Monthly Archives: January 2007

Recruiting Employees – in Second Life!

My wife is a recruiter and sent me this one – it’s an article on ere.net, a news and resources and community site for the recruiting community. The article is by Dr. Charles Handler:

Employee Selection in the Second Life

Your company should be the first to recruit using virtual reality

Note that Dr. Handler is a PhD and expert in the field of recruiting and human resource issues – he is making these predictions based on that, not on being a gamer himself.  It’s a substantial article worth a complete read, but here are some highlights:

It is not a stretch to imagine that smart organizations will begin to realize that such virtual brick-and-mortar presence can also be used to help create and reinforce an employment brand. This will provide a key link that will open the floodgates to all kinds of potential ways that a virtual world can be used as a portal and means of information exchange related to the hiring process.

I believe this because Second Life provides some of the essential building blocks that will make up the job simulation tools of the future. These include:

  • Accessibility to a wide range of individuals who are geographically dispersed, and the ability to bring these persons together on common ground.
  • The creation of virtual worlds that go beyond just simple cause-and-effect interactions (i.e., shoot a gun, kill a monster).
  • The use of avatars that represent individuals and can manifest one’s own unique personalities and tastes.
  • An increased ability for intercultural interaction and the ability to gain experience interacting with those different from oneself.
  • The ability to facilitate growth within the avatar such that their experiences accrue and can be measured.
  • The ability to share information with other members of the virtual world.
  • The ability to evaluate interactions and collect meaningful data from them.
  • The ability to create a virtual economy that is driven by many of the same laws and rules that our real economies are bound by.
  • The power of branding, using the virtual world to promote real-world experiences and products.

The results of this process will provide a much richer picture to both applicants and employers about the job and how well an individual will fit with it. Within the next decade, I think we’ll see some of the following occur:

  • Individuals will be able to find employment opportunities via their existence in virtual worlds.
  • These will be publicized by organizations who have a virtual presence and who use this presence to promote their brands, employment brands included.
  • Individuals will be able to express interest in these opportunities and exchange information that can be used to examine basic qualifications for the job.
  • Individuals will be able to participate in virtual job tryouts in which they are asked to complete specific tasks required of them while on the job.
  • Individuals will be evaluated based on their task-based and interpersonal-based interactions within virtual worlds.
  • Individuals will be able to create and maintain virtual resumes that they can use to help them when looking for jobs within a virtual world.

While simulations already exist that can accomplish some of the above things, the key difference will arise via the following aspects of virtual worlds:

  • Increased ability to use artificial intelligence and natural-language processing to evaluate applicant responses and interaction.
  • The ability to infer meaning from complex interactions and to use results as part of a decision-making process.
  • The ability to simulate real-world work environments and complex tasks with extreme realism.
  • Increased interest from candidates such that people will actually enjoy applying for jobs and can be directed more quickly to jobs that pique their interest.
  • The ability to use the avatar as a vessel to manifest feelings and emotions.
  • The ability for an avatar to grow and learn, and the ability to keep track of this growth and learning so that it can be objectively evaluated.

The Beat Goes On

This week’s issue of The Escapist is particularly fun, so I’d like to link and overview it. It’s all about game music – a niche topic that many of us tend not to think much about. My experience of game music is usually that I turn it off when it gets annoying. 😀 I’m glad they are broadening my consideration of the topic.

Good game music can stand out enough that I leave it on, and this I notice and appreciate – Sid Meier’s Civilization series comes to mind. There’s also a niche market of people who create new music for games, and people who listen to game music as soundtracks, and – who knew! – people who use game music as the basis and inspiration for serious professional music. All this and more is covered in the new issue of Escapist. I like that “high culture low culture” reference there.

Here are overviews of the articles:

Russ Pitts: Play On: The Composers Behind Today’s Game Music

“As with anything, an appreciation of music without an understanding of it can only take one so far. Music is nice, in other words, but how does it get made? How does one become a musician, and how does one then set about making abstract noise into what can be called “music”? More specifically, how does one do all of this for a videogame, and why?

To get behind this music, I asked the musicians themselves.”

Russ Pitts speaks to the composers behind some of today’s most successful games.

Kyle Orland: Bittersweet Symphony

“The melding of a high culture symphonic orchestra and music from the traditionally low culture world of videogames is not always an easy task. ‘Usually when we first start – when the musicians first get on stage and they look at the sheet music and see Super Mario and Sonic and Zelda and Warcraft – they look a little on the skeptical side,’ says Tommy Tallarico, a veteran videogame composer and co-creator of Video Games Live, another popular game music tour.”

Kyle Orland goes behind the scenes in the world where classical music and classic games come together to make beautiful music.

Allen Varney: Fat Music

“‘Maybe this is asking too much. Maybe I’m looking in an inappropriate place for Art. But game audio seems to have skipped from beating on log drums, right to record-company politics and robber baron aspirations. I had expected a Woodstock stage in there somewhere.

‘And you know what? I know I’m not alone, and I certainly haven’t given up hope.’

Indeed. The Fat Man has talked this talk for well over a decade. More to the point, in all that time, in significant ways, with increasing numbers of colleagues, The Fat Man has been walking the walk.”

Allen Varney speaks to The Fat Man.

Shannon Drake: Sephiroth Saves The Symphony

“‘[In] arrangements where we’ve taken very old themes – for instance, even Super Mario Bros. – and orchestrated it for full symphony orchestra, [the audience is] hearing it in a new setting for the first time, in a new arrangement. … It’s very challenging, especially when we have the audience there that knows all these themes and knows all this music really well.'”

Shannon Drake speaks with Arnie Roth, former member of Mannheim Steamroller, and the creative genius behind Dear Friends: The Music of Final Fantasy.

Carolyn Koh: Aural Fixation

“The sound element added a thrilling aspect I had not previously experienced in a computer game. Being a thief, silent movement was all important. I could run, but that would be noisy and might attract the attention of a guard patrol. I could walk gently; walk on grassy edges instead of the paved street. My heart was always in my throat, my ears always keenly attuned for any sound. I was hooked.”

Carolyn Koh explores the spellbinding effects of today’s games’ advanced soundscapes.

Game Developer’s Top 20 Publishers, 2006

Here’s the link to the full article at Gamasutra, which itself is a link to a premium article in their subscription-only magazine. The free Gamasutra article offers lots of details; I’m only going to list them here. This Top 20 is the only empirically weighted countdown of video game publishers. The specific statistics used to work out the ranking include average game review percentages, release SKU amounts, and anonymous milestone and producer feedback.  Chances are some of the list is surprising to you – and if so, a click and review will no doubt be interesting.

1. Electronic Arts

2. Nintendo

3. Activision

4. Sony Computer Entertainment

5. Take-Two Interactive

6. Microsoft Game Studios

7. THQ

8. Ubisoft

9. Konami

10. Sega Sammy Holdings

11. Namco Bandai

12. Vivendi Games

13. Square Enix

14. Capcom

15. NCSoft

16. SCi/Eidos

17. Lucasarts

18. Buena Vista Games

19. Atari

20. Midway

How Computer Games Help Children Learn

Hot off the presses, a new book by that name, “How Computer Games Help Children Learn” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), by David Williamson Shaffer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison education science professor. To learn more about Shaffer’s work, visit http://epistemicgames.org/.

I have blogged about other publications from his university in the past – they are leading the way in this field, of applying gaming technology to learning. I have absolutely no doubt the world will follow them, and this will be a good thing for them and for the rest of us. Kudos! From the university press release for the book:

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In a global economy where good jobs demand innovative thinking, American education must move beyond its “skill and drill” curriculum and embrace creative learning technologies, such as computer and video games, to prepare young people for the world of global competition.

So argues David Williamson Shaffer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison education science professor and author of the new book “How Computer Games Help Children Learn” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

The push for more standardized testing has accelerated a crisis in American education, Shaffer says, because it fails to build the innovative skills that are essential to the new knowledge economy. Meanwhile, Shaffer says, the rest of the world is rapidly advancing on the United States in its high-tech science and engineering talent.

“Young people in the United States today are being prepared for standardized jobs in a world that will, very soon, punish those who can’t innovate,” he says. “We simply can’t ‘skill and drill’ our way to innovation.”

Shaffer’s book draws from more than a decade of his work on “epistemic games” — games in which players learn to think in innovative and creative ways to solve complex problems. He draws strong conclusions about how the United States is missing out on a potentially transformational curriculum tool.

Last month, the National Center on Education and the Economy released “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” a report on the future of U.S. education that recommends overhauling the education system to produce more workers who can think creatively. The report makes bold proposals to add depth and rigor to our schools and our standardized tests, to use school funding more effectively and improve our teaching force.

“But reports like these don’t go far enough in rethinking our system of education,” Shaffer argues, “because simply doing more of what we’ve been doing, only better, won’t get us education for innovation and creativity in the 21st century.

“To cultivate creativity in our schools,” he says, “we need to look to the same technologies that create global competition and place a premium on innovation in the first place.” His book offers educators, policy makers and parents strategies on how computer games can be harnessed for educational value, both at home and in the classroom.

“Computer and video games can change education because computers now make it possible to learn on a massive scale by doing the things that people do in the real world,” Shaffer says. “They make it possible for students to learn and think in innovative and creative ways, just as innovators in the real world learn to think creatively.”

Shaffer advocates major changes in our educational system, using ways of learning that already have been proven successful. “We already know a lot about being creative and innovative,” he says. As models, he points to various professions: “We know how to train doctors, lawyers, engineers, urban planners and journalists, for example, to be creative and innovative.”

In his book, he explains, “If you want to learn how to do something interesting but hard, find out who in the world knows how to do it and learn to be like them.”
At UW-Madison, Shaffer has led a team that has been applying and studying professional learning models as alternative ways to engage children. These efforts have demonstrated the power and effectiveness of such an approach.

Shaffer points out that this approach is very different from many current uses of technology for learning. Although many classrooms today use computers, Shaffer argues, too many people think that we should be using new technology to carry out the same old standardized tasks.

That’s why computer games are so important, Shaffer suggests.

“Games are not simply activities where you do as you please,” Shaffer points out. They are governed by rules. They have what he calls “practical and intellectual discipline.” Like professions or subjects in school, games can be ways of thinking and learning.

“Computers matter,” Shaffer suggests, “because they make good games accessible to more people. Technology lets more people experience a wider range of powerful learning experiences.”

Computer simulations allow learners to play with reality, create models and do things that otherwise would be too costly, too complicated or too dangerous to do, he explains. “With a computer, the kinds of things you can let kids play with — and learn from — are almost limitless,” he says.

While the tools are new, the basic idea isn’t. Shaffer traces the philosophical foundation of his work back a century, to John Dewey’s progressive vision of “learning to solve real problems by working on real problems.” That perspective has led to Shaffer’s focus on how people who do things that matter in the world learn to think creatively about the things they do.

“We want to be able to think in innovative ways that matter in the world today,” says Shaffer.

He is among a growing cadre of scholars who are exploring the educational potential of games and technology. At UW-Madison, Shaffer joined with several faculty colleagues, representing three School of Education departments, to form the Games and Professional Practice Simulations (GAPPS) Group. This group is part of the Advanced Digital Learning (ADL) Initiative to study and build learning systems that use digital game technologies to immerse learners in worlds where they use the skills and values of professionals to solve complex problems.

The GAPPS Group recently received $3 million in grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to design and develop innovative game modules, curriculum and tools to support young people’s media literacy. Shaffer’s efforts to create learning games are among the projects receiving MacArthur Foundation funding.

The MacArthur grant — part of a broad $50 million initiative — reinforces “the argument that games could be a good thing have been made and accepted,” Shaffer says. “Parents and teachers need to understand that games are something we need to take seriously.”

He wrote “How Computer Games Help Children Learn” in nonacademic language with the needs of those audiences in mind.

“Computer games can be good for kids,” he explains. “However, there are bad games out there, just as there are bad books. So adults who care about what children learn have to educate themselves about games — and, more important, start to think about learning in new ways for the digital age of global competition. We have our work cut out for us.”

With games, as with books, Shaffer urges parents and teachers to serve as models and guides. “We have an opportunity to engage with kids about the games they play,” he says.

He notes that, despite the abundance on the market, relatively few games promote learning in ways that he advocates. Most of the simulations used in his studies are not commercially available. To help parents and teachers, he offers key messages and advice in each chapter of the book. By calling attention to the scarcity of good learning simulations, he also wants to prod designers to develop more serious games.

Despite the challenges he sees ahead, Shaffer remains hopeful about the future of computer games for learning. He notes that more and more adults, including newer teachers, have grown up with computers and are playing games.

“The tide is moving, and a shift is under way,” he says. At the same time, the pace at which technology is advancing is so fast that it’s difficult to keep up. “It is easy to forget that we have come a long way already,” Shaffer says. “But to take the next steps, we need to question our assumptions about computers, about school, about games and about learning itself.”

iPhone and Zune got Schwartz?

Steve Jobs releases the iPhone at MacWorld. Apple’s stock reaches an all-time high. The iPhone runs full-blown OSX, and sports a patented new multi-touch interface. Apple Computer is literally no longer Apple Computer because it’s not just about computers any more. Everyone is giddy, reporters and analysts and the stock market included.

Time to start asking them for more.

Here’s a brief article from the Guardian which makes the point, and then I’ll do the same for games.

Apple is already playing the “closed platform” card on the iPhone. You’d think that after that strategy allowed the IBM PC and Microsoft to kick their asses at the start of the PC revolution, they’d be smart enough not to do that again. It seems especially nuts if the device really does run OSX, and is thus capable of running all kinds of game, business and other applications. Is Apple really NOT going to offer an SDK, and not let anyone else put apps on the iPhone but Apple?!? I refuse to believe they’ll really be that dumb. But here’s an article from Kotaku that suggests that’s their current trajectory:

Apple iPhone Not Developer Friendly

My hope is that this is just a time-to-market issue – that they pushed to release the product ASAP, and now that that’s done will open it and offer a proper SDK.

Let’s not leave Zune out of this, either, since we have yet to hear from them about a Zune SDK, or about how we’ll all be able to develop games and other apps to run on it. Here’s a Washington Post article on yesterday’s announcement about games on the Zune:

Hollywood finds a crowd at Xbox’s Marketplace

It’s good to know the Zune will run games, certainly. But where’s the news about the SDK? About the technology we can use to put games – including our own games – on these devices? Microsoft has already shown leadership on the point I’m making by allowing user-created games on the XBox 360 thanks to XNA. Kudos! My own company loves that, since beginners and hobbyists will be able to run Phrogram programs on their XBox 360s and plasma TVs thanks to this technology. Cool! Now how about Zune and SmartPhones?

Let’s all pause and look at this as a really big picture, because that is what this is.

These devices are not just phones, and they are not just music players.

They are THE FUTURE OF COMPUTING.

The platform that does this right could be to that mobile future what the IBM PC was to desktop computing.

So who’s it gonna be?

The Great Brain Training Debate

After storm, recovery, holidays and vacation, I’m back!  My apologies for not announcing the break at the start.

Erin Hoffman’s article in the new issue of The Escapist is a highly recommended read: Shark Bone or Snake Oil: Noah Falstein and the Great Brain Training Debate.

Noah is a well-known designer of well-loved games (Secret of Monkey Island), and is part of a new serious games startup called Quixit, which has an explicit goal of creating games that are not only fun, but have a demonstrable benefit on increasing and maintaining mental acuity.  In case that’s a yawner, consider the following stats and quote from the article.  Consider them from these three perspectives: medical significance, business opportunity, and deeper future game design.

4.5 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, a number that has doubled since 1980 and is projected to reach 11.3-16 million by 2050. One in 10 Americans have a family member that suffers dementia; one in three knows someone who has the disease. It is referred to by medical professionals as “a demographic time bomb” and an escalating epidemic that the American health care infrastructure is not prepared to face.

if Quixit can, through methods that doctors agree assist in the prevention of cognitive atrophy, delay the onset of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association would agree that its contribution to the solution would be major; 50 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, according to its estimates, could avoid the disease entirely if symptoms could be delayed by five years.

Yes, the article is worth a read, and the health, business AND gaming implications of this are worth a lot of thought.