Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

How do you make sticky ideas?

An extra book post this week! Huzzah!

Did you hear about the lady in Cincinnati who found a rat in her bucket of fried chicken? She brought it home to feed her family and when they got to the bottom of the bucket there was a deep fried rat laying there.  It was breaded and deep fried just like a piece of chicken and nobody realized it was a rat – a whole rat – until her five year old son bit into it. The company settled with her for four million dollars due to her emotional distress. This is why they changed the name of the company from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, because they can’t legally call it “chicken” anymore.

Or have you ever heard about intermittent fasting? The 1945 study by Carlson and Hoelzel. . . . found that the apparent life span of rats in the study was increased by intermittent fasting. Tests in which a group of thirty-three rats were allowed the same food ad libitum and groups of thirty-seven, thirty-seven and thirty rats were fasted 1 day in 4, 3 and 2, respectively, after the age of 42 days, showed that the optimum amount of fasting appeared to be fasting 1 day in 3 and this increased the life span of littermate males about 20% and littermate females about 15%. However, the pre-experimental condition of the individual rats was also found to be an important factor determining the life spans.

Okay, now go get a glass of water and then come back to read below the fold.

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So regrettably for me, game development involves a not-inconsiderable amount of computer programming. It’s not that I hate programming, but my brain just doesn’t work like that naturally. I like putting things together, I like seeing them all work, and I did tolerably well in the one Flash course I took. However I have very little patience for debugging, and it definitely is a different language.

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So Plan A for the first post of this week was to start exploring Inform 7 as an interactive fiction writing program. I was going to poke through my latest book and post about it on Friday. Instead I stayed up until the wee hours reading my book. Don’t you love it when that happens?

This week’s read is definitely one chalked up for the human potential side of things and not so much business or games. It sounds a bit woowoo, but by Grabthar’s Hammer, it has helped me immensely already. It may be the best seven bucks I’ve ever spent.

For a long time I’ve had back pain focused in my shoulders (the trapezius for those of you who are knowledgeable about such things). Also some not infrequent rotator cuff issues. I’ve always chalked it up to structural issues as I am a top-heavy kind of gal. And obviously the pain got worse with stress. A few days ago it was excruciating, like knife-in-the-back excruciating. Fortunately I happened upon this post by Richard Nikoley at Free The Animal. In his summary of the year past he posted links to his cure seeking for severe shoulder pain he was in. After playing follow the links, I ended up dropping seven bucks for the Kindle edition of Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection. I am not kidding when I say that the pain in my back was gone the very next day.

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“I refuse to let a college education get in the way of my learning.” – LX Van Drie

Seriously, read this book

So I’ve been blogging for three months now. I’ve frequently intended to in the past, but this is the longest I’ve stuck with it. And I’ll continue with it this time. So what made the difference? It was this post titled 8 Steps to Getting What You Want …. Without Formal Credentials from FourHourWorkWeek.com. It’s a quick extraction of the basics from The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsburg. Sometimes you read something and it’s just the slap in the face and kick in the ass you need.

In this case, the article was about something I’ve intuitively felt for a long time, but needed some guidance to really take advantage of it. Learning is not the same thing as the educational system or getting credentialed. Why do people like Bill Gates excel even after having dropped out of the formal educational system? Because they never stop learning, and just as importantly, they never stop reaching out to people they can connect with.

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This was the essay I was really looking forward to getting my teeth into. It is one of the topics that really gets me fired up: what we can learn about learning from video games. Good Video Games,  the Human Mind, and Good Learning is the fourth essay in Good Video Games and Good Learning (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies). This is a long one, buckle in.
learn“Edutainment” is becoming a bigger and bigger buzzword and for good reason. A well designed game is a very good learning experience. But when some people, too many people, think about using video games as teaching tools, they simply put a digital overlay and some kind of scorekeeping on top of a learning objective. Without any consideration of how people have their best learning experiences or how good games leverage that, the very best you can hope for is a bad game.

The idea that video games provide good learning experiences makes complete sense. Video games are increasingly complex both in complexity of action and exploration of themes. They have to get all the information about how to play inside a player’s head in a way that the player will not only quickly absorb, but will pay for the privilege because it is fun. On the other hand you have the average educational experience in the public classroom, which has not changed in over a century. As teaching to the test becomes more and more common the gulf between the educational experience and what makes learning pleasurable and effective will continue to grow.

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Five Rupee Coin

Two sides to every coin

The third essay from Good Video Games and Good Learning (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies) has the rather intimidating title Notes on Content and Technological Determinism. In this essay Dr. Gee breaks apart two keys to a game that even a casual player might not realize are seperate entities. It comes down to the difference between how you are interacting with the game world and what you as a player are actually doing.

It’s easier to give an example than it is to explain. Let’s go with the non-digital example of Dungeons and Dragons. The content of the game is that you and your fellow adventurers are traveling the world and fighting monsters for fabulous treasure and reputation. The determinism is problem solving, making calculations based on your dice rolls, and coordinating strategies with your fellow players.

Content is easy to focus on because until interactive games of this nature came around, there was no determinism in entertainment. Books, movies, TV shows, and all but the most experimental of theater did not engage their audiance in this way. Determinism is what pings our most primal human drives of exploration, puzzle solving, learning experiences, and such. Determinism is what makes a game a game, and not a movie.

As a funny aside, earlier this summer I was involved in a huge number-crunching accounting project. For almost 72 hours straight, with very little sleep, I took the numbers from sheet one and compared them to the numbers on sheet two. I had to work hand in hand with another person and we refined our strategy for how these numbers should compare. After we met the deadline and I got everything bundled up and mailed out, I had just enough time to grab a few hours sleep before taking off to play Dungeons and Dragons with my friends. Where I spent the next eight hours comparing the numbers on my sheet of paper and dice to the numbers on the Dungeon Master’s paper and dice.

Content may not be king, but it certainly does matter.

Movie Theater 1

Go ahead . . . . make my day

This is a short entry on a short essay from Good Video Games and Good Learning (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies). More has been written on violence its relationship with video games than probably any other topic on games. Jack Thompson makes his living calling video games “murder simulators” and jumping on every tragedy that might lead to a class action suit lining his pockets. The VA Tech shooting tragedy was barely hours old before the usual headline grabbing about how video games were at the heart of the tragedy started popping up. The manifesto issued by the Oslo shooter expressed an admiration for a Templar character from Dragon Age.

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