“Aliens shrink cupcakes!” in Hopscotch & coding experiences/thoughts

Aliens shrink cupcakes!” in Hopscotch–

Gameplay consists of two characters–an alien sprite and a cupcake sprite, each of which move at slightly different speeds and “bounce” off edges at different angles. When the alien collides with the cupcake, it shrinks it. Tapping the cupcake causes the cupcake to grow. (Players can do this either in response to shrinking or pre-emptively.) Tapping the alien only gives feedback that it’s been tapped (meaning you can’t pause or alter the alien’s course).

As far as the experience of learning coding (which I’ve done a little of before, but not much) with Hopscotch vs. learning coding with Hakitzu goes…. I think Hakitzu lead me to automate the language a little quicker–that is, I stared to “think” in JavaScript terms a bit more quickly and automatically than I did with Hopscotch, though I think that automation might be fairly particular to JavaScript. Hopscotch, on the other hand, changed my way of thinking about coding general more comprehensively (even if only to a modest degree), I think, in large part because I was able to experiment and test more easily (with fewer consequences, so to speak) than with Hakitzu.

Playing as a “kid,” I found myself having to roll out some basic math and geometry knowledge…! (For example–what value should I set both of the sprites to move if I wanted to ensure that they never changed course without hitting an edge. In other words, I had to remember how to calculate the hypoteneuse of a right triangle.) I (as a kid) wanted to make sure that my game could be fun, made sense, and was at least a little chaotic. Difficulties (over which there were many) were overcome by much testing and re-testing. No fiero moments, unfortunately, because (both as a kid and not) I had much more that I wanted to do with my game and making even simple stuff work started to feel like a bit of a slog after awhile. This disappointment, however, did give me  (kid and adult) a added respect for game designers and programmers.

Hopscotch Certificate of Completion

It’s official–I’m big!

Jordan Shapiro, “Here’s Why We Need Video Games In Every Classroom”

I found Shapiro’s argument in this talk extremely compelling, and not just because he seems a good–dynamic, effective–lecturer. The notion of “scaffolding for emptiness” also strikes me as something much more than just a catchy phrase. This notion calls to mind, as well, one of the central arguments of the Narrative Game Studio course I’m taking this semester: that good narrative game design, design that is both efficiently produced and engaging to the player, contains “gaps”–in the main story, in the world the game has built around it–for the player to fill in for himself/herself. This is also, I think, one of the principle ways that science fiction can be so compelling.

I’m also glad I watched this video because it provided a much smarter formulation of my own skepticism about digital badges and the like in Shaprio’s assertion that gamification (as he defines it in his argument) is “built on the assumption that what we need is a better competitive, commodified motivation system.”

I do disagree with part of Shapiro’s argument (which he does qualify a bit in the Q&A), though, wherein he claims that players don’t really care about levelling-up (and points, achievements, etc.). I’m thinking here of RPGs, where much of the appeal of the game is in determining a path for development of your character, which I think can feel very empowering, part of that empowerment being the exploration of different kinds of self.



BrainPOP video-game

BrainPOP video and game

Video: “Students Rights
Game: “Argument Wars
Grade: (9-12, I think. There was no indication I could see once I’d actually navigated to the game page.)

The “Game Up” button/option at the bottom of the video page took me to a page listing six associated games. The game I chose, “Argument Wars,” broke down for me as follows:

The good

  • The core concept is very good, I think. The game works. Generally speaking, the interface is pretty good. At least some genuine learning seems very possible. It’s interesting and creates a good amount of desire to play more. The information/insights one gets from the content—both the factual information and the challenges of argument-building—are effective. There’s also some very smart elements, such as the “finishing moves” one can perform when, after a particularly good pairing of cards, the player must connect their most recent card with their initial card using the correct linking phrases.
  • Both the game and the content seem compelling enough for the target audience.
  • The content of the video was just about as directly related to the game as I can imagine. That is, at least the first “legal case” it offered me was. (There were several I could scroll through to choose from.) In fact, I’m not sure I would have done as well in the game had I not watched the video first.
  • Animations, overall, are not bad—responsive and of a good enough quality to be appealing but not distracting.
  • The “cards” have some good car-like qualities—e.g. movement and associated sounds when played.
  • The screen you’re taken to at the conclusion of the trial come across as interesting and potentially informative and not as information overload.

The bad

  • I don’t think the title’s fantastic. I understand wanting to create a sense of (fun) gravity, but I think there were some better word choices out there.
  • The linkages between the terms the game use and actual legal terminology a bit too fuzzy. It seems as though there’s the potential for even misinforming the player somewhat.
  • The the—recommended—game and case I played were almost too easy at times. (Perhaps this is a deliberate strategy—to increase the player’s comfort/confidence enough that they will be more likely play through to another case?)
  • Music highly repetitive and more than a little overwrought. Became distracting (and muted by me) fairly quickly.
  • Character continuity throughout the introduction to the game far less consistent than it should be. Gave the feel (to someone looking critically at it, at least) of a couple of different phases of development/decision-making that didn’t get resolved very well. (See attached images below from the game’s instruction screens.) Creating any doubt about what the judge you’re supposed to facing looks like is a quick and easy way to pull the player out of the narrative.
  • The point system is (technically, mostly) is a bit too baroque in its implementation. (Is the visual style they’re going for supposed to be contemporary classically dramatic or steampunk?)
  • Character dialogue could be substantially improved (as could the formatting of characters’ speech bubbles)—including messy things like having the player choose a name for their attorney but then having the judge simply refer to them as “the Player.”
  • The “cards” have some good card-like qualities, but still look too unlike actual, playable cards.
  • One of the—three—links at the end screen was dead.

Let the record show…

Argument Wars 1 Argument Wars 2 Argument Wars 3


“Digital Badges” by John K. Waters

I think the main thrust of this article is the following:

People are very excited about the possibility of opening up new pathways for learning, of making it possible for students coming out of high schools—but not necessarily going to college—to show competence,” says Alexander Halavais, associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “The college career path is a very narrow one, and it’s expensive. Everyone shouldn’t have to go down the same road, and digital badges have the potential to provide a system for giving credit for doing valuable, marketable things outside of school.” (p. 15)

It is an interesting idea and argument, but Halavais’s comment about (and conflation of) “valuable, marketable things” concerns me. I’m no pie-in-the-sky liberal arts militant, who thinks that learning should only ever be for learning’s sake, and any considerations of marketability or jobs in an educational track can only be profane. However, Halavais does seem to go—or land, or exist—too far in the other direction, I think. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there thinking about the difference between, the issues surrounding, education and/vs. credentialing.

Ultimately (as it’s presented in this article, at least), I’m not entirely sure what the difference is between the OBI and “[some] third-party issuer who says you have a diploma or a degree” (p. 17). And, while I definitely think higher ed (and contemporary society, in general) needs to find ways to think more about decentralization, wouldn’t such a credentialing system (as framed by the OBI) potentially be even more centralized and authoritarian than the current system of transcripts and resumes?

McGonnigal, Chapter 1

I thought it was good and smart for McGonnigal to start both with some baseline language/terminology definitions—and with the acknowledgement that even gamers are biased against games today (p. 19). (I count myself amongst the mildly self-loathing.) I thought it set a good tone for relative open-mindedness about the topics she’s looking to explore.

I found particularly interesting one of the points she makes in relation to one of her four defining traits of a game—“a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation” (p. 21, italics in original). In her description of the participation trait, she notes that “the freedom to enter or leave a game at will ensures that intentionally stressful and challenging work is experienced as safe and pleasurable activity” (p. 21). I don’t think I’d ever thought of the freedom to enter or leave a game as that which ensures a game is experienced in such a way.

I wonder, though, about McGonnigal’s statement that “it’s a truism in the game industry that a well-designed game should be playable immediately, with no instruction whatsoever” (p. 26). Is such design aimed at making games more like genuine life experiences, as opposed to separate spaces in which we play around a bit?

Also, if “gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression” (italics in original), can/should (or have some already) we look here for games’ addictive potential and/or what their appeal is for players with certain kinds of learning disabilities?

Funderstanding.com’s “Moon Modules” – In space, no one can hear Maurice scream.

High Jump

What is it trying to teach?

An understanding of surface gravity–characteristics and effects on different planets in our solar system and on Earth’s moon.

Does it work?

Hardly at all.

The good

The basic idea–trying to represent the concepts as a series of high jumps–seems like it could be relatively interesting and effective enough, not too complicated.

The bad–and suggested changes

First of all, this “game” doesn’t maintain nearly enough internal consistency. Maurice’s jumps don’t make much sense, ultimately, because the hang-time for each planet (or moon) don’t match the statistics given in the explanatory text. It’s also not supremely clear (and I think it should be) that Maurice is using the same amount of force to jump.

The visual presentation, overall, would not even hold up to standards from a decade ago. The movement of the jump itself is comically unnatural and unappealing. A mere one or two more animated character states (e.g. Maurice crouching, Maurice raising arms in triumph at the end) would go a long way. Representing Maurice’s jump as a proper arc, in addition to being more accurate (we are trying to teach kids about the properties of gravity, right?), it would also be a lot more appealing, more aesthetically pleasing. The high jump mat should show at least some give. (Maybe dusty planet jumps give off dust, gaseous ones gas, etc.?) And is the high-jump bar actually a wall? Or maybe a space phallus?

The “reward” text we get for making Maurice jump also should be much easier to read–bullets, not paragraphs. Every jump should give us the same statistic category. Each planet(/moon)/entry could have its own flavor text. And even if it’s not practical to show all the planets (and to scale) shouldn’t we at least somehow list all the planets in the solar system and/or tell users what’s missing?

If the creator went to the trouble of creating a backstory for this character (apparently–I couldn’t bring/bother myself to read about “Maurice on the Moon”), why not give us just a line or two (even if they’re nonsensical) about why Maurice is doing this? (Or maybe it’s just a dream–because Maurice is just supposed to be on the Moon, no?)

Sounds reflecting success (Maurice making it over the bar) and failure (Maurice slamming into the bar…or wall) should also have a presence. If you’re not going to give users the chance to actually play this “game” (as they must simply try different buttons to set in motion a pre-determined action or path), at least give them some feedback that’s going to make them want to try making Maurice jump again. It could be more fun to see him succeed (maybe even making more and more noise as he flies through the air) and/or funny to see him fail.

There are tons of simple physics games (i.e. something like dualing catapults, with variations like wind and elevation) out there that this “Module” could have users experiment with. I imagine they’d get a much better (and even more ituitive) sense of the differences the module is trying to teach that way.

Moon Phases

What is it trying to teach?

The phases of the Moon–their designation by the relative positions of the Earth and the Sun.

Does it work?

Not really.

The good

The slider tracking the days is fairly nice, as is the listing of the names of the phases (“waxing crescent,” “first quarter,” etc.) The colors and graphics are decent enough.

The bad–and suggested changes

What young learner (or not-so-young learner, for that matter) is really going to be able to get a real sense, or solid understanding of, the phases of the moon “observing the Earth from far above the north pole [sic]”? The visual representation we get should be paired with, or complemented by, a view of how it would look if you were actually standing at the North Pole, facing towards the Sun.

As with all the “Moon Modules,” there’s little to tie this module, visually speaking, with any of the other modules.

Was “Very Distant” really necessariy, would two more numbers–1) the actual (or maybe average or approximate) distance between the Moon and the Earth and 2) the actual (or average or approximate) the Earth or Moon and the Sun really not work here?

Once again, the reward/explanatory text display is very uninviting–there’s simply too much of it, the font is too small, and there are numerous punctuation and grammar mistakes!

Survival Hike

What is it trying to teach?

What a human would need to survive for 36 hours on the surface of the Moon.

Does it work?

Hardly at all.

The good

The basic premise is relatively interesting.

This module is actually a game (of sorts) and somewhat genuinely interactive.

The bad–and suggested changes

Do you have a spacesuit? Why do you have a friend with you? Does he or she have anything in their pack? (Do they have a spacesuit?) Why, if your pack has four pouches, can you only take three things with you? What the hell is “Gassendi LEX”? Why is this the first time we’re hearing of this place? (Is that where they make the high jump walls, or where the space phalluses were mined?) You might be able to assume that intended users of this module will know what “O2” and a “GPS Device” is, but “CO2 Scrubbers”? Why do none of the items have descriptions? And why are the scrubbers the only items without a realistic representation?

Items should show some animation state going into the pack (e.g. they become partially concealed as they are inserted into a pouch). As it is, users simply place the items on the pack, at which point the items are locked/frozen/stuck in place. Chaning your mind involves starting over from scratch each time. And why do you “Pack” to finish the action? Didn’t you already “pack” by placing the items in the bag? (Though, if they only went on the bag in the first place, I guess you could argue for “Pack”–but now we’re at a point of ridiculousness.)

Also again–no real visual, stylistic connections to other modules and crappy (unappealing, error-riddled) writing.

A game that actually taught me something

The example that’s coming most immediately to mind is the Assassin’s Creed games, namely those set in Renaissance Italy. Prior to playing these games, I knew a bit about the history that informed their stories, but the series’ rich, detailed environments–which, in addition to a fair amount of historical fiction-esque dialogue, includes a great number of “flavor text” entires about historical figures, pieces of architecture, etc.–actually succeeded in lodging a number bits of information in my mind for the long term. Even more interesting and surprising to me, though, is the fact that the games actually made me want to learn even more about the period and place. Again, I think the games’ highly compelling–rich, detailed, immersive, realistic-enough–environments are to be credited with creating this desire.