Project Zomboid

Zombies are cool!

Before I start this post, I’m going to predict a regret to use such a large, vertical image. I bet it’s way too big (thus, impractical) for this page! LOL … Anyway, Project Zomboid is an alpha release game currently available through its website or on steam ( I’ve just started playing this game and, while I’m only doing beginner levels, I can see a lot of potential this game might have as a learning tool.

Wait … what? Zombie game? Learning tool?

Oh … yeah! Project Zomboid is a fun little isometric semi-open world based on Kentucky, USA. In the game you are the lone survivor (single player) in an apocalypse world overrun by the zombie hoard. Your job: survive. I’ve died … a lot! It’s awesome!

Where I see potential in this game links back to another post today about project based learning. Using a multiplayer server, it would be possible to set up situations where learners are forced to work together to survive. They would need to find shelter, amass a storage of food and weapons, fortify their safe house, explore the map and, of course, kill zombies. Even rationing out food, nails, weapons and jobs is a serious consideration. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. The game limits the player by making you scared when you see zombies (shooting accuracy lowers), fatigued when you run, injured when you carry heavy loads, hungry and tired. The player even becomes bored or depressed at night when there is little movement and nothing to do except wait until morning. While not ostensibly educational, it would be an amazing team building exercise. Players work together to survive. One player dies, they all start again!

Beyond the game, there are other opportunities to make custom maps, configure servers, make mods and participate in the community.

Game based learning requires thinking out of the box. Open world games like Kerbal Space Program and Minecraft have a more overtly educational nuance. However, that doesn’t mean first person shooters and zombie survival games can’t be educational too. The game isn’t the outcome it’s the medium. It’s just a matter of how  you use it.

Even JK Rowling plays Minecraft

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 10.11.06 pm

As a fun little follow up to a recent post about celebrities playing Minecraft, JK Rowling today tweeted that she’s working on a book but is distracted by other interests – including Minecraft. This, of course, caused a stir amongst the Minecraft fanbase. If I had to guess what Ms Rowling’s favourite activity is while she’s playing Minecraft, my guess would be … enchanting!

Meshing GBL With PBL: Can It Work?

Middle School students learn about geocaching for Project Based Learning.

Meshing GBL With PBL: Can It Work?.

Project based learning is a thing … and it’s a good thing. PBL brings with it a more open, enquiry based mode of instruction that has benefits in modern classrooms.

So the question is how to leverage PBL and make it mesh with Game based learning (my favourite thing!)? Firstly, game based learning is about incentive. The idea is that the game is a motivating factor that can inspire and help students want to learn. The trick, as Randy Pausch would have been proud to identify, is to make students forget they are learning. When learning is the medium it is incredibly de-motivating and stigmatised. However when gaming is the medium, then learning happens in the background.

PBL is about teaching and assessing skill building within the context of the project. As the project develops, participants show learning through the way they adapt and advance towards the project’s goals. This is observable and, importantly for the teacher, assessable. While it’s an exciting idea, PBL is not yet commonly used in classrooms.

How, then, does GBL use PBL? The answer, according to edutopia, is through using games as collaborative problem solving tools. By presenting a problem within a gaming context, participants can collaborate, use critical thinking, communicate and show creativity. They can take risks to try and solve problems, then learn through their failures. Games are perfect for this because they create an environment where risk taking is safe and possible solutions can be tried again and again. In fact, this idea of repeating a problem until a solution is found is the very nature of gaming!

The most interesting area for me is games as the product of learning. Programming and coding are fields that are developing at an exponential rate. The entire “programming” field barely existed 20 years ago. Programming now spans areas such as computer games, websites, apps, software and a myriad of other areas. The future of programming is beyond our current scope of understanding. Programming and writing simple games is an excellent use of PBL and GBL as a way to teach programming. Writing games can be collaborative and require a diversity of skill sets (graphic design, coding, story writing, design, etc). Such project based learning is easily assessed using conventional rubrics and can be observed within a classroom as easily as the typical projects that teachers are using in classrooms now.

Another method of GBL meshing with PBL is using the often-cited elements of gamification. Projects can be given levels of achievement and mini-goals that have to be completed before moving on to the next goal. Goals can be selected based on their importance and some goals can be ignored if participants feel that it doesn’t meet their final objectives. Badges and other incentives can be used to motivate participants and reward incremental achievements.

Overall, if classrooms aren’t using PBL then they should be. Project based learning helps students develop real world skills and lets them test their abilities and take risks, as well as enhances collaboration and communication skills. The beauty of PBL is that areas within a project can be delegated to members of a group with particular skill sets. Some students are good organisers, some are artists, some are builders and some are thinkers. Each student can participate by contributing their best skills. GBL offers a great medium for PBL. Games can be the motivation for projects. Students can work together to try and infect the world with a Pandemic virus. Or they can make an iOS app. Through gaming, learners are presented with a fun and motivational way to learn … while they’re busy infecting the world with a lethal virus, or while they’re trying to replicate Flappy Bird, they’re learning.


Rappers Playing Minecraft

American rapper Waka Flocka Flame plays Minecraft on a popular server called Minecraft Universe. It’s inevitable that celebrities and their children are discovering the joy that is Minecraft. Even actors as big as Jack Black have been spotted wearing Minecraft tshirts in the wild. Ostensibly, this has little educational value, but promoting Minecraft using the “celebrity cred” draws more attention to the game and elevates its status as important and relevant. Hopefully, some of that coolness can overflow into education and we can benefit from it too!

Solid evidence that gaming improves perception and motor skills – and that skills are transferable!

Some excellent studies have shown the value gaming has in motor skills, perception and decision making. Dye, Shawn Green and Bavelier have spent a number of years continuously experimenting and improving on their research surrounding whether people’s ability to make decisions or perceive things is affected by games. The overwhelming result is that gaming does have a significant impact on certain skills. Of particular interest is the conclusion drawn that, from these experiments, the assumption can be made that skills learned during gaming are transferable … a critical issue in education and learning fields.

One area that is confirmed to be improved is the ability to pay attention (attentional capacity) during an activity. Gamers have a longer attention span and can focus better on a task and improved results (accuracy).

Most interestingly, the study didn’t just conclude that gaming improves visual attention skills. As a second experiment, participants were divided into groups to play two different games. One group played an ‘action game’ called Medal of Honor. The other group played Tetris. Both groups achieved better results on the tests than groups which didn’t play video games as a ‘training’ tool. Most interestingly, the participants who played Medal of Honor did better than the participants who played Tetris.

The study was able to conclude that 10 days of action game training is sufficient to increase visual attention capacities. Further, action video game playing pushes the limits of different areas of visual attention. The researchers argue that the nature of games and the inherent visual multitasking provides significant visual skill training. (paywall article, sorry)

Helping Children With Autism – Using Minecraft

I think this story is best left to tell itself. This story happened on a Minecraft server built for people with Autism to find a safe place to play Minecraft and interact with people who understand them.

Angela was on call when a young boy with autism — who I’ll call Tim — came up to her for help. Tim’s friend had recently committed suicide, and it was clear he was shaken and upset. Within minutes of talking, Angela understood that Tim didn’t have a family he felt comfortable talking to. Running through her own mental checklist, Angela suggested that, if comfortable, he should seek out and talk to a guidance counselor or school therapist. But Angela knew Tim needed help right away. “You need to find some help but how can I help you right now? How can we help release all this that you’re feeling?” she asked.

Tim asked Angela if she’d help him build a memorial for his friend and the two began constructing: Tim built a cross out of some stone blocks; Angela planted flowers. Later, Tim fashioned a sign, which he hung on the stone cross. “You will never see the stars if your head is always down,” it read. Angela invited some of the nearby children to see what Tim had built. One by one they offered up their support, taking turns embracing him. The next day, Tim confessed that Angela’s support had helped him feel better about his friend. Tears in her eyes, Angela watched as Tim disappeared from view, heading off to build or join a quest.

Or maybe he simply logged off.

Autcraft, upon its inception, found itself in the spotlight. Administrators received hundreds of emails a day from parents who wanted a safe place for their kids with autism and Asperger’s to play Minecraft and interact with others.

It’s likely, without citing research-based evidence, that children with disabilities might seek out computer games an online worlds as a way to help them interact with the real world. Games like Minecraft become a conduit where the game becomes the purpose for such groups to be formed. Players don’t feel threatened by face to face interaction, but can instead use their avatar as a mask. Servers like Autcraft also provide safety from bullying and administrators are trained to help players deal with problems in their real lives.

While not overtly educational, there’s a lot of learning happening. Children with difficulties socialising can learn how to be part of a community, participate in events and talk to others. Whether those skills can transcend the gaming world and help children in their real life interactions is something worth further research.

Minecraft: The cornerstone of future education?


Why the indie success should continue to be used as a learning tool in schools.

A lot has been mentioned about Minecraft’s benefit in learning. However it’s rare to hear about Minecraft and learning from a students’ point of view. Students are starting to see the potential of combining their love of gaming and the opportunity to learn in a way which is both motivating and relevant. What does the future hold for games like Minecraft? Is it possible that Minecraft will one day be a part of the common core, or government mandated national curriculum?