Game Up!: SF GDC 2009 Highlights

by Ann My Thai
June 2, 2010

Reprinted from the April 2009 Cooney Center Bits Newsletter:

“Spore’s Wake: What Seriously Happened?”

More than 17,000 game industry professionals gathered on March 23-27 for the largest game developers conference in the world, the San Francisco Game Developers Conference (GDC). This year, one stimulating panel asked, what would it take to make games that leave people better off than they were before playing? As children rise as one of the sector’s top priorities, we hope this important take-away keeps quality game design on the top of everyone’s list.

A Child-Friendly Game Developer Conference

Children and families are becoming increasingly significant video game participants. Sesame Workshop alumna and games consultant Carla Engelbrecht Fisher organized the workshop “Little Hands, Foul Moods, and Runny Noses 2.0: The Research You Should Know When Making Games for Kids” to provide game developers with a primer on key developmental milestones. Children’s motor skill development are put in perspective with input devices such as the Wii balance board and touch screens. For example, research shows that stylus and touch screens are a better choice for children compared to a mouse, trackball, keyboard arrows, and other input devices.

iPhone Changes the Way Developers Create Games

Neil Young, former EA executive and current CEO and Founder of iPhone game publisher ngmoco:) said in his GDC Mobile keynote, the iPhone is “not just a mobile games platform, it is a games platform.” Apple offers support for developers and low product costs: get a $99 software development kit and join the 10,000 current iPhone and iTouch application developers who influence the gaming market. Developers hoping to harness the iPhone’s affordances for children’s learning should take advantage of their game platform’s analytics system and how it may be adapted for assessment and evaluation.

Serious Games, Serious Assessment

At the Serious Games Summit, research studies were preseted on two educational games and one cross-over game. Hidden Agenda’s Lauren Davis presented Slinkyball, a game designed to teach middle school Physics. Their study of more than 4,500 middle schoolers was sponsored by the Liemandt Family Foundation and conducted by the nonprofit organization Computers for Youth. The study showed that the game did not fulfill its goal of improving users’ Physics knowledge, however students’ problem-solving skills improved. Davis reveals other intriguing results in our YouTube channel interview. At Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL), Javier Elizondo and Meagan Rothschild presented the challenges of their multidisciplinary partnership to create Cosmos Chaos!. This Nintendo DS vocabulary game designed for struggling fourth-grade readers is currently being tested by more than 300 school children.

The commercial game Spore was released in 2008 and held high potential as a cross-over game: an entertainment game used for learning. However, the game received much criticism from the scientific community for not being biologically accurate. Margaret Robertson of Lookspring shares her presentation research results of UK science teachers using Spore and provides best practices for other potential cross-over games in our Cooney Center YouTube interview. For example, since games are used collaboratively in the classroom, game makers should consider the ability to export content to multiple outlets such as YouTube or comics (see MashOn Spore comic creator).