SXSW2006 Day Three: Serious Games for Learning

jim-brazell

Jim Brazell moderates this panel and kicks off the discussion.

The X-Box 360 costs $300. In 1995 the same computing power would have cost $100M.

Ubiquitous computing is the fourth generation of computing; a system on a chip. Cooper’s law says that the capability of wireless computers is doubling every year. The convergence of science and technology is driving this technology.

(Wait… he just said that they can control the movement of a mouse, just like a remote aircraft. The tipping point of creepiness?)

Serious games are serious. The US Armed Forces, the UN, foreign countries, they’re all creating games for training, social changes and then remixing them with the industry to create n number of emmersive, narrative experiences.

Irwin Kaplan

The Army is redesigning their training corriculumn from level 1 (books) to level 3 (interactive), SCORM Conformant (has to run across a network). They upped their interactive traing from 0 of 150 hours to 82 of 150 hours. They’re trying to equipt soldiers to react in the midst of battle with necessary information available from everywhere.

They have simulation centers as large as the ACC to train soldiers on games. Warehouse sizes.

MLT is Medical Leadership Training. They build realtime scenarios based on field exercises and import them into an interactive narrative, running on the Unreal engine.

He considers himself an educator… and recruiter.

Dr. James Bower

Whyville teaches kids how to eat right based on an avitar/persona thats responds to good or bad choices. There are 1.5 million kids on the site and they stick around (one kid has visited 2000 times over six-years, that’s one visit per day). They play with the social/non-social curve of the game’s narrative to watch boys and girl’s interests shift.

The kids have been writing articles for six years now. They’re running their own government online. They’re replicating democracy.

Now marketing is interested, and smart firms like Toyota, are dipping into Whyville to understand the concept of interactive engagement. They offered Nestle to get involved, but they only wanted to get Purina involved; healthy choices meant more to Nestle in relationship to dogs than kids.

New marketing will enable people to design their worlds and affect mass production.

Michael Whalem

Ignite Learning has developed Reality, Inc., which creates emmersive storytelling games for middle-school students, based 100% on state curriculum. The virtual head of the reality space (Mortimer Gravitas) presents the goals for moving through the interactive curriculum. (very similar to a project I worked on in 1996, “Simon Fefher’s Junkland Jam”)

It’s a linear progression through different activities, such as a game full of levers, which must be moved, created, put in motion to feed some monkeys bananas. If you mess up, it’s ok, try again (the army guys smiled when he said that).

Quote of the day: Bower:

The more games tap into the chemical changes of the brain… the more we will learn.

Disclaimer: This is live blogging; all quotes are paraphrases.

Newsvine: The Wisdom Of The Crowd

The reviews are in: The people are in the drivers seat.

Newspapers are already hemoraging readership, as the web has created an extremely rich bazaar, allowing us to shop for unbundled content at every turn, while unbundled advertising models begin to sprout up to support this evolution. Well, get ready for the online replicas of the print world to begin to sweat even more. Following on the heals of the mass appeal of social wisdom sites such as slashdot and digg comes a revolutionary hybrid of mainstream media, citizen journalism and participatory editing: Newsvine.

newsvine

Taking the aggregation features of a Yahoo! News, the collaborative properties of a digg and the citizen media aspects of blogging, Newsvine is staged to completely redefine the news. The common man now has stake in the game.

Old School

Top/down delivery of content, beginning with organized knowledge, is a modern construct. Since the advent of television, these organized silos of knowledge have been optimized over the years for advertising to take advantage of explicit media buys—matching business audience demographics, psychographics and geographics to channeled, programed, bundled content. Great for advertisers and the networks/publications, lousy for the “consumer,” as we end up consuming more messaging and less news or interests which match *our* needs and desires.

These constructed, mechanical relationships define false edges of our culture, which in turn raises the value proposition of media and news organizations simply by standardizing on such lexicon. This standardization of topical interests enables a succinct inventory of sales and stories, broadcast on television news and pumped through newspapers, serving as the ying to the entertainment media’s yang.

Is it easier to entertain and pacify a child within a theme park or the natural environment of a forest?

Somewhere between the crafted, paced, 4/4 movement of greased industry palms rubbing against one another, lies our percept of reality, consistently bombarded by messaging. While we struggle with this understanding of our surroundings, back in the news room, editors—the guardians of this construct—find themselves under the thumb of the financial steerings and pressures of this propped reality. Their indoctrinated intuition places constraints on the types of stories generated, the depth of coverage, even the language a writer chooses to employ.

The innovators and early adopters of the web aren’t down with that noise.

New School

Bottom/up constructs, enabled by the personal publishing revolution, delivered with flexible subscription technology such as RSS, have empowered individuals to publish cheaply within our own crafted domains.

  • RSS allows us to digest information passively (in a centralized location), instead of actively (surfing the decentalized web), which greatly increases our level of input and conversely, fine tunes our understanding of the world, which is represented by our output (blogging, conversations, actions, etc.)
  • Those of us who publish our own information objects, apply meta-data to increase the potential of findability, both now and in future interfaces
  • Many of us participate with folksonomies, helping make our POV of all information semantically rich and contextual to our neighbors interests, our future grandchildern’s recollections of us, even the desires of a family on the other side of the planet
  • We create multimedia objects to compete with elite vehicles of capital, and fuel them through the same tactical approaches

This participatory environment is one aspect of the Web 2.0 phrase that gets tossed about. It’s enabling us humans to share our creative impulses with others, helping to constantly define and then redefine the world around us through our personal representations of both explicit and implicit lexicon.

This is an open paradigm, a transparent journey, based in accelerated trust and faith in one another.

So when these two worlds meet — old school vs. new school or modernism vs. post-modernism or proprietary vs. open source — the truth of hierarchy and the truth of individual POV’s collide. Guess what remains?

A truthier truth.

Newsvine has taken a position of mixing mainstream feeds with user submitted, tagged and collaboratively greenlit content. Even more revolutionary, they’re mixing the standardized embedded lexicon of our culture—topical categories—with the co-occurance generated wisdom of the people creating relevant content living within such silos:

newsvine-tags

The secondary navigation points are all dynamic, altering over time as the co-occurance of tagged objects within a topical category shifts. This is how I think—how I search, discover, build my own archive in this blog—so in and of itself, the concept doesn’t blow me away. What does blow me away is that by simply placing this paradigm next to, say, The New York Times, Yahoo! News, my pseudo-innovative hometown Greensboro News & Record and a blog aggregator like Greensboro101, none of these domains can compete if Newsvine gains a participatory, critical mass audience.

Newsvine provides AP feeds (like a Yahoo! News), yet allows anyone to seed *any* story, from *any* site (like digging or del.icio.us tagging). Let me try to clearly paint how disruptive of a strategy this is.

  • With only the AP feed, Newsvine could potentially evolve to become a successful News aggregator
  • The addition of the digg and del.icio.us features completely change the game. Newsvine now becomes populated by the very content from the news sites (New York Times, News & Record, etc.) that it’s competing against for advertising
  • The better the content, say, a New York Times produces, the more likely it’ll end up in Newsvine, but with more context (meta-data) and a thriving, participatory readership.
  • Content will begin to be valued differently at a New York Times — as prices might become reduced at the domain, while new, shared models will be created at sites like Newsvine. Good for the Times, as they have a new market for revenue, but it will effect their organizational structure. The big advantage for Newsvine: they don’t have to completely readjust due to their recent entry into the arena and their nimble stature (compared to large news organizations)
  • Community blog aggregators could possibly fall to the wayside, simply due to the fact that people can seed their own local posts, as well as their neighbors, and leverage unbundled advertising services. The very concept of “community” will be redefined on much more granular levels, moving towards a flickr existence, as explicit tags begin to define groups of interest

The Final Touch

Mike Davidson obviously knows what he has here; not only an opportunity to provide a rich, participatory environment for the redefinition of what news means to us as a collective, a community and as individuals, but this service could very well challenge the embedded constructs of editorialized media.

In the final analysis, if Newswire succeeds, it’ll be because of the participatory nature of people. If Davidson wants to make his mark on this planet, he’ll devise a revenue model to incentivize swarms of citizen editors to contribute to the domain—editors removed from the burden and balancing act of management and politics, reduced simply to individuals focused on making our communities that much more aware, educated and inclusive.

If an incentive program can be devised along these lines—some type of a micro-payment structure based on Karma points and click-throughs for both editors *and* authors—he’ll be responsible for creating the Mechanical Turk of the news world. That could change the news media as we know it forever.

Reputable journalists could become more enabled by freelance opportunities, as news organizations would need to drastically reduce their overhead and change their business models because advertising money wouldn’t be channeled into one out of six corporate funnels. Then maybe the people will get the issues covered the way they need to be covered; maybe then we’ll uncover opportunities to 2.0 the hell out of government.

The CLIENT Is The Bottom Line

collaboration

In an industry such as online brokerage, one would assume that the client would always be at the center of focus. And while most of the time it’s the case—firms do create products and services that respond to client needs in order to grow their business—the underlying focus on the bottom line of a publicly traded company often demands executive attention, which can obscure best practice methodology, client initiatives, and how to make innovation a reality due to the pressures and expectations of The Street.

Therein lies the problem: Only a sustained and coordinated focus on understanding client goals, needs, desires, etc. can innovate in a manner that is useful to clients.

Collaboration

If clients can recognize the value proposition of an offering, firms will find clientele. That’s a rather understandable equation, but the cost of doing business can drive decisions that affect the quality and focus of a product, let alone how teams work together.

Why change how an organization works when the sausage has been made the same way for as long as people can remember?

Without a charge from executives, organizational management tends to gravitate towards less cross functional collaboration and spending, and more wall building. Whether such decisions lead to multi-tasking employees or avoiding methodological advances, working within conservatively defined parameters lessens risk in the short-term.

So how can a business operate in a manner that supports clients goals at a desirable investment level without risking putting the business in a tenuous position in the process?

The glue is the simple concept of collaboration.

Harder Than It Sounds

For the sake of simplicity, imagine a company divided into four primary units:

  • Business
  • Design
  • Technology
  • Marketing

In this simple example, nothing could be accomplished with quality or efficiencies without close collaboration.

  • Marketing and Design need to share quantitative and qualitative research (respectively) to assist the Business in developing an explicit understanding of client needs. These qualified findings can then be prioritized by Business and Technology in terms of viability and feasibility (respectively)
  • Business, Design and Technology must collaborate during all phases of product design in order for goal-directed and innovative experiences to become a reality. This collaboration is always crucial, but even more so when first (or speed) to market is the goal
  • Marketing must be looped into all Design points to ensure that brand communication meets brand experience. Marketing plans can then be created to introduce the client experience to the market in proper fashion

Yes, this is oversimplified, but the point is that successful product teams aren’t led by management that hunkers down, walling off their teams and agendas from other groups. There will always be office politics, no matter the domain, but when conceiving, designing, developing and launching interactive products, collaboration is essential to the success of not only the product, but the overarching brand.

The current buzz within the walls of Ameritrade has shifted from constantly touting our top operating margin in the industry to making transparent a commitment to designing an organization around the needs of our clients, while keeping that industry leading operating margin.

After a major merger (Datek Online), we’ve slowly grown in the direction of living and breathing the above degree of collaboration over the past few years, as Design has become an understandable entity, rather than the black box that development once considered us to be.

Keeping a competitive edge in this industry and on The Street is a tricky business. Producing killer products for clients can be made a lot simpler.

Art Prophesying Reality?

three-days-of-condor

It was around 1989 when I read Six Days of the Condor; a perfect story for an 18 year-old male, chock full of deceit, murder, paranoia, sex, intrigue and spies. For some reason—possibly my attention span at the time—the end of the book threw me for a loop. So tonight, I kicked back with my Netflix choice of the week and watched the film adaptation: Three Days of the Condor.

Three words: Rent. it. now.

It was made 28 years ago, yet the plot line has come to life in eerie fashion over the last few years. I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so if you are going to rent it, don’t read on.

Condor (played by Robert Redford) is a spy, and per chance, misses a hit on his office that leaves the all seven of his colleagues executed. After some brilliant screenwriting, we come to find out that one of his previous reports sent off to Langley hit a nerve within a secret faction of the CIA that just happened to be playing war games concerning the overthrow of an unstable regime in the Middle East in order to gain control of oil reserves.

Sure, the US has been meddling with numerous foreign spots in the Middle East over the past 50 years to keep a stranglehold on power, but shivers the size of nine inch nails traveled down my spine just the same.

The rogue CIA unit ordered the execution of the entire office after reading Condor’s spot-on investigative report, so he does the only thing he can and goes off the grid to plan his next steps. After outwitting numerous suits over the course of the film, he ends up confronting the CIA Director directly in front of the New York Times office in Manhattan.

After a quick verbal sparring over the morality of what our government was doing, Condor tells the Director that the story is out and the Times will be publishing it all. The film ends with the CIA Director asking Condor,

“What if they don’t print it, then where will you go?”

Redford’s face drops a bit as the last frame freezes on him.

Does Our Press Get Squeezed?

Forget the uncanny plot line that syncs up with the recent activity in Iraq and the coincidence of the NYC CIA office being found within the WTC. It’s eerie to experience this 70s flick being so prescient, but I’m more interested with the final jab.

I often wonder how free the press is in our capitalistic society, where over the years the fourth branch has moved away from reporting and more toward media. Our government has indoctrinated us to speak harshly against news practices around the world, especially during the eighties during the heart of the Cold War (when I was an impressionable teenager); the old “look, over there!” trick has build a sycophantic capitalist society of productive worker bees at home, much less apt to question authority or the authenticity of “news” when delivered.

Here’s something to ponder: Did you know that congress is on the verge of passing unprecedented legislation that allows media entities to merge with minimal to no limitations? Can you imagine what this could mean in an Orwellian novel? Or in this actual capitalist society where one individual, such as a Bill Gates, has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined?

A less competitive press = a singular perspective.

  • Advertising revenue begins to drive the editorial premise and impedes journalistic objectivity
  • Agendas are deployed and met
  • A top down, targeted media push (via news, marketing, advertising, programming, etc.) becomes the mainstay of communication operations

Our society has evolved from watching the news on TV at 6 and 11 (1970’s) to digesting news 24 hours a day on TV, radio, and the internet (1990’s) to having access to hundreds of thousands of individual perspectives of news events blasting on blogs (present). With all this newfound decentralized access we should feel both informed and empowered, right?

That’s what they want us to think.

For even the most invested netizen, information technology is still a hindrance when trying to decipher noise from news, and fiction from fact. Simple to use, individually operated publishing channels are now available to the masses through blogging, but actual reach to the mainstream, less tech savvy, older audiences is minimal at best as information is still presented in a hard-to-access online ecosystem.

I can imagine the power elite in media and government thinking something along the lines of:

Let the bottom feeders play with their toys—be it bloggers publishing opinions based on theory or fact—no one will be able to tell the difference. It’ll be our facts that they base their opinion upon. And the noise in the sheer amount of opinions projected outwards will make all opinions null and void.

Our organized, top-down messaging is so strong via advertising, marketing, media, etc., that the bottom-up representation of the people will become lost in the noise of the the mainstream media, as well as in it’s own scattered presentation.

We’ll then use their information as data to feed our strategic messaging and market right back to them.

Americans have turned into thought veal over the past twenty-years. We’ve been tenderized perfectly to be devoured oh-so-nicely in a propaganda system that is set up to succeed only if the masses over-consume everything from food to entertainment to material goods to political punditry.

This is the boogie man that lives under my bed.

sponsored by…

bush-on-911

the world has changed.
no shit, glad you’ve woken up.
we don’t all drink from the same fountain
or even from the same cup
but if the music’s right
and the air is clear
why confuse the good times
with political matters
we fear
nothing.
at all…
because “no fear” is a fucking brand
manufactured for morons
living in a testosterone dreamland
yeah, we’re all now awake
we now have an enemy to curse and blame
but do we really understand why
“they” burn our flag and name?
no.
but who cares?
we’ll bomb ’em till they quit.
yeah that’s a solid tactic
a top five rotation hit
now all the brands are buzzing
pulling at our patriotic strings
the marketing is subtle
yet sick and deafening
“united” is just that
ready to serve you across the land
and since they’re so “united”
they want us to go lend a helping hand
because, you see, they’re “with us”
and not just a part of our verbal psyche
but what if their name was continental?
or fuddruckers?
or nike?
brand opportunity
awareness at an all time high
higher than they used to go
when consumers weren’t afraid to fly
so come on out and support ’em
get the business back on track
while you’re at it buy a rolex
shit, get a new cadillac
because money is all that matters
to a society built on exploitation
i wonder what “those people” would say
if we opened up actual lines of communication?
yeah right…
too late…
it’s all about annihilation.