Monday, May 21, 2007

Stealth Education and Battling Cancer: The Power of Social Impact Games

I never knew that it was possible for video games to have an educational dimension. Of course I have always heard the theories that gaming improves hand eye coordination and reasoning ability, but I always assumed that those were far fetched theories my brothers used to wield my mom into allowing them to play video games for one more hour. However, after exploring the education and leaning games on the social impact site, I have come to realize that video games can have intellectual facets. Thus I found it essential that social impact makes a point of emphasizing how it strives to catalog video and computer games whose primary purpose is something other than to entertain.


I spent a long time on the HAGames site just because I was fascinated by their commitment to “Stealth Education” which is using games to teach middle schoolers math and science. The “stealth” component comes into play for the games are educational yet they are so fun that kids don’t even realize that they are learning (because we all know that in the eyes of a seven-year-old, when something is educational it becomes repulsive). The non-profit organization the Liemandt Foundation funds the Hidden Agenda program and the HAGames site. The site claims that its inspiration was to make learning fun for kids who enjoy playing games more than listening to teachers. Additionally they emphasize how these games help middle schoolers learn subjects that otherwise would not “stick” through memorization or reading.

As such, I decided to play “MeChem” because I noticed that it was the winner of the Liemand Foundation’s first “Hidden Agenda” content in 2004. This award is interesting for it is given to a game which succeeds in concealing its educational motive so that kids are drawn to it without the knowledge of its rewards. “MeChem” is directed as middle schoolers just beginning to learn chemistry. Players equip their characters, known as “mechs” with armor and weapons and then battle one another to see which is stronger. However the chemistry comes into play for players build their armor based on elements.

When I was playing this game I was fascinated by how fun it was. The game begins with the statement “you may build your mech from a full range of components” which essentially means choosing a name and model for your mech. However, the assemble process gets more complex as the player must decipher which element would be most conducive to creating the armor necessary for the task at hand (for example one would not want to create a mech with an aluminum body if they were going to have to endure fire because aluminum is a metal and metals conduct heat, and consequently the armor would melt). Here is an example of the choices for armor construction:
Thus this type of thinking serves to reiterate how computer gaming can actually lead to…gasp…learning!

I also enjoyed the game AlgebrArcade. Before beginning, players are confronted with the slogan “Beat the game – learn equations! The most fun you'll ever have with algebra!” I don’t know about you, but I would never associate “fun” with algebra. However, after playing, I realized that this game makes the concept of “fun math” a reality. Playing the game involves going around and using algebra to open the locks on treasure chests. While this sounds pretty unoriginal, there is a time limit that forces players to think quickly. Fusing adrenaline rushes with treasure hunts and algebra is guaranteed to create an entertaining educational experience.

Ben's Game

The greatest game I played was Ben’s Game. Ben’s Game was heartwarming and truly served as a representation that video games can make a positive social impact. Ben Duskin was nine-years-old when he came to the Make-A-Wish foundation with the desire to create a video game in which players battled and destroyed cancer cells. Ben wanted to create this video game because he thought it would be a helpful coping strategy for kids like him battling cancer. Ben reasoned that by playing a game that fights cancer cells, children would be able to relieve some of the pain and stress involved with treatment. Surprisingly, Ben’s Game did not receive a lot of support initially. Most people agreed that it would cost millions of dollars and create several years to create. However, Eric Johnston and his company LucasArts were determined to make Ben’s Game a reality. They worked side by side and were eventually able to create the game just as Ben envisioned it. Thus it was incredibly inspiring to read Ben’s doctor’s comments that the science for Ben’s Game came largely from what Ben learned himself in the course of treatment.

The directions for Ben’s Game are creative and I found myself more obsessed with various monsters than actually battling them. The object of the game is to destroy all mutated cells and to collect the seven shields that provide protection from common side effects of chemotherapy. The shields are guarded by a “monster”:
• Colds - Iceman Monster
• Barf – Robarf Monster
• Chicken Pox –Big Chicken Monster
• Fever - Firemonster
• Bleeding – Vamp Monster
• Hair Loss – Qball Monster
• Rash – Tornado Monster

Three health levels serve as ammunition in the game:
• Health you get from the hospital
• Ammo you get from the pharmacy
• Attitude you get from home

I suggest you all check out this game:

Not only is it imaginative and entertaining, but it allows you to realize that sometimes social impact games can truly help terminally ill children battle their illness. It all starts with a brilliant idea, just like Bens…

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