Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thousand Suns and other RPGs

I was re-reading some of Melanie McBride's posts and she mentioned that many people might not realize the impact Gary Gygax has had on MMOs if they have never heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I realized that most of my posts on this blog are centered around video game playing, but we do play other things as a family.

My husband writes a popular blog on old school role playing games (RPGs). We've had a "gaming group" come to our home to play regularly ever since we married in 1997. Occasionally, I play in some of these games. My favourite games were Wraith (a White Wolf product about ghosts - my character was named Cassandra Biggins), a one-off zombie game called All Flesh Must Be Eaten (I can't remember my character's name from that one, but our daughter had a minor role in it as an animal rights protester chanting "chimpanzees wanna be free" - that was one of the funniest games ever) and Star Trek (played at a friend's house in Cabbagetown - my character was Thurka Ambiganithy). I didn't play in some of my husband's other campaigns - sometimes it's good to let your spouse have interests and past times that don't include you. Membership in these gaming groups have changed based on the players' lives (people move to other cities, get busy with their jobs, etc.) but my husband has been flexible. His most recent D&D group is not longer meeting as regularly because one of the key characters can only come about once every month or so, which wouldn't be a big deal usually, but there's only two other people involved besides the game master (GM). That's why my husband decided to try running a Thousand Suns game. I felt like I hadn't played in a long time, so I expressed interest in joining.

My husband is the author of Thousand Suns and he's the GM of this campaign. There are three other adult players. We are shady characters traveling on a ship running cargo errands. My character, Leija Suleman, is a minor criminal and musical theatre performer who decided to try becoming a preacher. She has problems keeping the details of her made-up religion straight and enjoys riffling through the pockets of unsuspecting citizens and busking for extra money.

So, how do the children fit into RPGing at our house?

My daughter has played in my husband's Dwimmermount campaign (as Iriadessa, a fairy or elf or some sort of magic user). She stopped playing with the group and my husband wrote a post about why she no longer was an active member. I thought it was a well-written explanation - he IS a writer, after all - and demonstrated that the game, which was played by both adults and children, respected all the users (i.e. the GM did not "dumb down" the game just because there was a pre-teen playing). My son has no interest in the games his father plays, but we all played an RPG called Pokemon Jr. Adventure and he loved it, even though the only things he was interested in doing was finding wild Pokemon and catching them. I'll try and let you know how the Thousand Suns campaign is progressing, because it is part of our family gaming experience.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

While I was searching for gaming statistics ...

Videogame Statistics
Source: Online Education

Pokemon Research

Research. Something most students approach with dread.
My own children undertake their own research - for Pokemon - and I can say that the research process is alive and well, at least in my house.

My kids are avid Pokemon players. They have both finished the Black & White game but are still playing because they have goals they wish to obtain, such as capturing legendary creatures. (A new teacher friend in Simcoe County has switched his description of learning goals and success criteria to achievements and unlocking achievements, and it makes more sense ... but this post isn't about school.) Some of these challenges aren't intuitive or just a matter of completing a task a certain amount of times. To help them complete their missions and achieve their goals, they turn to different resources.

One favourite tool is their Pokemon Strategy Guide. The book (yes, it's a book) contains maps, tips, and other valuable written advice. I saw my daughter playing on her DS with the book opened beside her so she could refer to it when needed.

YouTube is useful for seeing exactly how it's done, and my son likes consulting videos when he's stuck on a certain section of his game.

When the kids can't find what they are looking for in the guide or on YouTube, they turn to their father to help them find the answers to their questions. I guess that makes him the "librarian" of the house. He will use search engines or reference his favourite game websites to discover the information the kids need. They will also talk with some of their friends about it, but they take their friends' advice with a huge chunk of salt. They critically evaluate the information they get from their school chums because one time, my daughter's friends told her that Rapidash, her favourite Pokemon, could evolve into Speedhorn - which turned out to be untrue.

Their research questions are clear and practical (e.g. "How do I catch Volcarona?"). They know what resources to access, and those resources are varied (e.g. books, websites, people experts). They process the information by trying it out on their game. Finally, if they are successful, they can transfer their information by sharing it with their sibling. Pokemon research, at its best!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is Lego Universe Our Minecraft?

I've been reading Melanie McBride's tweets and blog posts about the cool things she and her colleagues have been attempting with Minecraft. I love hearing all about it because something was resonating, and I only just realized what it was - there are a lot of similarities (in my household anyways) between Minecraft as I've read about it and Lego Universe.

Lego Universe? Lego? The big toy empire that has moved away from the wonderful "build anything you want out of generic pieces" creator to the creatively limiting "buy this set to make this piece" guiding principles? Believe it or not, yes, our family has found a lot of openness with the Lego Universe MMO that we didn't expect to find, especially when examining the current product lines.

My husband explains it better than I do, because he plays it more than I do. (Okay, I've only just watched them play - I confess. Right now I don't have time to get into a new game.) He tells me that, unless World of Warcraft (one of his fondest pastimes for the previous five years), gaining achievements in Lego Universe is so much more accommodating than in WoW. In WoW, you have to grind a certain way, do a certain quest ... but in Lego Universe, you can do the things YOU want and develop the points you want/need. Want to spend time building dwellings in your blockyard? You can get rewarded for it. Rather do some exploring of all the different lands? You can get rewarded for it. Want to find some friends to complete quests? You can get rewarded for it. I hate to throw in an edu-babble word in here, but it differentiates success. Not all players have to play the same way. And that's a good thing. The Lego Universe / Minecraft connection may be a weak one (especially since we've never played Minecraft), but it'd be cool to find out (by playing Minecraft) if there are other similarities or differences.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Seeking Programmer ...

My husband and his friend have been talking about creating their own video game. At first, this sounded like idle chit-chat, but more and more, the ideas have become more serious and more complex. The neat thing is that as my husband and his friend discuss their thoughts, our children feel empowered and keen to offer their own suggestions to the project. Many of their insights are based on their own experiences playing video games - they know what they like to play, what interests and engages them, and what would improve a game system. I'm being deliberately vague about the details because, if they actually do find a programmer or designer that could assist them, I'd hate for my loose lips to sink their ship. I think they want it to be bigger than something they themselves can create using Adventure Maker, Scratch or other game-making tools.

The funny thing is, just a few days ago, my director of education made a remark on Twitter about video games & technology and the impact on student focus/attention. If school could be more like a video game, I think my son would be more than delighted to go regularly. My little guy speaks most articulately when describing the characters in his games. He perseveres on challenging levels in games for much longer than he will tackle a math problem or social studies question. He watches and listens most attentively when he's observing or playing a video game. For an 8 year old to give valuable feedback to a pair of grown men planning a project ... I'll let you draw your own conclusions about focus.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pokemon B&W Challenges Self-Identity

Today, my kids were busy playing various Pokemon games on their DS machines (right now, the boy is on Mystery Dungeon and the girl is on Pokemon Black & White, Black version). My boy was having a bit of existential angst earlier and was moping in his room. When I went to comfort him and find out what was wrong, he reported that he was having problems catching three specific legendary Pokemon. I think some of the underlying issues relates to his sister being very successful recently in her playing of Pokemon B&W. She's caught Pokemon that he covets. This throws him off, I suspect, because he identifies himself as the successful gamer in the family and considers his sister to have lesser abilities. I think it's good that he realizes his sister can do a good job on her game, although I do feel sorry for him because his video game playing ability is something he values about himself and for him to be bested upsets him. The boy doesn't care about his report card marks, or his athletic skills - he concerns himself most about what he can do on the Wii or DS. The director of my school board made a post questioning how video games / technology affects the focus and attention span of students - video games demonstrate that my son CAN focus and pay attention, to things he cares about and engage him. He'll survive this identity crisis, and to help it out, he plays me in Super Mario Brothers, beats me solidly, and boosts his self-esteem.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Conversations during the game

So, the boys are involved with Left For Dead 2. Sometimes I audiotape the action. Tonight, I thought I'd sit here and type what the boy says as he watches his dad play.

Aah! [jumps] Dad was just about to close that door when a charger came through. He got him.

I love the double barrel gun!

The jockey just killed itself!

Dad, it's funny when you go aaah.

Dad, what's a defibrillator? [father explains]

Poor you!

Why can't they get that heart shocker? You need that heart shocker.

You got the heart shocker.

You finally gonna get outta this place. You gonna skeddaddle. I didn't know you never completed Dead Center before.

What happens if you don't escape this place? Why's it getting smokier?

Duh duh duh duh [son singing music] - wow, Furious Dave is very furious right now. [father mentions his co-player got the ninja sword]

Yeah, and that is so unfair. [more conversation with father]

True, I mean that charger charged you off the whole building. If that happens for real, ugghh. When I think about it, I get a little scared.

Peanut butter jelly, peanut butter jelly and a baseball ball. [sings]
That guy with the suit has goo. Wait, you already have goo.
...When you have a tank or something.


Wow, you're pretty good. I like the slime. It's very useful. So, did you use that for nothing?

No Dad, you don't got it.
Dad, you don't have the fire cup thing. You don't have the fire. Do you see any white things under your baseball bat. See your baseball bat. It's not glowing. So you don't got it.

Why you saying wow?

Eeek, faddy falling down the stairs!

[father asks son's advice on choosing weapon] Hmm, what does that do? Which one does the most damage? No, I don't know what to say. If it's something in the telescope thing... it's not in this level, not in this place?

I think I heard a scream.

I have a feeling when you get up there ... careful, spitter.

Yeah, a gun store! Oh yeah, this is my kind of place!
Actually, you carried it about forever.

Okay, enough listening in on other people's conversations. Back to other tasks.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"I know what you're doing"

I hadn't updated the Family Gaming blog in a while - shame on me! I was so proud initially to make at least one post a day, but the road to hell seems paved with good intentions.

I asked my son (who was next to his dad) what I should write about, and he said "I dunno".
Then, there was a funny little moment that gave me the writing prompt I needed.

My husband decided to play Left for Dead 2. My son decided to watch. I continued to compose other blog posts. I heard one of the characters talking through hubby's headphones and mentioned aloud what she was saying ("This isn't happening").

"You can hear that?" hubby asked.

Then I noticed my husband take off and cup his headphones.
"I know what you're doing" my son said. "And I still heard it."

I glanced over. Hubby chuckled.
"There's a part of the introduction in which one of the characters swears. I was trying to make it less obvious."

"But I still heard it" our son commented.

He's heard it before, but my husband was trying to minimize his exposure to the cursing.
Here's the thing we know about our boy: when he thinks something is a witty turn of phrase, he'll use it. We'd love to show him the entire video of "Squirrelly Wrath", because it's funny, but there's a lot of swearing and I suspect he'd sing it loud and proud.