Building Passion & Thought Leadership in Gamification, Serious Games, & Sims: Part 1
The Evolution of a Game Boy-Nurd
When colleagues, fellow professionals, and learners—my term for students—ask me why I use games and gaming in my higher education courses, I present a rather fascinating and energetic story. In my youth, games were the only tools I could use to displace myself from the dysfunctional home and neighborhood that I lived in. I identified a learning space for my early childhood and adolescent development—the local public library. In between the stacks, old leatherette chairs, tables, and that unforgettable musty smell of decomposing paper, I was able to locate several fictional works like the collected works of Sherlock Holmes or Jules Verne that facilitated my immersion within other worlds.
As I grew into adolescence, I became interested in science, math, and physics. I acquired one of those status-raising vinyl pocket protectors that housed my pens, pencils, and often a small ruler.
In that period, I was often referred to as an “egghead.” That endearing term was associated with individuals who today would be called “geeks” or “nerds.” Yes, I possessed a K+E slide rule in a beautiful leather holster that I wore proudly on my belt.
I passionately carried my Log Tables everywhere to work out equations on the fly.
When people first encountered me, my glasses furnished instant identification as in egghead. Even today, my high forehead and novel glasses would certainly evoke the term geek or nerd from some people.
National Lampoon’s “Are you a Nurd?” poster of 1977
I was not interested in football, baseball, basketball, or hockey during my adolescence. I sought out games of the mind. I spent hours in the public library reading texts on chess moves, Go strategy, and card games.
I would also spend significant amounts of time with my Gilbert's microscope and chemistry set.
I labored over my extensive fossil collection that was stored and cataloged in egg cartons stacked high along the walls throughout my bedroom.
Often, I would invite over other eggheads to play board games like Monopoly, Risk, Stratego, Easy Money, and Life. Within the edges of those board games, we could take upon us the personality traits and values of new personas.
In my latter high school years, I embarked upon a science project. My chemistry and physics teacher coached and mentored me in Fortran II, Calculus, and IBM Assembler language. My first science project calculations were executed on an old Monroe comptometer device.
When that became too slow, I located an IBM 1130, with paper tape input, at the rural John Deere factory where I lived, introduced myself to the data processing manager, and ran my initial programs.
Finally, I was introduced to the local Junior Achievement representative, who looked after preventative maintenance (PM) on an IBM 360 mainframe at the city hydro company. I entered the hydro facility between 2:00am and 5:00am when PM was being run on the computers. I finally found a platform that could handle my computations.
In my senior year, I received various awards for my science project. It was entitled Three-Dimensional Probability Contour Calculations for the Ce3+ Ion and Trivalent Lanthofanide Series of Elements. The major outcome to the project was that I was invited to Boston, MA, to the 1969 American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences Conference to deliver my first academic paper. Apparently, my eigenvalues had never been computed on a mainframe for calculating 3-D atomic orbitals. This was a first. I was very proud of what my chemistry and physics teacher could support me accomplish.
Chess on Mainframe Computers and Machines (2001 Space Odyssey)
Once I reached early adulthood, I worked on mainframe computers at the Hudson Bay Company in Winnipeg, MN, as a computer operator, systems programmer, and later as a computer analyst. I sought out numerous opportunities to load primitive computer-based chess games on the mainframe to play during my midnight shifts.
When microcomputers came out with embedded chess games, I quickly purchased the hardware and software. Chess games permitted me to play against myself as well as a machine. Seldom did I encounter young folks like myself who were interested more in the games that exercise the mind than in drinking and carousing, (although I partook in the latter on occasion and frequented my share of coffee houses in the late 1960s and early 1970s).
First Chess Computer (1977)
As my career in computer operations, computer science, and systems analysis progressed, I often found myself involved in teaching managers and staff how to use computer interfaces, computer systems, and new automated business applications.
I abhorred the techniques I noticed being used around me, where individuals were taught what each keystroke or command meant in a DOS line or early Windows interface menu.
Instead, I created scenarios and simulations to build problem-solving skills and invoke critical thinking about the automated tool being learned.
My colleagues often scoffed at my "experience-based" approaches and methods. Nonetheless, folks seem to learn and retain a considerable amount of knowledge.
My story continues in Part 2 of the blog. Please read on about my evolutionary experiences in game based learning, gamification, and simulations. If you read this far, then we need to share notes.