TED talk: Your brain on games

With Christmas almost upon us we are seeing the usual raft of big name video game releases. With that in mind it seems timely to take a look at a recent TED talk by Daphne Bavelier exploring the effect of video games on the brain.

Professor Bavelier is a researcher into the brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. Her talk avoids the more difficult question of whether violent video games promote violence, instead drawing on her research to look at the benefits of playing fast paced games (such as first person shooters) on brain development. Her insights into the development of eyesight, multi- tasking and cognitive abilities of gamers might surprise many. You can even test your own abilities in some of the fields during her talk.

Professor Bavelier also touches the question of why educational games tend not to be as popular as traditional video games. Her analogy of ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ is a good reminder of the fundamental mistakes many game designers make when designing educational games.

On a related note, the Sydney Morning Herald recently published an interesting article about game designer Jens Stober, who is aiming to change attitudes towards asylum seekers with an upcoming game. It’s an interesting exploration of the topic of whether games can be used for change.



Infinity Ring: Read the books and play the games

Today our guest post comes from Joy Burlak, Education Resource Centre Manager at Sunbury Downs College. Joy explains how the Infinity Ring series of books and games is taking her school library by storm.

A poster came across my desk from Scholastic, promoting ‘Infinity Ring’ “Fix the past. Save the future. Read the book. Follow the guide. Play the game. www.infinityring.com ” 

Such intrigue! I could not let that go without further investigation. The poster had piqued my interest in the exact way we try to entice students – we want to stimulate their curiosity. I was curious.

I went onto the Scholastic website and read about the ‘New Multi-Platform Time Travel Adventure Series Infinity Ring.’ The concept is simple. There are 7 books in the series. Each book comes with a guide which allows access to a new adventure in the online interactive game ‘Infinity Ring.’ I was hooked. Then I saw the promotional video.

The pace and drama of that video was enough. I showed it to some of my students and they too were hooked.

All I had to do now was organise for the IT department to unblock the game, and then we had to allow permissions for Unity web player to run across the network.

In the meantime students were reading up a storm, making sure they had finished the book before the game became available. The day finally arrived and the first student started playing. Soon enough we had an audience to be proud of. Those who had borrowed the book (I bought 3 copies) ran off to get their copy so they could sit and read and then get onto the game. That first day created 6 reservations for the book.

The first book is called ‘A mutiny in time’ by James Dashner. It introduces our heroes and the premise of the series and then takes the reader on a wild adventure back in time to Christopher Columbus in 1492. The adventure continues with the first game when students are taken back to1792 and the French Revolution. There are 7 books in the series, to be published over the next 18 months. James Dashner wrote the first book and will conclude the series, however the books in between will be written by other authors. This allows for a shorter publishing run and ensures interest remains at fever pitch.

The graphics are amazing and the plot is complex enough to challenge Year 8 students. I would suggest Year 9’s may even learn something. The website comes complete with Teachers’ Notes and free Common Core whiteboard activities. Circulating whilst students play the game provides an excellent opportunity to challenge their curiosity. A comment was made about crossing to the other side of the river, so my natural question was “What is the name of the river that runs through Paris?” The name d’Artagnan came up, so again the questioning continued – is he a fictional character or is there an historic link? The answers had to be provided the following day, before the game could continue.

We have decided to have 1 day each week as ‘Infinity Ring’ day. Students will be either playing the game (after reading the book) or actually reading the book. The best of both worlds!

Thanks to Joy for telling us about the passion of her students for this new series of novels. We’re off to read the first novel and start playing!


Explore the Creativity of Indie Video Games

As part of the Off-Book series exploring cutting edge art and internet culture, PBS has released a fascinating video examining the Creativity of Indie Video Games. The video makes some interesting observations about the changing culture of gaming, which organisers of the Freeplay festival argue is “the dominant art-form of the 21st century”.

Indie games are seeing a surge in popularity and are seen by many as a reaction to overblown, overhyped or overly violent big budget games (often referred to as Triple A titles). In contrast to Triple A games, Indie games place emphasis on visual styling, innovative game mechanics and storytelling. Games like Passage, Papa & Yo or Journey explore complex themes and aim to create an emotional response in the player, while games like Bastion place an emphasis on the importance of story.

PBS Off-Book: The Creativity of Indie Games (YouTube)

While the use of gaming in education is a developing field, these Indie titles certainly present some exciting prospects for exploration in the classroom in terms of storytelling, art and game development. The other benefit is that many of these titles are relatively inexpensive and run on mobile devices or low specification computers, so have a look at this video and then jump in and try some of these fantastic indie games. The full list of games featured in the documentary is available in the video description on YouTube.

PBS explores the artistry of video games

With the launch of ACMI’s new Games Masters exhibition we thought you might like to get in a gaming mood with a video from the fabulous PBS Off Book series. It explores the changing landscape of gaming and in particular the artistry that is coming from the rise of independent games (Jason Rohrer’s amazing indie game Passage is a particular favourite of ours. Play it before you watch the video to avoid spoilers). The documentary is a great reminder of how games can be used to tell stories, create experiences and explore decision making. It is food for thought for educators looking to harness the power of games in the classroom.

The video also touches on a couple of the more popular games that are currently being used in learning, Minecraft and Portal.  To find out more about using games like these in education make sure you have a look at the work of two outstanding Victorian educators Adrian Camm and Lynette Barr. You can also find out about using Portal in the classroom at the recently launched Teach with Portals site.

The PBS Off Book series features other great videos exploring cutting edge art (often with a digital focus). The Youtube channel is well worth a look.

Will we regret playing games?

At the recent Games for Change conference Jane McGonigal spoke about the importance of gaming. Her speech touches on the one of the standard criticisms levelled at games, that they are a waste of time.  In an interesting twist McGonigal explores the topic based on the top five regrets of the dying. You can watch Jane’s speech (5.20) at the Kotaku website.

Jane is certainly a passionate advocate for the value of gaming. You can find out more about Jane’s work or watch her TED talk ‘Gaming can make a better world’ below.

What do you think? Are games a valuable form of expression, exploration and communication or will gamers look back and regret the amount of time they have spent in virtual worlds?

Help with gaming: ilearntechnology!

If you need help to find appropriate games and to embed them into the curriculum, you cannot go past Kelly Tenkely‘s excellent blog ilearntechnology.

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Kelly is a passionate and dedicated elementary (primary) teacher who has developed the most amazing collection of games and written about their educational applications. Check out her blog. You won’t be disappointed.

CSI: The Experience Web Adventures

Any school studying forensic science will probably be interested in this site.

CSI web adventures

Funded by the US National Science Foundation in conjunction with other organisations, CSI: The Experience Web Adventures provides three adventures, one each for beginner, intermediate and advanced. Registration is free and players can either sign up or play as a guest with no login (this means you won’t be able to save your game to resume playing at a later date). CSI characters help guide you through the adventure and offer help when needed.

This could be a good site for language learners as adventures are available in German and Spanish as well as English.

There are a number of resources for educators for students at different levels, a family guide, as well as links and other activities. Please check the site out before using with students as the nature of crimes involved may not be appropriate for everyone.

Thanks to Richard Byrne from Free Technology for Teachers for supplying the evidence!


NetSmartzKids is a website set up to teach children and young adults about using the internet safely. It uses fun, interactive games to help develop safe online strategies. The website explains:

NetSmartz® is an interactive, educational safety resource from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) for children aged 5 to 17, parents, guardians, educators, and law enforcement that uses age-appropriate, 3-D activities to teach children how to stay safer on the Internet.

The goal of the NetSmartz Workshop is to extend the safety awareness of children to prevent victimization and increase self-confidence whenever they go online. These goals include to

  • enhance the ability of children to recognize dangers on the Internet
  • enhance the ability of children to understand that people they first “meet” on the Internet should never be considered their friend
  • encourage children to report victimization to a trusted adult
  • support and enhance community education efforts
  • increase communication between adults and children about online safety

The NetSmartz Workshop teaches children the rules for online safety.

  • I will tell an adult I trust if anything makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.
  • I will ask my parents or guardian before sharing my personal information.
  • I won’t meet in person with anyone I have first “met” online.


Potentially a useful site, especially for the younger student. Thanks to Angela Maiers for this link.