FWD News: Engaged Learning through STEM Games

FWD News: Engaged Learning through STEM Games 150 150 GAMESFWD

Games that challenge students in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM games, are finding a growing place in the curriculum and classrooms of educators across North America. Whether through the efforts of individual teachers or with the support of national education initiatives, creative games are showing kids of all ages that math and science can be exciting.

Such examples include two games developed by Salt Lake City educator Scott Laidlaw. Initially developing on his own, Laidlaw ended up giving up his teaching job to start Imagine Education, a game company dedicated to creating educational games that have given students a new outlook on applying their math knowledge.

Through his first game, entitled Empires, Laidlaw had his students build virtual ancient empires using math. Set in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, the game brings students together to build an economic community that builds on fundamental math skills and sets a foundation for financial literacy.

“By engaging them in a story, you’ve engaged the imagination,” explains Laidlaw. “If you can imagine math in one context, that gives you the power to imagine math in a different context.” Though the game was not for sale, educators who heard of its concept were eager to use it in their own classrooms. The game is set for commercial release in fall 2012.

The second game, Ko’s Journey, was released in the summer of 2010, building on the demand for and enthusiasm toward Empires. This story-based math game is designed for both home and classroom use, as a support curriculum to teach early middle-school math concepts such as multiplication and division to calculating area, understanding graphs to pre-algebra basics.

“It’s a game you actually have to use your mind for,” said Conner Cattoway, a 7th grade student from Ogden, UT. “It’s pretty fun to be able to do these things during math class instead of just getting a worksheet.”

The game tells the story of Ko, an teenage girl who finds herself alone after her village is attacked. Travelling through the wilderness, she faces challenges and tasks solved through middle-school math concepts, such as ratios, graphs and geometry. Ko’s Journey was created to provide a motivating and effective learning environment for 5th to 8th grade students.

“As a teacher I always wanted a curriculum like this,” adds Laidlaw. “It’s engaging because the kids see and become involved in a story.”

And data shows that students benefit from the format as well. Middle schoolers who played the game scored on average 50 percent higher on standardized tests. Educators who would like to introduce the game in their classroom can learn more here.

Also making the most of a compelling narrative is Geckoman!, a game developed by researchers at the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

Designed with the goal of teaching middle-school students about nanoscience and technology, the game tells the story of Harold Biggums. He finds himself transformed into a tiny superhero while working on a science fair project with his partner Nikki, and suddenly in the middle of an alien plot to take over the world. Together they must stop the aliens by defying gravity, walking on water and charging across electric fields.

Geckoman! is both engaging and challenging, and along the way, students pick up a lot of nanoscience fundamentals,” said Ahmed Busnaina, director of the Center and professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern.

“We had excellent teachers working with us to develop four lesson plans that guide student learning,” added Jacqueline Isaacs, associate director of the CHN. “The results of student play tests indicate that students are learning new concepts.”

Video games that explore the Moon are aiming to give students the chance to conduct their own scientific experiments and encouraging them to pursue careers in the field of science. Created by the Center for Education Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University, WV, MoonWorld makes players work independently or in groups to explore and conduct their own research as astronauts.

“The idea of this is not to have students learn so much about the moon, but to learn how to observe, to learn how to make deductions from their observations, to learn to work in teams. … [It] has strong educational goals and methodology to help the students achieve them,” said Chuck Wood, lunar scientist and director of the Center.

Funded by NASA, the game is based in Second Life and features virtual scenery that includes different types of craters as well as a lava flow and a volcanic dome. There, players get to explore the lunar surface, closely observing the terrain, collecting samples, and making measurements to piece together the history of one part of the Moon, known as the Timocharis region. MoonWorld has been available online for over a year, but a more recent version targets young children.

“The goal of this is to make it so realistic and the astronauts outfits and the rovers so realistic that the kids completely get engaged in it and then one of the benefits of this is because it is so realistic you can go outside with binoculars or a telescope in the evening and actually see that same crater on the moon that you were driving a rover around on the simulation,” said Wood.

The Center has developed other games including Selene, named after the Greek Goddess of the Moon. It uses familiar experiences, analogies and metaphors to help children ages 9 and up understand challenging science concepts.

“Selene starts out as a cinematic view of how the solar system formed and that is the concept of accretion and then how the early Earth formed and then how the giant impact happened that created the particles that created the proto moon,” said Debbie Denise Reese, senior researcher for the Center.

The decisions students make while playing MoonWorld and Selene are recorded and stored in a database, giving the researchers the ability to track learning patterns and develop profiles of what students know as well as what they are prepared to learn.

“I’m learning a lot about the space, and about the moon, and the density, and the heat and the radiation of the moon and it is fun to play and you do learn a lot about it so. You get to fling asteroids to make your own moon and that is pretty fun,” said Carla Nelson, a 7th grade student in Wheeling, who tested the game.

Enabling Devices Makes Guitar Hero More Accessible

Enabling Devices Makes Guitar Hero More Accessible 150 150 GAMESFWD

In time for the release of Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock in late September 2010, individuals living with a physical disability can now play along more easily thanks to Enabling Devices’ recently released adapted Guitar Hero controller.

The controller takes the form of a tabletop control centre which allows users to play the game’s five coloured buttons in sync with the musical notes. The buttons are large and easy to press, either with a finger or using a mouth stick. The company also points out that the game’s easy beginner level allows users to hit any coloured button, going to the beat of the music without having to follow a specific pattern.

“Now there is no need to strum a guitar to join in on the fun,” explained Gail Cocciardi, Director of Product Development for Enabling Devices, which specializes in developing affordable learning and assistive technology devices to help people of all ages. “What makes it even more exciting is that the user can play at different levels of difficulty from beginner to expert – all with our tabletop controller.”

The bundle comes complete with a traditional Les Paul controller—so other friends can join in—copies of Guitar Hero: World Tour (with beginner level) and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the PlayStation 3, as well as the tabletop control centre which is also compatible with PS2 consoles and games. The entire package is priced at $249.95 USD.

“One of the goals of our company is to adapt bestselling games and toys so that people with disabilities can enjoy them along with their family and friends, said (PDF) Dr. Steven Kanor, President of the company. “We are thrilled that we have been able to adapt the electronics of Guitar Hero and create an easy to use tabletop control center.”

A video demonstration of Enabling Devices’ adapted Guitar Hero controller can be seen here.

Editorial Note: When Sony issued the 3.50 firmware for the PlayStation 3, they disabled the use of many USB peripherals in an attempt to curb the use of counterfeit controllers and correct a major security flaw. Game Forward has confirmed with Enabling Devices that the adapted Guitar Hero controller does still work on PlayStation 3 consoles because it is modified from an officially licensed controller

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review 150 150 GAMESFWD

This isometric action-adventure features a lengthy campaign with high replay value, a precise and fluid control scheme and excellent local co-op play. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is not only one of the best downloadable games I have played, but one of the best games to ever star everyone’s favourite raider of tombs.

The premise is that Lara Croft comes across an artefact called the Mirror of Smoke in Central America at the same time as a local gang leader, who unwittingly frees the evil Xolotl and Totec, the ancient warrior who trapped him in the Mirror of Smoke.

Lara and Totec team up in an effort to chase down and re-imprison Xolotl, who escapes to a stronghold deep underground that is protected my a perilous labyrinth filled with traps obstacles and a variety of environmental puzzles.

Lara Croft is very agile and is capable of lengthy leaps, quick evasive rolls and interacting with a host of objects. She also has a grappling hook that enables her to latch on to golden rings found throughout the game’s 14 expansive levels.

Aside from basic platforming abilities, Lara becomes armed with a magic spear that acts as both a weapon with unlimited ammunition and a device that allows her to scale large walls or gaps by acting as a jumping point when thrown at most walls. There is a caveat however; Lara cannot use weapons while perched on a spear.

Combat in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is quite different than in the Tomb Raider games. It takes a dual-stick approach, with your right analog stick used for aiming and the right trigger used to fire. Lara can equip three weapons in addition to the mandatory magic spears. Lara also has an unlimited supply of explosives that can be used to destroy or interact with objects in addition to doing damage to advancing enemies.

There are over 20 weapons to be collected; from Lara Croft’s iconic dual pistols, to machine guns, flamethrowers and grenade launchers. The game can be quite combat-heavy at times and some sections will pit Lara against a large number of powerful foes at once. These sections can be both infuriating and extremely satisfying to get through.

The controls in Lara Croft and the Guardian of light are fluid, precise, intuitive and a host of other positive words. Jumping, dodging, bombs and action are mapped to the face buttons. Players can toggle weapons with the d-pad or left trigger and Lara’s grappling hook is fired with a bumper. There are slight variations when playing co-op as Totec.

Mastering the controls is key to completing a host of in-game challenges. Players will be awarded Relics and Artifacts that can be used to upgrade weapons and abilities for finishing levels within a target time or reaching certain scores.

There are also a number of collectibles to obtain such as health and ammo upgrades and each level has ten red skulls hidden throughout. Challenge rooms will present a single environmental puzzle that is usually a bit tougher than those in levels.

Players looking for value will find plenty in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. The campaign took me over seven hours to complete and I collected maybe 70% of the items in the game and completed about 60% of the challenges. This game is excellent for those that like speed runs as well and I found myself replaying levels a few times, trying to shave precious seconds of my best time.

This game also has one of the best local co-op modes in recent memory. Lara and Totec can propel each other to great heights and a number of co-op specific puzzles are introduced that are not present in the single-player experience, providing yet another reason to play through the game more than once.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a good-looking and highly-polished game. Great lighting and shadow effects minimize frustrating “blind leaps”; a common problem with isometric platformers. The game maintains a rock-solid frame rate, even during intense combat or chase situations and features a warm colour palette and nice special effects.

The audio presentation isn’t on the same level as the video, but still fares well. This game features competent, if somewhat uninspired voice acting throughout and a suitably cinematic soundtrack. It should be noted that any in-game speech is not subtitled, though cut scenes are.

Downloadable games don’t get much better than Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. This effort from Crystal Dynamics is extremely well-presented and will, without a doubt, appear on many 2010 game of the year lists. The extremely high replay value, fluid controls and excellent production outclass many current retail offerings that sell at four times the price.

FWD News: Games for Pain Reduction, Alcoholism and Visually-Impaired Fitness

FWD News: Games for Pain Reduction, Alcoholism and Visually-Impaired Fitness 150 150 GAMESFWD

Virtual reality games are showing promise as a tool to combat pain. A research project is studying the analgesic effects of virtual reality environments and how they impact the way patients’ brains respond to pain.

“Virtual reality produces a modulating effect that is endogenous, so the analgesic influence is not simply a result of distraction but may also impact how the brain responds to painful stimuli,”explains Dr. Jeffrey I. Gold, associate professor of anaesthesiology and paediatrics, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. “The focus is drawn to the game not the pain or the medical procedure, while the virtual reality experience engages visual and other senses.” More…

Presenting at the annual scientific meeting of the American Pain Society, specialists and researchers reviewed their findings in the field of virtual reality games.

Dr. Lynnda M. Dahlquist, a clinical child psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, revealed details from her recent laboratory research examining the use of virtual reality and other computer and video game technologies to provide distraction-based acute pain management.

In one pilot study involving 100 children having blood drawn, those immersed in a virtual 3D environment felt less pain than those who watched a cartoon or who played video games on a flat screen. There was less distress for the technician and the parent as well. On the other hand, the researcher recorded significantly greater pain tolerance for kids wearing specially-equipped video helmets when they actually interacted with the virtual environment.

While early results are promising, Dahlquist emphasizes that more research is needed to know for certain if virtual reality would play the same distracting role in such pain-generating procedures as cleansing wounds, cancer treatment, immunization, injections and burn care. However, one preliminary study showed a reduction of 30 to 50 percent in pain ratings during severe burn wound care while patients using virtual reality during physical therapy reported greater reductions in the amount of time spent thinking about pain and its intensity.

Game Tackles Alcohol Recovery

The University of Central Florida and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charleston, SC, have developed a video game to help recovering alcoholics avoid falling off the wagon and reintegrate into sober life. Entitled Guardian Angel, the game is a project under the Health Games Research program.

The mini game-based software leads players through the choices recovering alcoholics must face in their rehabilitation. Players start the game with no job or driver’s license, for example, and have to plan their daily travels to avoid liquor stores and other triggers. A “craving meter” takes note of the player’s stress levels and emotional state. Too much stress and emotional volatility will push the character to relapse.

Dr. Marcia Verduin, from the University of Central Florida is one of the lead project researchers. She explains that with this game, recovering alcoholics will have the chance to make these mistakes in a virtual world, rather than in real life. Learning these relapse skills in a game is also meant to make the learning process more enjoyable.

Trials are expected to continue until fall 2010. Once the research is completed, the project developers plan on making the game available online at no cost.

Visually-Impaired Gamers can Get Fit Too

Another research project, this time from the University of Nevada, Reno, has found a way to let the visually impaired play fitness games. Called VI Fit, and loosely inspired by Nintendo`s Wii Fit, the free games can be played using the Wii Remote and a Bluetooth-enabled PC.

“Lack of vision forms a significant barrier to participation in physical activity, and consequently children with visual impairments have much higher obesity rates and obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes,” said Eelke Folmer, lead researcher on the project.

In VI Tennis, players get audio and vibration cues letting them know when to serve and return the ball. In VI Bowling, vibrotactile feedback shows players where to throw the virtual bowling ball. In an evaluation of the game, participants were found to exert as much energy playing VI Bowling as if they had spent the same amount of time walking.

Additional research on this project was done in collaboration with experts from the State University of New York, Cortland and the Department of Kinesiology, Sports Studies, and Physical Education at SUNY. The PC games can be downloaded for free on the VI Fit website.



Researchers at the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill University in Montreal, QC, and the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, ON, have developed an interactive virtual reality training program to boost patients’ confidence and increase the success of stroke rehabilitation.

“Relearning and improving movements affected by brain injuries is an intense process that requires hard work and motivation,” said Dr. Michael Hill of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, a funding partner of the program’s clinical trials. “Research into how to best engage and motivate patients is vital for stroke recovery.”

By practicing reaching and catching movements through the game, patients stimulate their brain to make the fullest use of its ability to re-organize and restructure itself after a stroke. Trials are testing the effectiveness of 2D and 3D applications to determine the best method for stroke recovery.

“The training program uses kinematics, which measures how well a movement is made,” explains Dr. Mindy Levin from McGill University. “It allows us to understand how recovery is happening.”

Divided into four groups, patients are either treated using a fully immersive and interactive 3D virtual reality system or a more economical 2D game system; while the last two groups practice similar games in different physical environments.

While results are still preliminary, early indications show that the 3D version of the game is the most effective. “Novel use of virtual reality has the potential to revolutionize forever the way we think about rehabilitation,” said Dr. Antoine Hakim of the Canadian Stroke Network. “Dr. Levin’s research is showing that by motivating and involving the user, the recovery can be dramatic.

Focusing on healthy brains is also the purpose of the latest Humana Games for Health project. The organization has recently launched a new application for the iPhone promoting cognitive health. Created in collaboration with Persuasive Games, Colorfall has players thinking quickly to arrange cascading coloured tokens in the order of the colors of the rainbow.

“We’re excited to be the first health insurance company to offer people fun, healthy mobile games that challenge their minds and bodies while encouraging healthy behaviors,” said Paul Puopolo, director of consumer innovation at Humana.

Health and Medical Games News Roundup: 11-02-2009

Health and Medical Games News Roundup: 11-02-2009 150 150 GAMESFWD

There has been a lot of news relating to health and medical technology and games in recent weeks. From video games for medical research and disease management to health education games, here is a summary of some of the stories which have caught our attention.

A new study by the University of Florida is looking to determine whether exergaming can have a positive impact on osteoarthritis. The disease is the most common form of arthritis, caused when joint cartilage wears down. Knee and hip joints are the most frequently affected by the disease. The research focuses on women between the ages of 50 and 70. More…

We hope to learn from this study the impact of pain on physical activity and if participants who enjoy the exercise will report less pain,” said Bridgett Rahim-Williams, lead researcher of the project. “If women find a physical activity that is fun, perhaps they’ll do it even in the face of pain. (…) And when people are more physically active, their health outcomes improve.”

A website entitled Generation Cures is taking an active role in promoting healthcare research. Built as an online community, the website offers games for children to play. Every time someone reaches a new game level, sponsors will make a donation to the Children’s Hospital Boston, helping to fund some of its important research.

Game technology is also being used directly for medical research by physicists and engineers at Ohio State University. They created a device which could help examine tumour cells, using magnetic fields to separate cancerous cells from healthy tissue. In order to manipulate these cells, the researchers use a video game joystick to switch the magnetic field on command.

“You can look at each cell rather than averaging it out,” said physics professor Ratnasingham Sooryakumar, main researcher on the project. “When you actually have 10,000 of them to analyze the data, you can understand stat distributions that we normally would not have gotten in ensemble measurements, and that’s a huge thing.”

Researchers at the University of Chile and Harvard Medical School have been developing audio-based PC games which allow visually impaired and blind children to develop spatial, cognitive and social skills. The study focuses on three games which let players navigate a labyrinth, a subway system and real-world buildings based on audio cues. While the games can’t yet replace traditional rehabilitative techniques the team hopes this research will provide complementary means of helping the blind.

“(We’ve) concentrated on developing the gaming software as a rehabilitation tool to allow blind users to survey unfamiliar buildings before actually navigating through them in real life, as well as conducting brain imaging studies to uncover how the brain of a blind individual accomplishes this task,” said Dr. Lotfi B. Merabet, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.

There have been a couple of games focusing on HIV/AIDS released in the past year, but another new project is currently under way. Dr. Lynn Fiellin, assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, has received a five-year, $3.9 million research grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to support her study.

She is working to develop and test an interactive virtual reality video game called Retro-Warriors that will teach adolescents of various ethnicities how to make healthier choices. The research plans to create a world in which users can engage in role-playing to learn to avoid risky behaviours—such as unprotected sex, as well as drug and alcohol abuse—that could lead to HIV.

“The game could travel with the player—it could be used at home, on a console, a cell phone or a personal digital assistant,” said Fiellin. “Access to the Internet is growing in developing countries and these technologies could be transferred to adolescents in countries experiencing a growing HIV epidemic but which have limited access to targeted risk-reduction strategies.”

Playing Wii Can Earn Students Physical Education Credits

Playing Wii Can Earn Students Physical Education Credits 150 150 GAMESFWD

The University of Houston has introduced a brand new way to earn physical education credits. In the class entitled Wii Performance, students will learn how to improve their posture, centre of balance and their knowledge of health and fitness.

The class will use the games Wii FitWii SportsWii Sports Resort and Dance Dance Revolution in addition to more traditional methods. Students will also take quizzes on health and nutrition and track their calorie intake and daily activities.

“Our department conducts a host of research into the epidemic of obesity, not only its root causes, but ways to combat it and the diseases related to it,” said Jessica Wheeler, program coordinator at the University of Houston. “Using the Wii games can be both fun and an effective tool. We anticipate that many students will want to take this class.”

This innovative teaching method may be surprising to some; however a growing number of schools are turning to the Wii to stimulate students. For example, at the new Bunker Hill Elementary School in Middletown, Delaware, students were greeted with a fitness room equipped with a 50-inch widescreen television and a Nintendo Wii.

The video game console is also a staple in the fitness centre at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware. “They (the students) really like the video games, the interactive fitness, as I call it,” said Kim Eroh, a gym teacher at the school. She started using the game system in class in 2007.

“You have a lot of kids who are not as active,” said Barb Bobik, a physical education teacher at Olive B. Loss Elementary School in Bear, Delaware, who started piloting the Wii games for fourth-graders at the end of 2008 and plans to expand it for grades 3-5 in gym class 2009.

“Kids are a little overweight now. This motivates them. This hooks kids who are not going to be out there running around at every recess playing tag. It doesn’t look like work to them. I just want them to move.”

Fun, but Are They Effective?

While the fact that kids are attracted to fitnessp-themed games is undeniable, their effectiveness remains to be fully proven. The U.K. government has endorsed the Wii for use in school physical education classes following a pilot project that used heart monitoring to determine that regular use increased students’ fitness. However, more evidence remains needed to properly assert their success rate.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center have found that active video games offer a great alternative to moderate exercise for many children of today’s generation who are sedentary and at high risk for obesity and diabetes.

“These exergames are no substitute for ‘real’ sports activities, but if kids play them as designed and stay engaged, they can burn several calories per hour above their sedentary level,” said Kevin Short, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project, which was published in the July 2009 issue of Pediatrics.

The Oklahoma researchers measured the heart rate, energy expenditure and self-reported exertion in children between ages 10-13 while they watched television, played active video games and walked on the treadmill at three different speeds. They found that the energy expenditure levels reached during active video game play were comparable to moderate-intensity walking and that playing physically active games can be a safe, fun and valuable means of promoting energy expenditure.

Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, an Iowa State University assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, is also researching the measurable health benefits of active games. Lanningham-Foster was lead author of a study titled “Activity-Promoting Video Games and Increased Energy Expenditure,” published in the June 2009 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

Her initial research on 22 children, ages 10 to 14, found that a child who plays eight hours of video games a week will burn 1,990 calories—an average of 284 per day—through Wii Sports boxing. The amount is three times greater than the energy expenditure from playing a traditional sedentary video game.

“What I wanted to demonstrate was how many more calories your body can burn by playing Wii as opposed to playing a traditional video game — and it’s quite a lot,” said Lanningham-Foster.

Whatever gets kids moving in any manner is a good thing, according to John Ray, an education specialist for physical education with the Delaware Department of Education. “I think it’s a positive,” Ray said of Wii games. “Anything that promotes physical activity and being fit for life is good. We have a long way to go with our obesity and overweight population. But we’re making progress.”



On May 5, 2009, IBM announced the release of the second generation of its serious game Innov8. The online 3D simulation game offers a new global “collaboration feature”, letting players work within a virtual team to progress through the game. Thanks to this new teaming capability, Innov8 is finding uses outside university classrooms to become an educational tool for businesses.

Innov8 2.0 features three additional scenarios that reflect significant needs in today’s businesses. To learn about environmental considerations, players will evaluate a traditional supply chain model to reduce their company’s carbon footprint. Another scenario will have players evaluating existing traffic patterns, re-routing traffic based on sensor alerts of disruptions such as accidents and roadway congestion. And the last will have players using a call centre environment to develop more efficient ways to respond to customers.

The revamped application was rapidly picked up by the University of Farmers, Claims, a corporate campus that trains over 10,000 Farmers Insurance Exchange claims employees across the United States. The University will be using Innov8 and its new call centre training scenario to give employees hands-on experience in processing claims and managing customer calls. This training is expected to help streamline operations and improve the quality of the company’s customer service.

“We see serious gaming as an ideal delivery system for a number of learning opportunities,” said Mike Cuffe, vice president of learning at the UofF, Claims, in a news release. “Customer-focused, accurate and timely claims processing is critical to our company’s bottom line… our employees now achieve competence more quickly, serve our customers more effectively and compassionately, and are better prepared for advancement opportunities.”

Phaedra Boinodiris, IBM Serious Games Product Manager, explains that Innov8 lets players learn “the anatomy of a business process model [by] running around finding clues, interviewing people, and completing puzzles… When you discover what’s wrong, you can collaborate to find ways to change the model to improve business operations.”

“We are seeing exponential growth in the serious games market. These games are being used to introduce new skills, evaluate business performance and develop leadership capabilities,” said Sandy Carter, Vice President of Service Oriented Architecture, Business Process Management and WebSphere at IBM.

IBM states that people retain information anywhere from 80 percent to 108 percent better when learning through serious gaming as opposed to traditional teaching methods. Originally developed based on an interactive shooter game from Vicious Cycle, Innov8 1.0 is being used by nearly 1,100 schools as part of their curriculum. Innov8 2.0 can be played online here.

Educational Game Site Helps Students Fight Bullying

Educational Game Site Helps Students Fight Bullying 150 150 GAMESFWD

A new educational website is showing students some valuable skills to fend off real-life and cyberbullies. Developed by LiveWires Design, Braincells uses quizzes, activities and mini-games to give teens a better understanding of just how serious hacking and bullying can be.

Told through sets of photo animations is the story of Oliver, a nerdy boy entering high school who is bullied by an older-boy, Eddie. Mini-games accompany each section of the site which is broken down into Hacking, Bullying and Cyberbullying areas.

In the first, Eddie tries to force Oliver to hand over his cellphone. Players use their knowledge of cellphone science to guide Oliver through the halls to safety. The second game creates an analogy between cellphone security and the walls of a castle, in a mini tower defence game. The last has a more serious theme as players chase Eddie, now an escaped felon, through the streets to arrest him.

Launched in March 2009, the program was adopted by the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District in Massachusetts, for use in their middle and high schools. Braincells also received an endorsement from Plymouth and Bristol District Attorneys who praised the valuable lessons being taught through the program.

“One of the biggest challenges facing kids today is how to navigate safely in this increasingly technical world,” said Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz, in a news release (PDF). “Today, kids often communicate on the internet and through cellphone text messages.  Braincells not only teaches children  appropriate cell phone behaviour, but it also helps them recognize unsafe behaviour.”

But the program goes beyond showing students how to protect themselves and teaches teens about the seriousness of bullying, pointing out the criminal nature of certain actions. Braincells quotes a British study which shows that more than 40 percent of students report that they have been bullied on-line, making electronic bullying one of the most pervasive problems in schools. Theft and extortion are also commonplace with 12 percent of students reporting having been forced to hand over a cellphone to a bully.

“By teaching our children how to respect one another in a world that is increasingly becoming an online one, we are preparing them for adult life and preventing bullying from growing into real life violence,” adds Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter.

There is even more to expect from Braincells. The web-based application will launch a new series of games and activities every four months, each featuring a new theme. Testing continues in Massachusetts, but also in schools in British Columbia and Manitoba.

“We will be revamping [Braincells] over the summer and launching formally in September. In the meantime, we are working on our next issue,” said Drew Ann Wake, president of British Columbia-based LiveWires Design, to Game Forward.

“Since our office is located a block from two Olympic venues, it was logical that the next theme will be Winter Sports! Games and activities dealing with fitness and nutrition will continue through to the end of the Games in February [2010],” added Wake.

After its first two months online, Braincells has already been tried by 2600 teachers in 25 countries. “Games for schools have slightly different requirements than casual games. Our teachers need to complete the programme in an hour, so the games have to be short enough so they do not overwhelm the other elements of the program,” says Wake.

Until September, both the old and new Braincells content will be available to users for free. After its launch, schools will be able to purchase a site license for use in as many classrooms as needed for $45 per school year.



Thanks to NASA-developed technology, kids living with ADD can now get treated without the worries associated to behaviour medication and while playing some of their favourite video games. The system marketed by SmartBrain Technologies uses neurofeedback therapy to measure and create brainwave activity.

Unlike other neurofeedback systems, what sets this one apart is its compatibility with any regular PlayStation or Xbox video game console and its use of saline-based sensors instead of the invasive electrodes traditionally seen. But the main advantage of SmartBrain’s system is that kids no longer have to stay at the doctor’s office to receive treatment. This improves accessibility through reduced treatment costs and by allowing clinics to have more time to treat a greater number of children.

To use the system, a child plays any off-the-shelf racing or platforming game while wearing a Velcro visor that monitors levels of distraction. During a racing game, the system will slow down the player’s car if he or she loses focus. Additionally, the controller will vibrate and beep – another reminder for the child to re-focus.

“You’re training the brain to work in a specific frequency and rewarding it for doing that,” said Anthony Silver, Director of Gray Matters, a cognitive health clinic in Westport, CT, which has been using the system with great success. “The more you do that, the more the brain gets used to working in that frequency, the more the blood flow goes to the areas associated with that frequency, and the effects become permanent because of it.”

For parents who fear the side effects of behaviour-modifying medications on their children, the SmartBrain Technologies system is a God-send. The Gray Matters clinic notably refers to studies showing that this treatment is just as effective as taking medication and that the results are permanent.

“In the few sessions (about 9) that Richie had, I’ve seen dramatic changes. I feel like I’m getting my little boy back,” said Jenny R., the mother of a 7-year old boy who successfully used the treatment. “My son, who normally cried at the sight of a book, sat down with me and painlessly and beautifully read 3 books aloud. It’s like a ‘miracle in the works’.”

Neurofeedback generally requires 40 sessions to be effective. With the system which allows training protocols to be tailored to each child’s needs, patients only need to be treated in a clinic for about 1 to 7 sessions. Data from home sessions can then be downloaded and emailed to the child’s health professionals for follow up and support.

The technology was originally developed by NASA to help pilots optimize their attention in the cockpit. The system was connected to a flight simulator, rather than a video game console, to flag attention lapses which could have dire consequences during a real-life mission.