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Play to Travel Smarter

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Chromaroma from Mudlark on Vimeo.

Chromaroma takes your travel data
and makes it into a game where every journey
counts in a competition for the city!

Play with friends or compete
against them. Set records, earn
achievements, go on real missions.
Travel like you mean it!

This video does not, alone, explain the value that Mudlark intends to instill via their game, Chromaroma, but it does hint at its promise. It is also, I think, a very cool video!

Mudlark is a game development company that says about itself, “(We) are building ways to create entertaining games from the data we create and leave behind without noticing. Mudlark believes games are a way to access this information and to make smart decisions about our lives.”

I believe that the technologies we use and the ways in which they are implemented should be designed to enable people to make smart decisions about our lives. The companies that enable people to make smart decisions should be encouraged and rewarded, while the companies that allow or force people to make stupid and dangerous decisions should be discouraged and penalized. It is clear to me that much of contemporary commerce is designed to encourage people to make poor choices, for personal and environmental well being. It is prudent to build economic incentives that discourage companies and individuals from narrowing our choices to those that are poor, insensitive, unhealthful, but highly profitable.

The concept behind Chromaroma is wonderful. It is a location-based game that is focused on the journey, not the destination. Most location-based games, like Foursquare and Gowalla, are centered on the places we go to, like parks, restaurants, offices, and train stations. They enable us to keep track of where we’ve been to, but not how we got there. Some Foursquare-based games are extensions, like Forecast, which shares not where you are, but where you are going to be. But life, as we say, is about the journey, not the destination.

So how is Chromaroma more like life itself?

It connects communities of people who cross paths and routes on a regular basis, and encourages people to make new journeys and use public transport in a different way by exploring new areas and potentially using different modes of public transport.
At its simplest, Chromaroma is about amassing the most points possible. By watching your own travel details you can investigate interesting new ways to travel and exciting new destinations in order to get more points.
Beyond competition and conquest, Chromaroma’s gameplay opens up the beauty in the city’s transport flows and reveals to its most persistent players some of the mysteries of travel, and even the strange characters travelling through the tunnels in the centre of the system, who may hold the secrets to your city.

Rather than merely tracking where we go and what how we spend our money, then trying to encourage us to spend more money at certain venues, the objective of Chromaroma, then, is to encourage people to use smarter travel means – tram, bus, boat, bicycles, etc. – meet and team up with others to travel to destinations that are meaningful, and discover things together in collaboration and competition.

Chromaroma is currently primarily available only in London. It seems that Mudlark is spreading some aspects of the game to other places, though, such as in Birmingham and Amsterdam. But other venues, it seems, are starting to take notice. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City – MoMA – is one such venue. ChromaMOMA was born in an exhibition that opened on July 24, 2011 at MoMA, entitled “Talk to Me”. The exhibition focuses on “the communication between people and objects”, and how “designers write the initial script that enables the two parties to communicate effectively and elegantly and features projects that “establish an emotional, sensual, or intellectual connection with their users.”

I think that these concepts will begin to spread to other places and directions (journey, not destination!), and will accelerate very quickly. Much has already been written about the tremendous growth of Foursquare. But again, I think that the viral growth of games that encourage and reward smart choices will rapidly rewrite this recent history. For I believe that most people are quite smart. We are smart enough to know that if we can play and win in activities that improve our lot, then it is pretty stupid to remain ignorant and dumb.

How Games can Make a Better World

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I think that a lot of people might agree that games are an important part of a better world. That is, games and the fun that result from people engaged in gaming is a critical part of a better world. In fact, stated this way, I think that perhaps most people in the world would agree that games are important in a better world.

However, it is unlikely, I think, that most people would agree that games can MAKE a better world. That is, gaming and the process of playing games will be a critical part of changing the way in which we think about and engage with our world, making it a better place in which to live. This presents a very different position, that games are a solution to our world’s most pressing problems.

I am a lifelong Boy Scout. In writing Scouting for Boys and setting the stage for the international Boy Scout Movement, Lord Baden Powell wrote a book that outlines the principles of Scouting as a series of Camp Fire Yarns. Yarns are, of course, stories; usually they are stories that are long, elaborate, and twisted, but often have a moral. But these stories are punctuated throughout with games; these games are essential parts of the Scout program, that teach youth how to interact and engage with others and be prepared for all kinds of adventures and become responsible and practical adults.

For a Scout, then, it should be no surprise that games can help people develop good skills in solving real-world problems. games are not only an important part of the discovery process, but do very well to instill the practices that are just, good, and responsible.

It should not be so difficult, then, to extend this ideology to suggest that if we posit the most difficult issues of our time in a challenging and resolvable game format, then we are more likely to not only develop more creative and likely resolutions, but instill the habits that improve the odds of resolving these issues. If people are more likely to conduct challenging but vital activities when confronting them in a game than in real-life, then why don’t we make more of what we experience in real-life a game-like activity? What do we have to lose by doing so? More importantly, what might we gain?

If nothing else, real-world gaming might be good practice to resolving problems. But there is much more potentially to be gained by playing our way forward and framing the world’s most pressing issues as a game. For example:

Feeding the World Challenge

With 7 billion people on the planet, the world’s natural resources are currently stretched to the limit. Food, in particular, is at a premium, and half the world goes to bed each day hungry. Your objective in this game is to find a way to share/compete for resources to comfortably feed the greatest number of people, while gradually finding a population equilibrium.

Although this game example does not provide any details about how players play the game, its rules, methods, or devices, I think it illustrates how a game might posit critical real-word issues in a resolvable, creative, and meaningful way. In order to make the game more fun, there should be unpredictable elements, not just those that are associated with intellect or skill. Certainly, though, experience and smarts should count for something. It would certainly give a lot more people the opportunity and incentive to consider important issues and their resolution.

Feeling lucky today? Then give a game a go!

Gever Tulley: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Another video from TED on learning…

Gever Tulley is the founder of The Tinkering School. The Tinkering School has been featured in Make Magazine and associated with the global Maker Faire community.

Japan has its own Make: Japan community.

Gever Tulley published his book, 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), in April 2011. He has also a Website on the book and subject.

My two favorites:
Number 28 – Climb a Tree
Number 45 – Play with Fire.

Most people do not recognize the difference between dangers and hazards. In mistaking the two, we actually reduce safety, because children become unprepared to deal with important things in life that should be used with caution, gained through real experiences.

Nuff said – watch the video!

Learning.com, Virtual Curriculum Marketplaces, and the failure of Walled Gardens

September 20, 2011 2 comments

Hmm. I’ll start by saying that I am not a Luddite. If you have read a few of my blog posts, then you already know this.

I have also been a fan of Learning.com for quite a number of years, despite a failed project in Japan with the company more than 5 years ago. Their EasyTech products are wonderful.

I understand and believe that Learning.com – and others – can and do provide great educational technology resources and curriculum materials for students and teachers. I am also aware that the video clip is a marketing tool.

I am also an advocate for technology in learning, in schools, by and for students, and used by faculty in classrooms. I have used a wide variety of technologies, both proprietary and open. I also understand and agree that schools, teachers, and parents have a responsibility to provide good, safe, secure, and appropriate resources for the education of children.

But watching both clips, I cannot help but feel that there is something wrong with limiting technology-based education to what is provided in a virtual vending machine. That vending machine may contain more than the 25 buttons on a beverage machine and may even resemble a curriculum convenience store more than the metaphor used in the video suggests. But any just-in-time process for passing on skills, knowledge, experience, and understanding is based on the misguided principle that most of what should be passed on to schoolchildren is already known and can be planned.

I cannot help but cringe at this suggestion. I think that most of what we need is uncertain. Most knowledge is unknown. The most promising things we can teach in schools and to our children is the determination to prepare for uncertainty and the courage to undertake adventure. For this, we must resist the temptation to create walled gardens – no matter how vast – and build the environments in which we can ensure the greatest safety from hazards while allowing our children to take on risks and overcome challenges.

Altruism and Games (theory)

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment

The RSA says, on its website, this about itself: an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Through its ideas, research and 27,000-strong Fellowship it seeks to understand and enhance human capability so we can close the gap between today’s reality and people’s hopes for a better world.

Understanding human capability and putting that understanding to work out solutions for a better world is the fundamental challenge of education and all educators.

One of the challenges that I find particularly important now is regarding altruism. As global warming and overpopulation strain the ability of our societies to provide for all without suffering, it seems that some forms of altruism are the only resource that we can call upon from individuals to engender the activities that support others and ensure a higher likelihood of success for all. But many people challenge the notion that altruism is natural to human behavior. They believe that natural selection depends on the survival of the fittest; requiring, unfortunately, the demise of the unfit.

I am neither a historian nor a genetic scientist, so I am only vaguely familiar with George R. Price and The Price Equation. I am somewhat more familiar with one of the areas of math in which George Price made a significant contribution, Game Theory. In math, game theory represents calculated circumstances in which a person’s success is based upon the choices of others. Game Theory is applied in economics, political science, psychology, and biology, where, as a genetic biologist, George Price made his most significant scientific contributions.

I am also – separately – interested in Game Studies, a discipline in which people study games, their design, players, and their broad role in society and culture. In particular, I am interested in how important and challenging interpersonal relationships can be taught through games. Interestingly, this approach creates a unique convergence of Game Theory and Game Studies; the design and application of useful, practical, and compelling communication-based games requires a social context and an understanding of how an individual’s success is dependent upon the choices of others.

Engendering altruism is one of the challenges of social learning games. Of course, games are only a means to achieve the desirable result. But games can provide a robust environment in which children – and adults – can develop meaningful role models in a virtual setting, thereby increasing their aptitude to engage in successful practices in real life.

I found this video about George Price by the RSA to be very stimulating and thought provoking. I, too, believe that the human capacity for altruism is enough evidence to support its frequent application. There are few more important capabilities that we have psychologically and culturally. There seems, to me, little excuse to utilize it as a means of ensuring greater fairness and justice in our world.


The Price of Altruism – George Price

Ropes Course

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment

A Ropes Course is a challenging outdoor personal development and team building activity that is usually composed of both low and high elements. Low elements are usually on the ground or less than a meter off the ground, while high elements take place on utility poles that are usually more than 10 meters high and require a beeline for safety. A full description of Ropes Courses can be found on Wikipedia.

One of the organizations that is most associated with Ropes Courses is Project Adventure. PA builds Ropes Courses and other adventure courses and elements, as well as provides a range of activities and instruction aids for getting the most out of PA facilities and activities.
High Elements from a Ropes Course

There are many kinds of experiential learning programs, but the Ropes Course is one that I find to be a very interesting and productive challenge. However, it is an activity that requires a lot of preparation and staff skill in order to provide the requisite safety and quality experience. It cannot be taken lightly.

One of the places in Japan that has a Ropes Course is an educational facility in West Tokyo, Tamagawa K-12 and University and the Tamagawa Adventure Program (TAP). The center is run by Katsumi Namba, a friend and one of Japan’s most well-known adventure program leaders and facilitators.

The City Board of Education of Yamaguchi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture owns and operates two different camp facilities, each of which has a Ropes Course. The Project Adventure site in Japan currently lists 44 Ropes Courses in Japan.

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