Tag: video games

Friday fabrications

These things made me sit up and take notice:


Image via xkcd

Friday fumblings

These were the things I came across this week that made me smile:


Image via Why WhatsApp Will Never Be Secure (Pavel Durov)

The benefits of Artificial Intelligence

As an historian, I’m surprisingly bad at recalling facts and dates. However, I’d argue that the study of history is actually about the relationship between those facts and dates — which, let’s face it, so long as you’re in the right ballpark, you can always look up.

Understanding the relationship between things, I’d argue, is a demonstration of higher-order competence. This is described well by the SOLO Taxonomy, which I featured in my ebook on digital literacies:

SOLO Taxonomy

This is important, as it helps to explain two related concepts around which people often get confused: ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’. If you look at the diagram above, you can see that the ‘Extended Abstract’ of the SOLO taxonomy also includes the ‘Relational’ part. Similarly, the field of ‘artificial intelligence’ includes ‘machine learning’.

There are some examples of each in this WIRED article, but for the purposes of this post let’s just leave it there. Some of what I want to talk about here involves machine learning and some artificial intelligence. It’s all interesting and affects the future of tech in education and society.

If you’re a gamer, you’ll already be familiar with some of the benefits of AI. No longer are ‘CPU players’ dumb, but actually play a lot like human players. That means with no unfair advantages programmed in by the designers of the game, the AI can work out strategies to defeat opponents. The recent example of OpenAI Five beating the best players at a game called Dota 2, and then internet teams finding vulnerabilities in the system, is a fascinating battle of human versus machine:

“Beating OpenAI Five is a testament to human tenacity and skill. The human teams have been working together to get those wins. The way people win is to take advantage of every single weakness in Five—some coming from the few parts of Five that are scripted rather than learned—gradually build up resources, and most importantly, never engage Five in a fair fight.” OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman told Motherboard.

Deepfakes, are created via “a technique for human image synthesis based on artificial intelligence… that can depict a person or persons saying things or performing actions that never occurred in reality”. There’s plenty of porn, of course, but also politically-motivated videos claiming that people said things they never did.

There’s benefits here, though, too. Recent AI research shows how, soon, it will be possible to replace any game character with one created from your own videos. In other words, you will be able to be in the game!

It only took a few short videos of each activity — fencing, dancing and tennis — to train the system. It was able to filter out other people and compensate for different camera angles. The research resembles Adobe’s “content-aware fill” that also uses AI to remove elements from video, like tourists or garbage cans. Other companies, like NVIDIA, have also built AI that can transform real-life video into virtual landscapes suitable for games.

It’s easy to be scared of all of this, fearful that it’s going to ravage our democratic institutions and cause a meltdown of civilisation. But, actually, the best way to ensure that it’s not used for those purposes is to try and understand it. To play with it. To experiment.

Algorithms have already been appointed to the boards of some companies and, if you think about it, there’s plenty of job roles where automated testing is entirely normal. I’m looking forward to a world where AI makes our lives a whole lot easier and friction-free.


Also check out:

  • AI generates non-stop stream of death metal (Engadget) — “The result isn’t entirely natural, if simply because it’s not limited by the constraints of the human body. There are no real pauses. However, it certainly sounds the part you’ll find plenty of hyper-fast drums, guitar thrashing and guttural growling.”
  • How AI Will Turn Us All Into Filmmakers (WIRED) “AI-assisted editing won’t make Oscar-­worthy auteurs out of us. But amateur visual storytelling will probably explode in complexity.”
  • Experts Weigh in on Merits of AI in Education (THE Journal) — “AI systems are perfect for analyzing students’ progress, providing more practice where needed and moving on to new material when students are ready,” she stated. “This allows time with instructors to focus on more complex learning, including 21st-century skills.”

Games (and learning) mechanics

The average age of those who play video games? Early thirties, and rising. So, I’m happy to say that purchasing Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the best decisions I’ve made so far in 2019.

It’s an incredible, immersive game within which you could easily lose a few hours at a time. And, just like games like Fortnite, it’s being tweaked and updated after release to improve the playing experience. Particularly the online aspect.

What interests me in particular as an educator and a technologist is the way that the designers are thinking carefully about the in-game mechanics based on what players actually do. It’s easy to theorise what people might do, but what they actually do is a constant surprise to anyone who’s ever designed something they’ve asked another person to use.

Engadget mentions one update to Red Dead that particularly jumped out at me:

The update also brings a new system that highlights especially aggressive players. The more hostile you are, the more visible you will become to other players on the map with an increasingly darkening dot. Your visibility will increase in line with bad deeds such as attacking players and their horses outside of a structured mode, free roam mission or event. But, start behaving, and your visibility will fade over time. Rockstar is also introducing the ability to parlay with an entire posse, rather than individual players, which should also help to reduce how often players are killed by trolls.

In other words, anti-social behaviour is being dealt with by games mechanics that make it harder for people to act inappropriately.

But my favourite update?

The update will also see the arrival of bounties. Any player that’s overly aggressive and consistently breaks the law with have a bounty placed on their head, and once it’s high enough NPC [Non-Playing Characters] bounty hunters will get on your tail. Another mechanism to dissuade griefing but perhaps a missed opportunity to allow players to become temporary bounty hunters and enact some sweet vengeance on the players that keep ruining their gameplay.

We have a tendency in education to simply ban things we don’t like. That might be excluding people from courses, or ultimately from institutions. However, when it’s customers at stake, games designers have a wide range of options to influence the outcomes for the positive.

I think we’ve got a lot still to learn in education from games design.

Source: Engadget


Image by BagoGames used under a CC BY license

On playing video games with your kids

I play ‘video games’ (a curiously old-fashioned term) with my kids all the time. Current favourites are FIFA 18 and Star Wars Battlefront II. We also enjoy Party Golf as a whole family (hilarious!)

My children play different games with each other than they play with me. They’re more likely to play Lego Worlds or Minecraft (the latter always on their tablets). And when I’m away we play word games such as Words With Friends 2 or Wordbase.

The author of this article, David Cole, points out that playing games with his son is a different experience than he was expecting it to be:

So when I imagined playing video games with my son — now 6 — I pictured myself as being the Player 2 that I’d never had in my own childhood. I wouldn’t mind which games he wanted to play, or how many turns he’d take. I would comfort him through frustrating losses and be a good sport when we competed head-to-head. What I hadn’t anticipated in these fantasies was how much a new breed of video game would end up deeply altering the way we relate. Games of challenge and reflex are still popular of course, but among children my son’s age they’ve been drastically overtaken by a class of games defined by open-ended, expressive play. The hallmark title of this sort is, undeniably, Minecraft.

My son is 11 years old and my daughter seven, so what Cole describes resonates:

My son and I do still play those competitive games, and I hope that he’s learning about practice and perseverance when we do. But those games are about stretching and challenging him to fit the mold of the game’s demands. When we play Minecraft together, the direction of his development, and thus our relationship, is reversed: He converts the world into expressions of his own fantasies and dreams. And by letting me enter and explore those dream worlds with him, I come to understand him in a way that the games from my childhood do not.

The paragraph that particularly resonated with me was this one, as it not only describes my relationship with my children when playing video games, but also parenting as being vastly different (for better and worse) than I thought it would be:

The working rhythms of our shared play allow for stretches of silent collaboration. It’s in these contemplative moments that I notice how distinct this feeling is from my own childhood, as well as the childhood I had predicted for my son. I thought I would be his Player 2, an ideal peer that would make his childhood awesome in ways that mine was not. In retrospect, that was always just a picture of me, not of him and not of us.

A lovely article that reminded me of the heartwarming Player 2 video short based on a true story from a YouTube comments section…

Source: The Cut

Listening to video game soundtracks can improve your productivity

I can attest to the power of this, particularly the Halo soundtrack:

As I write these words, a triumphant horn is erupting in my ear over the rhythmic bowing of violins. In fact, as you read, I would encourage you to listen along—just search “Battlefield One.” I bet you’ll focus just a bit better with it playing in the background. After all, as a video game soundtrack it’s designed to have exactly that effect.

This is, by far, the best Life Pro Tip I’ve ever gotten or given: Listen to music from video games when you need to focus. It’s a whole genre designed to simultaneously stimulate your senses and blend into the background of your brain, because that’s the point of the soundtrack. It has to engage you, the player, in a task without distracting from it. In fact, the best music would actually direct the listener to the task.

These days I prefer to listen to Brain.fm after I got a lifetime deal via AppSumo a year or so ago. I enjoy music as an art form, but I also appreciate it for the effect it can have on my brain.

Source: Popular Science