Video Review: The King of Kong – A Fistful of Quarters

I had long heard about this documentary (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters) and its look nto the world of competitive video gaming (yes, there is a world of competitive video gaming). But it’s not something my wife would ever be interested in, so it lived just outside of my spectrum as a video that I might someday rent. The upcoming summer camp around gaming gave me the opportunity and the excuse to buy the documentary, which centers around a competition to get the highest score on the classic Donkey Kong arcade game, and I was able to watch it while my wife is out of town. My two older sons plunked down on the couch with me, too, and it was interesting to listen to their comments.

Their main reaction:  What kind of adult spend their time on a Donkey Kong machine in their garage, trying to earn a top score on an old arcade game? Dork!

I tried to explain that everyone has certain obsessions, and for these people, it is playing the game that catapulted video games into the public consciousness in the early days. Donkey Kong was a game changer, if you will excuse the corner turn of words, in that suddenly, a game was very challenging and also had a story (Mario has to rescue the princess, who has been taken captive each level by that maniacal gorilla). And it was the game where Mario got his start, which later led to the Mario Brothers franchise, and I reminded them we have a Super Mario Brothers game on our Wii.

I also gave them some stats about who plays video games, and how the demographics show that most gamers are in their upper 20s or 30s. Their reaction? That’s because games today are cool, and not lame. I told them that 20 years from now, our games will look lame, too, so it is all historic perspective. That quieted them down for a bit.

Still, the movie is a fascinating look at an insular world where passion and focus and even good-versus-bad is on full display as a nice guy from Washington (Steve) tries to dethrone the reining champion (Jimmy), a pompous jerk who may or may not have cheated when he realized his top score was under attack (the boys and I were pretty clear that the dude had cheated, and it was at that moment of realization that the three of us were fully invested in the documentary, which shows the power of protagonist/antagonist even in documentaries — we suddenly had someone to cheer for and someone to jeer at). And in the end, just like any movie worth its salt, the good guy finally wins. Eventually.

What I found fascinating was the pure passion for video games. Sure, my sons called them “nerds” and the movie both pokes fun at the crowds of people descending on video game arcades for championship weekends even as it celebrates the way they emerge as dedicated to their craft, as much as sports athletes do. I mean, just think of someone who spends hours each day putting a ball through a hoop. Again and again. That’s pretty idiotic on the surface, right? So how is that different than pushing a joystick around?

I recommend The King of Kong for an entertaining and probing look at players in the aging video game world, back when arcades were community gathering spaces for gamers (unlike today, when we are shut up in our homes or immersed in online gaming communities). It is a powerful documentary about people, and the lengths they will go to become recognized for a single achievement and then, the things they will do to remain in the spotlight for fear of fading glory.

Peace (in the Kong),

Inside Scratch: Gaming Reflections 7

At our upcoming gaming camp, we want to try to expose our kids to more than just Gamestar Mechanic, so we are going to dip our toes briefly into Scratch — the programming language from MIT that resembles a Lego set for animation. It’s not all that great for game design, per se, but it does show the backbone of how things are done on the screen by programmers.

Gaming Reflection 7: Inside Scratch from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the games),

Levels of Play: Gaming Reflections 6

I built a five level game the other day, but first, I did some storyboarding of my concept (about dreaming, and the sudden falling sensation and working your way out of your dream). Here, I chat about what my original ideas was for my video game and then bring you into the mix as I play my game. I mess up a bit, but that’s part of the challenge. I also tried to talk a bit of stream-of-consciousness as I played. That made me mess up even more …

Gaming Reflection 6: Designing and Playing a Game from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the game),

Curriculum Plans: Gaming Reflection 4

I’ve been trying to formulate a good plan for the middle school kids coming into our Game Design Camp. I’d like it to a combination of hands-on collaborative work along with diving into the computer, with some discussions and reflective practice thrown in for good measure.
Here, I talk through some of the ideas about the lessons for the week of camp:

Gaming Reflection 4: Curriculum Ideas from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the game),
PS — You can also view the other parts of my video reflections.

Resources: Gaming Reflection 3

I continue to share out some thinking about gaming for the classroom (or in my case, for a summer camp program). You can view part one and part two, if you want. Here, I chat about some of the resources I will be using to think about gaming possibilities and to bring into the camp for the kids to experience. My hope is to bring them away from the games from time to time to remind them of the bigger picture and larger possibilities of gaming as a media experience.

Gaming Reflection 3: Resources from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the games),

Getting Ready for Gaming: video reflection 1

As I gear up for leading a gaming summer camp, I am reflecting on the activities I hope to bring into the camp for middle school kids. I am lucky to have my friend, Tina, along for the ride again this summer. Here, I started to tinker with Gamestar Mechanic, which we will be using as our main website for game playing and development:

Gaming Camp, Pre-Camp Reflection 1 from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the game),

On TTT: How to bring Gaming into the Classroom

I wanted to alert you to an interesting Teachers Teaching Teachers program that is slated for tonight on the topic of gaming. It sounds like hosts Paul and Susan have a lot of interesting folks coming onto the air to talk about the rationale and potential of bringing elements of gaming into the learning environment.

In an email alerting folks to the show, Paul outlines some questions that one teacher (a friend, Janelle, from Texas) has about gaming:

  1. How did you all begin including gaming curriculum in your classrooms?
  2. What are some of your biggest successes? Challenges?
  3. How much game playing goes on in your classroom? Do students only play in social action games? What does that conversation look like? What norms are set prior to this?
  4. I’m thinking about using the games students play on a regular basis as media for students to deconstruct and analyze in terms of influencing identity. Should I be playing all these games to get a better idea? Or will observing the students play suffice? What does a teacher do if he or she is not good at playing those video games?
  5. Designing games really requires deep content knowledge. How much experience with game design did you have prior to letting the students explore that avenue?
  6. Could you tell us about Scratch? What are the benefits of this program as compared to Game Star Mechanic?
  7. What kind of evaluation do you use around gaming?
  8. Is it all informal discourse based assessment, or do you do something more formal?
  9. Has your game playing been limited to computer games or have you also used standalone consuls?
  10. How much time did you have to dedicate to help students understand how to utilize the game design tool before they began designing? Do you feel that this time has been detrimental to fulfilling your ability to satisfy state standards?

Another guest will be Samantha Adams, from the New Media Consortium, which published the Horizon Report. As Paul notes, this year’s report had a section on gaming. He quotes from the report:

Game-based learning has gained considerable traction since 2003, when James Gee began to describe the impact of game play on cognitive development. Since then, research and interest in the potential of gaming on learning has exploded, as has the diversity of games themselves, with the emergence of serious games as a genre, the proliferation of gaming platforms, and the evolution of games on mobile devices. Developers and researchers are working in every area of game-based learning, including games that are goal-oriented; social game environments; non-digital games that are easy to construct and play; games developed expressly for education; and commercial games that lend themselves to refining team and group skills. Role-playing, collaborative problem solving, and other forms of simulated experiences are recognized for having broad applicability across a wide range of disciplines.

Teachers Teaching Teachers has been focusing on gaming on and off this past year (see the archive of programs around gaming) and given the roster tonight, it is worth listening in, or waiting to hear the podcast (which is what I will need to do). The show takes place live tonight, Wednesday, May 25 at at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific / World Times.

The Case for Video Games

Let me start out by saying that, as  father, I worry that my own kids are playing video games too much. As soon as I say that, I sound like an old fogey who wants to give them the boot out the door and say, “find some friends, don’t get into trouble and come back for lunch.” As a technology teacher, though, I see the value in some games (not all) and so I often have this conflict between parent and teacher in me.

So I was intrigued by the article in Edutopia by Dr. Judith Willis, a neurologist, about gaming. In “A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game,” Willis look s at the phenomenon from the perspective of the brain. She talks about the dopamine flow that comes from challenges and success, the adaptive skills that come from solving problems in games, and the incremental feedback (the progress bar) that drives players forward through intrinsic reinforcement.

Willis then shifts her piece to the classroom, making connections with the merits of video gaming with establishing a system of learning. She notes that frequent check-ins, individualized goals and success, and reflective practice are all elements of gaming that could come into play (pun alert) in education.

Classroom instruction that provides opportunities for incremental progress feedback at students’ achievable challenge levels pays off with increased focus, resilience, and willingness to revise and persevere toward achievement of goals. The development of students’ awareness of their potentials to achieve success, through effort and response to feedback, extends far beyond the classroom walls. Your application of the video game model to instruction encourages the habits of mind through which your students can achieve their highest academic, social, and emotional potentials. — Willis

Does this mean we should rush to set up video games on all the computers in our classroom? No. But it does point again to re-thinking a natural response that “games are bad” and “that’s too much screentime.” Even so, I will be sending my kids outside today for a few hours. The sun is finally out, and they need the fresh air. Some things never change.

Peace (in the gaming),