Game Design Teaches Communication
Katie Salen is a game designer, interactive designer, animator, and design educator. In 2009 she founded the first ever digital school for grades 6-12, Quest 2 Learn (Q2L) in New York. She is the co-author of "Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals," a textbook on game design, as well as the "Game Design Reader." She writes extensively on game design, design education, and game culture.
Question: How did you come up with the idea to integrate game design into education?
Katie Salen: I was teaching at the University of Texas, and I was teaching a class in interactive design, and this was in the sort of late ‘90s, and the internet had gotten really big. And my students were grappling with notions of interface design and really trying to figure out, well how do they engage users?
And so I brought in a project where we began to study games and the students began to design and redesign games as a way to understand "What is good interactive design?" And that is the first time that I actually brought games into my own classroom space and the first time that I took people that had never done game design and put them in the role of a game designer. And it was a huge moment of discovery for me because my students learned more about how to engage an audience, how to really communicate, and how to create really interesting, unusual kinds of spaces when they used game design as a starting point. Even though they weren't designing games eventually, the process of thinking like a game designer gave them all a whole tool set that they hadn’t had previously.
And so that sort of set me along this path where I began to say, "You know, there’s just something interesting in this act of teaching people to design games." And then I began to work with kids. And one of the most interesting things that happens when you work with young people in designing games is how deep they go into the content. And so this is the question of where the math and science stuff might come in.
Question: Does Quest2Learn attract kids who are already gamers, or who want to be game designers?
Katie Salen: When we look at kids and we talk about that definition of who is a gamer, it’s actually a really old definition. It used to be a time when only a certain population of kids played games, and they tended to be boys and they tended to be kind of geeky boys that were hidden away in their basement. The truth is today, when you look at who is playing games, particularly younger kids, up to about sixth or seventh grade, it’s all kids. And those kids don’t self-identify themselves as gamers if you ask them about that identity. It’s just something that they do.
So, there’s an assumption when we recruit kids for the school that all kids have, to a greater or lesser degree, some experience playing games and an interest in playing games. The school is not a vocational school that’s intended to graduate game designers, so that isn’t actually any way that we talk about the school. And so the kids that we get are kids that are deeply interested in a school that might feel a little bit different than a traditional school. They tend to be really creative kids that are interested in ideas that they’ll have a chance to design stuff and make stuff. They are kids that tend to be, you know, in some sense, high-performing and having strong interests. And those interests don’t necessarily have to be games, but they might be interested in reading, or they might be interested in sports, but they’re kids that get passionate about something and get excited about a school that might help them cultivate that passion.
Question: How do you train Quest2Learn's teachers?
Katie Salen: So, at the model at Quest is that the teachers collaborate with game designers to design the curriculum. So, there’s no expectation that teachers have to be game designers in the way that there’s no expectation that the game designers are going to be in the classroom teaching day-to-day with the kids.
So, the teachers that we recruited mostly came from the public school system. We have a couple who taught at private schools previously. None of them had a game design background, a few of them had an interest in games, some of them had a background in technology, but all of them were strong collaborators, had worked in context where collaboration was key, all of them were deeply interested in the craft of learning and how to really work with kids, and all of them were really open to the idea of being a curriculum designer, and working with game designers and trying to see where this model could really take learning for kids.
Question: Is it hard getting parents to understand why game-based teaching is valuable?
Katie Salen: I would say that it’s not so much among our parents because any Open House or talk where they might come to where they might hear about the school, it becomes really clear about how we’re talking about games and how we value them. But there is a larger cultural discourse that I think is quite limited around this issue of "What’s the value of games and what’s the value of play?" And video games in particular because they’ve been covered, I think, historically in the media as either games that are about violence, or games that are about wasting time. Those are the two kind of dominant narratives that people that don’t know much about games hear again and again and again. And so it’s a bit of a default position that people fall into just because they haven’t perhaps really thought about it.
Any parent that we have that has a child that spends an amount of time gaming at home, actually understands something about why that child is gaming and what they’re getting out of it, and partially because they talk to the kids. And those reasons really vary. Sometimes the value of the gaming is around the social structure and the community that the kids have. We find that gaming is less about the artifact of the game itself and more about the community that sort of sits around that game and that players are part of. And for many parents, that social piece is pretty big for kids. For other parents there is an opportunity around creativity that they see happening in these games. They also see their kids persisting on problems in games that they don’t see them see them persisting on other spaces. And they begin to recognize that that persistence and tenacity is actually something pretty important. They don’t really know how to make it happen in other kinds of spaces, but they see their kids doing that and they think, "Wow, if I can get my kid to do that when they are working on math, be that persistent, there’s something really valuable there."
So, I think it’s more this general cultural dialogue that’s pretty narrow and pretty underdeveloped at the moment and part of the goal of this school as well as a lot of other people doing work in this space is to try to complexify the argument and begin to understand that, historically, from the moment that human beings sort of came into existence, play was a part of culture. It was a profound part of what makes us human. A profound part of what keeps a community together. A profound part of ways in which we can deal with complex issues that are maybe too complicated to deal with outside a kind of play space.
And so the notion and value of play historically has been huge and it doesn’t make sense to me today, why we would dismiss it because it’s something that we see embodied in a way that maybe we don’t understand in some digital games that for many people are kind of scary.
Recorded May 7, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
The professor found that the unusual problems presented by game design taught students how to engage an audience.
Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
Can passenger airships make a triumphantly 'green' comeback?
Large airships were too sensitive to wind gusts and too sluggish to win against aeroplanes. But today, they have a chance to make a spectacular return.
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>
Staying healthy on a vegan diet<p>So, does a vegan diet necessarily lead to worse bone health? Not necessarily. But it's safe to say that people who don't consume meat, dairy and eggs should be extra vigilant about consuming enough essential nutrients. That can be harder than it seems.<br></p><p>One major reason is that the body generally has an easier time absorbing nutrients from animal foods than plant-based products. So, while a salad could contain the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk, the body absorbs more calcium when you drink milk. What's more, there are some molecules and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-nutrients-you-cant-get-from-plants#5.-Docosahexaenoic-acid-(DHA)" target="_blank">nutrients you simply can't get from plants</a>.</p><p>As such, many vegans round out their diets with supplements, including zinc, iron, iodine, long-chain omega-3s, and vitamins D, K-2, and B-12, to name a few. If you're on a vegan diet or considering making the switch, it's probably best to consult a dietician, and to make sure you maintain a <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">healthy BMI</a>.</p>
A study by UK archaeologists finds that longbows caused horrific injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- UK archaeologists discover medieval longbows caused injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- The damage was caused by the arrows spinning clockwise.
- No longbows from medieval times survived until our times.
Battle of Agincourt.
The angle of entry into a cranium found during the excavation at a medieval Dominican friary in Exeter, England.
Credit: Oliver Creighton/University of Exeter
Never made a turkey before? Don't worry, science can help.
- This year, many people will be making a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. It's often harder than it looks.
- Luckily, an online calculator website has one just for thawing turkey, and can explain why you need to wait so long.
- The website has other calculators as well, for needs you didn't know you had.
How to thaw a turkey using science!<p> The Omni Calculator <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> is home to calculators that can determine many things, including how <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/other/sunscreen" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">long you can be in the sun safely</a>,<a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/other/sunscreen" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a>to the odds of your town having a <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/other/white-christmas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">white Christmas</a>. It now has a dedicated tool for finding how long it will take you to prep your <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/food/turkey-thawing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">turkey</a> in time for a socially distanced holiday. The <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/food/turkey-thawing" target="_blank">Turkey Thawing Calculator </a>was created by Jagiellonian University cognitive science graduate Maria Kluziak with the help of Wojciech Sas, a Ph.D. candidate in molecular magnetism and nanostructures at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Poland. </p><p>The fundamental problem is that you need to add heat to the frozen bird to unfreeze it without also encouraging the growth of bacteria. To do this, you have to put the turkey somewhere where it will heat up slowly and evenly. There is a trick, though; this can take a long time because of the amount of energy involved. Exactly how long you need to spend on it can be hard to determine if you've never done it before. </p><p>This is where practical, day-to-day science comes in. The processes of heating something are well-studied areas of thermodynamics which we use every day. <br> <br> As Kluziak tells Big Think: </p><p>"If you look closely, you'll notice how we're all surrounded by numbers. Yet most of the time people choose to go with their intuition while making day-to-day decisions. We, as scientists and experts in our own fields, are trying to build a world where people make better, more informed decisions backed by concrete science - Using physics to chill drinks, math to find out how much pizza to get, and even calculating how much groceries are enough to survive a quarantine. It works."</p>
So, how do I thaw a turkey?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDgwNjA0Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzI3NTQzN30.hr2xv0tzFU_12bA-wwKwBPv0Tou_ZcdMoF1VDlov-0k/img.png?width=980" id="07afc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="522a8b8370fecb9dcb3bf483adea6fa5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Omni Calculator<p> By slowly exposing the turkey to cool air or water, it heats up to a point where the bird is above freezing but not so warm that bacteria will start multiplying. Two of the safe ways to do this stand above all others; you can thaw it in the refrigerator or the sink.<br> <br> Using a refrigerator can take days; the calculator creators suggest a day for every four pounds of bird. Doing it with cold water in the sink is faster, needing only two hours per pound, but requires that you drain and refill the sink with new, cold water every thirty minutes. The ideal temperature during thawing shouldn't exceed 39°F/4°C.</p><p>"In our thawing model, we use a scientific approach, which is based on the use of heat transfer equations," the scientists write. "Since these types of problems are, in general, very complicated, we use some approximations, which allow us to estimate the thawing time with reasonable accuracy. As a result, you can see how the average temperature of the turkey changes in time." </p><p>You can learn more about the equations and get tips on using the calculator <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/food/turkey-thawing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>. You can also learn why you shouldn't use a hairdryer or a tub full of hot water to do the job. <br> <br> One of the best parts of science is that its findings are often universally applicable. If you understand why something works in one case, you can use it everywhere else. Kluziak reminds us why this might be great for cooking:<br> <br> "The rules that govern the process of thawing are roughly the same for every kind of food, what's different are the numbers that determine the more specific things like thawing time. The general ideas remain the same regardless of the food, and I would say they are pure common sense. For example, if you're defrosting food, don't do it at room temperature to avoid bacteria - this is true every time!"<strong></strong></p><p><strong> </strong>Whoever said you'd never use the science you learned in high school at home didn't understand how often we use physics—this calculator remind us that it is everywhere. So fear not, ye first-time turkey chefs! Science can help you have your main course and eat it too. </p>