Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
Video game aficionados are gearing up to spend the holidays on the couch, playing a handful of highly anticipated new releases. But video games aren’t just for the couch potato crowd these days; some say that gaming is poised to shake up our lives, from the way we work and socialize to the way we shop. Tech Tuesday examines the evolving world of gaming.
- Jesse Schell Professor at the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center in Pittsburgh and CEO of Schell Games
- Deborah Solomon Professor and Coordinator of the Computer Gaming and Simulation Program, Montgomery College
- Mike Musgrove Freelance writer whose reviews of video games frequently appear in the Washington Post
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Later in the broadcast, the FCC's vote and new regulations on net neutrality, but, first, the holiday season arrives, and you can almost hear it, that collective sigh of contentment as video gamers all over the country sink into the couch and get ready to play the latest video games. This year, many of the games are faster, more complex and more beautiful than ever. But they are no longer just for the couch potato crowd.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIGames are increasingly being used in the classroom, in the operating room and in military simulations. They may also be on the cusp of infiltrating almost every product we buy, turning every transaction we make into a game to collect points and save cash. One writer calls it the gaming of life. In this hour, we'll be talking video games, from the latest and greatest new releases to bigger questions about how video games are changing our society. Joining us in studio is Deborah Solomon. She is a professor and coordinator of the gaming program at Montgomery College. Deborah, thank you for joining us.
MS. DEBORAH SOLOMONThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Mike Musgrove. He is a freelance writer who reviews video games, and those reviews frequently appear in The Washington Post. Mike, thank you for joining us.
MR. MIKE MUSGROVEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us by telephone from Pittsburgh is Jesse Schell. He's a professor at the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center in Pittsburgh and CEO of Schell Games. Jesse Schell, thank you for joining us.
MR. JESSE SCHELLI'm glad I could be here.
NNAMDIJesse, let me start with you. I'll start by reading a quote from a recent magazine article by Adam Penenberg in the magazine Fast Company. He's talking about a recent speech that you gave about the future of video gaming. He writes, quoting here, "He began his speech with the premise that a real-life game could be stacked on top of reality. You'd get points for, well, just about everything you normally do in the course of 24 hours. This was already happening," he explained, "and the games were altering human behavior. What were American Express points and frequent flyer miles but games that reward loyalty? Weight watchers, a game. Fantasy football, a game stacked on top of a game that influences the way you watch a game." Jesse, could you elaborate a bit on that idea for us?
SCHELLOh, sure. This is just something I had noticed, you know, over the last few years, is how not only do we have video games reaching out into everyday life, if you look at the trends in video games right now, you see things like the growth of Facebook games, which are exciting to people because they involve your real-life friends. But then if you look in the living room at things like the Wii-motes and the Microsoft Kinect system, where you use, you know, your real body and real physical motions in order to interact with the video game.
SCHELLSo we start -- we see games moving towards things that are involving more and more reality. And then we see reality moving more and more towards games. Many people around the country have started to change their shopping habits because the stores have started to give out gas points because they have an ability to track everything that you purchase. And these similar point systems are just showing up everywhere. Starbucks now has a system where you can level up. If you buy enough Starbucks cards, you start to become, you know, a Starbucks gold member. And when you've leveled up, you get free prizes like soy milk, et cetera. And so I just saw all these things starting to come together and realized that this is a trend I think that's going to continue for some time.
NNAMDIThis is the part that really interests me, where you say you get points for, well, just about everything you normally do in the course of 24 hours. Jesse, how close are we, in your view, to living this sort of game-driven existence?
SCHELLYeah, sometimes I jokingly call it the game apocalypse. It's happening a little bit. You know, a little bit here, a little bit there. I mean, our shopping experiences are starting to be gradually co-opted by this. Certainly, we're starting to see entertainment games creep their way into work. That's a big part of what's happened with Facebook gaming, is -- the dirty secret of Facebook gaming is that most of the people who play it are kind of sneaking a few minutes here and there at work. So we're seeing that kind of entertainment kind of creeping in.
SCHELLAnd everything that we can track, people are starting to give points for. Now that everyone -- well, not everyone, but -- very soon, everyone will have a GPS system, you know, in their pocket as part of their phone. More and more companies are trying to figure out, well, how can I -- see, if I know where you are geographically, maybe I can you give you coupons or prizes in order to influence where you're going. Anyone who has used Groupon has probably noticed how much it feels a great deal like a game.
NNAMDIIt seems that we're at a point that the definition of gaming itself might be in flux. So starting with you, Deborah Solomon, how do you define gaming?
SOLOMONI think gaming -- there are many different definitions out there. And people will argue about what is a game versus what is a toy versus what is a simulation. And I think some common themes of what is a game involve a rule-based system where there are rules for what you're playing, and there are probably rewards depending on how well you achieve those rules and penalties for if you don't achieve your goals in the game. So that's one possible definition of gaming. But as gaming becomes more and more ubiquitous, and we get this sort of augmented reality view of gaming where life turns into a game, where you have this virtual overlay on top of reality, then I think you're going to see those definitions change in exciting, but also some kind of scary, ways.
NNAMDIMike Musgrove, your definition of gaming.
MUSGROVEWell, I think that's a great definition. It's something -- you know, it's something with rules where you can get a certain satisfaction by exploring the rules, and you get certain rewards by advancing. And, you know, you can see how, you know, certain parts of life could lend themselves to game. I think that, you know, we're almost at New Year's. You know, it's resolution time, and I think of resolutions as sort of a game with yourself. You know, you're challenging yourself.
MUSGROVECan I go without eating ice cream? Or can I lose that 10 pounds? I got a program last year on probably Jan. 2 after I stepped on the scale, and it was a calorie tracker for the iPhone. And it wasn't designed to be a game, but it said that if you want to lose this much weight, this is what your calorie intake has to be. This is how much exercise you have to get. This is the calorie target that you can hit every day. And it wasn't designed like a game, as I say, but it became a game for me because it became more interesting to hit that curve or that trajectory.
NNAMDIThe no excuses game.
NNAMDIHow about that?
SOLOMONI got that game also. I definitely lost playing that game.
SOLOMONBut I think an important point with Jesse's concept of all your transactions being reduced to gaining points and gamer points and...
NNAMDIThe game-driven existence.
SOLOMONExactly. And I think an important point of that is who's setting the rules for that. So if you're -- the rules for those games are being set by the manufacturers of Twinkies and Count Chocula, and you get more points for having the Dr. Pepper. That, I think, is a problematic direction. Whereas if it's a rule-based system that you set yourself -- like Mike's example of the calorie tracker where you have your goal of losing weight and becoming healthy -- and you're playing a game to delve deeper into your goals, I think that's an exciting direction.
NNAMDIWe're talking on this Tech Tuesday about video games and their potential for interacting or merging with real life. Inviting your calls. What role do video games play in your life? What do you find compelling or not compelling about video games? 800-433-8850 is our number. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. You can shoot us an e-mail to email@example.com or send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIDeborah, the degree in gaming at Montgomery College has been around since 2005. How, from your perspective, has the world of gaming changed since then?
SOLOMONIt's changed so drastically and in ways that I would never expect. In 2005, I was not thinking of Facebook games. I was not thinking that the iPhone and the iPad could possibly overtake the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. But those are the directions that the industry seems to be heading in with a furor, an incredible energy and, as well, this sort of ubiquitous computing in augmented reality. If you look on -- if you Google for Pranav Mistry SixthSense technology, you'll see this fantastic new technology invented at MIT where this researcher has a camera and a projector and turning a mobile game space into what, I think, will probably be the future of game technology where you can play anywhere, anytime and interactively.
NNAMDIThat's fascinating. By the way, I guess I should mention that Montgomery College will be having a game day on April 4, 2011 for local high school and college students. Is that correct?
SOLOMONThank you so much for mentioning that. And details can be found on our website, which is studygaming.com. There will be...
NNAMDIAnd there will be a link to that website at our website, kojoshow.org. Let's go to the telephones.
NNAMDIHere is Naomi in Silver Spring, Md. Naomi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NAOMIHi. How are you, Kojo?
NAOMII love your show.
NAOMIThank you. Well, you know, it's funny. I have a son who's a senior in high school. And, originally, when he told me that he didn't want to major in computer science anymore when he went to college but wanted to focus on gaming, that I thought it was a really kind of scary idea. But after listening to you guys, it sounds like it actually might be really smart. And I'm wondering, you know, what is the best major? What is the best direction to go? And, also, are there hard science applications?
SOLOMONIt's a great question. And there's different directions to go. So you could -- he could major in gaming in an interdisciplinary kind of study, which is the program that we have in Montgomery College in the gaming program. Or he could do more sort of straight computer science if programming is really his thing and then take a few gaming courses along the way. And that really would depend on his interest, and I'd be, you know, happy to talk with you offline more in detail about that.
SOLOMONBut the industry itself, there are fantastic career opportunities, and many people when they think of the gaming industry, they think, oh, well, I'm not a programmer. I can't do that. Or I'm not an artist. I can't do that. But there are so many different career paths, from audio, you know, the people doing the dialogue, the sound effects, the background music, programming, art and animation, production, the managers, designers, the people who are saying, you know, what the game will be about and how will you win or lose it, Web design, as well as all the different other careers that go with any business, like human resources, Web design and so on.
NNAMDIWould you like to add anything to that, Jesse Schell?
SCHELLYeah, I think one thing that is definitely worth thinking about, if you're interested in going into the gaming industry, is the game industry does have a lot of respect for traditional education as well. They're used to taking people who are, you know, skilled computer scientists or skilled artists who might not know much about gaming, and, if they're really good at the basics, the companies will often seriously consider them. The program I teach at is a master's level program at Carnegie Mellon, and ours is a little different.
SCHELLWe bring in a mixture of artists and engineers who already have an undergraduate degree. And we try and teach them a mixture of things about gaming and entertainment technology, most of which is focused on the ability to work together in an interdisciplinary team because, for people who work on games, they often find this is the biggest challenge. Engineers and artists have to work together side by side and learn to speak each other's language, so they can build something that they couldn't possibly build alone.
NNAMDINaomi, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us, 800-433-8850, to join this Tech Tuesday conversation on video games. If you're a gamer, is it mostly, for you, a solitary experience or a collaborative one? Has the way you used games changed dramatically over the last few years? Speaking about changing dramatically, the film "TRON: Legacy" is generating a lot of nostalgia from the early days of video gaming right now. And, as you know, video games have changed so much since the early days of gaming. What, in your view, Mike Musgrove, makes for a well-made and compelling video game today?
MUSGROVEWell, that's a great question. Video games, right now, are -- the industry right now is -- they tend to come out with a lot of sequels. The biggest hit this year is -- so far this year is called Call of Duty: Black Ops, and that's selling at just a phenomenal rate. And that shows one trend of the industry sort of playing it safe and cranking out, you know, a shoot-them-up game that kind of looks like what -- you know, your stereotypical game, what you probably think of, you know, as a mom or dad worried about your kid playing video games or something like that. But then in the other direction, the other big hit this year is Microsoft's Kinect device, which is just a fascinating piece of technology.
MUSGROVEIt's like something out of -- everybody compares it to "Minority Report." If you remember the Tom Cruise movie where he's -- he just holds up his hands and moves the evidence across the screen. Well, it actually works pretty much that well. It's not perfect. It doesn't always recognize me or my voice, but it actually can see your face and sign you in to your account and respond to your voice commands. And you move your hands and you move your body, and it actually, you know, sees you.
MUSGROVEThe most interesting game experience I've had this year -- and, boy, do I feel silly admitting to it -- but there's a game called Dance Central, where it plays popular, you know, disco and dance songs. And you have to move your body to it. You have to, you know, do the disco flash and do the, you know, crouch down and do a hoodie, (sp?) you know, do a hitchhiker and so forth.
NNAMDIYou're embarrassing me describing it.
SOLOMONAnd you really have to do it accurately.
MUSGROVEAnd you have to do it accurately. What makes it a good game is that you're -- you have to do it accurately. And the kids at my house have just -- you know, we had a birthday party recently. And before the magician went on, we put on Dance Central, and they just loved it.
NNAMDIThey liked it better than the magician.
MUSGROVENo, no. Actually, the magician won. I'll give that to him. We had a good magician. But, yeah, the kids -- the thing is, the kids crowd around this thing. They're so fascinated. They don't realize that it's just one or two people at a time, and they all just, you know, crowd it around. And they're doing the disco flash and so on. As long as they're having fun, that's all that matters to me, I guess.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this Tech Tuesday conversation about video games and their potential. But you can still call us, 800-433-8850. Do you use video games for training in the workplace? Do you think video games can be useful for teaching? Are there ways video games are not being used that you think they should? 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. The holidays are coming. Gamers all over the country and the world are preparing to play the latest video games. And we're talking today about the potential of video games with Deborah Solomon. She's a professor and coordinator of the gaming program at Montgomery College. Mike Musgrove is a freelance writer whose reviews of video games frequently appear in The Washington Post. And Jesse Schell joins us by telephone from Pittsburgh.
NNAMDIHe's a professor at the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center in Pittsburgh and the CEO of Schell Games. The debate over the impact of video games on us, especially on young kids, is an old one. But there are some scholars who now think video games, in some context, can be a force for good for all sorts of learning and even a vehicle to allow us to help others. What do you think, Deborah Solomon?
SOLOMONI think absolutely that they are. And, please, cut me off because I can talk about this all day long.
SOLOMONBut games are being used for improving society. Jane McGonigal is doing some interesting research on games for understanding of issues in...
NNAMDIJane McGonigal is of the Institute of the Future, and she sees nothing less than a way to save the human race.
SOLOMONExactly. She has a game called Evoke, which is to raise awareness and help people understand issues of human rights and water sustainability in Africa, World Without Oil and another game on jewel-something about conserving energy. So there's that whole saving the world kind of large-scale meta type of gaming, and then also individual health. We were talking a little bit about the Kinect and fun games like Dance Central. There's a whole species of games called exergames that are for exercise.
SOLOMONYou've probably seen kids in arcades dancing to Dance Dance Revolution. These are very, very physical games. Lots of people lose a lot of weight on these games. They are games to train doctors how to perform surgery on virtual patients before they -- you know, you don't want them practicing on you when you're on the surgical table. They'll practice in the game world and learn those skills. There are even games -- games have been shown to close the gender gap on spatial cognition. They found -- a University of Toronto study found that...
NNAMDIOkay, okay, you said...
SOLOMONThank you -- sorry...
NNAMDI...to stop you when we you were going on too long.
NNAMDIWe've heard more than enough, but we'd like to also hear from you on this issue, Jesse Schell.
SCHELLYeah, there -- the idea of games changing the way education works is something that is happening. It's a little slow just because the nature of transformation in education is slow. You know, television was invented in the mid '40s, but we didn't actually see it in classrooms until the mid '80s. So it took nearly 40 years. And, even today, it's still unclear that we're using video and television wisely and well for education. So we know education is slow to change, but what, I think, is happening is more and more informal education opportunities are arising. I think that's a big change that the Internet has brought to us. It is so much easier to self-educate than it had been years ago.
SCHELLAnd there are so many things games are better at teaching. They're not better at teaching everything. They're not better in every context. But in any context, for example, where you have a complicated system -- something like calculus or learning the nature of the human bloodstream or how does a nuclear reactor work -- working with a simulation where you can play with it and change it and see what happens is so much better than simply reading about it or hearing about it.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. Here is Alex in Darnestown, Md. Alex, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEXHi. You guys were talking about the potential music, and at college I'm at -- I'm in the gamer symphony orchestra. We're a student-run organization where we arrange and play music from video games using a live orchestra and chorus.
SOLOMONOh, that's wonderful.
ALEXAnd it's pretty cool. It's just -- for us, it's like a new way to kind to continue music if you're not a music major, and, plus, it's just kind of cool to play Mario waltzing in.
NNAMDIDeborah Solomon obviously agrees. Alex, thank you so much for your call. Let's move on to Kim in Gaithersburg, Md. Kim, your turn.
KIMThank you. Kojo, I really enjoy your show. I just was trying to gather my thoughts here to present them clearly. I am a movement educator. I teach yoga and several different movement modalities. I work with people frequently who are in a lot of pain. And, I wonder, are there any studies about games and their effect on how people inhabit their personal space on their posture and body usage?
SOLOMONWell, there are games that actually teach yoga, and there are games for biofeedback. There's a game called Wild Divine that teaches stress management, and you can actually only progress through the game if you're relaxed enough, which I've never been able to progress through it. So there are lot of movement and relaxation and yoga types of games. Is that the kind of idea you were thinking of?
KIMNo. What I noticed -- so I was working at a conference recently -- I'll keep this as short as I can -- and I was teaching movement classes in the morning and doing private body work sessions with people. And there was a teenager nearby who was texting and playing a game, working at a booth. And what I noticed was that I made eye contact with people, and I looked around the room. And I looked at the table. My vision kept changing -- my movement around in space. Because there wasn't much traffic at her booth, she spend a lot of time with a leg tucked under and her back rounded and her eyes really focused on the distance of where her hands were.
KIMAnd this caught my attention because she did it for hours. And I had spoken to the same teenager the year before, and she had a tremendous amount of back pain. And so while my own body was moving and I was changing the distance of what I was looking at frequently throughout the day, I saw that she wasn't. And I wonder how many of the people with back and shoulder and carpal tunnel issues have that same kind of shrinking in the variety of their movement. And is anyone looking at that?
SCHELLYeah, it has the same problem that reading has in the -- you know, like you say, you -- very often your eyes can be quite close if you're working with something nearby you. And if you do it for hours at a time, you know, that can be unwise. One does have to be sort of careful and thoughtful about when you're doing something for hours at a time -- you know, how you use your body.
NNAMDIKim, thank you very much for your call. I think Kim was interested in finding a video game that can apparently correct that problem. That's maybe a conversation for another time. Before we go back to the phones though, Mike Musgrove, the thing that's generating a lot of -- we were -- we talked about the film "TRON: Legacy" by generating nostalgia. But the thing that seems to be generating a lot of buzz this year is Microsoft's Kinect. Can you tell us about Kinect?
MUSGROVEYeah, it's been the most interesting arrival in my household this year. It's this camera that -- it's got a little eye on it, like HAL from 2001. And I just say that because every once in a while, it'll take picture of you and it'll flash at you, and it's a -- when you're playing a game, and it can be surprising. But it lets you move around instead of pushing buttons on the controller. You're jumping around in your living room, and, you know, some of these games are, you know, really very clever. And it's a very advanced technology. It's very impressive. It's been the big seller this year. It costs about $150 to add on if you already have the Xbox 360.
MUSGROVEAnd the people that I've shown it to, who never cared about video games before, are calling me up. My sister called me up yesterday, and she's never had a video game system in her life. And she saw it for a few minutes over Thanksgiving, and I'm trying to wait -- I'm trying to -- I don't think she's going to buy it 'cause I think it's just so much money. You know, and she has never been interested in this stuff before. But I keep -- but I -- you know, it's like, well, the Xbox is going to cost 250 bucks or $300. Yeah, the Kinect -- that's $150. And she's like, uh huh, uh huh, okay, yeah.
MUSGROVEAnd the games, they're, like, $40 or $50. And she's like, okay, is there anything else I need? I just want to make sure I have everything, and...
NNAMDIYou're going like, who is this person that I'm talking to?
MUSGROVEThis is somebody who's never had any interest in this stuff before. So the Kinect is really, you know, drumming up a lot of excitement out there among people who really had no use for, you know, killing, you know, space marines and killing aliens before.
NNAMDIWell, this may be, in part, the answer to our previous caller's question because there are some people who think that Kinect will help to dispel the idea of video gamers as couch potatoes and expand the audience and the clientele for video games. What do you think, Deb?
SOLOMONI think, absolutely. And I think, this started, you know, a few years ago with the PlayStation EyeToy, which was also a camera-based system, where your body was the controller. There was no physical controller. And it's evolved and evolved. And, you know, this is made by a different company, but Kinect is the latest iteration of that camera-based system, and it's really catching on. And there are some wonderful games out there -- Dance Central, we mentioned, and Kinectimals, Kinect Sports -- that encourage kids to get up off the couch and exercise. And they can't game it like they can with the Wii and the, you know, where you can shake the Wii-mote, and it looks like your exercising really hard but you're not. The Kinect will know if you're not working out enough. So...
MUSGROVEI've tried one of these exercise games. And, you know, I guess there's nothing different in doing a squat or a lunge, you know, in your living room in front of the TV, as opposed to, you know, in a gym, where I would usually do it. I mean, I guess the Xbox is actually a tougher coach because it'll see you every time and say, raise your hands up a little, you know, lower. Whereas, you know, when I'm at a gym in a training session, you know, when a guy is looking the other way, I'm not necessarily doing the pushup or something like that. So...
SOLOMONRight. It makes you very accountable, and my husband is using EA SPORTS Active 2 on the Wii -- I mean, sorry, on the Kinect right now. And I hear him every morning grunting and, you know, cursing the system because it's catching him on -- you know, if he doesn't do an exercise exactly right.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Michael in Arnold, Md. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELHello. My comment is on how video games are trying to become less violent. The biggest indie seller of the year was called Mindcraft, and there is next to no shooting in it whatsoever. It's about building. You have blocks. You put blocks on other blocks, and you make things out of them. People have made USS Enterprise for one, all sorts of things out of books and anything that you could possibly imagine. It's insane. I mean, the amount of hours and dedication that go into it is crazy. It sold over 800,000 units this year alone. And the -- one of biggest sellers of the past year was Portal. And that had no shooting in it, other than people at you, and you had to just navigate this landscape. And you didn't have anything to shoot with. You used a portal gun, and you had to make portals. And that was it.
NNAMDIJesse Schell, care to comment?
SCHELLWell, yeah, I think the -- I mean, it's just like film or television or literature. I mean, there are times when, you know, violent drama is something people are interested in. But there are plenty more times when people are less interested in it. As games have become more advanced, it's been more and more possible to kind of get away from these violent interactions. I think part of the reason video games have such a history of having violence in them is because violence is a fairly easy thing to put into a game. And so, you know, in the early history of video games, we've seen a big focus on that. But I will note that even Mindcraft has monsters that come out at night.
NNAMDIAnd I was about to say, Mike Musgrove, this is not to say that the shooter games are not still incredibly popular.
MUSGROVEYeah, it's just that this is an industry that's growing and spreading out. I mean, it's not that there is going to be -- it's not that next year, the next Call of Duty isn't going to be the best seller that everybody's, you know, buying at Amazon.com. But there is a wide variety of stuff out there. I mean, obviously, for a while, everybody and their brother on Facebook was playing Farmville, where it doesn't get much more violent than, you know, feeding your sheep or planting a plant or something like that. So, sure, you know, there's -- you know, there's a wider variety than ever. And, I mean, at Amazon right now, I noticed before that three of the top games are dancing games -- the Michael Jackson Experience is one of them.
MUSGROVESo I hate to bring that dancing stuff up again, but it seems to be a trend this year. And -- but, yes, there are still going to be the violent games. I think they're always going to be there. But, yeah, there's a wider mix of stuff out there than ever, sure.
NNAMDII think Mike Musgrove has a future on "Dancing with the Stars." Michael, thank you very much for your call. Deborah, you're homeschooling your daughter.
SOLOMONYes, I am.
NNAMDIAnd it's my understanding that you're particularly excited about the role video games can play in education. How so?
SOLOMONThere are so many games out there that I think I could probably replicate an entire elementary education for her, just through video games. You know, we'd start off with health class with Kinectimals, where, you know, she'll spend a couple of hours playing soccer with a virtual baby tiger. There are math games. There are English games. She loves BrainPOP for science. There is a Chinese game that we're playing on the Nintendo DSi. There are just so many games out there for -- almost on every subject. It's fascinating.
NNAMDIHe'll get -- go ahead, please.
SOLOMONI just was also going to say that Portal -- while a wonderful game -- does have some violence in it, and GLaDOS, the evil character in that, is quite violent.
NNAMDIThe evil character is Gladys?
SOLOMONShe -- GLaDOS.
SOLOMONShe's, like, computer AI.
NNAMDIHere is Zachary in -- I-70. Zachary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZACHARYWell, I just want to tell you a short story. A couple of years ago, I went and applied for the Marines.
ZACHARYAnd I've playing video games since I was about two years old. And they seemed really impressed with me, the recruiter did, when -- about, like, all the military knowledge that I had. He -- so he decided to give me a couple of tests. And what he did was he made up these flash cards of, like, various weapons and aircraft. And he was, like, dumbfounded when I could identify, like, about 90 percent of them just by the silhouette. And he asked me, was your dad in the military? I'm like, no. No, I've just been playing video games all my life.
NNAMDIAnd that made you qualified and maybe even overqualified, huh?
ZACHARYWell, he was really excited to get me in. But the thing was, due to physical limitations, I wasn't able to join. So that was a real disappointment.
NNAMDIOh, I understand. But thanks very much for sharing that with us, Zachary. Here is...
ZACHARYI had actually one other thing to say, if I could.
NNAMDISure. Sure, go ahead.
ZACHARYCould any of your guests comment on the degradation of quality on new video game consoles? 'Cause, I mean, I've had a 64 and PlayStation 1 for over a decade, and they're still going strong. But yet my Xbox 360 breaks, like, all the time.
MUSGROVEWow. Yeah, well, I, you know -- I feel your pain. I've gone through a few Xbox 360s. I mean, the theory was -- I mean, it's a whole business story. But Microsoft wanted to beat Sony to the market, and so they came out with their Xbox an earlier -- a year earlier than the competition. And some people have said that, well, as a result they have a higher breakdown rate than the other consoles. And, I don't know, it's been my experience. I just replaced one last month.
MUSGROVEFortunately, Microsoft has been pretty good about replacing them. But my last one was out of warranty, so that was out-of-pocket for 100 bucks or so. But that's the reason why -- you know, that's considered to be the reason why Microsoft's Xbox 360 breaks down. But I haven't had any problems with the Nintendo Wiis, and I've had, you know -- or the PlayStation 3. And I've had -- certainly had experience with kids accidentally kicking them over all the time. But I wouldn't do that with the Xbox 360 at all.
NNAMDIZachary, thank you very much for your call. Jesse, can you take us through the process of making a new game? How long does it generally take? And what kinds of skills are needed to put together a complex game these days? And then Deborah, I'll ask you the same question. But, Jesse, you first.
SCHELLOkay, sure. So it can vary a great deal because there are games that take -- that can take three, four years of development in order to make, and it can require hundreds of people. But at the same time, there can be games that can be -- you know, go from idea to a finished shipped product in as short as two months. So it varies a great deal. But what all -- you know, what almost all games have in common is you have some kind of game designer who is the one who -- all game design really means is you decide, you know, how the game works and, like, what the game is going to be.
SCHELLYou have someone who's going to do the software engineering that makes the whole thing work and somebody who's taking care of the various art aspects. And, of course, there's visual and sounds and animation. And those can either be simple or they can be complicated, and that -- the whole thing can be small and simple or incredibly large.
NNAMDIDeborah, you design educational games for the NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Tell us a little bit about your process.
SOLOMONWell, our games for NOAA, we create with a group of Montgomery College gaming students and in consultation with NOAA for, you know, science content and help like that. And these are online flash games, so these are smaller games than your average console game, for example. And they -- and they're also with a team of, you know, people who are very new to the gaming industry who are students. So it takes us a little longer than if we had people who'd been in the industry for quite a while.
SOLOMONAnd I think, also, that the gaming industry, the development process is going through kind of a cycle. I used to say to students, you have to be able to work in large teams. Because while, in the past, games were produced in the basement with, you know, just a couple of people, now they're in teams of 100 or more people. But now with the rise of Facebook games and iPhone games, we're starting to see, again, games being made by very small teams of one or even two people. So we're kind of back to that in your basement, small team design again.
NNAMDIOn to -- well, first let me read this e-mail we got from Lynn, who says, "As public housing moves from a cash-based to asset-management-based budgeting, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is about to roll out a game-based curriculum of 16 courses on asset management for all of 3,400 of its public housing authorities. This project is one of the first government efforts to ensure rapid deployment of new federal policy through serious gaming." We move on to Tom on the telephone in King George, Va. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMYes, thank you, Kojo. I was wondering where the Ponzi scheme video game would be. That way we could teach the kids what happened in the year 2008, '09, and '10 before it happens and let them a good grip on this cycle that we have of building wealth and losing wealth.
NNAMDIAre you familiar with any video game, Mike Musgrove, that either emulates or tries to reflect a Ponzi scheme?
MUSGROVEI haven't heard that one. If some game designer is listening out there, it's actually not a bad idea. I think...
NNAMDIThat's what I was thinking.
MUSGROVEI did have -- I mean, you know, in terms of games teaching something subtle that is hard to grasp from a textbook, I did have an experience with a game called The ReDistricting game, and it's about gerrymandering. And, you know, the whole use of districting to control an election, it's something that I read about in a textbook. But I didn't feel like I really understood it until I went online and played this game that was designed by a college team, where you can move around the lines of a district and, you know, shape an election one way or another.
MUSGROVEAnd it gives you a more visceral understanding of it. So I've thought about redistricting -- not that I've ever thought about it that much -- but I've never thought about it the same after I tried this game. So I would argue that, you know -- that it's true. Stuff like this could be a good, you know, basis for a game, and it could help us understand complex systems a lot better in the future.
NNAMDIIt used to be that video gaming was a solitary experience. Now, more and more people are doing online gaming, things like World of Warcraft, for example. Do you think most gaming will go this route in the coming years, Jesse? And, if so, what impact will this have on our ideas about social networking?
SCHELLYeah, I certainly do. I mean, if you look at the history of gaming -- not just video games -- but if you go back thousands of years, 'cause we've -- games have been with us as humans for a long, long time. Most of the time, the games that we play have been -- have involved other people. Sport games and card games and dice games and board games, those have all almost always involved other people. It was only once we started to have these sort of solitary personal computer experiences that the growth of games we played by our self really started to increase.
SCHELLI mean, we've always had the games like Solitaire, et cetera, but they've always been sort of more of something off on the side. Now, what makes it a little different is that fact that games can combine story combined with game play. And stories -- you know, reading a book, that's something that we typically do by ourselves. And so, I think, there will always be a place for sort of solitary gaming experiences, but I think that without a doubt, in the long run, the majority of them will be social experiences.
NNAMDIDeborah Solomon, you get the last comment.
SOLOMONThe exciting thing about the leveraging the social networks involved in playing games, such as Facebook games -- just to give you one example, Zynga's Farmville, they had a special kind of corn that you could buy in the game, and the profits from that corn would go to fund schools in Haiti. And they raised a great amount of money through this Facebook game. So social networks have enormous powerful (word?)...
NNAMDIIt's a Facebook game. And Jesse sees possibly in the future you could play Farmville, some Farmville on TV during the commercial break in your favorite show. But I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Jesse Schell, thank you for joining us.
SCHELLSure. Thank you.
NNAMDIJesse is a professor at the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center in Pittsburgh, and he is the CEO of Schell Games. Mike Musgrove, thank you for joining us.
MUSGROVEThanks. Thanks very much.
NNAMDIMike is a freelance writer whose reviews of video games frequently appear in The Washington Post. He's been doing way too much dancing lately. Deborah Solomon, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIDeborah is a professor and coordinator of the gaming program at Montgomery College, and, as we mentioned earlier, April 4th 2011 -- Game Day at Montgomery College for local high school and college students. You can find a link at our website kojoshow.org. We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, just what's going on at the FCC over Net neutrality new rules and regulations, whether they voted or not. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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