Killing Time

Thinking about this over coffee as well. I fear we may be falling further into a reductionist mode of thinking that killing perpetrators is an appropriate answer to violent crime. Jeffrey Fagan, professor of Law and Public Health at Columbia University points out (in 2006) the lack of validity or reliability of evidence that would support such thinking:

“There is no reliable, scientifically sound evidence that pits execution against a robust set of competing explanations to identify whether it can exert a deterrent effect that is uniquely and sufficiently powerful to overwhelm these consistent and recurring epidemic patterns. These flaws and omissions in a body of scientific evidence render it unreliable as a basis for law or policy that generate life-and-death decisions. To accept it uncritically invites errors that have the most severe human costs.” (

I happen to know an expert witness MD (in anesthesiology) from a prominent US hospital that regularly is called upon to comment on the mis-administration of one form of capital punishment, lethal injections. I would much rather see our government and institutions focused on the root causes of why and how such violence happens, and then to propose and create mechanisms for mitigating those causes.

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Game of Clones?


Oregon Trail – circa 1990

Having attended a serious games conference last week, I’m going to list my likes, concerns and suggestions for the folks working in the industry, and those who are seeking to buy games for learning.  Overall, I fear a game of clones is afoot.

The industry:  What I mean by this is the array of companies that are catering to the needs of educational, corporate, military, healthcare, non-profits and others, seeking to design and deliver game-based experiences that advance relevant learning for included stakeholder groups.

What?!  (Jargon meter pegs to 10…)


Game-based experiences:  These can be board games, mobile games, desktop computer games, or headset (VR) games that serve as a part or whole of a learning-related design.

Relevant learning:  The game helps players uncover, challenge, and integrate new knowledge that is helpful to them in their context.

Stakeholder groups:  This would include employees, customers, partner institutions, or members of the general public, who all have some part to play in the value chain of the company or institution in question.

LIKES:  There are are a number of good things that are evident in the sessions and through examples of the work that various providers are creating:

  • Integrating design thinking:  There is some awareness building of doing a better job of ’empathizing’ with eventual users of the game / service / product in question.  While this can slow the process down, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.
  • Mixing realities:  There are some excellent examples of games created that cause people to visit and/or interact with real spaces, people and objects.  I think this is a productive trend as it has the potential to bring learners into exercising curiosity practically – in other words, there is the possibility of integrating the real world into the game play scenario for faster transfer of learning into practical application.  Whenever we can make people curious about the content and matters at hand, that’s a good thing.
  • Incorporating stories:  We all intuitively know the power of a good story, and there is good reason to believe that well designed stories will promote longer-term memory.  Plus the story gives meaningful context and provides a great structure for an episodic approach to the game.  Think of Oregon Trail.
  • Increasing sophistication:  There is some indication of a general increase, to my mind, of sophistication in thinking about the role of games, design dimensions of the game experience, and the mapping of that experience to a larger flow of learning.  This is a good thing.


  • Assuming game designers are good at design thinking:  This is a problem that has been brought forward recently; that design thinking is both a process and a discipline that leverages truly creative thinking.  I fear that there may be a broad dehydration of the depth of the process and intolerance of the perceived inefficiencies.  Not everyone is a designer.  Designing well takes time.
  • A lack of critical analysis of the research on learning and transfer of knowledge.  Some game developers are wrapped around the interaction (as they call it), mimicking real-world assembly of objects, for example.  Current technologies do not even come close to approximating the haptic (felt) reality of moving physical pieces.  I think this is faulty thinking – that simply moving a virtual gear onto a spindle with VR controllers will give the learner a full and transferable appreciation of what that entails.
  • Games for good are waning:  I did not see many  (any?) examples of games built to help address core social, economic and environmental issues facing our nation and planet.  Games are uniquely situated (as a methodology) to involve people in these epic battles.   Just ask Jane McGonigal.
  • Money.  Money.  Money.  Some presentations for the K-12 sector were made by private school teachers or companies that cater to specific schools that can afford their products.  While it’s wonderful to see the amazing use of context-aware, mobile, augmented-reality gaming to bring local history and a fictional story together, the entire process was funded by kids whose parents forked out over $30,000 a year (in tuition only).  This is particularly concerning.  I would like to see the very best educational experiences provided to all students.


  • Serious Game designers – take the course on Design Thinking, if you haven’t.  Integrate that into your workflow.
  • US Dept of Public Instruction – divert attention away from advancing the charter / private school voucher agenda, and put money into game development for all curricula (not just STEM).
  • Beware of fidelity trap:  there is a strong attraction to creating visually (and aurally) high-fidelity worlds.  There is, however, some good research that indicates that not everything needs to be so.  Just look at Minecraft for a great example of low-fidelity, high-engagement design.  This falls into the realm of ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.’

If we don’t pay attention, we could fall into the trap of creating clones of game-based experiences that emphasize the wrong points of focus, miss the mark on content and interaction, cost too much, and only serve a particular segment of the population.

Let’s create better games for everyone!

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Pre-Fascism in the US


Featured at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC

The warning signs abound: Polarization of society; militarization of the police forces; nationalistic policies;  criminalization of minorities and immigrants;  melding of extremist religious views with political discourse and policy-making; the dismantling of social welfare programs.  The list probably goes on.

Terry Gross conducted a fascinating interview with Gabriel Sherman, a Vanity Fair reporter and author of The Loudest Voice in the Room, a biography of Roger Ailes, former CEO and Chairman of Fox News and Fox Television Stations.

Have a listen here:

Meanwhile, Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times characterizes this time in American history as a series of trial-runs of fascism.

This is indeed a time in which deep reflection and questioning is called for – questioning of the news sources we trust, the politicians we have elected, and the values we uphold and how we uphold them.  Ultimately, I believe this is going to have to be answered with compassion paired with strong civil disobedience.

We need compassion to understand those who disagree with us and what their stories are, and we will need to tap into that fine, patriotic history of implementing civil disobedience to disrupt the pre-fascist flow, and to bring forward the voices calling for a return to deeply held values around justice and equality for all.

As O’Toole concludes:

Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable. So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality. They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.

In the spirit of forming the more perfect union….

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