Archive for the ‘Video games’ Category

Minecraft minefield?

Author: Robin Browne

My son’s teacher recently made the debatable choice to let the students use Minecraft to do an assignment on building a biome (i.e. a physical environment containing distinct animals, plants and climate like a desert or grassland.)

I get why he did it.

He was trying to engage them in learning by letting them use the tools they’re already engaged in.

I was skeptical when my son first told me his teacher had not only let them use Minecraft – he had encouraged them to do so. I thought he would spend his time playing Minecraft instead of doing his project.

I was half right.

The assignment was to create a biome and describe it in an oral presentation. My son chose to create an Arctic tundra biome and did a great job creating, bleak, snowy beauty in Minecraft:

However, he wanted to spend all his time perfecting the look instead of doing the far harder task of finding and editing the descriptions of tundra animals, plants and climate – and practising his oral presentation of the info.

We battled for hours over this, resulting in a final presentation where he read lots of info while walking viewers through a mostly unrelated Minecraft tundra environment. The presentation was unengaging as reflected in the faces and comments of his classmates.

So, one key lesson learned was that, if students are going to be allowed/encouraged to use tools like Minecraft (or any other potentially distracting tool) for assignments, care must be taken to ensure they’re giving equal efforts to all aspects of the project and not just those that let them use the fun parts of the tool.

One way to do this might be to encourage them to do the tough parts with a partner or partners either in person or online (i.e. using Skype).

A number of times when my guy was working on his project, some of his classmates would try to call him on Skype. I would always say he couldn’t take the call and had to stay focussed on his project but, in retrospect, perhaps it would have been better to let him take the call and encourage him to ask his classmates for help with the tougher parts of the project (i.e. he could do his oral presentation over Skype and they could give him feedback)

What successful strategies do you use to help your kids integrate the tools they love in their learning?

If you know, or own, a boy between the ages of 8 and 12, he’s probably already addicted to Minecraft. If he’s not, trust me, he will be soon.

According to the Minecraft site, nearly 10 million people have bought the game (we paid $26 for it) – nearly 11,000 in the last 24 hours.

Minecraft is an online world entirely made of small blocks – and entirely made by its habitants. Kids can easily build things using the blocks like houses (essential for shelter against the nasty night predators), armour, or just about anything else, using a Halo-like interface. They can play with their friends seeing each other’s avatars walking around with their username floating above their blocky, square heads. And, as boys will do, they can kill each other with the only consequence being perhaps some hurt feelings and the lost time it takes to “respawn” back to life.

You can check it out here:


The avatars don’t speak so the kids use Skype instead. It’s a great example of social learning in some great ways.

They’re playing. They’re learning how to connect online with video and voice. They’re learning how to set up and keep appointments (“Meet you online at 7pm!) But, most importantly, they’re learning the power of being creators of the world they’re playing in, instead of just players. Yes, it’s like a video game – and parents of too many boys know the challenges of managing that addiction – but it lets them learn things they won’t by spending hours playing their Nintendo DS or Sony PlayStation. Why do boys love it so much? I need to ask my guy that…once I can pull him away from the game….

Ok, this isn’t strictly about social education, it’s about about another education-related issue that parents of boys can especially relate to: video games as learning tools.

My 11-year old recently got turned on to the site that teaches math in video-game format. For example, in one game, he gets to shoot attacking robots by figuring out the equation floating above each robot’s head. When he types the right answer, the two gun-toting, Halo type hands in the foreground, blow the robot away. If he gets it wrong, the robot keeps advancing. The more robots he blows away, the harder the questions get.

My kid, who’s a big fan of video games but not so much math, asks to go on MangaHigh every night. and it’s definitely a great way for him to review and practice basic concepts.

Does the good outweigh the bad? 

The question is, does the benefit of him getting excited about doing math, and what he reviews/learns when he does, outweigh the fact he’s doing it through blowing things away in a format the reinforces his love of regular video games many parents struggle with?

I’d say this is one of those times to apply the great principle “everything in moderation” using the following guidelines:

1) Video-game based teaching tools can be just that – one more tool – in your toolbox to be used sparingly along with others.

2) Kids should always be supervised to ensure they’re playing sufficiently challenging games and not just blowing away the 1+1 robots.

3) Introduce kids to sites using non-video game dynamics like IXL.

4) Play outside as much as possible.

If you’re a parent or teacher, the dilemma is clear: how to get video game-addicted kids using computers for good stuff without encouraging their addiction? This question is even more difficult over the summer when “education” becomes a four-letter word to many kids (and rightly gets replaced by the other four-letter word “play”).

So what do you do?

Well, one thing I do is try to look for teachable moments where I can use technology. I had an example this morning, while the kids were waiting for me in the car to head to camp. One of their buddies who had stayed over night was in the car with them and happens to be named after an African king, a pharaoh in fact. I gave the boys my iPad and asked them to look up his name and for each of them to learn one new thing about the king to tell me when I got in the car. They did. (I used the iPad because they were already outside but, obviously, you can do this in house and have them use the computer).

As I see it, one of the central things you’re trying to do in moving the kids from using computers as video games to using them for education, is to move them from being static consumers to being online producers. When they play videos games they’re consuming. However, each time they send a tweet, update their Facebook status, or comment on a YouTube video they’re producing shareable content online. The challenge is to get them creating and sharing more complex content like blog posts, podcasts, or their own videos or Bitstrips comics. It’s through doing this that they’ll discover the power – and fun – of collaborative creation and learning will just be a positive bonus.

Got some creative ways to help the kids/students in your life learn about online creation over the summer? If so, please share.

So we all have yet another reason to consider adding video games to our marketing/communications mix.

Here’s a timeline of things that caught my attention:

May 2007 The launch of Grand Theft Auto IV sets an interactive entertainment record by generating $500 million in sales its first week.

October 2008 Barack Obama places campaign ads in nine video games.

March 2009 In the middle of the worst recession of all time, Ottawa-based “branded entertainment” company, Fuel Industries, holds a a job fair. (A lot of Fuel’s involve very game-like features) .

July 2009 My tweet from yesterday, “Despite the [recession], the video game market is expected to increase by around 10% year-over-year." Ottawa Citizen

And now the Ontario government is shelling out millions to help video game maker Ubisoft open a $750-million development studio in Toronto.

Have you got game?

Obama is in the game. Are you?

Author: Robin Browne

Thanks to Christopher S. Penn for tweeting about Barack Obama becoming the first presidential candidate to buy ad space inside a video game. According to the Associated Press story that Chris linked to:

“Nine video games from Electronic Arts Inc., ranging from the extremely popular "Madden 09" football game to the street racing "Burnout: Paradise," feature in-game ads from the Obama campaign. The ads — they appear on billboards and other signage — remind players that early voting has begun and plug a campaign Web site.”


So the question is: is video game advertising for you? And the answer is: it depends on your target market and your budget.

One thing to consider before making your decision are these stats: “every week, over 25% of Internet users worldwide play online games, which amounts to over 200 million people. This number is growing at a rate of almost 17% each year.¹”  Those facts comes from Google’s press release last week announcing that the Internet ad giant was expanding its Adsense program into video game advertising. According to Google:

“For instance, in anticipation of a sporting event, an advertiser can use the technology of AdSense for Games to feature its logo within that sports event’s accompanying online game and reach its relevant demographic as a result.”

The Google release says the ads will be video, text or image based. A CBC story on the programs mentions video ads that will run before and after a player plays a game or reaches a new level.

As for knowing whether your target audience plays video games and, if so, which ones, I’ve had no luck so far finding stats on video game user demographics in Canada – so please send links if you know where I can find that. But hey, we are in an age of experimentation so if you’ve never tried Adsense here’s a neat way to check it out . And, if you do, please share your results.