Schwarzenegger vs. Video Games: No more games!

•November 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hasta la vista, video games!

In 2005 the state of California enacted a law banning violent video game sales to minors. The law is now in front of the Supreme Court, an epic battle between the Entertainment Industry and the State of California.  The law, itself bans the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18.  Violent video games are defined by this law as any video game where harm is towards a human.  Many popular games would be outside of the ban (Gears of War and Halo to name a few).  It also doesn’t ban parents from buying M rated titles for their children.   The law is seen as affront to the right of Freedom of Speech for the entertainment industry (and the government telling parents what to do).  The fallout from enacting the law may not stop at video games, but spill over into movies, tv shows, books, and even music.

A Grimm Argument

Scalia: Some of the Grimm’s fairy tales are quite grim, to tell you the truth.

Morazzini: Agreed, Your Honor. But the level of violence –

Scalia: Are they okay? Are you going to ban them, too?

Morazinni: Not at all, Your Honor.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: What’s the difference? mean, if you are supposing a category of violent materials dangerous to children, then how do you cut it off at video games? What about films? What about comic books? Grimm’s fairy tales?

Why are video games special? Or does your principle extend to all deviant, violent material in whatever form?

Justice Scalia makes an excellent point.  What makes video games so different from books or movies?  I feel that the argument that in video games you are “part” of the act isn’t a valid one.  Why?  Because any person with a shred of imagination puts themselves into books and movies.  It’s the whole concept of “losing yourself in a good book” and the reason that the movie industry makes movies as realistic as they can.  The freedom of speech guarantees the right of authors, movie writers, producers, and even video game developers to make their products the way they want.  That is where the argument lies.  Is this government overstepping their boundaries, leading us on downward spiral of censorship?

Game Over?

Nine justices have until the end of June 2011 to decided this issue.  Like the court, I’m split.  On one hand, I think stores should take some responsibility, even with movies.  Studies have shown that movies, tv shows, and video games could increase violent behavior, while others have shown that there is no effect. The games are labeled mature, the video game makers and retailers know the level of violence.  Children can’t buy nudie magazines, alcohol, or cigarettes.  If there is a possibility that games/movies/tv is causing an increase of violence or an insensitivity towards it (which, in my opinion, is worse), shouldn’t the government be worried?

At the same time, I’m worried about the future repercussions.  Where will this banning stop?  It could easily roll over into banning the games/movies/books from being made.   Then it would be stomping all over the first amendment right of free speech. The idea offends me as a person, a librarian, and a gamer.

The main culprit in this issue are parents.  Sadly, laws have never made better parents.  You’d still find parents buying M rated titles for their children whether this law was enacted or not.  This isn’t the developers or the stores fault.  And if I were a parent, I would NOT want the government telling me what I can and cannot buy.

In reality, the law is futile.  It won’t stop people from buying the games, as the average age of a gamer is between 32-35.  It won’t stop parents from buying the games.  It won’t stop stores from stocking them (as they are big sellers).  Finally, it won’t stop people from making them.  So California… save yourself some money and back off from a losing battle.

BTW Arnold… this could lead to a ban of a lot of the movies you made.  Didn’t think of that did you?

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Happy Birthday to the NES!

•October 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment
NES Cake

Happy Birthday NES!

For those of you who don’t know, the 18th was the 25th birthday of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  This was my first console, which I didn’t get until I was around 6, meaning the system had already been out for 7 years.  My mom was the hold out, but after my father was hurt, she gave up.   And look at what it has done.  I now have 3 consoles, 3 portables (if you included my iPhone), and a computer that I built for gaming.  Thank you Nintendo for introducing me to console gaming.  Here are some factoids about the birthday console!

  • The NES, as the western world knows it, was introduced in October of 1985.  In Japan it was released in 1983 as the Family Computer or the Famicon.
  • It is the best selling console of its time, controlling 80 to 90 percent of the market in the US and Japan.
  • It’s credited with revitalizing the video game industry after the crash in 1983.
  • The controller layout has influenced just about every control design since then.
  • In 2009, IGN named the NES the “Singled greatest video game  console in history”.

    Blow-Me Tee

    You can get this from BustedTees for about $20

  • There were at least 7 bundles released in the US.  The most popular was the NES Action Set, which included the console, the NES Zapper, two game controllers and a multicart version of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.
  • Some of the most classic video game franchises got their start or became popular because of theNES.  Here’s just a few: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Capcom’s Mega Man, Konami’s Castlevania, Square Soft’s Final Fantasy, and Enix’s Dragon Quest.
  • And finally, the famous design flaw that caused cartridge connectors to be particularly susceptible to dirt and dust.  Which led to jokes and t-shirts like this

And finally, my top 5 favorite games!  Not the most popular, but I was like 6/7 at the time I was playing.

  1. Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt: I had the console bundle that included these two classics.  I don’t think I ever beat Super Mario Bros.  and I always wanted to shot that damn dog from Duck Hunt.  In this

    Classic

    Flash version  you can!

  2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I was a giant Turtles fan, seeing as I owned the Lair, most of the toys, and even had the bedspread and sheet set.  Too bad the live action movies had to ruin the whole  franchise.
  3. Chip’n’ Dale Rescue Rangers:  “Ch-ch-ch-Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers!” Now I have the damn theme song stuck in my head.  Thanks a lot Disney!
  4. The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants: I love The Simpsons to this day and they put out some pretty decent video games.  While my mom stopped me from watching it on tv (my dad would sneak me out of bed to watch it), she didn’t stop me from renting the game at the local video store.
  5. And finally, Tetris.  I don’t know what it was about this game, it’s just a classic.  I normally hate games like it, but it got to me young and I still play it when I’m bored.  The music was pretty catchy, but Brentalfloss’ Tetris with Lyrics is even better.

Happy Banned Book Week!

•September 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This week is Banned Book Week! Probably one of my favorite “library” related weeks of the year. Why? Because of all the interesting and amusing stories about how people have tried (and sometimes successfully) to ban books. Let’s just take a look at a few good ones.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. was banned this past January by the Texas State Board of Education. Why? Because someone didn’t do their research and confused the beloved children’s author with the author of Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. Opps! Source

Dropping from it’s number 1 spot to number 2 And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. Why? Homosexuality.  Tango is adopted and raised by two male penguins.

The dictionary. No wonder kids today can’t spell. Why? The Merriam Webster was banned in a California elementary school in January 2010 for its definition of oral sex. “It’s just not age appropriate,” a district representative said.  Other dictionaries have been banned for having slang words such as “balls”.  Source

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Why? 11 states, including the Illinois Police Association tried to get this book banned because of the portrayal of policemen as pigs.  Source

SPEAK. Why? Obviously because it’s pronography!  As the author stated:

Wesley wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO, in which he characterized SPEAK as filthy and immoral. Then he called it “soft pornography” because of two rape scenes.

The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying.

She’s right, kinda disturbing… Source

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It was banned in China in 1931.  Why? because “animals should not use human language” and that it was “disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level.” Source

source: U of M's Hatcher Graduate Library

Handmaid’s Tale. This award winning book is #37 on ALA’s 100 most frequently challenged books.  Why?  Because it is anti-Christian and pornographic.  Not surprising that it is most often banned in Texas, the same state that is limiting the information on Islam in textbooks because they are too pro-Islam.

Where’s Waldo. I spent many hours of my childhood looking for that striped sweater wearing man.  Why? Apparently in one of the books there is a topless sunbather.  If I can’t find a guy wearing a bright red and white sweater, who’s going to find a tiny nipple? Source Click here, To see the risque picture (and the new “clean” version).

Fahrenheit 451. Why? Profanity.  Funny thing is, the story examines censorship and was released in a censored edition in 1967, eliminating the profanity.  The book was banned in a school in Mississippi in 1999 for the words that Bradbury insisted be put back in in the reprint.  Amazing the complaints didn’t come until the book report was due. Source

Steal this book. Why? Apparently stores and libraries refused to stock the book because they felt the title would lead to shoplifting.  It wasn’t banned in the US  for the fact that it is a guide to governmental overthrow or the descriptions of pipe bomb, steal credit cards, and grow marijuana. Source

My whole beef with many of the reasons books are banned today is the fact that parents let their children watch television, movies, and play video games that contain all of the things they are appalled about in books.  Hypocritical, anyone?

Here are some other lists you may like to take a look at!

Top 100 Banned Books 2000-2009 (ALA)

Top 10 Most Banned Books 2009 (ALA)

Banned Books and Authors

The 11 Most Surprising Banned Books (Huffington Post)

10 Ways to Celebrate Banned Books Week (NYT)

31 Flavors of Librarian: Finding the One to Suit Your Tastes

•September 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

About half way through my first year as a library grad student, my mentor blindsided me with the question “What kind of librarian do you want to be?”  Kind?  There are different kinds of librarians?!  Needless to say I was floored, confused, and a little bit scared.  Less than a year ago I had decided that I didn’t want to be a programmer or a help desk lackey and had turned to my true loves of information and books.  It had taken me four long years to come to that decision and less than six months in I was expected to know what type of librarian I wanted to be.

Growing up in small town Michigan and attending a small private university in Iowa, I had never met anyone who’s title went beyond “Librarian”.  They pretty much did everything from collecting to catalog, but had very little to do with the patrons.   While my definition of a librarian’s duties was broad, my scope of the librarian field was very narrow.

Here are 10 things that I feel can help when trying to figure out your librarian flavor.

1. Find a mentor. Librarians tend to be very open to mentoring a future librarian.  They’ll answer your questions, help you understand the field better, and calm you down when the panic of finding a job sets in.

2. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask veteran librarians questions about what they did.  They’ll share valuable information about their jobs, their patrons, and the future of the field.  Also talk with library students.  While they may not be full-time in the field yet, they tend to dabble, getting lots and varied information and experience.

3. Volunteer. Go to your local library and volunteer, especially if you have any inkling that you want to work in that type of library.  Libraries are always looking for young, enthusiastic volunteers.  It also looks good on your resume.  If you’re looking more academically, see if there are any job openings or volunteer opportunities by talking to the librarians.

4. Do projects. Yes, most classes require you to do projects.  Actually do them!  Put in some effort!  They do pay off in the end.  Again, ask your local librarians or academic librarians if they have any projects.  Even if you have an idea, go to someone and present it.  More likely than not, you’ll get a green light.

5. Join organizations. Joining ALA and other library organizations are beneficial.  You’re linked up with thousands of other librarians, have access to tools and training, and can do number #6.  Student chapters help you network on campus, meet students with the same goal in mind. Plus, you always get neat newsletters and magazines overflowing with information.

6. Attend conferences. Not always an easy thing to do as a student.  They’re expensive and normally mean missing class, but you gain insights that you may not have.  Try finding scholarships to go.  Everyone student I’ve talked to that has attended a conference has always loved it.  And you get free things too!

7. Pay attention in class. Enough said, just do it.

8. Read. Seems like a no-brainer.  You’re a librarian, you probably love books.  Don’t stop reading books for fun, even when you’re bogged down with all the school reading.  Read about your field (unassigned).  If another librarian/student suggests something, give it a chance.  Most articles aren’t as boring as their title may seem.

9. Look at job postings. Job postings are a wealth of information about what employers are looking for in librarians and they give you an idea of job descriptions and duties.  In those you can find your interests and tailor your education to match.  It’s amazing the duties you’ve never heard of before or even just the jobs.  Who doesn’t want to be a librarian at the Smithsonian or an archivist at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

10. Finally, know your likes and dislikes. When I asked my fellow classmates how they figured out what kind of librarian they wanted to be, it boiled down to their likes and dislikes.  Here are a few of the twitter responses I received.

@reluctant_gamer: I’m more interested in helping academic pursuits than leisure. I also prefer helping college age students over other ages.
@reluctant_gamer: & I’ve always known I wanted to help people. But I can’t be in front of people all day. Ref lib is a good balance of…

@reluctant_gamer: …public service & behind the scenes work.

@reluctant_gamer (1/2) honestly i like the moment when working with kids where you find something they’re interested in, and can show them..
@reluctant_gamer (2/2) ..the excitement of self-learning and self-empowerment. i’ve always believed we’re trying to make ourselves obsolete
(3/2) by teaching people to teach themselves and find information themselves

@reluctant_gamer I picked youth because I love working w/ kids & I love reading, so being able to combine both & help people is what I enjoy

I hope these are helpful out there to those struggling.  I know it’s tough right now (I’m still looking for a job myself).   If you have any questions, comments, or additions please feel free to leave them below!  Good luck everyone!

For those of you non-librarians, here are some library jobs!

  • reference librarians: work directly with patrons in helping them develop a strategy for their research needs
  • instruction librarians: teach users how to access materials
  • subject specialists: work with departmental representatives to help select materials for the library collections
  • acquisitions librarians: procure materials from vendors
  • collection development librarians: work with subject specialists, departmental representatives, and acquisitions librarians to develop the scope of the collections
  • catalog librarians: process the materials so that they are accessible to the public
  • systems librarians: manage behind-the-scenes network operations
  • digital librarians: dealing mainly with people on-line either through distance education, chat program, or email
  • personnel librarians
  • rare books and manuscripts, special collections, and archives: they deal with things that can be categorized into cool, old, dusty, rare, and expensive
  • law librarians: they normally know more about law than lawyers
  • area-specific librarians, such as: math, science, humanities, history, languages or area studies, government documents, geography, business, music, art and architecture, etc.
  • public librarians
  • school/media librarians
  • corporate or special (companies such as Time/Warner, government agencies, The Los Angeles Times, Microsoft, pharmaceutical companies, medical and/or hospital libraries–anywhere information is gathered and sought!)

From (http://libweb.uoregon.edu/admnpers/careersinlibraries.html)

Learning with Assassin’s Creed

•December 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Introduction

When we were asked to choose a game to play over the semester, I felt I had been given the best assignment ever.  The only problem was finding a commercial game that I had already spent considerable time with.  Assassin’s Creed was a game I had watched people play many times, but hadn’t gotten the chance to play myself.  From first view the aesthetics of the game were amazing.  The idea that I could play a game based in the 10th century which, according to my research, was historically sound was mind blowing.  When I heard the second one was to be released in the semester, I figured it would be the perfect game.  By playing both I was able to comparing my learning experiences in each to see the learning principles covered over the semester in action.  Plus an excuse to play to video games for class was just too good to turn down.

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed took the gaming world by storm when it was launched in November 2007 by Ubisoft Montreal.  According to the Assassin’s Creed website a user should “Experience the power of a feared Assassin. Your actions can throw your immediate environment into chaos; and your existence will shape events in this pivotal moment during the Third Crusade” (Assassin’s Creed, 2007).

Plot

In Assassin’s Creed the player controls two characters: Desmond and Altaïr.  The player starts out controlling Desmond Miles, the descendent of Altaïr ibn La-Ahad.  Desmond is a test subject for a machine called the Animus, which allows the subject to relive the memories of their ancestor.  Most of the game is played through Altaïr ibn La-Ahad, a member of the Assassin’s Guild, in the 10th century Middle East.  Altaïr is tasked with assassinating nine Knights Templar to prevent them from procuring and using and artifact known as the “Piece of Eden”.

Assassin’s Creed 2

Assassin’s Creed 2 is an example of a gaming development company listening to the gaming community.  “Discover an intriguing and fascinating new epic story of power, revenge, and conspiracy set in a pivotal moment of history: the Italian Renaissance.“ (Assassin’s Creed 2, 2009).

Plot

In Assassin’s Creed 2, you control Desmond and Ezio Auditore da Firenze.  Desmond escapes his captors with the help of fellow Assassin, Lucy Stillman.  He finds out that the Assassin Guild is losing members to its ancient enemy the Knights Templar.  Again, he is subject to the Animus, this time to learn the skills of an assassin.  Most of the game is played as Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Renaissance Italy. Ezio is trying to avenge the death of his father and brothers by the man Rodrigo Borgia and is drawn into the fight between the Assassins and Knights Templar.  This battle goes all the way up to the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope.  Ezio must stop his enemies from gaining absolute power using the “Pieces of Eden”.

Reception of the Games

The reception of Assassin’s Creed 2 was much warmer than that Assassin’s Creed.  According to EmeraldErin of Hooked Gamer “Assassin’s Creed II has received an overwhelmingly positive reception from gamers around the world and from the video game trade press with to date an 91% average critics score according to GameRankings.com” (EmeraldErin, 2009). The scores for Assassin’s Creed ranged from B- to a 9.0, which is a huge discrepancy in the gaming world.  Many gaming community members cited the repetitive play as the major problem with the game.  With the gaming communities critiques in mind, Ubisoft fixed many of the problems people had with Assassin’s Creed and fulfilled many of the promises they had missed.  It is reflected in the overall love of the sequel by gamers.

Motivation

Both games employ Malone and Lepper’s four individual intrinsic motivations through multiple methods.

Challenge

Challenge is central to most traditional theories of intrinsic motivation (Malone and Lepper, 1987).  Most humans tend to seek things that offer a challenge.  Video games, at least the successful ones, provide that challenge in multiple ways.  Both Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2 provide that challenge in many different ways.  First of all, there are goals that you need to achieve to move through the game.  In both games, you were given a set of missions that must be completed to reach your overall goal.  These were broken up into increments all working up to the final assassination mission. With the complete of each smaller goal, you are working toward the larger goal.  For example, in order to kill one of the Templar leaders in the games, you must complete a certain number of investigations before can find that leader.  These range from assassinations to pick pocketing in the first game with an increased variety of investigations in the second game (mostly because of the complaints of the gaming community).  Once the correct number was completed, you then could move onto the assassination of the leader.  This continued over and over again, which could get repetitive if it were not for an uncertain outcome.  Each of the missions provided the user with clear performance feedback immediately (Malone and Lepper, 1987), either by giving the player a piece of information that is vital to their mission or by giving them a piece of special equipment or money.

Malone and Lepper identify four techniques in which computer games create a uncertain outcome.  Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 employ three of the four.  There are multiple levels of goals in each game (Malone and Lepper, 1987).  Even though your goal may always be assassinating a target, the more assassinations you have under your belt, the harder the next one will be.  The game increases in difficulty the further you get into it.  The first game seemed to lack a bit in this area as some of the later bosses were easier to get to and easier to kill than the first, while the second did it masterfully.  While I would become frustrated, it never was enough that I would put the game down and not pick it back up again.  I always wanted to beat the next mission.  Hidden information was a larger part of the second game.  A main mission of the second game was to collect a Codex left by Altaïr.  Without it you couldn’t complete the game which forced you to thoroughly search the world as these pieces were all hidden.  Finally, the game employed randomness (Malone and Lepper, 1987).  The games were designed as an open world to reflect the historical places and time periods.  This included non-playable characters such as citizens and soldiers, who were never in the same place twice.  If you were to desynchronize – the Assassin’s Creed equivalent of dying – the area in which you were in would not look the same the second or third time being populated with different characters and hazards.

Curiosity

Assassin’s Creed 2 improved greatly on the idea of curiosity.  The first game was fairly linear.  I could guess what was going to happen next.  Other than the beauty of the historical landscapes, there was no other reason to explore the world.  This was not the case with Assassin’s Creed 2.  Now included with the normal missions of the game were side quests that, while not essential to completion, tended to peak my curiosity.  Hidden throughout the cities of Renaissance Italy are glyphs put there by a previous test subject.  In these glyphs is hidden knowledge, in this case videos, which helps explain the back story of the Assassin’s Creed world.  It isn’t necessary to complete the storyline, but every time I found a video clip I found myself becoming curious of what the next one would show me and what the whole video would be overall.  As the old saying goes “curiosity killed the cat.”  I found this to be true in both of these games.  I tended to die the more curious I became because I was willing to take risks I would have normally avoided just to fulfill that need to know.

Control

The need to control our environment is fundamental to all humans, whether we admit it or not (Malone and Lepper, 1987). These games fulfilled that need for control.  Like most computer games, you are controlling a character(s) and deciding how they act and what they do.  While against the tenets of the game, if the civilians were annoying me enough I could go on a murderous rampage through the streets.  Not always the smartest choice when you’re trying to be a sneaky assassin, but the option was still there.  I was allowed to choose what missions I wanted to complete in the first game in order to unlock the assassination target.  Assassin’s Creed 2 allowed for much more control because of a richer environment.  Again I could pick and choose the side quests that I wanted to complete, in a much greater number, but also there were more ways to get to my final goal.  The larger open world of Assassin’s Creed gave me the choice of many different routes in which to sneak up on my targets and silently dispatch them.

Fantasy

Malone and Lepper’s final piece of intrinsic motivation is fantasy of which the Assassin’s Creed world is ripe with, as are most video games.  The engaging story with its historical roots mixed with the designers’ fantasy draws players into Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2.  I found myself identifying with the characters, especially with Ezio in the second game (Malone and Lepper, 1987).  His charismatic attitude and athletic abilities made him a fun and amiable character who was enjoyable to play.  The mix of sci-fi aspects, with the Aniumus and playing through DNA, meshed well with the historical aspect of the game instead of making one or the other look out of place.  I found myself pulled into the fantasy of the game and at times found it hard to put down the controller.

Learning through Transfer

After giving my presentation and mentioning the upcoming sequel, it was suggested that I focused on Gee’s 29th learning principle, transfer.  He defines the transfer principle as “Learners are given ample opportunity to practice, and support for, transferring what they have learned earlier to later problems, including problems that require adapting and transforming that earlier learning” (Gee, 2003).  I found it to be a mixed bag of positive and negative transfer, with the negative being most obvious and frustrating.  There were three main areas in which transfer could be seen: story, controls, and the HUD (Heads Up Display).

Story

Assassin’s Creed is set up as a trilogy with the main story evolving throughout the games.  They are connected by familiar characters, Desmond Miles, the protganist and an Assassin, Lucy, the deuteragonist and fellow Assassin, and Professor Vidic, the antagonist and modern day Knight Templar.  Also the main objective of the games transfers from one to the next.  You, as an Assassin, are trying to prevent the Knights Templar from creating their “perfect” world by taking away everyone’s freedom of choice.  As you play Assassin’s Creed 2, that objective grows and morphs into a much more serious problem.  To find out exactly what that is, you’ll have to play Assassin’s Creed 2 or check out the Wikipedia article on that.

Controls and Basic Game Play

Where most transfer happens in games is with the controls and basic game play.  Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2 are no exception.  I found there to be mostly positive transfer with the control scheme as far as the basic controls.  The button scheme was the same, including the need to press the right trigger in order to do high profile actions.  While this may have been a positive transfer between the games in the Assassin’s Creed world, it was a negative transfer to other types of games, especially first and third person shooters.  After playing Assassin’s Creed 2 for 24 hours over 4 days, a switch to a more traditional shooter left my gaming partner fairly upset because the pressing the trigger button didn’t result in my character running.  Instead it resulted in a barrage of bullets that left him dead.

When it came to basic game play, I found quite a few instances of negative transfer.  First came with controlling the character of Ezio versus Altaïr.  Ezio is a more powerful character, stronger and faster than Altaïr from the first game.  Until I was used to the character, I tended to over compensate for the perceived lack in speed and strength.  This led to many deaths as ledges were missed or rooftops overshot.  However the most frustrating negative transfer was something I didn’t notice until halfway through the second game.  One of the most common complaints of the gaming community is the lack of the ability to swim in most action adventure games.  Sure, you can climb like a monkey, jump distances no human could ever possibly jump, and have knives hidden in your sleeves, but you can’t swim.  This isn’t evident in the first game until you accidentally fall into the water and “die”.  Because of this experience, I had avoided water at all costs, sometimes leaving a nice bit of treasure behind.  It wasn’t until I came to a point where I had to go over the water and fell that I found out Ezio could swim.

HUD (Heads Up Display)

The HUD (Heads Up Display) is the screen that contains most of the information a player needs to know about their environment and character.  The HUD underwent a major redesign from Assassin’s Creed to Assassin’s Creed 2 rendering all of your prior knowledge fairly useless.  While this is considered a negative transfer, many aspects of the HUD were upgraded.  Most importantly was the map redesign which took the confusing and bland map of the first game and updated it to the useful, detailed map seen in the second game’s HUD.

A History Lesson?

One of the big questions that has been looked at over and over again is “Can a commercial game be used in a curriculum to teach and reinforce lessons?”.  Commercial games are now finding their way into the classroom.  Whether it’s using Sonic the Hedgehog to learn about Odysseus quest or “Rome: Total War” to learn about being a Roman general (Yusuf|, 2008), games are being used as supplements to the school curriculum in schools.

When I first chose Assassin’s Creed I was very interested to see if it could be used in history lessons to teach at least some aspects of being in the 10th century Middle East, especially the crusades.  Graphics wise, it wasn’t disappointing.  You feel as if you are walking down the ancient streets in Jerusalem or Damascus.  The people dress and act in much of the same way their real world counterparts would’ve.  But other than the fact that many of the characters were loosely based on real people of that century, nothing seems to lend itself to a history lesson.

Assassin’s Creed 2, on the other hand, added something very interesting into the mix: a database.  This database is full of the information that you collect as you explore Renaissance Italy including building and people.  You meet historical figures such as Leonardo daVinci (and get to fly one of his inventions), the Medicis, and Rodrigo Borgia, who is better known as Pope Alexander IV.  At first I wondered if any of this information was true and a quick Google search backed up many of the facts.  An interview with Sebastien Puel, a producer for Assassin’s Creed 2 helped explain the accuracy of the information.

Assassin’s Creed lets players relive pivotal historic moments. Our goal is to be as closely historically accurate as possible but we also leave some place for our creativity and a bit of fiction. We have historians who are working with us and serve as a guide to what we should and shouldn’t do when using historical characters and events. Players will be able relive major events like the Pazzi conspiracy but from our perspective. (Thöing, 2009)

Conclusions

Overall, I enjoyed both of the games thoroughly and have recommended them to anyone who has asked about either.  While Assassin’s Creed  didn’t quite live up the hype that was generated when it first was launched, it still was an enjoyable experience.  Playing with this paper in mind led me to examine the games in greater detail to find the motivating factors that I had never thought about before.  The usual answer why I like playing a game was always “because it was fun.”  Now I have a more in depth knowledge of what makes a game “fun.”  It was also interesting to see how the skills that I learned in one game actually hindered my playing in the second.  Normally games don’t change that much from the first to the second, but Ubisoft’s acknowledgment of the gaming communities’ complaints led to a whole new gaming experience and a whole new way to play.  While I don’t see Assassin’s Creed or Assassin’s Creed 2 being assigned in a classroom, I do see video games being an important part of education, whether it is formal or informal.  For someone interested in history, being able to become some part of the past, even a virtual part, is an exciting idea.

Bibliography

(2007). Assassin’s Creed. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from Assassin’s Creed: http://assassinscreed.us.ubi.com/assassins-creed-1/index.php

(2009). Assassin’s Creed 2. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from Assassin’s Creed 2: http://assassinscreed.us.ubi.com/assassins-creed-2/

EmeraldErin. (2009, November 24). Overwhelmingly positive reception for Assassin’s Creed II. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from Hooked Gamers: http://www.hookedgamers.com/blogs/emeralderin/2009/11/24/overwhelmingly_positive_reception_for_assassins_creed_ii.html

Malone, T. W., & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: Cognitive an affective process analysis (Vol. 3, pp. 223-253).

Thöing, S. (2009, May 18). Assassin’s Creed 2 Interview: “Die Missionen sind nicht mit dem Vorgänger vergleichbar.” . Retrieved December 17, 2009, from PC Games: http://www.pcgames.de/aid,684781/Assassins-Creed-2-Interview-Die-Missionen-sind-nicht-mit-dem-Vorgaenger-vergleichbar/PC/Special/?page=2

Yusuf, H. (2008, September 18). Video games start to shape classroom curriculum. The Christian Science Monitor. From http://tinyurl.com/3h9pcf .

Gaming on a College Budget

•November 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Let’s face it. College is a perpetual state of being broke for most people. There are those lucky few that who get great jobs or have a trust fund, but most of us are barely scrapping by. When you’re face with the decision of food for a couple of weeks and the newest release, food (normally) will win. Don’t fear all you poor college gamers out there. There are ways that you can take the meager pennies left over after paying the pizza guy and turn them into a worth-while gaming experience.

Rent or Trade, Don’t Buy

Most console games, brand new, cost about $60 dollars. That translates into about 2 tanks of gas (if you’re lucky), 12 $5 Dollar Hot-n-Ready Pizzas from Little Caesars, or 1 (cheap) wild night out on the town. Unless the game has on-line multi-player, it isn’t likely you’re going to play it more than once. Why shell out all those Jacksons for about 20 hours of enjoyment (if you’re lucky)? Sometimes you never know if a game is going to blow. You may have just paid for the clunker of the year. Renting from your local video shop can at least give you an idea what the game is like for a few bucks for a weekend. If you really like it, you CAN buy it, but if not, you’ve only spent about $5 dollars.

Another alternative is to trade your games with other people. You could do it among your friends or in the dorms, but there are game trading websites out there. I use Goozex. I must say, I have had very few problems with them and when there have been ones; they have been quickly taken care of. This is how most game trading websites (or at least the good ones) work. You sign up for an account, list all the games you have to trade out and the ones you’d like to receive. You’ll get matched up with someone else to either send a game to them or get a game (if you have enough points). Points can be bought or received from positive trades. It’s all fairly simple. These sites make their money through ads and a small trading fee. With Goozex you need to have tokens to receive games, but the tokens cost something like $1. In the scheme of things… one dollar is ALOT better than sixty.

There’s an interesting promotion going on until the end of January 2010.

Starting today, all registered members that have a “.edu” email address on file with Goozex will receive free trading through January 31, 2010. This means no trading token required to trade games or movies for all students!

We understand students across the country are over-burdened with high tuition costs, cost-of-living expenses and Holiday shopping.  Often times they need to give up a large portion of their entertainment budget to keep up with raising living costs on- and off-campus. Thia “no trade fees for students” promotion intends to help students get access to more games and movies during the Holiday season.

This promotion applies to all existing and future Goozex members that register their account using a valid “.edu” email address (email address must be confirmed and account activated).

Another “trading” that can be done on the PSN(PlayStation Network) is content sharing. I don’t own any Sony consoles (or handhelds), so I can’t tell you exactly how it works (or if it is legal or not). I did a little research into it and found answers both ways. So if you are going to do this, it’s at your own risk. Here’s an article from Examiner.com’s Pittsburgh PS3 Examiner, Sean Krick, on the subject.

Libraries

Libraries aren’t just places for books anymore. Today’s library, especially in larger cities, is a whole multimedia experience. From books to DVDs, you can just about find anything in the library (because libraries are awesome). The best part, library cards won’t cost anything if you live within the library’s district. Some libraries will charge a nominal fee for renting a video game. You can blame all the losers that steal the games for that. Remember people, libraries are poor. Stealing makes them poorer and they buy less of what you want because, when it comes down to it, most books are cheaper. Check out my rambling on Video Games in Libraries Part 1: Libraries==Blockbuster? for more in-depth coverage.

Your library may not lend out games, I’m not making a promise that they do. Like I said before, a lot of libraries can’t afford to buy games, but they still want to lure gamers into the bowels of the library. They might not have a circulating collection, but many will have gaming days and tournaments. While you don’t get to take the game home, you can still play. It’s especially cool, if you’re like me and can’t afford every console there is. Check out your local library and Part 2 of my VGnL series: Ye ol’ Tourney.

Campus Sponsored Slacking

Universities noticed the influx of gamers onto their campus and have responded accordingly. No, not by limiting bandwidth and banning video games, but by encouraging gamers (and non-gamers) with campus sponsored gaming centers and events. In the Union at the University of Michigan is the Billiards and Game Room which houses all sorts of gaming (board, billiards, and yes video). For UofM students interested in the costs, look at this page for prices for the Xbox 360 game stations. If you aren’t a total hard-core gamer and are just looking for a couple of hours every once in a while to play by yourself or with a group $2.50-$3.50 per hour isn’t that bad. For the price of an Elite and a game that’s 100 hours of gaming. From the signs around campus, it looks like they also have some Wiis for the Nintendo freaks out there. Sorry, PlayStation fanboys (or fangirls), no love for you. Maybe you should stage a protest in the Diag like everyone else seems to.

UofM and EA Sports also sponsor video-game tournaments. Check out this page for there wheres, whens, whats, and hows.

A new trend springing up in universities all over the US is the integration of video games into the scholarly aspect of the “college” experience. No longer left to just student life, professors and librarians are grabbing a hold of the cultural phenomenon that is the video game industry and running with it. University libraries and others have taken it upon themselves to help preserve a huge part of recent history that, for the most part, was ignored by modern historians and other sorts of libraries and museums. The Computer and Video Game Archive at the University of Michigan and University of Texas’s Videogame Archive are at the forefront of that movement. I can’t speak for UT, but I know that students are allowed to come in and use the facilities at UofM’s CVGA for recreation. So if you’ve been yearning from a little N64 action or even the original Frogger, these are the places to hit. Yes, your time may be limited here, but for a chance to play something that you haven’t seen in years, it’s worth it. Warning: You may learn something with a trip to a video game archive.

Try a Different Flavor of Gaming

For those of you who don’t know it, there is something beyond that console/handheld, that you are so fanatical about. AND you may not even need a disc to play those games you are so in love with *gasp*. You’re in college to open your mind to new possibilities, so why not try another flavor of gaming life.

PC

Let’s face it. It’s hard to get through college without SOME sort of computer, whether it’s a laptop or a desktop. Did you know that computers are good for things other than writing papers and looking at porn? Really! You can play games on them! PC games are normally cheaper than console games as it is, but there’s also a lovely service called Steam. Steam allows you to buy and access games from their library on any computer, because it isn’t tied to the machine itself, but to your account. They are downloads, so if you don’t have an internet connection, you’re out of luck. If you’re paying attention, you can sometimes find really good deals on there like

LucasArts Premier Pack for $49.99 (Individual Price: $127.84) through 11/30/09

Includes: Star Wars Republic Commando™ , Indiana Jones® and the Fate of Atlantis™ , Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, The Dig® , Armed and Dangerous® , Star Wars Galaxies™: The Complete Online Adventures, Indiana Jones® and the Last Crusade™, LOOM™, Star Wars Starfighter™, The Secret of Monkey Island™: Special Edition, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, Star Wars: Dark Forces, Lucidity™Xbox

Xbox

Live has a couple of services that are worthy of note to budget strapped gamers.

LIVE Arcade

Better known as XBLA to Xbox gamers, these games are only available for download distribution from the Live Marketplace.  There are some awesome games out there AND they’re cheaper.  These aren’t your mainstream games like Mass Effect or Fable 2, but there are gems in there that you should check out like Castle Crashers or Splosion Man.  There about 265 titles on Arcade, so there are a lot of choices for you to waste your time with.

Indie

Of course, the company describes their product much better than I can.

Looking for something a little different? Xbox LIVE Indie Games are creative and original indie games made by the community, reviewed by the community, and played by everyone.

This is a place where up-and-coming talent shines, and where anyone with an idea can bring it to life on Xbox 360!

I was going to recommend Games on Demand, but after looking at the prices there AND the prices on Amazon… it’s cheaper to buy it on Amazon and you actually own the disc. The only plus side to Games on Demand was when dealing with old Xbox games that you can’t find discs of anymore (or people want like $40 bucks for it!!!! Grrr…). I’d still check eBay first.

PlayStation

The PlayStation has the PlayStation store. According to the PlayStation site:

PlayStation®Store offers 24/7 access to games, exclusives, movies and more for PlayStation®3 and PSP® systems.

With your PlayStation®Network account, you can visit PlayStation®Store for downloadable games, PS one® Classics, free demos, movies, TV shows and more to enjoy on your PS3™ and PSP® systems.

I don’t own any Sony systems, so I can’t tell you from firsthand experience how this all works. I do know that it’s hard to find out what they have at the PlayStation store since you can’t browse it easily on-line.

Wii

For the nostalgic gamer in you, Nintendo offers the Virtual Console. VC is full of all those games you loved as a kid from the NES, SNES, N64, Arcade, Commodore 64, Master System, NEOGEO, Genesis, and TurboGrafx 16. Points cost about $1 = 100 with games starting out at 500 points. The only extra purchase you may have to get is the classic controller which costs about 20 bucks. However, I think it’s worth it to play old favorites like Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros. 3, or Super Metroid. For a full list of games, click here.

Another Nintendo offering is WiiWare… I’ll let Nintendo explain this one since they have a handy-dandy video.

Game Over

As you can see there are a lot of other options then spending your last dime on a video game.  Give a few a try, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you can get.  Whether you decide to trade, rent, or try some of the alternative gaming, you’ll stretch that money Grandma sent you quite a ways.

When all else fails, there are always the Holidays and Birthdays!

Video Games in Libraries Part 2: Ye ol’ Tourney

•August 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

gametourneyHolding gaming tournaments in libraries isn’t a new idea by far. Libraries have been a safe haven for Dungeons and Dragons nerds since it came out in ’74. Before then, board gaming tournaments (chess, checkers, Scrabble, etc…) ruled the gaming space in libraries. However, there is a shift in the current trend toward video games. Video game tournaments are a new (and scary) territory for libraries. But because they love us gamers soooo much, they’re willing to venture there.

Really??!!

What do I mean by a VG Tourney in a library… well… It’s fairly simple. Gamers venture into the dreaded library, who has kindly set up video games, competitions, and food for their enjoyment (Watch out!!! It may be a trap!). Then said gamers battle it out for supremacy… all the time being surround by the arch-nemesis of a gamer, the book. The whole idea seems to be that gamers slowly become acclimated to the presence of these evil print monsters and lose their fear of them. They may even pick one up and (Gasp!) read it. I’m just kidding… or am I?

Side Note: A good library won’t pull the old bait and switch on you. What I mean by that is get you in to play a game, but give you a book talk (lecture you about a book). And most book talks are at best a snooze-fest. I know, I’ve had to do them before.

Back to the tournaments. Tournaments can be held for just about any game from Pokemon for the younger crowd to Super Smash Brother Brawl and Guitar Hero/Rock Band for the older crowd. I’m sorry to say that most libraries will not offer gaming tournaments with games that have an M rating. It’s not necessarily because they don’t want to, in fact many of the librarians who push for these tournaments play those kinds of games at home. But there’s this whole issue with kids and violence. Really, it’s not worth fighting with parents over what games they offer and then getting sued. Lawsuits are never fun and that means less money gaming events at the library. The tournament style really depends on the library that’s hosting it. Let’s take a look at an awesome library at the forefront of library gaming tournaments.

AADL-GT, the Apex of Library Gaming Tourneys

The Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) tends to be the leader in VG tournaments in libraries. Thanks to Eli Neiburger and a dedicated children’s and teen staff, the gaming tournaments there have taken off. Take a look at their page (AADL-GT) just to get a glimpse at how extensive (and supported) their gaming tournaments are. When I was writing this part of the series, the site hadn’t been updated in a while. Tends to happen in Michigan during the winter because people don’t venture out much. They normally have gaming tournaments all freakin’ weekend long. There are different tournaments for different age groups, such as Pokemon for the kiddies at a branch library, LittleBigPlanet for everyone (on their specially-designed race course), Rock Band, Brawl, and even some open play. But the real jewel in their tourney crown, the GT System.

GT System

The GT System is the brain child of the AADL Developer Network, who takes care of all the programming needs of branches that make up AADL. The GT System’s wiki gives a much better explanation of the GT System then I could ever think of.

GT System is a framework and a set of web tools for producing videogame tournaments of any size for players of any age or experience level. It gives you everything you need to promote and run a videogame tournament at your institution, and it allows all GT system players to see where how they stack up on local, regional and national leaderboards!

So in lay-man’s terms, it’s a tool that takes care of most of the important (and complex) aspects of doing a library tournament, mainly the registration and scoring. A library can then post the results of the tournaments on-line, allowing the winners to be recognized. It’s more or less modeled after the gamerscore/trophy idea or if you are to go back even further, the idea of getting to put a dirty word on the high score list of an arcade game.

If you give them recognition, they will come. Not only can you see how much you kick butt on the local scale; libraries can link up events and allow gamers to see how they fit on the national scale. I must say that creating it was a brilliant idea because it encourages other libraries, who may not have the resources of AADL, to jump on the gaming tournament bandwagon. Plus it’s free… And when you’re a library, free is good.

Conclusion

I haven’t had the chance to attend one of these gaming tourney’s at AADL, yet. I try to stay away from Ann Arbor when I don’t have to be in school. I totally applaud all the efforts that they have made in making a normally marginalized population, at least in libraries, feel welcomed there. Yeah, many libraries may have the hidden motive of trying to get you to read a book, but places like AADL are really just trying to create a community.

Let’s face it, most young gamers aren’t the most social of people, unless you count all the friends that they play with on-line. Stereotype, I know… but for some (including me) it is very true. This connects them to other gamers in their local area. Libraries aren’t just places with books., they are a community center and AADL is just one example of how they are using their resources and our addiction to gaming in a positive way. So if your library hosts a tourney, at least check it out. You’ll never know who you’ll find there… and maybe, just maybe, you’ll beat your fear of books.