Respect for Lara Croft


The new Tomb Raider is a classic recreation of the themes present in Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey – but wow, what an experience. 

This game caught me by complete surprise. I’m not sure why, I just wasn’t expecting to be blown away. I was. With stunning vistas & graphics that are an assault on your senses, things that spring to mind include, grittiness, the weather, the zip line, a created artificial history that feels right, intense, fast-paced, seamless integration of cinematic sequences with gameplay, the weather, the feeling of being an explorer in an open world (although it’s essentially on rails), choice v illusion of choice, control (or lack of), fantastic violence & interactive media. It’s this last point that has me intrigued for the future direction of games.

Gaining in popularity it seems is this trend of immersing the player in what can be best described as an interactive narrative/movie. The nuanced view in the literature between Interactive Narrative Design, Interactive Storytelling, Interactive Media & the debates that rage between academics & designers about whether a game’s primary aim should be to tell a story or whether the stories in games can ever be as meaningful as the stories in film and literature are irrelevant to me.

I don’t really care about the opposite views of Ludologists & Narratologists (see Game Design As Narrative Architecture by Jenkins), what i was drawn into in Tomb Raider was a form of entertainment in which I felt like I was influencing a dramatic storyline through interactions with the narrative. The game wasn’t difficult or long – but it didn’t need to be.

The long cinematic sequences that merged seamlessly with the gameplay of Tomb Raider offers a diversity to many of the titles available and appeals to those that like a strong narrative component. It has me thinking:

  • What exactly is interactivity in games?
  • How much control should be afforded to players?
  • As players, how much control do we actually want?

I give it a 10/10.

Typing of the Dead

One skill I wish I had of developed as a child is the ability to touch type. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful education, learnt to program and many other really valuable skills, but just never became a proficient touch-typer.

Is touch typing still a valuable skill when it seems we are moving inexorably to touch screens and very soon augmented-gesture and brain-controlled interfaces?

If it is (which I think it is), Typing of the Dead is fun.

The Typing of the Dead is an older game that is really a mod of the arcade classic House of the Dead. The game is styled on a railed first person shooter, but instead of shooting zombies with weapons you need to type out phrases and words to kill them. Doesn’t sounds very good – but it is surprisingly likeable and could be a nice addition to any teaching & learning about touch typing.

Numbers Are Everywhere

Everywhere we look we find numbers. They are deeply rooted in our psyche for some reason… I blame Pythagoras.

Pythagoras taught us that numbers existed even before the universe itself. Numbers could explain the mysterious workings of nature and were to be revered as divine. Pythagoras’ religious and scientific views were, in his opinion, inseparably interconnected. In essence, Pythagoras was the first Numerologist. Numerology is the study of the purported divine or mystical relationship between a number and some coinciding observed (or perceived) event.

Numbers are everywhere.

Since Newton’s idea of the clockwork universe, Einstein’s “God does not play dice” in his dismissal of quantum mechanics, symbology like 666, superstitions tied to historical events like Friday the 13th, the 11:11 clock phenomenon, PISA, TIMMS, NAPLAN, MySchool, the governments ridiculus ploy to have students weight on report cards, the coming Big Data revolution, through to my use of RunKeeper…. 

Why are we so obsessed with numbers? What is the purpose of it all? These questions are deeply philosophical and you could spend your whole life studying them. In fact, some people do. Simply though, the ability to quantify everything gives us the illusion of control and uniformity that we so desperately seek.

This time of year the bloggers come out with their yearly reflections – how many posts they have made, how they need to better balance the dichotomy of their need for social recognition against their need for quality family time. These reflections include how many Twitter followers they have, how many tweets they made, how many retweets, how many badges they earned, how many views their youtube videos have had in comparison to the billion that Gangnam style has had.

Numbers are everywhere

Some would explain our obsession with numbers and quantifying as the Gamification of society. Maybe Jesse Schell’s tongue-in-cheek DICE talk, “When games invade the real world” was on the money. 

In 2012, when I was climbing the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, 45 miles outside Beijing, a girl no older than 10 years of age was counting the stairs. “497, 498, 499.” I asked her why she was counting the stairs and she replied, “To see how many there are”, looking at me incredulously. It was right then that it occurred to me – sometimes numbers are just that. Numbers. They can mean whatever you want them to. Or they can mean nothing at all. 

We need to take ourselves a little less seriously. I know I do.

The video below shows how we often turn to play and games to pass time, and how all of us have at some stage in our lives created whimsical games when confronted with similar contexts. At some stage we were all game designers – a time in our lives when numbers were just that. Numbers.

This year’s motto was “Do something.”

My motto for 2013 is “Forget the Numbers.”

What’s yours?

Happy New Year Everyone.

Learning Through Games: Student Success Stories

The Inaugural Games for Change Australia/New Zealand Festival was recently held in Melbourne on November 15th & 16th. I was delighted to be one of the Curators for the conference together with having the opportunity to give a brief talk.

Find the recording & slides to Learning Through Games: Student Success Stories below.

Hive: A Game of Strategy

Hive is a 2 player strategy game of perfect information that shares elements of both tile-based games & board games – much like Chess but without the board.

The game uses hexagonal tiles to represent the various contents of the hive. There are 22 pieces in total making up a Hive set, with 11 pieces per player, each representing an insect and a different means of moving –

One Queen Bee that can move only one space around the edge of the hive at a time.

Two Spiders that can move three spaces around the edge of the hive.

Two Beetles that can move one space in any direction including on top of another peice which renders that piece unusable until the Beetle moves.

Three Grasshoppers that can jump over one or more pieces in a straight line.

Three Ants that can move anywhere around the hive.

Hive is a game that is getting a lot of play at Quantum Victoria at the moment as it contains many, varied strategies and games can be played in about 10 minutes. It only takes a game or two to discover that the key to winning is mobility—retaining yours while restricting your opponent’s. Immobilizing your opponents pieces is accomplished in two major, but sometimes subtle ways.

1) Placing your peices so that the opponents are unable to move due to the nature of the hive or

2) Placing your tiles so that your opponents tiles are required to keep the hive intact, rendering them immobile.

Some great discussion has taken place around effective strategies, counter strategies, optimal strategies based on your opponents style of play (agressive, defensive, offensive, defensive-aggressive etc.), advantages/disadvantages of going first/second, strong opening moves, end games, decision trees etc. 

(Hive is also available on iOS – the AI is sophisticated enough to keep you playing for a few hours.)

I have developed a strong opening sequence of moves that I consider a defensive-aggressive opening that allows for the transition to an offensive-aggressive strategy after only 4 moves – really putting the opposition on the back foot. This strategy only works if employed by Player 1. It involves placing a Beetle followed by a Spider, the Queen and then another Spider in the following configuration:


This opening configuration is essentially unbeatable at the moment given that I don’t make any mistakes. (I’m sure it is beatable, just haven’t been beaten yet!) This opening relies on utilizing the mobility of the ant and the grasshopper as the late arriving pieces used solely for attacking. The spiders and the beetle can be used to pin down your opponents peices but also form a defensive ring around your Queen giving you flexibility depending upon your opponents early moves. The Beetle in particular can be used to escape midgame ‘bunching’ to counter an opponents over agressive Beetle and can also be used as the basis of a midgame counterattack.

Highly Recommended & strangely addictive.

Play the online version here.

One Chance

After having a discussion with a colleague about the illusion of choice versus actual choice in games, he directed me to a haunting flash game named One Chance that takes 5 minutes to play through and is best played with a set of headphones.

One Chance was developed by AwkwardSilenceGames. As the name suggests, it’s a game that you can only play once (however, by deleting your cookies & browsing history you can reply the game and I highly recommend it) and your choices have very real consequences. One can only describe it as an amazing experience.

I established a pretty strong emotional connection with this game and this is one of the main reasons I play games at the moment – this has evolved along side the evolution of games in general. I think this is true for any gamer who continues to play – you want to have an emotional investment with the narrative.

A basic synopsis of One Chance: You and your team have found a cure for cancer. Unfortunately, in six days, the world will end. What do you do?

Check it out.

Games for Change Festival

Join me at the 1st Games for Change Australia/New Zealand Festival in Melbourne on November 15th & 16th, 2012.

G4C ANZ showcases talks from over 30 practitioners who are using games as a medium for change and positive social outcomes across diverse sectors including:

• Education & training

• Learning & development

• Health & fitness

International keynote speakers include Heather Kelley, USA, “one of the most influential women in technology,” according to Fast Company, and Keita Takahashi, Japan, a celebrated game designer whose works radiate the positive powers of play.

Together with a host of Australian experts like Dean Groom, Bron Stuckey, Jess McCulloch, Dan Donahoo, Hamish Curry & Annabelle Astbury , this is one festival not to miss!

To register visit and enter promotional code G4C-Camm for a $300 discount off the price of full registration.

Hope to see you there!

The Learning (2.012) Continues

How cool is this?

After attending my Game-Based Learning extended session on Day 1 of Learning 2.012 and skyping her class during the session, Naynay Montilla has taken the concept of game modding and put it straight to use in the classroom.

During the session we talked about trajectories of student participation when ‘gaming’:

  • All students start as a newb
  • Students start gaining a certain level of mastery
  • Students start investigating winning strategies, optimal strategies, counter strategies etc.
  • Students start asking ‘What if…”

What happens if we change the rules? What variations can we introduce and how does this affect game play? Can we add bias to the game?

The original game in this instance was called the Game of 31. It is a two player game that is played with a standard deck of playing cards. The students from the International School of Manilla have got to work, added a variation and re-named it “Beachball: First to 21.”

Have a listen to one of their Grade 1 “Explanation Experts” explain their game 🙂

Teacher As GameMaster

Imagine, for one minute, that education is a Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Game. The teachers are the game developers.

After years of trying to control their player’s experience, this is their new manifesto…

“While we sometimes imagine our game as a contained space and experience in which a player sits down, examines the rules, and begins to play (or begins to play and then examines the rules), we have failed by insisting on an outdated mindset of control and have not looked at the way our game space is co-constructed by a variety of agents.

Time & time again, we find that activities based on our often unconscious assumptions about player behavior, had completely unexpected outcomes. Sometimes these outcomes were complete failures.

It is clear that we are not in control. The more people we involved in something, the more money we spent on consultants and technology, the less in control we were. This illusory feeling of control made us lose sight of what our role really is.

We want people to continue to play our game well after reaching the win state. We can influence things, we can ask good questions, set up interesting situations, we could provide opportunities for things to happen – but we cannot dictate the outcome because it isn’t our game to play. It’s the player’s game.

We are teachers. We are but Gamemasters.”

(Note – A GameMaster’s role is traditionally defined as someone who weaves participants stories together into an over-aching aesthetic and narrative, someone who facilitates and creates environments in which players can interact and solves player disputes. They don’t control the players actions.)

Games? In Learning? I’m Confused…

Confused Sonic by ~EdoBean

It’s evident from recent weeks that many are confused when talking about games in the same breath as education. This is understandable. The question, “What is a game?” still elicits varied responses depending on who you talk to.

Most fields of study have been around for thousands of years, have fairly clear definitions and boundaries and have a vast body of knowledge to draw from. Whilst games in various forms have been around as early as 2600BC (see Exploring Games Through Culture) and are a universal part of human experience, definitions from Callios, Huizinga, Salen, Zimmerman, Pearce, Wittgenstein etc. have no real agreed definition of what a ‘game’ actually is.

Whilst there is no concise definition that is universally agreed upon, we can draw from the literature and by examining many of these definitions and synthesising this work into something that is coherent, we can establish a baseline for our discussion around games. Briefly, the common elements are:

  • Games are an activity that generally have an uncertain outcome.
  • Games have rules and to a degree, conflict.
  • Games have a clearly defined set of goals.
  • Games are artificial, safe, make believe, and they are outside ordinary life. This is sometimes referred to as the players stepping into the “Magic Circle” (see Games, Play & Porous Membranes)
  • Games are voluntary
  • Games are systems
  • Games are a medium unto themselves and a form of art

If we now add relatively new fields like game design and gamification into the mix, you can start to understand where the confusion comes from.

Meeting with Donald Brinkman from Microsoft Research in Melbourne recently and having several meetings the DEECD folk (who have not long completed their serious games and virtual worlds trial), it is important that there is a shared understanding of not only the literature, but also of a critical vocabulary – a set of words or common language that enable us to have meaningful discussions around the use of games, and at the higher level, allow DEECD folk to make informed choices and decisions in regard to policy development.

This common understanding is important otherwise we risk propagating misconceptions and misunderstanding which has implications for a learning method that is just starting to gain real traction in education circles. Understanding the differences between Game Theory, Game-Based Learning, Game Development & Gamification is paramount to elevating the dialogue.

Misconceptions that I have come across recently include:

  • Game Theory is the theory of using games in learning.
  • Gamification is the use of games in learning. 
  • Gamification could be seen as dumbing down the curriculum. 
  • Game Design & Development is digital only. 
  • That the study of games needs to be integrated into a subject.

This is part 1 of a series of posts that will look into the differences and similarities between Game Theory, Gamification, Game-Based Learning and Game Development.