Category: Game Discussion

Crowdfunding for Research on Educational Computer Games

I’ve looked at the crowdfunding of games before, and I’ve highlighted some interesting educational games via Twitter (this one in particular) that are going through the Kickstarter process.

Now an effort to study the lasting effects of educational games is starting up on, led by Jane Hornickel of Data Sense LLC. She seeks $3,400 to study the lasting benefits of educational videogames in students with learning difficulties.

Educational computer games can help students make big gains in school, particularly those who have learning difficulties. But it’s unclear how long these benefits last after finishing the games. I will look at test scores for children up to two years after they play educational computer games to see if children maintain their gains.

Crowdfunding for scientific purposes is an interesting phenomenon. Stay tuned to see if Dr. Hornickel successfully raises the needed funds.


Top 10 Nobel Prize Games, 2014

Back in 2009, I wrote about’s educational gaming simulation center. These are “games and simulations, based on Nobel Prize-awarded achievements.”

Their Top 10 most visited educational games have changed some over the years, so here is an updated list:

1. The Blood Typing Game
2. The DNA – the Double Helix Game
3. The Immune System Game
4. The Control of the Cell Cycle Game
5. The Pavlov’s Dog Game
6. The Electrocardiogram Game
7. The Transistor
8. The Diabetic Dog Game
9. The Split Brain Experiments Game
10. The Lord of the Flies Game


Play a Board or Card Game with Your Kids

It’s summer time again and that means time to plan out some family activities. Might I suggest spending time playing some board or card games with your kids. It really doesn’t need to be summer to play games with your kids, though. All of these are great activities year round.

Playing games as a family is an activity providing several benefits. First, these games can be activities shared by the whole family. Many summer activities are enjoyed in isolation, but a good board or card game can involve everybody. Second, many social skills can be taught to kids of all ages through gaming. These include but are not limited to learning how to take turns, learning how to strategize to defeat opponents, and learning cooperation skills including diplomacy and negotiation. Additionally, board and card games offer controlled opportunities to teach your kids how to be gracious in both winning and losing.

With that in mind, here are some choices for family board and card games, arranged by appropriate age groups. All of these are available on Amazon, and I’ve provided links. Full disclosure: if you buy one of the games after clicking over to Amazon, I receive a small percentage of the sale. The proceeds are used to maintain this site.


Pre-K & Kindergarten

Candyland has been around a long time. This was the first game my parents bought me, back in the day, and like many others it was a nostalgic choice to purchase for my own kids. I don’t remember a whole lot about playing the actual game, but what I do remember from playing it in Kindergarten was the joy of engaging in an activity with my parents. Game play is very simple, involving the drawing of colored cards which allows players to advance to the next square of the same color. No reading is required. The benefits of playing Candyland include introducing children to rules based systems, and the concept of turn-taking.

Chutes and Ladders
Another classic, Chutes and Ladders also requires no reading to play, and is great for ages three and up. One thing it also excels at is introducing young children to big numbers, as players from the first square to the hundredth.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It
My kids love Richard Scarry’s books with Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, and all the supporting cast of characters.. Much like the Where’s Waldo series (link), there is a ton of detail to discover in the Busytown books. This board game continues the tradition of the books, and involves many find and discover activities. It’s very interactive for children; the six foot game board can be stretched out on the floor.


1st through 6th Grades

Brain Quest Smart Game
The first player to spell out SMART wins. The neat thing about this challenge game is questions on the cards are offered at different grade levels. Categories include Reading, Math, Science, Art, and The World. It’s a quick and fun game, and the kids might learn something, too.

Ticket to Ride
I can’t say enough good things about this excellent board game that serves as a great introductory strategy game. Players collect train cards and claim railroad routes to cities in North America. Multiple miniature train cars, cards and “tickets” help make this an excellent board game, well worth the money. There are several Ticket to Ride variations, and some players prefer Ticket to Ride: Europe.


Middle School & Up

Apples to Apples
This great “word comparison” party game is perfect for families. Players are dealt cards with nouns which are matched to an adjective card. The combinations can be quite amusing. This game has become something of a phenomenon, winning awards and finding its way into several households. It’s even spawned some imitators. It certainly belongs in your family game collection.

Wit’s End
In some ways, Wit’s End might remind you of Trivial Pursuit, but the differences are appealing. Besides correctly answering trivia questions while moving across the board, players are presented with brain teasers and other intellectual challenges. It’s also a good game to play with teams.


High School & Up

Risk is the classic strategy world domination game. The rules are simple: attack neighboring territory with numerical advantages and hope the dice are kind. I have this listed under high school in part because I spent many hours playing it in high school. However, I have introduced it to kids as young as 6, playing a simplified version. Beware that younger kids may not have the attention span needed to play a full game.

Axis & Allies Revised Edition
Axis & Allies is like Risk on steroids. Plan a whole Saturday or even a weekend to play a full game. Rules take some time to learn if it’s your first time. The original version had some flaws which the revised edition address. It’s a great board game.

Heroscape Marvel Game Set
Heroscape is like Chess on steroids. Multiple game pieces including soldiers, dragons, etc. have differing capabilities and fight it out on a hexagon game board that can be assembled in seemingly infinite variations. Unfortunately, the game is no longer being produced. But, you can still find it on Amazon and elsewhere. I picked up the Marvel game set because my kids are big fans of the super heroes and villians, and playing with the pieces brings added fun. The Marvel game set is stand alone, or can be incorporated with other Heroscape sets if you decide to buy them later.

This is a phenomenally popular deck building card game. Each player starts with the same 10 cards, but buys different ones in turn, hoping for an advantage. Games can be played in about half an hour or so, with two to four players.

The Settlers of Catan
Some diehard board gamers who’ve played for years have moved on to newer titles, but this remains a most excellent introduction to German strategy games. It’s one of the most commercially successful board games ever. Terrain hexes and resource cards allow for differing game play. It’s a lot of fun, and should be in every game closet.


Finally, if all these games seem intimidating, especially some of the newer ones, or those you have never heard of before, consider a good old classic combo set of Chess, Checkers, Nine Men Morris, and Tic-Tac-Toe. The set reaches all age groups, and the games are timeless.

Parents, remember that time spent with your kids is precious, and time spent playing games with your kids is time well spent.


The Rise of Kickstarter in Educational Videogames

The Internet has given rise to a number of social things. Social networks such as Facebook, crowd sourced loans through sites like Lending Club, and crowd sourced venture capital through sites like Kickstarter.

Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer entrepreneurs opportunities to get seed funding for their projects. Participants put a pitch up on the site, and anyone interested can contribute toward getting the project off the ground. To encourage donations, rewards are often offered such as t-shirts, a donor’s name listed in the credits, or other innovative ways of making contributors feel rewarded and part of the process.

Several independent game companies have used Kickstarter to launch various titles. Funding requests can be all over the place in terms of amounts. For instance, Mindblown Labs asked for $60,000 to start up a financial literacy game called Mindblown Life. Currently they list more than 650 contributors who have pledged $1 to $3,000. Contributors at the $3,000 level get a virtual statue programmed in the game that looks like them, along with an in-game achievement named after them.

As with videogames developed commercially, there are fewer educational titles than entertainment titles. Mindblown labs notes theirs is one of the few specifically educational offerings on Kickstarter. Also, the dollar amounts for entertainment titles can be significantly higher, something also seen in traditional development circles. Project Eternity, a title from Obsidian, has almost $4 million pledged through Kickstarter. Top donors of $10,000 are invited to the developers’ launch party and receive all benefits of lower tiered donors, including the design of an epic weapon, designing and naming an NPC, etc.

Along with the rise of historically accurate popular games, such as those in the Assassin’s Creed series, there is a corresponding pitch for historical accuracy in some Kickstarter-funded games. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson started a gaming company called Subutai, seeking to bring historically accurate sword fighting to videogames. For CLANG (think of the sound steel swords make), Stephenson received pledges of over $500,000 from about 9,000 backers. Donors of $10,000 received replica real world swords used in the game. Lower level backers received concept art and their faces digitized onto characters.

But even for small game developers, who may or may not wish to go digital, Kickstarter provides a means of obtaining modest funding. INversionGames, for instance, offers a word game playing card set developed by Scrabble enthusiasts. To produce the cards, they asked for $1,000, which was easily funded by 61 backers.

Crowd funding is becoming so popular for gaming, a new site specifically for game titles has opened, Gambitious, although for the moment it is more European-centric and operates in Euros rather than dollars. Crowd funding through sites like Gambitious and Kickstarter hold the potential for removing lack of funding as a barrier to new game development. It’s possible professors and students may turn to crowd funding in the future when designing educational games for research purposes.


Game Design Boot Camp this Summer at MIT

Learning Games Network is a non-profit spinoff of MIT’s Education Arcade. This summer on the MIT campus, they are hosting the 2012 Game Design Boot Camp for teachers and students.

While the Learning Games Network is committed to developing and distributing educational games based on research, the boot camp will be similar to a game jam combined with professional development. Here’s some text from their site describing the week’s activities:

A select group of teachers will work with teams of middle and high school students where each student will be assigned specific roles and responsibilities building on existing skills and interests as they are encouraged to develop new ones. Using the Game Design Tool Kit, teachers will guide their groups through the process of game design from the inception of an idea to the strategic and creative applications that turn a concept into a playable paper game prototype.

The camp offers teachers the opportunity to develop their abilities using a proven teaching method that encourages effective and collaborative relationships while giving them the mechanisms for engaging and energizing students in the development of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills. Teachers completing the Boot Camp will receive a Professional Development certificate from the MIT Education Arcade. Students with a strong interest in game design will learn everything from basic conceptual skills to advanced strategizing and will leave the camp with the knowledge needed to begin developing their own video games.

It looks like a fabulous opportunity for teachers and students interested in videogames, game design, careers in the industry, or application in the classroom.

Educational Games Research on Twitter and the #gamestudy Hashtag

Lots of items cross the transom that never make it into a blog post. Mostly this is due to time limitations. Twitter offers a way to share many of these items, and provides me a personal resource that can be tapped later, as well. Thus, the launch of my Twitter feed @edugamres

Items that are directly related to gaming research will be tagged with #gamestudy. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be happy to follow back.

Call for Submissions: 10th Annual Game Developers Conference Online

The 10th Annual Game Developers Conference Online in Austin, TX has an open call for submissions:

The call for submissions to present lectures, panels, full day tutorials and roundtable sessions at the 2012 Game Developers Conference® Online (GDC Online) is open now through midnight PT on Wednesday, May 2. The tenth annual edition of the conference is presented by the UBM TechWeb Game Network, and will take place over three days, October 9-11, 2012 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, TX.

GDC Online focuses on development of connected games including social network titles, free-to-play web games, kid-friendly online titles, large-scale MMOs, and beyond. Submissions should address the most pressing development challenges for online and connected games with submissions related to the following tracks: Business & Marketing, Design, Customer Experience, Production and Programming.

The deadline is May 2. Additional info is available at

Teaching Difficult Concepts Through Videogames

As mentioned earlier, I’m honored to have been invited to a conference held by the Center for Children and Technology last week. The title of the conference was Making Games That Teach Difficult Concepts, and it brought together game designers and academics to discuss issues perplexing to both.

We broke into small groups to focus on games for middle school science, middle school social studies, and early childhood. I was in the social studies group, admirably led by Bill Tally at CCT, where among other things he is the PI for evaluation studies of Mission US, a history game focusing on revolutionary America.

One of the challenges of history games we mulled over is the question of game mechanics. As I’ve opined elsewhere, good game mechanics involve key learning elements. The classic example is traditional dominoes, which requires players to count by fives in order to succeed, making it a great game for teaching basic arithmetic to children.

In history games, though, the primary learning dynamic often takes place through text. Narrative action is thus often the key mechanic in which learning takes place. This led to much discussion regarding the problem of compelling game play, with fascinating insights from participants such as Bert Snow, lead designer and VP at Muzzy Lane, and Tracy Fullerton over at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Conferences such as this one are important in bringing together multiple perspectives. Knowledge and understanding gleaned from these discussions further preparations for research and development of future educational games. My thanks to all the good people at CCT who made this conference possible.

What Can Angry Birds Teach us About … ? At the Forefront of Angry Birds Research

With over a billion downloads, Angry Birds is the most popular casual gaming app of all time, so it’s only natural for social scientists to investigate it. Here’s the results of some recent items I found while searching for what educators and others have been researching about the game.

David Kelly, blogging at Misadventures in Learning, notes design elements in Angry Birds spark positive influences for skill acquisition. Players can jump right in with little to no learning curve, follow multiple paths to success, and are offered incentives toward productivity. Its initial platform design assists in simple productivity as well:

One of the reasons Angry Birds is as successful as it is is its accessibility.  Unlike console video games, Angry Birds was designed for mobile devices. It has no tether restricting where it can be played and was in fact designed for mobile phones, a device many people have with them throughout the day.

In addition, the level structure of Angry Birds is packaged in small chunks.  An attempt at a level can be completed in less than 30 seconds.  It’s the perfect design for mobility.

Pertti Saariluoma, Editor-in-Chief of Human Technology, noted the games’ designers professed they have no idea why the game is successful. Indeed, Saariluoma notes, good game and software design often is intuitive rather than proscribed.

Market research firm offered up a handy infographic showing demographics and other data from the game. Interesting nuggets include: a total of 53% of players use the free version with the majority occasionally feeling “addicted” while playing. The firm noted Michael Chorost’s article in Psychology Today listing the “addictive” elements of the game. These include simplicity, reward, and realistically simulated physics. Dr. Chorost speculates a dopamine burst may be released, making the gaming experience a pleasurable one for players. As far as using Angry Birds in the classroom, Dan MacIsaac over at SUNY-Buffalo State notes that Google returns over a million hits for “physics teaching Angry Birds.”

Mobile apps in general are receiving scrutiny from researchers, and Angry Birds is often mentioned since it’s the most popular game. Matthias Böhmer over at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, Brent Hecht, a PhD. student at Northwestern, and their colleagues released a large scale study of mobile app use at Mobile HCI 2011 in Stockholm. They found users spend about an hour a day on their phones, but only about a minute at a time with mobile apps. News apps were found to be more popular in the morning, while gaming apps are more popular in the evening:

Weather checking is, not surprisingly, largely a morning activity, as is the checking of one’s calendar. On the other hand, users’ desire to fling Angry Birds at pigs is absent in the morning, and only picks up in the early afternoon and into the evening. Kindle usage behavior is even more focused in the late evening.

Angry Birds and other popular mobile games will probably continue receiving attention from researchers, with efforts likely to include discerning design details that can be adapted to more educational endeavors, as well as a continued commitment to incorporating the game itself into academics. Research always lags pop culture. By the time several thorough studies of Angry Birds are published, if any ever are, the game will likely have faded in popularity and been replaced by the next new thing.

RPG Accomplishments are the New Boyscout Badges

My 6 year old proudly showed me a new accomplishment on Wizard 101: “Junior Archeologist.” It reminded me of when World of Warcraft added “The Explorer” accomplishment for characters who had “explored” the game’s content. Several players created new characters called Dora so they could earn the sobriquet “Dora the Explorer” on their realms.

Another thought: it reminded me of Cub Scout and Boy Scout days, diligently working toward merit badges. Nowadays, it seems videogame accomplishments are the new merit badges.

It some ways, that’s probably a good thing.