Category Archives: Serious Games

Chris Rickert: Kindness at your gamer’s fingertips

Chris Rickert: Kindness at your gamer’s fingertips

UW Madison is, I think, the best institution on the planet addressing how gaming is applicable to and useful for many things other than just the fun of playing a game. The article is a snide, skeptical journalist’s take, still worth a read. A snippet:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving two UW-Madison researchers a $1.39 million grant to develop two video games to help teach eighth-graders compassion, empathy, cooperation, mental focus, self-regulation, kindness and altruism.


I can’t help but wonder, wouldn’t a puppy work just as well, and be a heck of a lot cheaper?


Besides, if your kid is going to be a mass murderer, derivatives trader or some other empathy-less sociopath, isn’t that mold pretty much cast by the time he’s 13 or 14?


Video games help autistic students in classrooms

Video games help autistic students in classrooms

USA Today coverage, nice:

In real life, 9-year-old Michael has autism, as do his two classmates. All three have long struggled with the mental, physical and social rigors of school. All three now get help most days from video-game avatars — simplified digital versions of themselves doing things most autistic children don’t generally do. In Michael’s case, he’s recording “social stories” videos that remind him how to act. In his classmates’ cases — their parents asked that they not be identified — they’re playing games that help with coordination, body awareness and cooperation, all challenges for kids on the autism spectrum.


Can off-the-shelf video games spark a breakthrough in treating autism? That’s the question researchers are asking as educators quietly discover the therapeutic uses of motion-controlled sensors. The devices are popular with gamers: Microsoft this week said it had sold more than 19 million Kinect motion-sensor units since introducing it in November 2010.

Now autism researchers, teachers and therapists are installing them in classrooms and clinics, reporting promising results for a fraction of the price of typical equipment. Could a teacher armed with a $300 Xbox and a $10 copy of Double Fine Happy Action Theater do as much good as months of intensive therapy?

Mind-Controlled Videogames Become Reality

Mind-Controlled Videogames Become Reality

Picture this: You put on a headset and relax your mind. Soon you begin controlling an object with your thoughts.


This mind-power trick may seem far-fetched, like something from a late-night science fiction movie or the back of an old comic book. But several companies are bringing this technology to life with affordable headsets that determine a person’s state of mind.


The gadgets translate brain waves into digital information and beam it wirelessly to computers or other devices.


So far the headsets are confined to mostly digital interfaces—videogames and movies whose plots can be altered with the mind—although in some cases real-world objects have been used, like a pair of catlike ears that move depending on a person’s mood. The technology, still in its infancy, has the potential to not only entertain but to possibly improve education and strengthen mental health, some doctors say.

Neuroscientists develop video game for stroke recovery

Neuroscientists develop video game for stroke recovery

After a stroke, it is often possible — with months of therapy and determination — for the brain to relearn how to control a weakened limb. Finding the resources (therapist, finances, time) can be the bigger hurdle.

Enter Circus Challenge, the first in a coming suite of action video games designed by Newcastle University stroke experts and the new company Limbs Alive to provide extra in-home therapy.

“Eighty percent of patients do not regain full recovery of arm and hand function and this really limits their independence and ability to return to work,” pediatric neuroscience professor Janet Eyre at Newcastle, who set up Limbs Alive to produce the games, said in a news release.

“Patients need to be able to use both their arms and hands for most everyday activities such as doing up a zip, making a bed, tying shoe laces, unscrewing a jar. With our video game, people get engrossed in the competition and action of the circus characters and forget that the purpose of the game is therapy.”

Research: Active Play Video Games May Benefit Children with Cerebral Palsy

Research: Active Play Video Games May Benefit Children with Cerebral Palsy

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) can greatly benefit from playing “active play” video games – as opposed to the kind that don’t require any kind of physical activity. According to researchers from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and the University of Toronto.

Children with CP that play traditional games face an even greater risk of being overweight or developing health issues such as diabetes or musculoskeletal disorders than other children. But researchers say that video games such as those found on Nintendo’s Wii can provide an opportunity to promote light to moderate physical activity in children with CP, and may even have a role to play in rehabilitation therapy. Their research was published online today in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“Active video games (AVG) provide a low-cost, commercially available system that can be strategically selected to address specific therapeutic goals,” says lead investigator Elaine Biddiss, PhD, of Toronto’s Bloorview Research Institute at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, and the University of Toronto, Canada. “While our results did not show that AVG game play can be regarded as a replacement for more vigorous physical activity or muscle strengthening, we found that some games may provide targeted therapy focused on specific joints or movements.”

Microsoft’s Kinect Being Employed to Help Detect Autism Early

Microsoft’s Kinect Being Employed to Help Detect Autism Early

Kinect might not be the greatest way to play video games, despite its introduction via the Xbox (unless you really, really like dancing), but the technology is still being unraveled as more and more uses are found for the device.

The movement and voice sensing systems of the Kinect have found a great many uses through unofficial “hacks,” which Microsoftactually encourages. From 3D object scan to asurgery aide, new uses for the Kinect are still being discovered.

This one caught my eye however, as a new study is attempting to  use Kinect to detect early signs of autism in children with its motion sensing capabilities. The project is by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development in Minneapolis.

A nursery was fitted with five Kinect sensors that were set to monitor a group of 3-5 year old children. Each child was tracked by the colors they were wearing, and their movement patterns were fed into a bank of computers that would use an algorithm to recognize if they were being hyperactive or unusually still, which could indicate  possible autism.

Wii, WiiFit, Exercise and Physical Therapy

Brilliant. Note the subtitle for my blog? 🙂 Keep an eye out for the WiiFit. Hello, Sony? Hello, Microsoft? Where are yooouuuu? This is just the beginning:

Nintendo Wii popular choice for therapists, children
WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Jackson Peterson is running fast.

He’s running in place, moving his arms back and forth. So excited about the virtual race he is running that his physical therapist, Barbara Maxwell, is having trouble catching up with him — on screen, of course.

“Oh, there he goes, got him,” said Maxwell, a little winded after catching up to her client in one of the activities of the interactive Wii Fit, a popular video game on the Nintendo Wii console.

The North Texas Rehabilitation Center has recently adapted the highly interactive game console into its physical therapy program.

“It gets them moving, and it is something that is interacting with them; they don’t realize they are doing therapy,” said Susan Knowles-Martin, Director of Marketing and Development for the center.

According to an article in PT Magazine, a professional magazine of the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapists around the nation have been introducing the Wii to patients. This has led to a dramatic increase in treatment compliance and a general upbeat attitude about therapy.

“It’s about making the therapy interactive and fun,” said Knowles-Martin, who explained that because of the large number of children treated at the center, the Wii has allowed them to make therapy sessions more fun.

“It’s perfect for a facility like this. Half of our clients are kids from 3 years old all the way up to teenagers,” she said.

The trick is in the motion. The Wii Fit uses a unique platform called the Wii Balance Board that can measure a user’s weight and center of gravity. The game has about 40 different activities, which include yoga, aerobics and various balance games which have allowed the therapists to target specific areas of concern.

“It’s a way to measure their progress,” said Lesa Enlow, director of programs, who was showing the game off to a group of students from Archer City High School visiting the facility.

“This balance stuff is hard,” said one of the students as he stood on his toes while attempting a high jump in the ski-jumping module of Wii Fit.

Enlow sees the Wii as a training tool that can adapt to the needs of their clients as well.

“It’s modifiable enough to where you can be disabled and still use it,” she said.

The Wii wireless controller can also be used as a handheld pointing device since it can detect acceleration and orientation in three dimensions. This allows for therapists to use the game controller to measure various types of movements, she said.

“We have a machine back there for wheelchair patients; the wheel simulates the turning and you can do the exact same thing with the Wii,” Knowles-Martin said. “Instead of keeping them in the gym, you can have them turn a steering wheel with the Wii and watch their wrist movement.”

The Wii also has other therapeutic uses. According to PT Magazine, rehabilitation clinics around the country are making use of the Wii fitness package for improving weight bearing and balance in patients following total knee replacement or back surgery.

So far it has been a hit with the younger clients like Jackson.

As his head moved from one side to the other, a little character on the screen was heading soccer balls back to the kicker.

“Wow! I got it,” he said as the 20 minutes of physical therapy came to an end.

Knowles-Martin said kids see the game as play instead of an extension of therapy.

“Since they have a shorter attention span, you have to incorporate play into therapy. If it’s not fun to them and they don’t know why they are doing it, they won’t do it,” she said. “With the Wii they can see how good they do and it gets them excited.”

Game Programming for Introductory Computer Science

Here’s a link to the PDF version of the presentation I gave Saturday at the Microsoft Academic Days on Game Development for Computer Science Education conference:

Game Programming for Introductory Computer Science

If Microsoft makes the video available, I will blog a link to it – much context is missing even from the expanded PDF. Here’s an outline of the talk:

Kid’s Programming Language (07/2005)
Phrogram (10/2006)

Pedagogical Goals
Fun: learning is best when learning is fun
Accessible: easy to get started
Engaging: games, graphics, sounds
Simple: resist CS tendency toward increasing complexity
Rewarding: see quick, fun results from one’s work
Highly leveraged: maximum function, minimum code
Progressive: lots of concepts to learn, step by step
Preparatory: easy ‘graduation’ to professional IDEs
Modern: consistent with current software design standards
Publishable: as open source or executables
State of the art: extensible use of current technology
International: IDE language versions available

First Contact = Red Herring
First contact languages are not enough.
There must be a comfortable path for students to progress into mainstream languages and IDEs

Programming is Hard
We respectfully disagree.
We think this assumption prevents the thinking that will make it easier.
If you can read and you can type, you can program.

Demo: Phrogram version of Hello World!

Demo: Phrogram’s Logo-style sprite movement

Demo: User-defined Class example

Demo: Interactive debugging’s pedagogical value

Demo: Pong – absolute beginners can do this!

Demo: Pinball simulator

Demo: Missile Command – still cool after all these years!

Demo: Program Explorer UI, for large programs

Demo: Storytelling and other programs interesting to girls as well as boys

Demo: Conway’s Game of Life
Phrogram is simpy the easiest way to create educational software on any topic

Demo: Sierpinski Triangles, and bitwise AND operator implemented in Phrogram

Demo: 3D programming – Phrogram runs atop XNA and the XBox 360!

Things I didn’t demo:
XNA compatibility: beta next month!
Extensible class libraries:
Peer-to-peer Internet-based data exchange, for multiplayer games, chat and other multi-user apps
Extended file I/O library
Advanced math library (128 bit precision)
Weatherbug library for processing and visualization of weather data from live Internet feeds
XML-based IDE translation: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Czechoslovakian so far

Ohio State University feedback

PUC-Rio University feedback

Lakeside School, Seattle – academically acclaimed independent school
Using Phrogram in 6th and 7th grades, and Java in 8th+

Available Phrogram materials
150-page User Guide and 30-page Beginner’s Tutorial
110-page Addison-Wesley eBook, Learn to Program with Phrogram!
Active online community:
Ohio State: full CS0 course curriculum
Lakeside: curriculum published end of term
3 more book proposals in progress, one of them a textbook by a published CS teacher/author

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.