Bully

Bully, an open world action game, originally came out for the PS2 back in 2006, and was ported to several other consoles since. I played it for a while early on, attracted by some of the event scenes which seemed to be stylistically based on Shenmue fight sequences. It was okay, overall; not really my preferred genre, but I could appreciate how others may take to it.

In the game, you are put into a new school where your aim is to rise in status. There’s lessons to attend, which give you various skills (if I remember rightly, chemistry lessons gave you the ability to make stink bombs), social situations to navigate and, as the title suggests, bullying. Though somewhat faded in memory, the game seemed to be based less on the realities of school life (which in my case was mostly boredom and counting down the hours till the school bus took me home) and more on stereotypes and satires of school days, with the addition of the usual Rockstar Games humour.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Bully was also noted for the controversy over the content, title, possible plot lines and several other aspects of the game – before the game was actually released and played by most of the complainers. (Having said that, there was the lingering suspicion at the time that the game producers stoked up some of the controversy to get headlines and more sales; whether they did so or not, who knows) On launch, and discovering that the content was for the most part fine to all, much of the controversy went away. The game was given an advisory 15, not an 18, rating.

Now, I’m noting that an anniversary edition of the game has appeared as a well-priced app for android devices (both the screenshots on this post are taken from that version). I admit to being somewhat tempted but, as per usual, too many games and too little time.

Looking back now, I think one of my main objections was the horrible haircut the protagonist was forced to endure. As someone who had more than his fair share of bad childhood haircuts (from the cheapest place in town), I can both identify, and don’t want to identify, with a poor head of hair while gaming. Not all nostalgia is good nostalgia.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Game-based learning: latest evidence and future directions

In 2013, the National Foundation for Educational Research released this report:

Game-based learning: latest evidence and future directions.

Authors: Carlo Perrotta, Gill Featherstone, Helen Aston and Emily Houghton.

Data examined: 31 works of various types from 2006-13.

Abstract: This review is the first output in the Innovation in Education strand of NFER’s research programme. This strand will provide evidence about new approaches to education, teaching and learning and aims to identify rewarding learning experiences that will inspire, challenge and engage all young people, equipping them with the essential skills and attitudes for life, learning and work in the 21st Century. Interest around the use of video games in education is high, and following the emergence of new trends like ‘gamification’, Futurelab@NFER felt that it was timely to provide educators, industry and researchers with an up-to-date analysis of the literature.

To achieve this, we conducted a rapid review of the latest available evidence, seeking to answer these research questions:

  • What is game-based learning?
  • What is the impact and potential impact of game-based learning on learners’ engagement and attainment?
  • What is the nature and extent of the evidence base?
  • What are the implications for schools?

The research questions are mainly concerned with the notion of ‘gameplay’ (playing games) rather than ‘making games’ (how the prospect of creating original video games can be used to interest young people in complex activities like software programming).

Excerpt: Despite some promising results, the current literature does not evidence adequately the presumed link between motivation, attitudes to learning and learning outcomes. Overall, the strength of the evidence has been affected by the research design or lack of information about the research design.

My notes: This recent work is a less academically-analytical work, and more wider in remit, than a typical meta-review of evidence. The content and format are, in addition, designed for a more non-academic readership. However, it does not suffer because of this and there is much here of interest to both academics and practitioners. The appendices pleasingly includes thorough details of the search strategy, review process and the evidence base for the review.

More information at:

Microsoft purchase MinecraftEdu

As reported in a thousand newspaper articles, a million blog posts, and seemingly a billion edtech tweets, Microsoft have now bought MinecraftEdu, the, well, education version of Minecraft. They seem happy, TeacherGaming seem happy, edtech commentators and journalists have something to write about, and future uses of Minecraft in schools especially seem more likely.

As the website now says:

Microsoft will release an entirely new version of the game called Minecraft: Education Edition that will have many features inspired by MinecraftEdu. Microsoft will also use their impressive resources and reach to bring Minecraft into far more classrooms than ever before. We believe that Minecraft’s educational potential has barely been explored and that there are exciting times ahead.

THE journal digs a little deeper on this and mentions the enhancement of OneNote to make development within Minecraft a little smoother. Which sounds like a good thing; one of the enduring problems with game, simulation and virtual world use in classrooms is the fragmented timetable, and lesson blocks of an hour or even less. The pupil or student needs to be up and quickly progressing with something on-point, relevant and constructive, rather than spending a significant proportion of each lesson block undergoing initialization routines, or using laborious tools and routines that suck time away from useful activity.

How will Minecraft sit within the roll-call of digital games, environments and simulations used within education?

Thankfully, we should be getting a clearer picture by now. The early days of speculation-oriented writing on the use of this specific technology have given way to an increasing proportion of articles, papers and reports containing data of Minecraft use in formal and informal learning situations. I’m looking forward to seeing quality research and meta-analysis of these works over the next few years.

Minecraft in Northern Ireland schools

BBC News has a short piece today on the use of this particular software in schools:

Fifty-thousand schoolchildren in Northern Ireland could soon be playing one of the world’s most popular video games in class. Minecraft will be made available to every post-primary school as part of an innovative technology project.

The Guardian follows up with Minecraft free for every secondary school in Northern Ireland:

Minecraft will be given to secondary schools in Northern Ireland as part of a project organised by the annual CultureTECH festival and funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The hugely popular building-block game will be supplied to 200 schools and 30 libraries and community organisations, which will all receive download codes for MinecraftEdu, the educational version of the game.

(Update: August 2015)

More from BBC News: Northern Ireland teachers to attend training school in Stranmillis:

Topics covered in the camp include classroom leadership, e-safety, helping pupils with dyslexia, using Minecraft in teaching, pastoral care and effective science teaching.