HistoricLee Relevant

An Education in History Education

Category Archives: game-based learning

All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned from Starcraft II

[x-posted at Videogames, Learning, & School Design]

With the end of the semester comes reflection and reflection papers, and I’d like to share this little nugget from my final reflection paper for Dr. Fishman‘s Videogames, Learning, & School Design class:

I’m sure Robert Fulghum would not be pleased with my misappropriation of his famous text, but…Dr. Fishman…encouraged me to repurpose others’ work in order to express my ideas in a manner that both denotes learning and enjoyment. Here goes.

Most of what I really need to know about how to manage, and what to time, and how to be tenacious, I learned from Starcraft II. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain [how apropos], but there in the sand dunes of Mar Sara.

These are the things I learned: Harvest everything. Play quick. Don’t inadvertently hit your units. Redirect SCVs back where you found them. Clean up the Dominion’s mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours…unless you have superior firepower. Say you’re sorry when you hurt your teammate in multiplayer. Wash your hands of Zerg guts before you eat their lunch. Flush traitors out the airlock. Warm cannons and cold steel are good for you. Produce a balanced army. Learn some new battle techniques and think about how you spend your resources and draw conclusions based on that thinking and paint the screen purple with Zerg blood and sing and dance on the graves of hydralisks and play Starcraft II and work at playing Starcraft II every day.

Let Tychus take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into interstellar space, watch for alien traffic, hold your fleet, and fire together. Be aware of warp prisms. Remember the little SCV in the metal exoskeleton. The wheels go round and drill goes down and nobody really knows how or why these guys do it, but we are all like that.

Ghosts and Helions and siege tanks and even the little SCV in the metal exoskeleton – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about the Terrans and Kerrigan and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: ZERG. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. An eye for an eye and interspecies love and basic genetics, bioethics and corrupt politics and insane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole galaxy – had cannons and steel 24 hours every day and then got up with our mechanized warriors for a brawl. Or if we had a basic policy in our little rebellion to always put things back in order by overthrowing the Terran Dominion and cleaning up Arcturus Mengsk’s messes. And it is still true, no matter how grizzled you are, when you go out into interstellar space, it is best to hold your fleet and fire together.

My first semester in University of Michigan’s Teaching and Teacher Education PhD program was great, and I’m looking forward to more of the same in the coming semesters!

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Gamification and a Better You

[x-posted at Videogames, Learning, & School Design]

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I have been unable to hit the gym this semester. It’s on the way home, it’s free, and I know I’d have more energy if I went. I know all of these things, and yet, I still can’t muster up the motivation to go.

Ah, there’s the key word: motivation.

Enter gamification.

Gamification centers on the idea that one can apply game design principles to any problem. Need to motivate students to learn. GAMIFY IT! Need to quit smoking? GAMIFY IT! Need to hit the gym more frequently? GAMIFY IT! (If you’ve seen Dexter, Season 5, then this refrain will sound familiar.)

Brian Wang and Dick Talens have not only gamified the gym experience with Fitocracy, but they have done so with enormous amounts of personal success, going from fraught with flab to muscles of many, from sitting all day to fitting in your clothes. They argue that the characteristics of high-intensity gamers are almost identical to those of body builders:


They’ve been trained to focus for weeks at a time on a single goal. They know how to clearly identify obstacles and form step-by-step plans to overcome them. They’re obsessed with improving specific skills but judge success only by overall progress made in the world they’ve decided to conquer — as realistic or fantastical as it may be.

Gamification has its detractors and critics, notably Iam Bogost, with his post, “Gamification is Bullshit.” But, Bogost’s ire seems not to be directed at serious thinkers and pedagogical theoreticians but rather at a corporate edutainment industry hellbent on making profits, not learners. Shawn Graham’s “Gamification, Bullshit, and Teaching History,” at Play the Past, is taking up Bogost’s challenge, and we would do well to remain similarly skeptical of techno-educational fads but also take account of the potential benefits of innovative pedagogy.

Maybe an system of external rewards and online badges will get me into the gym at least once this semester, but it’s this notion of externality that also kinda makes me hate going to the gym: the super-amped, jacked guy that gazes longingly at his deltoids in the mirror. If I go to the gym, ultimately, it’s because I want a better quality of life and not necessarily a better looking body…but I guess that wouldn’t hurt either.

Behaviorism and Existential Crisis

[x-posted at Videogames, Learning, & School Design]

Skinner’s behaviorism has generated intense debate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the role of free will.

In videogames, the game world has been constructed by game designers with a set of game rules, a world within which you (meaning your character) operate.  Some games provide a greater amount of latitude with regard to possible actions within the game, others more.  For example, there are a very limited number of actions to be performed, levels to be explored, and coins to gather in Super Mario Brothers.  By contrast, World of Warcraft offers many more options with regard to the same; more actions, more levels, more coins.  Nevertheless, your actions are constrained.  Your choices are limited.  This is what might be called behavioralism light.  Hardcore behavioralists would argue that the game world, scaffolded by game rules, actually compels a certain set of reactions.  There are no choices, no other options; there is only the game.  There are only stimuli and response.  The real world operates this way as well.  The world, scaffolded by rules of biology, physics, chemistry, etc., compels a certain set of reactions from us.  These actions are not the result of free will or choice but, instead, they spring from reactions to stimuli.

Behaviorists fail to appropriately explain the real world’s “game designers.”  In point of fact, though, they have very little interest in such matters.  For them, it doesn’t matter if the Big Bang created these conditions or if Vishnu sat on top of giant turtle while Jesus prattled on about talents and wine and such and then the universe coalesced into being as a result of their divine conversation (which, I imagine, would be something like the best Seinfeld episode ever).

“[Free will] is a fiction…By discovering the causes of behavior, we can dispose of the imagined internal cause…Once you have found those causes there is less need to attribute to an internal act of will and, eventually, I think, the need to attribute nothing to it.”

So, for Skinner, there is no free will, and our participation in videogames seems to confirm this suspcion.  But, this may be the point at which the utility of videogames as an analogy for life stops because, in the end, I can put down the controller.