As game design matures, its insights are informing other fields. Principles of social collaboration, personal mastery and appropriate difficulty engage users and inspire innovations in a range of recreational and “serious” pursuits.
June 17, 2013
Viable Virtual Reality (Finally)
After decades of attempts and speculation, the gaming world finally has a viable virtual reality system in the form of the Oculus Rift headset. You might be surprised, however, to hear that some of its finest independent designers are using it to do very boring things. At the “Indiecade” portion of the recent E3 gaming conference, industry blog Polygon found that the most interesting games for the Oculus Rift were centered around fairly mundane activities, like walking around a dream-like hallway, or finding one’s way through a forest to get back to a parked car. The point of the games, according to their designers, is to build on the inherent dream-like quality of the VR headset, which means exploring experiences that are (relatively) close to real life. In each case, though, there’s a surreal twist — “If A Tree Screams In a Forest” requires players to keep looking around them while walking, lest they be killed by moving trees.
Polygon has the story and images.
June 10, 2013
Man, Play and Games
Mike Thompson has written a fairly stunning treatise on games as quintessentially important to human psychology. Several standout quotes augment Thompson’s piece, but philosopher Roger Caillois takes the cake for making the dynamics that foster play sound nearly identical to the conditions that lead to good design:
An outcome known in advance, with no possibility of error or surprise, clearly leading to an inescapable result, is incompatible with the nature of play. Constant and unpredictable definitions of the situation are necessary, such as are produced by each attack or counterattack in fencing or football, in each return of the tennis ball, or in chess, each time one of the players move a piece. This consists of the need to find or continue at once a response which is free within the limits set by the rules.
-from “Man, Play, and Games,” Roger Caillois
Read the entire essay at The New Inquiry.
June 03, 2013
That Sword? 300 Million Gold
Video game giant Blizzard North’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game Diablo III was a long time in the making, which is reflected in its tremendous complexity. As in other online games which attracted millions of players, a robust in-world economy grew up, with certain individuals utilizing ‘bots for “farming” gold to bring to auctions where powerful, unique weapons and spells turned up for sale. When Blizzard tried to intervene, introducing the use of real money, the dangers of fiat currency flared, and fantastic inflation resulted. Peter C. Earle, a researcher at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Austria, has conducted a remarkably in-depth economic evaluation of what happened inside Diablo III, comparing his findings to 1920’s Weimar-era, or, more recently, Zimbabwean real-world hyperinflation events.Read more at the Mises Daily blog.
May 28, 2013
A Hack in Every Home
When Microsoft unveiled its Kinect gesture-based interface in 2010, it spawned a legion of fascinating hacks, from music controllers to physical therapy programs, several of which showed up here in the Game Wise blog. Now that the XBox One has been released, with a dramatically more powerful Kinect sensor built in, the possibilities are mind-boggling. Besides improved sensing that can track facial expression and heart rate, the updated system has ubiquity in its favor: tens of millions of living rooms will contain one by the end of the year, which means hundreds of thousands of hackers. A future where your entertainment system knows who you are, how you’re feeling and what you want? It may be closer than you think — and it may be individual tinkerers who get us there.
May 20, 2013
Fooled by the Parthenon (in Nashville)
GeoGuessr gamifies Google’s Streetview, and makes learning geography compelling in the process. The interface is dead simple: players are dropped somewhere in the world, with only the familiar 360-degree view to guide guesses. Sometimes signage or car makes provide clues; in other cases natural features are revealing. Drop a pin, and GeoGuessr responds with a map showing the actual location and your selection, sometimes separated by thousands and thousands of kilometers. Clever selections keep things interesting – bear in mind Portuguese signage could mean Brazil – and watch out for replicas!
The best score around Ziba’s HQ is 12,985: visit Geoguessr to play.
May 13, 2013
Programmed to Win
“Can Super Mario Brothers Save Artificial Intelligence?” asks a recent New Yorker article, about one researcher’s efforts to develop thinking programs that can master classic video games. The answer, we quickly learn, is no: the iterative process employed by his machines do a good job of finding patterns that earn high scores, but they’re still nothing like the creative approach of a real human mind. Dr. Thomas Walter Murphy VII, the AI specialist behind the project, has achieved impressive results, but closer investigation shows that the AIs are defeating the games through “brute force”, using massive amounts of trial-and-error-based computation, rather than the logic and instinctual pattern-spotting a human player would employ. It’s a nice reminder, in an era of Jeopardy-winning supercomputers, that winning a game through high-speed number crunching isn’t quite the same as being smarter.
Read the whole article on The New Yorker’s Elements blog.
May 06, 2013
Gaming a Behavioral Ecology Exam
A class at a top-tier university is a group in which collaboration and competition go hand in hand. This is exactly what Peter Nonacs, UCLA professor of Behavioral Ecology, set out to exploit with a recent exam: he warned his class that the test would be “insanely difficult,” but there would be no such thing as “cheating.” Open-book, all Google-access, crowd-sourced, phone a friend, you name it: just get the best possible answer. For a week leading up to the test, the students lived game theory, strategizing collectively about how to prepare. Nonacs even came up with a way to game the grading, and reported the outcome was about 20% higher than other years’ “non-gamed” midterms.
Read more at KCRW’s blog.
April 29, 2013
The Subtleties of Evenomics
Among massively multiplayer online games, Eve may not have the largest following, but it’s got one of the most loyal. The reasons for this are many, as a recent story in BusinessWeek observes, but the most remarkable may be its virtual mining and shipbuilding economy, celebrated by many academics as gaming’s most sophisticated. CCP, the Icelandic company that built Eve, has employed a full-time economist since 2007 to manage the game’s economic aspects, and it seems to be paying off: along with game geeks and sci-fi fans, Eve counts real world diplomats and hedge fund managers among its players.
Read the article and meet the Icelanders behind the Eve phenomenon at BusinessWeek.
April 22, 2013
A Virtual Sandbox for Real Urban Planners
SimCity is practically gaming royalty: a simulation exercise that made zoning and urban infrastructure as cool as first-person shooters, way back in the early ‘90s. In its most recent release, the urban planning simulator has reached a level of complexity that’s sparked competition not just among gamers, but actual urban designers. Six planning studios from around Europe and North America recently took on a challenge to design the most successful simulated city, working within the same well-defined constraints of the SimCity environment. Each resulting city bears the clear stamp of its designers’ driving philosophy, but also serves as a powerful reminder that design intention can have real consequences, whether the playing field is made of bricks or bits.
See the results at FastCoExist.
April 15, 2013
Run, Pixels, Run
Evolution is competition. As it actually happens in nature, the competition tends to be extremely complex: lots of individuals, facing countless, ever-changing variables. In the laboratory, on the other hand, the complexity can be reduced, and evolution can be gamified. Students at Cornell’s Creative Machines Lab set up an experiment that makes straight-line locomotion the only fitness indicator for some simple creatures in the form of random agglomerations of cube-shaped muscle and bone tissues. Critters that crossed the finish line faster got to have more offspring, reinforcing their characteristics in the general population… evolution in action! While the fastest form ends up looking unsurprisingly like a primitive horse, some of the evolutionary “dead ends” win points for QWOP-like hijinks.
April 08, 2013
Make Your Own Marble Maze
A new Google “experiment” for Chrome allows any website to be turned into a playable marble maze for tablet, phone or PC, and it’s even more amazing than it sounds. The browser-embedded program grabs the visual elements of whatever URL you paste in, and quickly, beautifully, transforms it into your very own 3D maze, complete with map, scoreboard and twinkly background music. There’s more: send a code to your tablet or smartphone, and you can use it to wirelessly control the marble on the computer’s screen, or play directly on the handheld device. It’s been argued that anything can be gamified, and Google has taken the challenge and rolled with it.
Play (insert any website you can think of): World Wide Maze.
April 01, 2013
Earn 10 More Experience Points to Unlock Record Mode!
Of all the maligned user interfaces in the consumer electronics world, the remote control evokes a special level of hatred and frustration. The problem could be partially solved, thinks design student Philip Battin, by matching the complexity of the UI to the capability of the user. Taking a cue from the gaming world, he envisions a remote that lets users “level up” to a larger set of controls as they gain familiarity. The touchscreen device starts with nothing more than power, channel and volume controls, then reveals new controls as the user racks up Experience Points. A little gimmicky perhaps, but the idea draws on plenty of research about optimal workflows. And hey, leveling up worked for Zelda — why not for TV too?
See Battin describe his concept at FastCoDesign.
March 25, 2013
Minecraft: Not Just For Private Islands, Anymore
If a game platform is fun and flexible, it’s going to attract players, but this also means as acceptance and understanding broadens, users can take games places their creators couldn’t imagine. Think of Cory Archangel’s art, hacked to life with the music and background elements of 16-bit Nintendo games. Minecraft is an inherently flexible game – essentially just what its players make of it – and now someone who goes by the Reddit handle AllUpInHyuh has used Minecraft to create a working model of a neuron. Implications? If multiple neurons were to be linked together, and rules set up to govern their interaction, we could be looking at the absolute ground zero of a kind of artificial intelligence.
March 18, 2013
Let Games Be Games!
Pamela Paul is a features editor for the “New York Times Review of Books,” and also covers children’s books. Her recent Op-Ed piece complains that for kids, “concepts of work and play have become farcically reversed: schoolwork is meant to be superfun; play, like homework, is meant to teach.” That’s not so earthshattering, but Paul has a bias with some bite: she actually likes video games, and argues that their being just silly and fun is quite all right. Constantly hitching studious ends to playful means actually shortchanges students, who need to be prepared for the sometimes hard, dull reality of work. Let games be games! Of course there’s room for cross-pollination – a video game can certainly be fun and educational. But Paul’s caution about games being given too much currency in curriculum design is an interesting counter to the single-minded enthusiasm that typically surrounds the debate.
Read the entire article at The New York Times.
March 11, 2013
Take a Shower: +10 Points!
Gameification has had critics and detractors since its very early days, usually with some variation on the argument that adding points to a task doesn’t actually make the task any more, or less, worthwhile. But perhaps the best example of that argument comes from online humor magazine McSweeneys, with the satirical description of a fictitious game called EveryThing. The inanity of earning points for things you’d want to do anyway is front and center (“Making a New Friend: +5,000 points!”), but the essay’s sharpest observation is the role that pure, pointless competition plays in most of these efforts. It’s a critique we’ve heard before, but never this vividly: “you alone have earned what the rest of humanity, in all its previous endeavors, has failed to secure: the Best Life Ever crown and sash!”
Learn all about EveryThing at McSweeneys.net.
March 04, 2013
The Most Realistic First-Person Shooter Ever
The image above could easily be a promo for the latest military-style first person shooter, but in fact, it’s from the website of Rheinmetall Defence, a German company that wants to use state-of-the-art information technology to revolutionize the 10-person infantry squadron. Rheinmetall’s “Gladius” system adds layers of information to the real world for soldiers on patrol, including map waypoints, threat level indicators, and the locations of friendly and enemy forces, using a goggle-based Heads Up Display. If all this sounds exceedingly game-like, that’s because it is: reports on Gladius from outside the defense press lead with comparisons to Halo, Call of Duty, and other games that most of today’s soldiers already know how to play.
February 25, 2013
Play That +1 Right Thigh Instead of Holding Out for a +5
Sociologist Whitney Erin Boesel has made a game out of online dating — literally. Her set of 11 “OKMatch!” attribute cards each have a body part or characteristic and a score, 1 through 5. Players vie to complete a full set, and the highest overall score “wins”. Sound like fun? Boesel hopes so, because she came away from her “Great Online Dating Adventure” convinced that dating isn’t a joy, whether online or real-world. Because even the most casual date necessarily has an agenda, the enterprise certainly lends itself to comparison with gaming. But Boesel’s project uses the conventions of Role Playing Games to re-complicate digital mate-shopping. Dating sites like OKCupid and Match.com made it too “efficient” to assess potential partners, and sacrificed the excitement of the unknown that made her dating experiences rewarding.
Read more about this different kind of dating game at The New Inquiry.
Image via Sync Blog’s related article, “Is Online Gaming the New Online Dating”
February 18, 2013
I Love You, Expertly Rendered Character Model
As game mechanics make their way into the real world, real world mechanics continue to make their way into games. Take romance, some games include a romance mechanic, giving the player the chance to create a companionship with another character in the game’s world. This has been done with varied levels of authenticity. BioWare, the developer behind noted RPGs Dragon Age and Mass Effect, has very successfully integrated romance into its games and David Gaider, the lead writer for the Dragon Age series, recently shared some opinions about love, sex and how they fit into gaming.
Click over to Gaider’s personal blog to read his insights. He touches on sexism, objectification and how romance can fit into the plot.
February 11, 2013
Netflix Follows a Path Blazed by Gamemakers
“House of Cards” is a trickle that may indicate a coming flood. The Netflix-produced political intrigue series features A-list talent, including Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey in the leading role, and makes a stunning break in the dominance of network and cable channels as creators of original TV content. But as one writer at gamer blog Kill Screen Daily points out, this kind of shift is old news to the videogame business. Where single-platform games were once the norm, he argues, the rise of small developers producing high-quality alternatives has pushed major studios to shy away from exclusivity, prompting a question: will the movie landscape in five years look like the gaming landscape now?
February 04, 2013
From the Creators of Second Life, a Tool for DIY Gamification
Second Life only ever attracted a small group of devoted users, but Linden Labs, the company that created it, learned a lot about how people interact with information in the process. Now they’re doing something with that knowledge. Linden’s newest product is Dio, a simple interactive tool that lets users create their own game-like interactive environments using uploaded images. By grouping images into “rooms” and allowing visitors to interact with them in intricate, context-sensitive ways, Dio users can offer a far richer experience than the typical online slideshow, letting them create a sense of place, rather than just a bunch of pictures.
January 28, 2013
A Protest Game Gets Seriously Destructive
Just about anything can be turned into a competition, it seems — even if the activity being encouraged is blatantly illegal. A group of activists in Berlin, enraged by the proliferation of surveillance cameras in the city, has made a game out of destroying them. The game, called Camover, asks participants to form teams, then awards points based on the number of cameras they smash, using axes, crowbars and other implements. Bonus points are earned for particularly creative methods of destruction. Whether the ideology behind the game justifies the costly vandalism is a subject of fiery debate, but the game-derived tactics are undeniably effective, with over 50 cameras destroyed in just a few weeks.
Read the Guardian’s coverage of Camover.
January 22, 2013
Games That More People Can Play
The lack of physical activity required to play most video games is also an advantage for accessibility, as large numbers of disabled gamers have made clear. To that end, the AbleGamer organization has even created an annual award to celebrate accessibility, handing accolades to the games that best accommodate players with hearing, visual, or motor control difficulties. The ability to control a game entirely via mouse or trackball turns out to be a hugely valuable feature — FIFA 13 Soccer offers just that, part of what earned it the top spot in AbleGamer’s 2012 rankings. Perhaps other, more productivity-oriented software should take note?
Kotaku has the details.
January 14, 2013
A New Road for a Young Composer
Austin Wintory has dozens of film scores to his credit, but it’s his work for a groundbreaking video game called Journey that’s earned him a Grammy nomination. The 28 year old composer is understandably thrilled to be placed in the same category as orchestral luminaries like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, and his sparse, haunting composition has also enjoyed tremendous success as a standalone album. What’s more interesting is how gaming has created an opportunity for a relatively young talent to earn recognition, in a field (film scores) often dominated by a handful of well-established names.
January 07, 2013
Life, Death and Permadeath
In the ongoing quest for greater realism, no aspect of video gaming is a greater departure from real life than the way they usually treat death. Which is why a handful of game designers have started embracing the notion of “permadeath” — one character, one life, no re-tries. Day Z, a recently released first-person shooter set during a zombie apocalypse, has earned plenty of praise from critics for its policy of forcing you to start over completely with a new character if the current one dies. As it turns out, there’s no better way of heightening the tension in a dangerous situation than getting just one chance to live through it.
Read Wired’s analysis of the Permadeath trend, along with a few more examples of games that employ it.
December 17, 2012
Video Games as Sports, as Compared to Actual Sports
Spectated competitive video games, or eSports, have grown in popularity in recent years. People attend events to watch professionals play Starcraft II, League of Legends and Street Fighter IV, among others. Many more tune in online. Could eSports eventually become as popular as real sports—old classics like football and basketball? Major League Gaming CEO Sundance Giovanni certainly thinks so, saying that he sees eSports rivaling the popularity of the UFC within five years, with the NFL also in reach.
Kill Screen Daily is less optimistic about eSports’ growth, and crunches some numbers to make their point.
December 10, 2012
An App Made for One, With Promise for Many
Educational games have made great progress over the past few years, owing to a powerful combination of touchscreen technology, a deeper understanding of human motivation, and more accessible game creation tools that’s turned thousands of people into developers. It’s gotten so accessible, in fact, that Norwegian designer Marius Matheson was inspired to create a game specifically for his daughter, Angelina, as a way of overcoming learning disabilities that make traditional reading difficult. The result, called Anglina’s Verden (Angelina’s World) takes advantage of the unique ability of touchscreen tablets to hold attention in a way static pages can’t. More than just making learning more fun, it’s making it possible, for Matheson’s daughter and thousands of others.
Check out the Angelina’s Verden website, the Kill Screen Daily story on its development, and this video of Angelina and her dad playing together, which is no less adorable for being entirely in Norwegian.
December 03, 2012
SimCity, Tetris, and Other Timeless Works of Art
Video games have been earning greater respect with every passing year, first from the business and entertainment worlds, who acknowledge their ubiquity, then from reviewers, who’ve grown impressed by their function as a dynamic storytelling medium. Now you can add mainstream art authorities, as the Museum of Modern Art in New York officially adds 14 classic and somewhat obscure games to its collection. There are plans to acquire more titles in the near future, and an official exhibition as well.
Smithsonian Magazine has the complete list, along with a mention of a video game exhibition put on last year by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Screenshot from Katamari Damacy (another MoMA acquisition) via the MoMA online collection.
December 03, 2012
You’ve Played the Game, Now Love the DJ
You may not be a fan of (or even be aware of) a DJ named Skrillex, but he’s betting that you might want to play his video game anyway. All the rage among fans of a style of dance music called dubstep, Skrillex is hoping to expand his appeal by creating a free Flash-based video game called Skrillex Quest. The game, developed in collaboration with the designer of the classic Legend of Zelda series, takes about 20 minutes to play through, and culminates in a final battle with a giant cube resembling the real life DJ. It’s highly entertaining by all accounts, as well as effective: even the Wired reviewer found himself looking up Skrillex after completing the game.
November 26, 2012
A Childhood Toy Takes on a Grown Up Problem
Kabul-born designer Massoud Hassani grew up designing and building wind-powered toys—not as an act of creative expression, but as part of a shared game with other kids. Now, the lessons learned during those hours of play have paid off in a larger version, with the much more serious job of ridding the world of landmines. The Mine Kafon can be assembled using around 40 Euros worth of materials, and is sturdy enough to detonate up to four mines before needing repair. Because it’s wind-powered, electricity and fuel are no issue, and it can be assembled and deployed with minimal training.
November 19, 2012
Let's Open the Box Together
A game called Curiosity has a mode of interaction so simple, it’s almost impossible to imagine it would be any fun: just click on a tiny cube and make it disappear. Add the fact that there are thousands of such cubes and they’re concealing a secret discovery inside, and it gets a bit more interesting. But what really makes Curiosity groundbreaking is that everyone who plays it is working on the same set of cubes, together, in real time. Created by former Microsoft creative director Peter Molyneux, it’s intended as an experiment in motivation and social collaboration, while Molyneux’s newly founded game studio works on their “real” first game.
Read the details of how Curiosity works at FastCoDesign.
November 13, 2012
A Game to Inspire Girl Engineers
Women are entering engineering and science programs at an unprecedented rate, and one Stanford engineering student is doing all she can to accelerate the trend. GoldieBlox is a playset with all the hallmarks of a young girl’s toy (well-developed characters and narrative, lots of pink), but the tasks it presents are solved by using cranks, pulleys and belts in creative ways to achieve specific actions. The playset and accompanying iPad app will be available for $30 sometime in 2013.
Read more about GoldieBlox and see a gallery of images at FastCoDesign.
November 05, 2012
With a Good Enough Game, Can Kids Teach Themselves?
A recent experiment conducted in Ethiopia is raising hopes about learning in places with little access to formal schooling, along with a bit of controversy. The One Laptop Per Child organization (OLPC) sent 20 Motorola Xoom tablets, pre-loaded with learning apps, to first-grade-aged children in two small villages, with solar arrays to keep them charged, but no instructions or assistance. According to OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte, the kids involved not only figured out how to use the tablets, but after two weeks were using dozens of apps, and had learned basic reading and writing skills with no teacher involvement. The results fly in the face of some long-held beliefs about the instructor’s role in learning, but do much to confirm the value of a well-constructed educational game.
Read about the experiment at MIT Technology Review.
October 29, 2012
Crossing the Cheesecake Line
Gender stereotyping takes on special urgency when the character being stereotyped is you, as many female gamers have discovered. Balancing a love of the game against the ham-fisted way many games portray women, a number of thoughtful blogs and articles have begun calling for more nuanced, realistic and diverse female characters, often in more specific, constructive ways than in critiques of other media. Given what a fast-growing segment of the gaming market women are, designers would be fools to ignore such analyses—like this recent one from The Mary Sue that tries to draw a useful line between “attractive” female characters and “cheap pandering cheesecake.” As the author points out, it’s just good business sense: “Give me a smart, brave woman who already has the respect of the world she’s trying to save,” she implores, “and I will throw my wallet at you.”
See what it takes to get female heros right at The Mary Sue.
“Chell” image via the Portal Game Wiki.
October 22, 2012
Fallout 3 is Silently Judging You
It turns out that you can’t escape who you are, even in the parallel world of gaming. Psychology researchers at Tilburg University in The Netherlands have been tracking the behavior of test subjects as they play a handful of immersive video games, and comparing the results with their responses to established personality tests. Some remarkable correlations have been observed, with enough consistency that other researchers are taking note, perhaps turning gaming into the next great frontier in personality testing…or just giving game designers some new ways to customize their product.
Read more about it at The Escapist.
October 15, 2012
Learn Gerrymandering, the Game Wise Way
Government redistricting, or “gerrymandering” as it’s often (negatively) called, is as influential on the American political process as it is hard to understand. But like many systems that seek to balance the desires of powerful conflicting groups, it makes for a pretty good game. USC’s Annenberg Center for Communications has done just that with The ReDistricting Game, putting players in the role of redistricting consultants and challenging them to draw up new lines that balance populations and preserve voting rights. With plenty of embedded information about redistricting in real life, it just might be the most effective tool yet devised to explain something that’s too boring for TV.
October 08, 2012
What’s the ROI for Play?
Gamification, according to at least one Silicon Valley analyst, is currently experiencing its “Trough of Disillusionment” — that uncomfortable period in a new idea’s growth when people talk about it so much that the reality couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. BunchBall, the startup usually credited with coining the term “gamification” is devoting some serious effort to getting its brainchild up out of that trough as quickly as possible. A four person analysis team has been tasked with digging through five years of data, to find correlations between the gamification efforts of BunchBall’s clients and improvements in communication and productivity.
Spotted by John Vieira, Ziba Copywriter.
October 01, 2012
Harassed Hackers Call Foul
Defcon is the world’s largest conference for security hackers, and has earned a multi-faceted reputation over the years, as a crucial networking event for young hackers, as a massive booze- and DJ-fueled party, and as a playground for rampant sexism. And while the growing and increasingly vocal female contingent of Defcon hasn’t taken that last part passively, a few of them have responded in an unusually clever way that takes advantage of a few lessons from game dynamics. One journalist covering the most recent conference brought with her several thousand “penalty cards” in green, yellow and red, to be handed out by attendees (both female and male) in response to sexist or aggressive behavior. Responses have been both pleased and outraged, but most everyone agrees they’ve give opened up a new channel for commentary, as well as a very necessary conversation.
Read more about the cards at CNet.
September 24, 2012
A Fitting Use for Kinetic Interfaces
The full body interaction afforded by Microsoft Kinect is showing its potential for interactive art. Amanda Dittami and Blair Kuhlman, both Game Design students at Columbia College Chicago, have recruited the kinetic interface in an artistic commentary on social pressures and gender perception, with a game/installation entitled “A Fitting”. Players are given control of a fictional young woman via a Kinect interface, and asked to contort themselves into increasingly difficult poses as they try to fit into a series of restrictive garments in front of a silent jury. In a strange mash-up of fashion show and social experiment, the game pushes players to the point of physical discomfort, all the while shrouded in an elegant Victorian aesthetic.
September 17, 2012
Cheater or Collaborator? Depends on the Game.
Game design has plenty to say about the behavior of players within a defined system, even if that system is academic. Following a rash of cheating in one of Harvard’s undergraduate government courses, a number of writers and lecturers have been debating whether cheating is onerous behavior, or just the result of a poorly designed system. It’s fascinating reading, but unlikely to exonerate answer-cribbing high school students anytime soon.
Read more about the debate at Kill Screen Daily.
Spotted by Ziba copywriter John Vieira.
September 10, 2012
Pixels as Sculptures as Minimalism
As a quick spin through deviantART will confirm, creating art inspired by video games isn’t exactly new. However, Michael Whiting stands out by making sculptures which are unique in their thoughtfulness and minimalism. He compares his work to early minimalists and is inspired by that early pixel aesthetic because it needed to be an abstraction which conveyed as much information as possible with a very limited pallette.
Click over to Kill Screen Daily for more images and a great excerpt from an interview with Whiting.
September 04, 2012
Which Gamer are You?
Market segmentations are a common tool in lots of consumer sectors, giving designers and marketers a convenient structure for thinking about the people who will be using their product or service. In the lucrative and expanding gaming industry, this understanding is especially crucial, leading a number of research firms to try and break down the gaming audience into a few fundamental types. This recent one, by a firm called Playnomics, is credible and well-presented, using a nicely designed infographic poster to describe the Socialite, the Strategist, and six other kinds of gamers. We’re more impressed, though, by the fact that “predicative gaming analytics company” is now a viable way to describe a business.
Spotted by John Vieira, Ziba copywriter.
August 27, 2012
Turning Political Games into Video Games
18 to 29-year-olds constitute potentially the largest voting block in the US, but have long been famous for their lack of engagement in the political process. Rather than roll out another voting publicity campaign in the vein of Rock the Vote, or Sean Combs’ maligned Vote or Die, MTV is taking the interactive route. Fantasy Election ‘12 takes cues from fantasy football and baseball leagues, already enjoying tremendous popularity among 20-somethings, by allowing players to assemble teams of real politicians, then gain or lose ranking based on how they perform in opinion polls and other real-world metrics. The whole thing is heavily tied into social media, of course, with the aim of giving young voters a reason to pay attention to the voting process — beyond just simply interested in the direction of their country’s government.
August 20, 2012
Good at Leveling Up a Ranged Druid, Bad at Filing Taxes
As the titular character in Max Payne 3, you have plenty of autonomy in how you play the game. Do you run around and utilize your bullet time generously to commit virtual genocide, or do you play it safe and hide behind cover, waiting for the right moment to gun down Sao Paolo’s corrupt police force? Do these decisions say anything about you in your non-video game playing life? For Wired, Lore Sjöberg hypothesizes that the things he does in video games hold the key to unlocking his real-life issues—psychotherapy through watching his playing style.
Get ready to become self-conscious about how you play your games tonight and read the whole thing over at Wired.
Spotted by Consumer Insights and Trends Analyst Darryl James.
August 13, 2012
Turning Numbers Into Environmental Action
Wanting to be more sustainable is one thing, but actually doing something about it requires measurement, and that’s where Energy Points comes in. The small data mining startup is combining a game-like points system with vivid infographics to let users get a clearer picture of things like energy and resource consumption. By combining the impact of different metrics like water use, carbon emissions and energy efficiency, it aims to provide that most elusive of graphics: the one that governments and businesses can actually understand.
Learn how Energy Points works at FastCoExist.
August 06, 2012
Why the FuelBand Runs Out of Gas
“Points and badges do not lead to behavior change,” explains social software designer Michael Kim, and the limited success of Nike’s FuelBand seems to bear him out. The sensor-laden bracelet is supposed to get people acting healthy, but a recent NY Times article points out several ways in which it misses the mark, such as tracking activity inconsistently and relying too much on frequent social updates. More interesting is the way the FuelBand has become a sort of laboratory for data-driven motivation, helping put different theories of behavior change through their paces, and figuring out whether we’ll someday be able to buy a piece of jewelry that makes us more virtuous.
The New York Times has the article.
July 30, 2012
My First MRI Playset
Recent Eindhoven graduate Hikaru Imamura is proposing a gentler way to explain frightening medical procedures to kids, with a set of charming wooden playsets. Though not particularly detailed, the operating rooms and other medical environments depicted in his kits are friendly and toy-like, offering parents or hospital staff an entry point for discussing MRI scans, X-rays, operations and other procedures, complete with equipment that lights up and makes sounds, and a patient rendered as a bear cub.
View more of Imamura’s kits at FastCoDesign.
July 23, 2012
Mario Kart and the (Rainbow) Road To Self-Improvement
Video games are very much not associated with athletic prowess, but could they secretly be tricking us into improving our performance? As part of a piece on brain science, Alex Hutchinson mentions how cyclists were able to best their top races when they were pedaling against a virtual reality avatar of their previous times. This passage reminded Jamin Warin at Kill Screen Daily of a college roommate who was obsessed with ghost runs in Mario Kart—a mode where you compete against avatars that follow your previous races around the course. Mario Kart was originally released in 1992. Little did we know that it held the cognitive key to improving athletic performance.
Spotted by copywriter John Vieira.
July 16, 2012
An App That Makes Pain the Enemy
“Pain Squad” sounds more like a violent first person shooter than a medical product, but for cancer sufferers, it’s addressing a very serious subject. Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children is currently testing Pain Squad, an iPhone app designed for use by young patients who’ve been saddled with the responsibility of tracking and managing the pain that comes with their treatment. We’ve covered several instances of pointless gamification in the past, in which mundane tasks are laden down with badges and leaderboards in an attempt to make them more exciting, but this sounds like an example of game-like interaction gone right. By depicting pain as a culprit to be chased down and apprehended, the app aims to help patients externalize their suffering, and confer a sense of control over one of life’s most unfair situations. It also helps patients log their progress, helping doctors reduce their pain in actuality as well.
July 09, 2012
A Signal That You Should Feel Good
One of the essential (and some would argue detrimental) aspects of gamification seems to be providing badges and rewards for achievements. The idea is that we get that warm fuzzy feeling from those rewards and therefore feel accomplished. That may not be the case. Kes Sampanthar recently gave a presentation at the Gamification summit in San Francisco about how our brains don’t get pleasure from the rewards, but rather from the the signal for the reward.
Click over to Kill Screen Magazine to watch the video and read their take on the troubling nature of this new discovery.
July 02, 2012
The End of the AAA Game?
Like any other entertainment medium, gaming has its big ticket releases and its small scrappy upstarts. But the former may be in a lot of trouble. A recent article at The Verge argues that the economics of video game design and production are fundamentally opposed to the continual creation of profitable blockbusters. Making a top notch game is “rapidly becoming one of the most expensive enterprises humans can undertake,” while social games designed for web and mobile devices are gaining in popularity, and cost a tiny fraction to produce. In a media environment that keeps insisting video games are the new Hollywood, this kind of in-depth analysis is worth paying attention to. The shift the article suggests could send out shockwaves that impact hardcore and casual gamers alike, and everyone else too.
Get into the details at The Verge.
Spotted by Copywriter John Vieira
June 25, 2012
The Shifting World of Video Game Product Placement
Product placement is a fixture in modern TV and movies, but from a certain point of view, it’s also been a part of video games for nearly two decades. A recent article discusses the history of “real” cars showing up in racing games, and the relationship between automakers and game designers it requires. More interesting is the discussion of exactly how real the cars should behave: when any car can perform like a virtual Porsche, what’s the advantage in hewing close to reality?
Read more at FastCoDesign.
June 18, 2012
My Dollhouse is Geekier Than Yours
How do you get more girls interested in science, engineering and technology? How about with a dollhouse? Not just any dollhouse, but a remarkable kit of parts called Roominate, that lets girls (or boys, for that matter) assemble a small building to their own specifications, and decorate it as they see fit. By mashing up the traditional dollhouse format with an engineering-derived construction approach more common in boy-focused toys like LEGO and Erector Sets, Roominate’s creators are hoping to shift the gender balance in the tech sector, by letting girls know it’s OK to make things too.
Learn more about Roominate at FastCoDesign.
June 11, 2012
Land 20 Planes Without Taking Off Your Slippers
Car (and aircraft) manufacturer Saab is using better interface design and remote sensing to make air traffic control a telecommuter’s job. By linking up a 360 degree suite of cameras with custom displays and real-time radar feeds, their new Remote Tower system hopes to augment the ATC team at big airports with home-based backup at a moment’s notice, and dramatically reduce air traffic costs for smaller airports by letting part-timer controllers stay home. From a Game Wise perspective, the most striking thing about the setup is how much it resembles a high-end video game rig, from the multiple displays and customized digital consoles to the familiar problem of how to ensure network reliability. Though in this case, a “network crash” brings some additional meaning that we’d rather not contemplate.
June 04, 2012
Today’s Game Console is Tomorrow’s TV
While Apple, Google, Roku and countless others struggle to own the future of TV and streaming music, gamers already know who’s got the best home media solution right now: Microsoft. At a recent press conference, the software juggernaut announced some impressive expansions in the content its XBox console can access, along with search capabilities that put it at the head of the pack for ease of use. Now that XBox has over 200 million pieces of content, 30 million songs, and partnerships with HBO, Netflix, BBC and most important, ESPN, perhaps it will end up the real winner in the media race. Anyone who’s been following the rising sophistication and influence of game platforms over the past five years may not be surprised.
May 29, 2012
Coding Fundamentals From a Playful Bot
Programming is the new literacy, we’ve heard from several sources lately, and the rush of young professionals to learn Python and Objective C has been dramatic. Learning how to “think like a coder,” though, takes more than just memorizing a few commands and syntax rules. A recently launched iPad app called CargoBot uses a deceptively simple but supremely addictive game to teach basic programming concepts like looping, nesting and subroutines, potentially priming interested non-techies for the rigors of development. It’s also the first app to be programmed entirely on an iPad, but we’re guessing that in a year’s time, that’ll be no big deal.
May 21, 2012
Video Game as Prototype Battlefield
Video games—especially military-based titles—are getting so detailed that it should be no surprise when designers spend a lot of time learning about guns in real life. What might be surprising is that the influence is also going the other way, as kids who grew up playing these games bring their expectations into their military careers. A fascinating interview with the development team of first-person shooter Tom Clancy: Ghost Recon touches on both sides of the equation, pointing out some current military technologies that gaming helped push, and marking out the limits of what a video game can teach about actual combat.
Kill Screen Daily has the interview.
May 14, 2012
Defeating Darkness, Both Virtual and Personal
SPARX is an idea, fully realized, that’s both remarkable and inevitable. Faced with growing rates of depression among teenagers and few resources to properly treat them, researchers and game designers at the University of Auckland created a fantasy role-playing video game that teaches emotional coping skills. Drawing on cognitive behavioral therapy as well as emotionally engaged role playing games such as The Sims, SPARX has proven as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as traditional talk-based therapy. The details of its conception and design—especially the ways in which it had to differ from conventional game design—are a fascinating peek into a future where games do more than just entertain.
Read the SPARX story at The Verge.
May 07, 2012
Get That Game Mechanic Out of My Video Game
How do gamers feel about gamification? It’s easy to assume video games’ core audience would appreciate the proliferation of gaming mechanics, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Matt Thrower writes about what he has dubbed “reverse gamification”—the tactics used to incentivize users as a marketing technique making their way back into actual games. And he doesn’t like it.
Click through to No High Scores to read Thrower’s plea from a gamer to stop gamifying his video games.
April 30, 2012
Maybe Someday You’ll Be Able to Fix the Ending of LOST
DVRs have given us more control over when we watch our TV shows, but some people are using them to control how they watch them too. Willa Paskin describes using fast forward to editorialize what she watches: “I’ve assembled a version of “The Killing” with narrative tension and solid pacing by ignoring all the dreary, dull, rainy scenes involving Mama Larsen…” As TV goes from being an entirely prescribed medium to one where we become part of the experience, and certain video games strive to become more cinematic, could these two distinct types of entertainment merge?
Click through to Kill Screen Daily for some thoughtful analyses of Paskin’s blog post.
Image via FYI Daily News.
April 23, 2012
Building a Better Graph, Brick by Brick
Game-like interaction can be about rankings, rewards or variable difficulty, but it can also just be about fun. General Motors has learned the value of that last one as it embraces an unusual tool for data visualization: LEGO bricks. Plenty of digital tools exist for depicting things like production rates, but planners at GM and other companies are finding that the inherent approachability of LEGO makes for a more playful approach, which leads in turn to a deeper understanding of the information being presented.
Read more about this unique approach to 3D graphing at FastCoDesign.
Spotted by Chris Butler, Consumer Insights Specialist.
April 16, 2012
Good Stories Make Me Want to Run
Apps aimed at making people exercise continue to gain popularity, but their effectiveness may hinge on some surprising traits. Gamer/Thinker blog Kill Screen Daily offers up a thoughtful analysis of the app “Zombies, Run!” (mentioned previously in this blog last November) written from the perspective of a user who finds himself drawn into the complex storyline it uses as a motivational tool. Despite some fundamental shortcomings—music integration is awkward, and the system’s easy to game—the app’s narrative is strong enough to add a sense of urgency and mystery to everyday life, and that turns out to be enough to encourage repeat visits. Broader realizations about what makes us love games are sprinkled throughout, so even if you’re not a hardcore gamer, it’s worth a read.
Learn more about what makes Zombies, Run! such a success at Kill Screen Daily.
Spotted by John Vieira, Ziba Copywriter.
April 09, 2012
Destroy the Times
The cover story from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is many things: a history of the video game industry, an explanation of what makes Tetris and Angry Birds so addictive, and a critique of modern corporate gamification efforts. The online version of the article, though, adds an interactive element, in the form of a customized version of the online game “Kick Ass”, which turns the entire web page into a shooting gallery to be decimated, Asteroids-style, by a tiny rocket-powered triangle of a spaceship. Games have taken on many roles in the media world lately—now we can add “lead illustration for a major magazine article” to the list.
April 02, 2012
Everything is a Game...Except Games
As game mechanics spread into everything else, are video games themselves less game-like than ever before? Dinofarm Games founder Keith Burgun argues that some video games today aren’t even games, or at least games in the sense that he explains. The article is a bit nerdy—Burgun defines a game as “a system of rules in which agents compete by making ambiguous decisions,”—but it’s exactly the type of intellectual introspection that will help legitimize games as a medium, and help continue to further their mechanics beyond video games and into the world.
Read the article over at Gamasutra and make sure you don’t skip the equally thoughtful comments that follow.
March 26, 2012
CAD You Already Know How to Use
If you need more evidence of the influence game interfaces are having on other types of software, look no further than TinkerCAD. Beyond its possibly toy-derived name, this entry-level 3D CAD application has learned plenty from the gaming world. The spatial navigation and icon-based control panel owes more to map-based strategy games than Alias or AutoCAD, and the quickstart-plus-tutorial approach will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever fired up an XBox or Playstation. Even the terminology comes straight from gaming, with a series of “quests” available to walk users through its various features. Coupled with inexpensive, user-friendly 3D printing, TinkerCAD is leveraging the digital sophistication of a game-playing public to make DIY fabrication as accessible as Tetris.
March 19, 2012
Take a Deep Breath and Start Playing
When we talk about game-like interaction making the world a better place, this is exactly what we mean. Young asthma sufferers use inhalers to receive therapeutic medications, but they often do it incorrectly, leading to tragically high rates of hospitalization that could be prevented. A clever new device called the T-Haler aims to fix that, not by delivering the medicine in a new way, but by turning the inhaler training process into a game. The T-Haler incorporates motion and breath sensors that tie into a video interface to provide immediate and encouraging visual feedback, with some spectacular results: kids who play the game jump from 20% to 60% compliance in a matter of minutes.
Read more, and watch a short movie about T-Haler’s potentially life-saving game at FastCoDesign.
March 12, 2012
Commander Shepard Now Has Biotic Powers (Patent Pending)
As we push game mechanics to more interesting and innovative places, it brings up an interesting debate: should you be able to ‘own’ the game mechanics you’ve designed or does that actually stifle further development? Where is the line between being influenced by and copying or stealing? Tiny Tower is a recent indie iOS success that’s seen a very similar game come out by the giant developer Zynga. Some see this as a copy; Zynga, naturally, does not. It’s an interesting dynamic to watch unfold as the game industry continues to mature.
The New York Times digs deeper and offers up some more examples.
March 05, 2012
Competing for Patients
If everything is destined sooner or later to be turned into a game, that will also have to include getting medical advice. HealthTap has already taken that unnerving step, creating a Facebook-inspired social interface that lets curious patients ask questions, review answers and “Thank” the medical professionals (we hope) who respond. For their part, participating doctors can earn awards named after fictitious doctors like Cliff Huxtable and Doogie Howser. The New York Times’ even-handed review of the service sees some merit in it, but notes that many doctors “may find the context-free, short-question, short-answer approach problematic.”
Learn more at NYTimes.com.
February 27, 2012
Kick The Can for a Modern Warfare World
A common trope about modern children is that they don’t play outside anymore. Games like tag or kick the can have gone away in favor of video games with more exciting names, like Battlefield and Gears of War. Johann Sebastian Joust combines these two things to create something entirely new: a traditional physical game played using video game controllers. Players each have a Playstation Move controller (although no Playstation is involved) and walk around trying to jostle other players enough to disrupt their contoller’s gyroscope, resulting in elimination. It’s unstructured enough to leave room for a lot of house or situational rules—sort of like how every one of your friends had their own version of wall ball.
Vox Games looks at JSJ’s evolution, attempts to figure out what type of game it is and what it means for the future of gaming.
February 20, 2012
Serious Play in the Classroom
“Bring more play to education,” we repeatedly hear, but rarely does it manifest as more than the occasional special activity tacked on to the end of a lesson. The Institute of Play, a consortium of socially-minded game designers, aims to change that. The boldest expression of their vision of play-based learning is Quest to Learn, a public school in New York City with a radically new approach to education. Students participate in games, and design their own as well, covering topics from math and science to history and language. It’s still early for the unique approach, but judging by the photos and videos, the kids are having a heck of a time.
February 13, 2012
A More Fun Way To Browse An Art Gallery
Have you ever been wandering an art gallery and suddenly had the feeling that you were actually a chameleon in a race against time to stop Dr. Grayscale? Wait, you haven’t? The Tate Gallery of modern art has released an iPhone game called Race Against Time that abstracts the act of exploring the gallery into, well, a race against time to stop Dr. Grayscale. It sounds silly—and it is—but it’s a fun way to actually learn about art and even experience and interact with the same visuals you’ll see on the wall at the Tate.
Learn more about the game and how it relates to the art on the Tate Gallery’s website.
February 06, 2012
I Can See That Your Heart Beats Quickly For Me. Literally, I Can See Your BPM.
The Heads Up Display, or HUD, has been a hallmark of video games since the first Pong pixel got bounced across the screen. Starting from a simple score indicator, they’ve grown in complexity as video games have. The 2010 game Enslaved, for instance, might show your health status, your ammunition status, your companion’s health status, the status of her decoy tool, the status of her EMP tool, the status of several enemies and the status of whatever vehicle you might find yourself using…all at once. Google is taking steps to make this wealth of live visual information available in your real life with HUD-enabled glasses. The project isn’t public yet, but it does not take a lot of imagination to think of some very exciting possibilities. Count us in for the rumored beta program.
The Verge has some leaked details about the project.
January 30, 2012
A TWIG in Every Classroom
Educational theorists are beginning to embrace what startups and designers have known for a while — games have an incredible ability to grab and maintain people’s focus on a task, even if that task is learning physics or history. Citing wildly popular video games such as Minecraft and Call of Duty, a new New York Times article delves into the growing movement to actively integrate games into modern education, using the recent Learning Without Frontiers conference in London as a starting point. Perhaps most encouraging, the movement has its own acronym — TWIG, for Teaching With Immersive Gaming.
January 23, 2012
10 Ways to Game the Planet
Trend-tracking website PSFK, after watching gamification’s steady rise over the past two years, has jumped into the action with its own competition. The Gaming for Good challenge asked designers to come up with games that encourage behavior to fight climate change, and received over 60 entries in reply. The 10 best are summarized in a short slideshow, indicating that game interaction isn’t just here to stay, it’s being pointed in some very positive directions.
See the top picks at PSFK.
January 10, 2012
A Sobering Look at the Power of a Game
We write so often about the power of game mechanics to improve the world or to motivate people that it’s easy to forget that games aren’t always a power for good. In this case, games designed with a specific, real-life purpose have cost a man his life. Amir Mizra Hekmati is an American-born game designer and former Marine. After being detained in Iran last August, he has now been sentenced to death for spying and propaganda. Hekmati confessed to being employed by the CIA to create games for the studio Kuma\War that were designed to change public opinion in the Middle East.
Read the full story at Gamasutra.
Image via the Kuma\War website.
January 03, 2012
Taking Fitness Apps to the Next Level
There are so many apps and websites aimed at turning exercise into a game these days (Nike+, FitBit, Run Your City, etc.) that it practically constitutes its own industry. And with that in mind, an interview with one company that designs such apps sheds a lot of light on their spectacular growth. Like many other startups, Explorence creates apps that combine game-like interaction with GPS tracking and social networking to encourage users to exercise more. What’s unusual is the flexibility they offer: practically any physical activity can be turned into a game, with checkpoints, music, leaderboards and even virtual wagers. In an interview with PSFK, Explorence CEO Mike Suprovici talks about the difficulty of getting gamification right, and where the field is headed in the near future.
Read the whole interview at PSFK.
December 19, 2011
Online Gaming Takes an Economics Lesson
“Free to Play” might not sound like a revolutionary economic practice, but in the big business world of online gaming, it’s shaking commercial models to their very foundations. Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft have made their money off of monthly subscriptions for over a decade, but more recent entrants are challenging that approach. By making their games free to start playing, and then charging money for goods and services purchased within the game world, newer MMOs are envisioning a different kind of online economy — one that resembles the real-world economy more than ever.
December 12, 2011
The Gamification of Agile Software Development
For those eagerly awaiting the day when work and play become one, meet RedCritter Tracker, the world’s “only gamified project management solution.” RedCritter allows project managers to assemble teams based on skill, track their task completion and communicate with members through a real-time message feed. But it also pushes the boundaries of conventional wisdom by challenging the whole concept of “salary” as an incentive. Progress is rewarded with virtual badges and announcements to the rest of the team. Necessary tasks are given different badge weights depending on their priority, to ensure the most urgent deliverables are addressed first.
But can virtual team management replace face-to-face brainstorming? Is the workplace an appropriate forum for gamification? Time will tell, but in the meantime virtual rewards may be a cost-efficient way for companies to motivate their teams in a difficult economic climate.
Sign up for your own free trial on the RedCritter Tracker website.
Image via Flickr user slworking2.
December 05, 2011
Making Philanthropy Feel More Real
Why don’t Americans get more involved with philanthropy? The folks at We-Topia are betting that it might just be too abstract, and the charitably-minded would be more likely to give if they could see immediate results. Now they can, in a way. We-Topia is an online social game in the style of Farmville, except that it takes place in a real part of the world, like Haiti, that’s suffering from recent devastation. When players “buy” things like medicine, vitamins or trees, a donor partner sends a real one, and it shows up in the game. The secret to making altruism seem more real may be making it virtual.
Read the details at Good Magazine.
November 28, 2011
Maybe We’re All Late to The Game on This Game Wise Thing
Every week in Game Wise, we speculate about how elements of video games can change and improve our everyday lives. But what if they have been doing so for years? Justin Wolfe shares a long and touching essay about growing up with video games and the ways that they have affected how he interacts with the world around him.
Read Wolfe’s prose at The Awl.
Image via Flickr user fritzon
November 21, 2011
50 Reasons Not to Gamify
Throwing its hat into the ring of pro- and anti-gamification debates, MIT Technology Review has published an interview with the thoroughly thoughtful Judd Antin, an anthropologist and social psychologist at Yahoo Research. Antin’s take on the trend? Game-like interaction is a powerful tool, and most people don’t know how to use it properly yet. Moreover, argues Antin, its misuse can actually reduce motivation, not increase it. For a succinct and convincing discussion of how gamification goes wrong, it’s worth a read.
Browse the whole interview at Technology Review.
November 14, 2011
A Game of Life or Death
“Game Engines” are powering more than games these days. With the fierce competition to win the eyeballs of millions of discerning gamers, companies like Epic Games have been working overtime to advance the power and quality of 3D modeling, and the medical profession has taken notice. In conjunction with the Duke University Medical Center and the National Institute of Health, Epic is using its “Unreal Engine” in decidedly non-frivolous pursuits, like crisis simulation for paramedics that’s faster, cheaper and more effective than traditional mannequin-based training.
November 07, 2011
Real Exercise and Virtual Zombies
Another Kickstarter project seeks to make yet another video game, but Zombies, Run! has a twist. Building on the recent trend toward all things undead, the game adds an active, immersive angle, asking players to go out and run a series of missions in the real world. As the miles rack up, players collect virtual items and the story progresses, along with their health.
October 31, 2011
Here’s an unusual Kickstarter project; Mob Rules is a gaming company that leverages the tendency of gamers to form strong communities, by asking supporters to pick which game it ought to design next. There’s a surprising range of playing and graphical styles in the examples they’ve mocked up, making this project feel more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book than a typical business venture.
See the Kickstarter video and pick your favorite.
October 24, 2011
The Pick-Up Artists
What would happen if you could somehow seamlessly combine Meetup, Foursquare and Facebook to figure out how to play a soccer game tonight with friends and/or like-minded strangers? NextGame, Sporteneous and Pickup Sports are some examples of location-based social apps that bring gaming offline and into the real world, by connecting individuals and groups to organize pickup games. Activities range from baseball and basketball to boot camp and yoga, and you can choose your games based on location, schedule, skill level and competitive intensity. Facebook and Twitter syncs help you to find new play pals and connect with your existing social networks to check in for practice or to promote games.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Go play outside!
Pickup game via Flickr user bORjAmATiC
October 17, 2011
Gamification: The Book
The debate over gamification takes a turn for the serious. Venerable tech publisher O’Reilly Media released “Gamification By Design” last month, and was greeted almost immediately with a lengthy and resoundingly negative review from the Gamification Research Network. The chapter-by-chapter analysis dismisses the effort as a poorly constructed attempt to cash in on the current hype surrounding game-like interaction in business, and was quickly rebuffed by O’Reilly itself. The ensuing debate contains more detail than the average reader will want to parse, but it does point to a corner being turned: now that gamification is big business, getting it right becomes worth this level of scrutiny. And getting it wrong can earn this level of scorn.
Read (or skim) the arguments at Gamification Research Network.
October 10, 2011
The Gamification of Poverty
A new game dealing with a very un-fun reality for many people employs the best of game design to elicit not just engagement, but also empathy. Spent, designed by Jenny Nicholson and sponsored by the advertising firm McKinney and Urban Ministries of Durham, challenges users to confront the often no-win decisions of life in poverty—affecting one’s health, sanity and relationships. Beyond just raising awareness, Spent illustrates the power of games to educate and evoke empathy for deep and challenging issues.
September 26, 2011
Playing Games to Fight HIV
Games can make us more engaged, more social, more collaborative or more competitive, but did you know they can also help in medical research? Foldit is a video game that challenges players to explore the intricacies of protein folding, a complex mechanism that lies at the heart of many drug therapies and disease processes. By turning it over to online gamers, researchers were able to figure out the structure of one of HIV’s key proteins, and have incorporated the game’s results into a new breakthrough scientific paper. Says one researcher, “This is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem.” Here’s hoping it’s not the last.
Read all about it at Discover Magazine.
Image via Flickr user Terriko
September 19, 2011
The Story of ‘Phone Story’
A game that teaches is nothing new, nor is a game with a social message. But in the case of “Phone Story”, the platform is at least half the story. Released as an iPhone app earlier this month, it depicts a satirical version of technology’s darker side, from rare metal mines in the Congo to suicidal factory workers in China, and asks users to play along. “Phone Story” has been dropped from the App Store, but the attention it’s attracted in the meantime may point to a wave of app-based games-as-activism in the near future — if Apple allows it.
Read about Phone Story in The Guardian.
September 12, 2011
The Infinite Adventure Machine
One of the clearest indicators that video games are maturing as an art form is the prominent role of narrative in many of the most successful games; recent examples have storylines that easily surpass the average Hollywood blockbuster in complexity. But as artist David Benqué has recently demonstrated, that may not be all that hard. His “Infinite Adventure Machine” generates stories on the fly, using a set of 31 basic functions derived by scholar Vladimir Propp from a survey of Russian folktales. In so doing, it also exposes the inherent humanity of storytelling: despite its genius, the “Machine” — actually an iPad app — is able to present only rough illustrations and suggestions of action, leaving the reader to develop the tale.
August 29, 2011
The Fight For Game Wise
Previously in Game Wise, an editorial claimed that “gamification is bullshit”. This week a rebuttal argues for the importance and potential of gamification. People will argue about trends, that in itself isn’t incredibly remarkable, but it is fascinating to see this back and forth emerging from a video game blog, Kotaku. Some hard core gamers seem to feel an ownership of video games, almost as if taking their game elements and using them elsewhere is theft or blasphemy. Other gamers welcome the larger adoption of their passions. Either way, we’ll be keeping an eye on this debate as Game Wise embeds itself in broader culture.
August 22, 2011
Get More Sleep, Save The World
You’re probably familiar with the age old game of giving your morning away nine minutes at a time. Or as its more colloquially known: hitting the snooze button until you can bear to leave the safety of your warm bed. Feel guilty no longer with the Snooze app for your iPhone. The way the app works is simple: each time you hit the snooze button, you donate a quarter to a non-profit organization. Sleep on, sleepyheads!
August 15, 2011
How Wise is Game Wise?
We’ve written about the merits of bringing video game elements to other aspects of life, and we’ve also complained when it is not used in a meaningful or interesting way. Through it all, we’ve maintained a sense of optimism that Game Wise can be harnessed to be something pretty great. Ian Bogost does not share that opinion. Writing at Kotaku, Bogost sends off gamification as “marketing bullshit invented by consultants”. What do you think? Is gamification a genuinely powerful tool, or is it, ahem, bullshit?
Read the full editorial over at Kotaku.
August 08, 2011
Gaming or driving?
Video games often strive to be as realistic as possible. Graphics have become pretty incredible, and innovative control schemes like the Kinect immerse you even further. Ironically, an 8-bit racing game from the 80s may come the closest to realizing that hyper-realistic game vision yet. A research group from the University of California, Irivine has taken an OutRun arcade cabinet, added some computing power, wheels and a few cameras to create an augmented reality driving video game that is actually real driving. The cameras on top of the “car” look ahead of you and then render the road in OutRun’s graphics, while you sit in the driver’s seat and steer accordingly. No word on whether the excellent OutRun soundtrack is included.
August 01, 2011
Badges for Staying Informed
We’ve certainly seen it before: complete almost any online task, and earn a badge. On the surface, Google News’ introduction of a system that awards badges for reading stories isn’t that interesting, but we looked a little deeper and discovered a news trend within the badges trend. Not only Google News, but also the Huffington Post, Mashable and even parts of CNN have started offering them. What does this mean for the future of reading? Might we someday be recognized for our current events prowess beyond just seeming well-versed at cocktail parties?
July 25, 2011
Fun With Trash
Litterbugs, just try to resist properly disposing of your trash in Lucerne, Switzerland! The “Lucerne Shines” campaign was created to sensitize the citizens to the city’s growing problem with litter. Mazes, hopscotch and three-point lines invite residents to make a game of throwing out their garbage. From a country known for its cleanliness, the gamification of responsible citizenry adds a fun twist to the mundane.
Check out the sporty trashcans at Freshome.
Image via Freshome.
July 18, 2011
See The World, Tell Your Friends, Earn Badges
Travelling can sometimes feels like a game—a challenge to fill up your passport with stamps—so why not turn it into an actual game? The travel review site Gogobot intends to do just that with their recently added social layer, utilizing Facebook Places and Foursquare to include game elements. No, you won’t earn points and badges for TSA patdowns, but rather for checking in and reviewing places as you see the world. The benefit is twofold: the user presumably has more fun and contributes more, while Gogobot becomes a more valuable resource for travelers with every new review or comment.
TechCrunch checks in with the details.
July 12, 2011
Seven Examples of Game Mechanics Done Right
For those following Game Wise, and the game-like interaction trend as a whole, it can be tough to keep tabs on all of the different arenas in which its being applied, much less on who’s doing it well. Social media blog Mashable has a quick cheat sheet now, outlining seven of the most effective uses of gamification, and one shining example for each category. We all know Foursquare dominates the location-based check-in game, but who’s doing the best job of making recycling fun?
Read the list on Mashable, and find out.
July 12, 2011
Turning Crowdsourcing Into a Contest
When Google gets into gamification, this is what it looks like. Hoping to improve the quality of responses to online information queries, Prizes.org lets users post a task or a question, then turn it into a contest — best response wins a cash prize. It’s in early beta, but if public reception is anything like Google’s other recent launch, social network Google+, this could become the application that takes game-like interaction into a whole new realm.
July 05, 2011
Check-In for Something Better Than Badges
Game-like interaction can make everyday tasks more fun, but even more promising is its use to make the world a better place. Check-In For Checkups, a collaboration between Clorox and The Children’s Health Fund, is Game Wise in service of good. From June to December you can check-in to various healthy behaviors like walking, eating a nutritious lunch, or even taking off your shoes when you get home. For each check-in, Clorox will donate $.10 towards providing doctor’s office visits to children in need.
June 27, 2011
Pottermore Blurs the Line Between Game and Non-Game
Online, we have many thing that resemble games: MMO’s, immersive experiences, interactive store fronts, browser-based games, the list goes on. As the Game Wise trend grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell what is a game and what isn’t. JK Rowling’s Pottermore might be the hardest to ascertain yet. Part e-book store, part MMO, part many other things, Pottermore is definitely the central place for Harry Potter-related Internet activities. Rowling has even written extensive new material to keep fans interested after Deathly Hallows Part 2, the final Harry Potter movie, is released this summer. The question is, will you be playing Pottermore, reading it, or something else entirely?
Ars Technica explains the details.
June 20, 2011
Disney Looks to Gaming for its Next Storyline
Disney has spent nearly a century mining our collective consciousness for stories, using familiar fairy tales and historical events to make movies with universal appeal. So it’s no surprise that its newest animated film will draw from a medium just as universal for today’s kids and young adults: video games. The movie, called Wreck-It Ralph, isn’t based on a specific video game, but instead draws on a range of tropes and archetypes that gamers will instantly recognize: the cart racing game, the first person shooter and so on. Done poorly, it could be a confusing flop, but if they get it right, Disney may have uncovered a rich new vein of narrative gold.
Escapist Magazine has the story.
June 13, 2011
Maybe Some Things Are Fun Enough Already
We’ve seen running, chores, physical therapy and even meeting your neighbors turned into a game. Companies are scraping the bottom of the gamification barrel at this point, and with Arookoo, the game that “makes walking fun”, they may officially be out of ideas. Arookoo combines a website, an iPhone app and a Facebook page in an attempt to make boring old walking much more exciting. This is done by sending players on walking challenges around their city where they will earn badges and points. The intention – an in-shape user base – is great, but if Game Wise is just going to become the same thing applied ad nauseam, count us out.
May 31, 2011
A Framework for Gamification
Game-like interaction is the hottest thing going in User Experience design, but what’s it look like from the designer’s point of view? UX Mag helps out with a clear, explicit description of gamification, the most common ways it’s used on the web, and some eye-opening comparisons between existing websites and the games that inspired them.
Read the article at UX Mag.
May 23, 2011
Giving New Meaning to 'Playing a Video'
Ever since game consoles became capable of more than basic pixelated graphics, video games have borrowed certain aspects from cinema. Camera angles, lighting, and dialogue have often mimicked film, television and music videos. Recently, tables have turned as music videos have begun to borrow techniques from video games. We previously mentioned The Wilderness Downtown by the Arcade Fire, a video that introduced a few interactive elements. The new video from Danger Mouse, 3 Dreams of Black, uses a few more staples of 3D video games. Gamers will recognize the familiar first person view with the ability to swing the camera around as you look about. It also isn’t a pre-rendered static experience, much of the video is made up of 3D polygons being rendered on the fly—just like a video game.
May 16, 2011
A Balance Board for Good
There’s game-like interaction for fitness, and game-like interaction for therapy — a recent Nintendo Wii hack by a team of Rice University students combines both. Ganging together five Wii balance boards and adding touch-sensitive handrails, the team has come up with a game that helps children suffering from cerebral palsy and spina bifida to improve their balance and stay healthy, at a fraction of the cost of hospital-grade therapy equipment. What’s also interesting is the role that the Wii’s visual presence plays. Rather than hide the balance boards, they chose to make them very prominent, counting on kids’ familiarity with the Nintendo brand to get them engaged and comfortable.
May 09, 2011
Take iPhone Photos, Get Paid
These days, just about every cell phone has a built-in camera, making it easy to take photos as you go about your day. What if you could get paid for those photos? Gigwalk, a new iPhone app, wants to do just that. Gigwalk offers various ‘gigs’, or assignments to take pictures of specifics subjects, paying between $3 and $90 depending on difficulty. Gigs come from companies like TomTom, which uses Gigwalkers to verify GPS maps for them.
May 02, 2011
Gamification, when executed well, is a great way to boost productivity and achievement. As it has spread to work, chores, healthcare and just about everywhere else, it was probably inevitable that gamification would gain the attention of terrorists and militant Islam. Some jihadist bulletin boards have begun to implement many of the classic game aspects to incentivize participation. Heavy posters can often earn more impressive avatars and badges, for instance.
May 02, 2011
When Games, Ads and Children Collide
Turning something into a game ideally encourages productivity, and helps people achieve things they might not otherwise. What happens, though, when it’s used as advertising? Advertising/game hybrids aimed at children have begun to pop up, and they’re quite effective. Kids love them, and when they spend a lot of time playing, they spend a lot of time absorbing the advertiser’s message. Parents and teachers have started to wonder about the morality of all of this, with some even raising questions of whether it breaks federal regulations.
April 25, 2011
Fun and Games, Meet Love and Loss
At their best, video games can elicit an emotional response from the player. The first time a cougar killed our trusty steed in Red Dead Redemption, we felt a real sense of loss. Working with Valve Studios, psychologist Mike Ambinder wants to take these emotions and feed them right back into the game. The technology is wild—brain wave sensors, and sweat and heart rate monitors among other things—but the new experiences these games could create have the potential to go well beyond anything we’ve played so far.
April 25, 2011
Quest for Money Game
Mint.com has always integrated gaming aspects into its take on money management. Now they’ve gone a step further and actually created a game about money management. Quest for Money is an online game meant to teach middle school students about saving, budgeting and setting financial goals. Presumably, wholesale mortgage banking, accelerated depreciation and Markowitz diversification weren’t fun enough to make it into the game.
The Mint.com blog has further details.
April 18, 2011
Can Chores be Fun?
Recently we mentioned Rypple, the company that wants to turn work into a game. This week chores get the same treatment. Green Goose uses sensors and accelerometers that parents can place, for instance, on a child’s toothbrush. Whenever the youngsters brush their teeth the sensors send information to the Green Goose website. Kids earn points, and mom and dad get to make sure their oral health is up to par.
April 11, 2011
Whether you are stuck in traffic, packed into a train, or getting soaked on a bike, the daily commute is not most people’s favorite part of the day. Chromaroma wants to change that, and encourage more efficient transit use in the process. The London Underground game lets commuters compete against their neighbors and co-workers, earning points for efficiency and ground covered, with the ultimate goal of become the top commuter and ‘owning London’.
April 04, 2011
Blurring the Line Between Play and Work
Do you ever find yourself thinking that your job feels too much like…work? Startup company Rypple is taking on the final frontier in Gamification, attempting to make work more like a game. Employees using Rypple earn badges, level up, and even get feedback on their performance. How long until your boss starts asking you to play some overtime hours?
March 28, 2011
To Imitate a Human, Learn to Play Like One
In a fascinating switch, games are now being used to educate computers. In an effort to make ever more human-like Artificial Intelligence, researchers at MIT have created Improviso, a game structured to teach computers what humans act like. The game, which is available as a free download, asks human players to act out improvised scenes using virtual avatars and props. As computers participate or “observe”, they learn the difference between human and almost-human language, with the ultimate goal of participating in the game, completely indistinguishable from a human actor.
Read the details at Motherboard.
March 21, 2011
The Gamification of Games (well...of Sports)
Simply watching a game of football just isn’t enough anymore. NYC-based Pre Play Sports now offers a web and mobile app that augments the experience of watching sports on TV with a layer of social gaming. Users earn points for predicting the outcomes of plays, and form online communities with their fellow armchair quarterbacks. Says creator Adam Daines, “the actual game becomes secondary.”
March 14, 2011
Help Digitize The National Library of Finland with Online Word Puzzles
A new collaboration between the National Library of Finland and Microtask employs game mechanics to help index words in the library’s massive newspaper archive that cannot be recognized. Two games — Mole Hunt and Mole Bridge — have drawn over 20,000 people (to date) and 85,000 minutes of time offering solutions to computer-stumping words. How could your solving your favorite puzzle synchronize to support a larger problem solving effort?
Learn more about the program, play around and help digitize the library’s archive at Digitalkoot.
March 08, 2011
The Value of Ritual
User Interface expert Stephen Anderson recently wrote a fascinating article about the value of repetition in creating a satisfying user experience, in games and business alike. Starting with the example of an online community for kids created by Disney, he quickly expands into applications in e-commerce, social networks, fitness and more.
See how repetition can make things more interesting on Johnny Holland.
February 28, 2011
City Tours as Amazing Race Challenges
Not all game-like interaction is online. In an effort to drum up civic interest and visitors to local restaurants and cultural institutions, Ottawa’s “UrbanQuest” offers a series of themed scavenger hunt-like activity that include dinner and other perks at reasonable prices. The offerings include family- and couples-oriented quests, tours for coffee-lovers, and the option to customize tours for corporate groups and special events.
See Ottawa in a whole new game-like way at Urban Quest.
Image via flickr user cliff1066™
February 21, 2011
IxDA Conference Says "Don't Call it Gamification"
Part of the Ziba Trends team spent last week in sunny, blustery Boulder, Colorado, for the fourth annual Interaction Design Association conference, and found the influence of gaming just about everywhere we looked. The four day event brought together top interface and interaction designers from across the globe, enticed by speakers such as game design and virtual reality pioneer Brenda Laurel, Secret Labs co-founder Paris Buttfield-Addison, PBS Kids designer Nina Walia, and web application designer Stephen Anderson.
The general takeaway? Game-like interaction can be a powerful force for user engagement, but most companies get it wrong. Simply adding points and badges to a site or app isn’t quite enough.
February 14, 2011
How an Online Game Plans to Reward Kids for Playing Outside
FunGoPlay combines the best of online and offline gaming to encourage kids toward physical play and activity. Starting online, kids play games and join the online community, which extends offline into special FunGoPlay products that connect back to the platform. The platform then rewards kids for their offline physical activity by unlocking or redeeming special points and features. By closing the online/offline gap to incentivize positive behavior, might FunGoPlay be unlocking a virtuous cycle of behavior?
February 07, 2011
Google Goes to The Met
Google Street View is one of the most useful, subtle examples of game-like interaction we know of, letting users navigate familiar and distant locales as easily as the board in a strategy game. This engaging approach to navigation is now taking us into the art world. Google Art Project lets users virtually walk through famous museums throughout the US and Europe using a familiar interface, augmented by clickable icons offering background information on many works.
Take a stroll through the world’s best galleries on Google Art Project.
January 31, 2011
The New Driving Game: Eco-Driving
As automakers strive to increase the fuel economy of their vehicles, a growing number are outfitting vehicles with eco-gauges that provide real-time feedback on how efficiently consumers are driving. While data has shown these gauges improve drivers’ behavior, it is unclear by how much. The University of California campuses of Berkeley, Riverside and Davis have begun a study of 30 drivers to establish a baseline so the ecological impact of eco-driving can ultimately be measured. Could Eco be the next title in the “Need for Speed” franchise?
January 26, 2011
Interaction Designer Mike Lemmon Introduces Game Wise
The influence of gaming is being felt in a range of industries, from automotive to web and consumer electronics. In this three minute video, Ziba Senior Interaction Designer Mike Lemmon describes this influence, and offers some familiar examples of how it’s changing the way designers create interactive experiences.
Watch the video at Ziba Perspectives.
January 24, 2011
"Friction Can Be a Good Thing: The Role of Gaming Dynamics in User Experience"
David Burka, former creative director at Digg, discusses how gaming dynamics are being integrated into user experience in other fields. He also compares his former vocation as a User Experience professional with his current activity in the world of game design.
January 24, 2011
It's Alive! Gaming with Paramecia
Stanford professor Ingmar Riedel-Kruse has introduced live single-cell organisms into gaming. The games, which are influenced by classic video games, were initially created to educate people about biology. Riedel-Kruse envisions a future where laypeople could participate and contribute to biological experiments through game-derived interfaces.
See a demonstration at Physorg.com.
January 24, 2011
Jane McGonigal at TED: "Gaming Can Make a Better World"
In this TED talk, Jane McGonigal posits that gamers are “super-empowered hopeful individuals” that could help solve real world problems like hunger and childhood obesity through online collaboration. With 5.93 million collective years spent playing World of Warcraft, she argues, gamers have the time and the passion to think deeply about interesting problems.
Watch Jane’s talk at TED.
January 24, 2011
Cash Money Games
In Cash IQ, players complete a range of brain training mini-games designed to test their mathematical and memory skills — just the sort of mathematical and memory skills that you need to understand the average credit card terms and conditions booklet.
Train your brain at American Express.
January 24, 2011
How Can Games Help Your Business?
Watching the success of mobile social game Foursquare, many companies have started to use games as a method to entice consumers into participating with their brands. Game companies such as Zygna are also seizing this opportunity by convincing advertising partners to buy feature space within their games. The question is posed: are games better suited to reaching consumers than traditional digital advertising?