentadura, Game and Education). A high school teacher in Connecticut changed his Latin class into a year-long alternative reality game.  Their mission was to role play, locate an ancient Latin book, and translate the text that was needed to save the world today. (Game-based Learning).

When using games for an educational context, one should consider the learning objectives or standards and see how the game could address those requirements.  This could be done through tangential learning and direct learning. Direct learning is knowledge gained from playing the game.  In Modern Combat 5 students learn about the different classes of soldiers such as: assault, recon, and heavy (fire power).  They read about the specifications used to rate weapons and the add-on features for customization. They can test the weapons in different urban environments to learn about their advantages and disadvantages.  These can serve as the basis for further analysis and cooperative learning and play.  One idea is to use the game mode capture the flag and  have groups of students form a squad and play against each other.  To add realism, students would not be allowed to respawn after death.  Prior to starting, students could study the map to plan and strategize their offense and defense.  To supplement this with tangential learning a teacher could prepare resources that students could view on tactics for entering a rooms and methods for covering teammates in combat zones. Students could read about the U.S. war in Afghanistan and examine a case study of a mission to get additional insights from the perspective of a soldier on aspects of the combat not covered in the game. Through the experience students can reflect and discuss their findings and extend their learning either organized by the teacher or intrinsically.

Additional Resources:

Game Index: site dedicated on methods for using commercial games for learning

Plague Inc. for learning: lesson plans to developed for second language learners to build skills in TOEFL and skills.




Second Life: Dublin

The virtual space Dublin looked like a realistic modern coastal city.  It was a combination of a small downtown space surrounded by a residential area, beach, and park.  I think the purpose of the city is to provide a social meeting place. In the the park there’s information on how to friend and chat with people in the environment using the tools in Second Life.  The park even had clickable objects, which would animate avatars to start dancing to music in the background.  The downtown area had various shops. Two of these were selling jewelry and tattoos to accessorize your character. Like many of the virtual worlds, the place was not occupied by many people. The place with the most people was the bar where gatherers were hanging out and relaxing.  

I tried to start a conversation as a character from the future who had accidentally been teleported to this location.   My goal was to act as a person totally unfamiliar with life on earth, but pretending to not know was more difficult than I expected. Nonetheless, the attempt provided a learning experience.  Each time I role play I allows me to build from the previous experience to further expand my knowledge on ways to participate.  With that in mind, next time I enter a role play atmosphere, thinking and planning on how to respond in character will be useful.  Another thing is to have a goal.  If it’s to gather information, a plan should be made in how to complete this mission.

Because this environment looked like a realistic city, it would provide good environment for second language learners to practice giving and listening to directions.  They could work together in groups or to make it more realistic, they could ask for directions from the people at the bar.

Transmission from Mysts of Eyr

Role playing in Second life may take some time getting used to. If you feel like it’s you that’s talking rather than a character, here are some tips to help with the transition.  To begin, see if there is a supplemental resource such as a website which will provide background information about the virtual world.  From there you’ll likely be aware of the rules for engagement and etiquette.  Communication should be done through in character or out of character in the local chat. In character means you are talking as a character and out of character means talking as yourself. This can be expressed as IC and OOC. When sending a message out of character use double parenthesis, for example: ((need to check my Wi-Fi)). Also acronyms should be avoided when in character such as LOL.  However, I would guess that using them out of character would be okay, but may want to double check this to avoid offending others. There are likely to be other rules and tips specific to that virtual world. For example, administrators of Mysts of Eyr recommend using emotions and being expressive in writing to bring the character’s personality, but avoiding acronyms.

Regular practice will likely be the key to transforming yourself as a character.  Before diving right into Second Life you may want to look at some of the resources on YouTube to find demonstrations on how to get in character.  Another thing would  be to watch movies, dramas or read novels and think more critically about that character.  In the website of Mysts of Eyr, they recommended thinking like the character and determining how the character would behave in a given situation.

Exploring in Second Life showed a form of role play which is different from role playing games (RPGs).  In a game like Dungeon Hunter 4, you become a character and the emphasis is on customizing the character with weapons, armor, and potion to fight monsters.  Much of the interaction is to explore and save the land and its people from destruction.  Second Life allows players to visit different virtual worlds from one location. You embody a character but the interaction is with other characters who are controlled by people.  There is a more social and collaborative effort.  Both can be interesting. Which option would you explore?

Game Review: L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is an action-adventure role playing game where players take on the role of a detective to solve crimes in 1940s L.A.  The game play is a combination of action, and investigative work and embedded with a story.  The cinematic style of the period and a realistic portrayal of L.A. as a backdrop makes it feel like a movie production. The story revolves around Phelps, a police officer with a desire to be a leader and detective. The game periodically shows flashback of him serving as a marine, which I think was designed to spice up the character and to show a connection between the two roles.   The interaction of the game was a combination of story telling and player involvement in controlling the character to do police work such as driving to different locations to do investigative work and fighting criminals.

I found using a computer keyboard to be cumbersome and detracted from the game play. It would be better if developers could modify it for touch capability.  The game uses a lot of computer resources, and there were noticeable turtle-like sequences using an Intel Core i5 at 1.70 GHz with 4 MB of RAM and with all other applications turned off.

Overall the game has some good educational benefits to consider.  The fact that the game is easy to understand is useful when using it in an educational context.  It removes the time needed to get acquainted so that students can focus more on the different elements within the game.  Teachers will need to assess second language learners’ listening ability because much of the story revolves around the dialogue between characters.  In regard to learning activities, topics related to police work and investigation would be an obvious good choice.  Another would be the cinematic style during that era. This video provides interesting details on how this was created.  The game is long so activities planned for a set of scenes would be ideal.

Learning activities:

  1. Crime scene investigation; procedure; analyze crime data from the time period.
  2. Case study of actual crimes; analyze and categorize crime during that time.
  3. Cinematic style of the 19040s; prominent techniques; analyze how techniques are utilized in the game
  4. Play and reflect on experience; things meaningful; dislikes; utilize various media technology
  5. Play and discuss; experience, discoveries, dislikes
  6. Learn about L.A. cultural geography
  7. Model TOEFL writing and speaking activities