GAMIFICATION: Steampunk & Gaming Trends in Education

I find gaming trends (specifically, gamification) hugely interesting. But before I go any further, it's important not to think of gaming as mindless blood & guts violence, or as the pixelated TV games from the 1980s (apart from the greats), but rather as breathtaking imagery such as this:

Gamification: Screenshot of the fantasy, medieval game, Skyrim

Screenshot of the fantasy, medieval game, Skyrim

Gamification: Bioshock Infinite: A popular steampunk game set in the late 1800s ... in the skies! (image: pcgamer.com)

Bioshock Infinite: A popular steampunk game set in the late 1800s ... in the skies! (image: pcgamer.com)

Gaming is currently the fastest growing entertainment industry in the world. It has influenced music, films, art, education and popular culture in general. To me, gaming is the height of entertainment. I like to think of it as watching a great, immersive film, but playing an active role in how the story pans out. It is edutainment at its best.

I firmly believe that gaming is what will prevent me from getting Alzheimer’s one day too – in all seriousness. It encourages lateral thinking, logic, multitasking, good hand-eye co-ordination; in short, it keeps the brain active, engaged, rewarded and excited. It is literally reshaping industries and the way we learn.

Gamification: Fallout 3: A popular post-apocalyptic game that offers an experience of what a post-Word War 3 world might be like ...

Fallout 3: A popular post-apocalyptic game that offers an experience of what a post-Word War 3 world might be like ...

Gaming Trends in Education

I mentioned how gaming trends are influencing formal education too. Gamification (as it is called) has started being implemented by several schools around the world. Because the younger generation can relate to gaming, school-work and learning can be made genuinely fun through gamifying education, and there is much evidence to point to its benefits. Check out "7 ways games reward the brain" by Tom Chatfield, or the below TED video.

Gabe Zichermann on Gamification: How Games Make Kids Smarter

A lot can be learned from several tasteful games themselves. Gaming trends in recent years have brought a lot of history to our PCs and consoles. A popular genre in gaming trends at the moment is steampunk – which adds a beautiful and atmospheric science-fiction twist to history.

Many steampunk games offer an alternative look at history – i.e. a look at how things may have panned out differently, but also insight into the minds of those who lived through the Industrial Revolution.

“Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.” - Wikipedia

Gamification: Popular steampunk game, Dishonoured (image: forbes.com)

Popular steampunk game, Dishonoured (image: forbes.com)

There is no doubt that steampunk has had a profound effect on contemporary society. It has influenced literature – such as the works of H.G. Wells and Philip Pullman. It has influenced the genres of fantasy, horror and historical fiction – specifically Victorian-era fiction. A number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.

I could never seem to justify the number of hours spent gaming in my youth to my parents – arguing that I was genuinely learning and loving the process. I can only suggest that parents today take an active interest in the games their children play. As Gabe Zichermann suggests, "enter into the game with your kids". Watch how they engage and help them choose the educational masterpieces over mindless blood and gore.

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PC GAMES: A quick look at some good game titles this Christmas

IT is the most exciting time of year for retailers and children alike as we are bombarded by adverts from all directions and the kiddy winkles are putting their finishing touches to their Christmas wish lists.

If your children are as demanding as most they’ll probably be nagging for the latest and greatest gadgetry goods this year. I imagine it must be tough having to explain what a recession is to a young child and argue that Apple iPads and Xboxes just aren’t in Santa’s budget this year.

But, if you already have a workable PC installed at home, games as gifts are the perfect solution to making everyone happy this Christmas. PC games are not frightfully expensive these days and I can assure you from experience that there is nothing more exciting than being given a new game to play for Christmas.

I have compiled a list of a few great PC games that cover several genres and are suitable for a variety of ages. It is also useful to know that most PC games today are not gender-specific. What may have once been considered as boys’ games are now being played considerably by the growing number of girl gamers.

Civilization V (ages 16+): R360 (PC)

Civilization VSid Meier’s award-winning Civilization series is a treat to the mind that will appeal to strategy gamers who enjoy turn-based games. Civilization takes one back to the beginnings of time where you can play as one of the great leaders from history. Discover new technologies and lands, build great wonders, forge alliances and sign treaties as you lead your people through time.

Civilization is a challenging game that promises hours of unique gaming. The previous release (Civilization IV) is now available for only R66 and includes three expansion packs.

Fallout New Vegas (R18): R350 (PC)

Fallout New VegasIn a post-apocalyptic world set in the not too distant future, you are one of several survivors who were preserved in underground vaults. After humanity emerges from living underground for generations, they have already begun to form tribes and allegiances. Conflict is inevitable as different tribes compete for clean water and survival, but one city has mysteriously been preserved from complete destruction. That city is New Vegas.

Stunning visuals and complete immersiveness make this game a personal favourite of mine. Outcomes differ depending on how you play the game and engage with its moral choice system. Just a warning: Fallout does have a gambling component and suggestions of prostitution — hence the age restriction.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (ages 16+):

The Elder Scrolls IV: OblivionThe Elder Scrolls places the player in the fantasy realm of Cyrodil — set in the Middle Ages. Made by the same company as Fallout 3, this game is equally stunning and immersive. Players are given endless quests which may see you fighting in the arena or battling mythical creatures with both magic and steel.

The Elder Scrolls is a great example of a sandbox game, whereby the player can literally venture where he or she pleases until the edge of the map. Like Fallout 3, it also features a weather system­, whereby players will experience rain, snow or shine and changes between day and night.

The game is not excessively violent or naughty, but perhaps a little complex for younger players.

Zoo TycoonZoo Tycoon 2 (ages 3+): R309 (PC)

From Railroad Tycoon to Zoo Tycoon — these games are great educational simulators. Players will learn the fundamentals of zoo upkeep and design in a fun and visually stimulating way. Zoo Tycoon is available with four expansion packs, namely the Zookeeper collection, the Marine Mania collection, Endangered Species and the Extinct Animals expansion pack.

Need for Speed Hot PursuitNeed for Speed: Hot Pursuit (ages 12+): R303 (PC)

If your offspring are into fast cars and adrenaline rushes (i.e. racing games) you need look no further than the Need for Speed series. Hot Pursuit is one of the more popular releases that will make car fans drool at the well-rendered graphics and sporty cars they get to drive.

Fifa 2011 (ages 3+): R308 (PC)

Fifa 2011The ever successful Fifa series is back with Fifa 2011 released this year. Football games are a lot of fun with a lot of effort put into their design. Players look like the real deal, stadia are modelled­ accurately and the roar and buzz of the fans creates a high-energy atmosphere.

Fifa 2010 is a good choice considering that the World Cup was hosted by our country this year. Unfortunately this release is currently out of stock; but if it becomes available again before Christmas it is selling for just R129.

GAMES BARGAIN BIN:

(these are games I haven’t personally played, but have certainly heard of. Suitable for all ages):

  • Ultimate Monster Trucks         R14
  • Football Manager 2007           R14
  • Winter Games                            R14
  • Puzzle Quest                             R90
  • Zoo Tycoon (stand alone)        R66

NOTE: All PC games mentioned here are available at www.take2.co.za which is also offering free shipping this festive season on all orders over R350. Games may be available in stores or on other shopping websites, yet prices may differ.

Happy gaming and Merry Christmas!

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FUTURE MMOS: When gaming, the web and reality cross over

GAMING has become one of the fastest growing industries in the world today. With millions of people currently playing single online titles such as World of Warcraft, while still managing to show a steady growth curve, the sky is not even measurable as the limit anymore.

online gamingEven if you’re not an online gamer, nor are you familiar with massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), it is still interesting to know what the future of online gaming may hold and the impact that it will have on the entertainment industry as a whole. We may even see the first attempts at a crossing over of gaming, the web and reality.

The unique aspect of MMORPGs, such as WoW is that they are constantly changing. With continual updates and expansions being developed, as well as the social bonds that are formed between players online, MMORPGs are perpetual by nature. Player activity actively changes these massive gaming worlds, keeping them fresh and ever-evolving.

For gamers, MMORPGs are exciting virtual worlds into which we escape to have countless interesting adventures. For the rest of the world, a MMORPG is a form of entertainment - comparable to books or movies, just more interactive. Games are also able to story-tell like no other genre and newer technology­ is making gaming more visually appealing than ever before.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!

To put gaming investment into perspective, to develop a MMORPG the same scale as WoW costs anywhere between $60 million and $100 m. With that sort of money you could theoretically buy a new game every 10 minutes for the next 20 years.

dollarDeveloping MMOs is therefore a life or death risk, but with the decade-long success of WoW (which has certainly set the benchmark — reaping in over $1 billion every year) we can certainly expect to see more MMOs being developed in the foreseeable future.

The only scary part is that online games such as WoW are designed to be played at the exclusion of everything else and thrive on how much of the player’s time they can consume. There was even that case in 2009 where a young Chinese girl died of exhaustion after playing WoW for several days straight. However, MMOs are not something to be feared, and it is interesting to follow their evolution and study their compelling nature.

FUTURE ONLINE GAMING

With WoW having monopolised the online gaming market, it may take some time before we see a new and innovative release come to our screens. However, the fact that WoW only covers a single genre, there is a lot of room for the MMO model to evolve and grow in the future. Not everyone is into orcs and elves and medieval folklore. In the near future we may see interactive home décor­ simulations, fishing games, multiplayer­ motoring games or educational puzzle titles — all playable with others in a 3D online environment.

We’re likely to see a lot more user-generated content driving the development of future gaming too. Player-driven content is the lifeblood of MMOs and the fact that players can change the course of a game’s story will result in unique experiences for every player.

We may also see development of social­ games and web-based games in the future. These have the potential to grow and compel gamers and prove to be profitable at the same time. Sponsorship could come in the form of website links and web adverts. Farmville, for example, could have you visit www.jerrysfarmsupplies.com to get your new watering-can game card allowing you to progress further in your virtual farming endeavours.

Darth coffeeWe may also see a blending in of reality-based gaming in the near future. Having you visit the nearest MacDonalds or coffee shop in your area could form part of a quest for example.

Such ventures could provide the exorbitant funding that is required to develop online gaming further. This means guaranteed customers for selected stores, exercise and sunlight for gamers­ and the neccessary funds to develop multiplayer gaming further; win-win-win. It may be aggressive advertising at its best, but at least it will get gamers­ off their chairs and into the daylight.

The future of online gaming will certainly be something exciting to behold, no doubt. I leave you with one of my favourite gaming quotes:

“When we look at the future of MMORPGs, we think virtual reality. We dream about being able to lead another life where you are the boss and control everything. In real life, you are influenced by everyone else. In virtual reality, you get to choose your paths and if you think something is wrong, you change it.” — www.astahost.com

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PC GAMING: A look back at some of the best games of 2009

2009 was a great year in gaming. Titles such as Assassin’s Creed, Wolfenstein and Fallout 3 are quite simply some of the best games ever developed. Period. So if you’re still struggling to keep up with the latest game releases, then why not catch up by playing the following, highly-recommended, best games of 2009 (which are also a lot cheaper now than when they were first released):

Fallout 3 GOTY Box - Best Games of 2009Best Games of 2009: Fallout 3

Based on the idea of a post-apocalyptic world in the near future, Fallout 3 is without a doubt the best game I have ever played to date. The game not only has a riveting storyline and an amazing graphics engine, but also has the most sublime explosions you will see in any game. Being able to create custom-made weapons from Wasteland junk and choose from a library of unique perks whenever your character levels up, are just a few pleasures that make this game a must-have.

Best Games of 2009: Wolfenstein

Wolfentstein PC Game Box - Best Games of 2009You are super-spy BJ Blaskowitz and your job is to single-handedly put a stop to those naughty Nazis and end WWII. The earlier versions of Wolfenstein still fill me with nostalgia and give me a tingly feeling in my fingertips. The latest Wolfenstein is a treat to the eyes and is one of the most intense war games in my collection. The game has a real solid feel and explosive effects, and being able to move in and out of the veil is certainly a unique gaming element. There is a great selection of upgradable weapons and is awesome if you're a fan of the rifle. Capping Nazis has never been this fun!

Best Games of 2009: Call of Duty 5 - World at War

Call of Duty 5 PC Box - Best Games of 2009Granted that this game was released at the end of 2008, it is certainly in the same league as 2009 war games. It is fast-paced and intense, and in my opinion the best Call of Duty title released. This is one of those titles that gamers can play time and time again whenever the urge to kill kicks in. My only gripe is that Captain Price is off the scene (I understand that he was busy auditioning for a place in Modern Warfare 2). Nonetheless, the American and Russian campaigns are a blast.

Best Games of 2009: Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5 - Best Games of 2009I was never a fan of the third-person Resident Evil games until I played this one. The Direct X 10 version of the game is both spectacular and intense. Even on normal difficulty, Resident Evil 5 is a desperate challenge to find ammo and cap zombies. Having a hot sidekick follow you around is a very welcomed element and she is far more than just a well-rendered face. Resident Evil 5 is also by far one of the longest games I’ve ever played (perhaps too long), but no doubt it will keep you entertained for months. Keep clean underwear nearby.

Best Games of 2009: Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed PC Box - Best Games of 2009Being a huge fan of Assassin’s Creed, I bought the second installment this year and was rather disappointed. Although ’Screed 2 is far better looking than its predecessor and offers a few more gaming elements, it still does not match up to the story and immersiveness of the first game in my opinion. Nonetheless the Renaissance environment in which you play is rather appealing. The controls for 'Screed are by far the easiest to learn and nothing beats leaping off a clock tower into a bundle of hay. Bundles of fun!

All of the games above are available at Take 2 for reasonable prices. If the prices have not yet come down, it may be a good idea to simply add them to your wish list. Take 2 will then notify you when the prices drop.

Happy gaming!

Related Post: Fallout 3 Tweaks & Tips

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WoW: A beginner's guide to what World of Warcraft is all about

THERE are currently over 12 million people that play World of Warcraft (more commonly known as WoW by its fans). That’s the size of a small country. Wow. A community of that magnitude is worthy of recognition in my books. I have always been hesitant about entering this online realm – concerned that I would have to sign away a portion of my life if I did.WoW logo

However, I have always been curious to know what the appeal is and how the game ropes in so many players – many of which spend the majority of their waking hours living in this virtual world. I scoured all the websites, forums and wikis dedicated to the game and thought I’d share what I found regarding this thriving fantasy world.

What is World of Warcraft
WoW is known as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) in which thousands of players can interact within the same virtual world. Players assume the roles of Warcraft heroes as they explore, adventure, undertake game quests and interact with one another in the Warcraft universe known as Azeroth.

WoW has a massive visual appeal and since its release in 2004, has received rave reviews and won numerous awards all over the world. These include Best PC Game, Best Multiplayer Game, Best RPG and Most Addictive Game. It was also honoured at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the art form of MMORPG games. Critics have described the WoW environment as a careful blend of cartoon, fantasy art, and realism.

Who lives in WoW
What distinguishes WoW from other virtual online worlds such as Second Life, is that it is pure fantasy. It has more of a Lord of the Rings vibe rather than being a replica of real human living.

Players can choose between ten races, such as dwarves, orcs, humans and elves each of which have unique racial traits. There is something of a racial divide among the races as they are separated into two warring factions: the Alliance and the Horde. A description from the WoW website reads:

“Characters can only talk, group, and create guilds with players from their own faction. Certain zones and cities in the world are also friendly to one faction while hostile to the other. Additionally, certain quests can only be completed by members of one faction and not the other” – www.worldofwarcraft.com

It’s almost like a virtual apartheid.

Making a living in WoW
Players can take on primary and secondary professions in WoW when not adventuring and completing quests. These professions fall into three categories, namely gathering, production, and service. Players can contribute to the World’s thriving economy, or just keep themselves occupied with jobs that range from jewel-crafting and tailoring to cooking and alchemy.

Public transport
The WoW universe is vast – literally continental in size. The game features an advanced flying transportation network and players can make use of public transport to get around. NPCs can buy tickets to ride flying mounts such as mythical Gryphons and Dragon hawks. The flight paths are specifically designed to delight passengers with entertaining sights and glimpses of new regions and unexplored territory.

Heroes of World of Warcraft

Players can choose between ten races belonging to the Alliance or the Horde

WoW economy
There is even a virtual banking system that exists in WoW. Players are able to deposit items into banks and each character has access to personal bank storage with the option to purchase additional storage space using in-game gold.

Auction houses are available for players to buy and sell items to others in a similar way to online auction websites such as eBay. There is even a postal system whereby mailboxes can be used to collect items won at auctions or used to send messages, items and even in-game money to other players.

Advertising in WoW
As with other MMORPGs, companies have emerged offering to sell virtual gold and associated services. However, due to spam advertising abuse, several companies have since been banned from using any WoW chat or communication to advertise any business or sell any services relating to WoW. The game has also been known to advertise unrelated products, such as Toyota trucks.

Corrupted blood plague incident
As part of a cruel social experiment, a ‘deadly’ disease known as the “corrupted blood plague” was unleashed into WoW in 2005, which quickly spread between interacting players. The plague so closely resembled the outbreak of real-world epidemics that scientists are currently looking at ways that online games such as WoW can model human behavior during outbreaks by allowing researchers to more accurately predict how diseases spread amongst a population.

Gaming Addiction
WoW is known to be frighteningly addictive. In 2009 an article titled “10 Most Bizarre Gaming Incidents” reported the case of a young Chinese girl who died of exhaustion after playing the game for several days straight. An online funeral followed. Relationships have ended and online feuds have broken out as a result of the game, so a non-addictive personality is certainly recommended if you wish to venture forth into the world of Azeroth...

Interesting WoW facts

  • Development of WoW took roughly 4-5 years including extensive testing
  • Players have the option of selling their user accounts once their character is well equipped and experienced. The highest recorded WoW account trade was for £5000 (roughly R55 000).
  • The game reflects real world events such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter. Different locations also have variable weather, such as rain, snow, dust storms and many more.
  • When a character dies it becomes a ghost at a nearby graveyard. Characters can be resurrected by other NPCs that have the ability, or can self-resurrect by moving from the graveyard to the place where they died.
  • The Chinese government imposed a modification on Chinese versions of the game which transforms dead character corpses into tidy graves and places flesh on bare-boned skeletons.
  • Quests reward the player with experience points, items, and/or in-game money. It is also through quests that much of the game's story is told.
  • WoW players are invited to participate in the virtual community in creative ways. Activities include creating fan artwork and comic strip style storytelling.

World of Warcraft requires the player to pay for a subscription, either by buying game cards for a pre-selected amount of playing time, or by using a credit or debit card to pay on a regular basis.

Related post: DotA - A nOOb's guide

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