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Unlocking Games

Chad Haefele and Brandon Carper

A show about social impact games and how they provide a new way to explain the things you care about. Every week we cover how a game applies (or misses) the lessons of our work and research in instructional design and user experience. You'll always l...Show More

0:00 | Apr 3rd, 2017

First, an important note: This will be our last episode for a while. Brandon and I have both developed outside commitments that keep us from spending the time to do more episodes right. We might be back someday! But please enjoy this and each of our ...Show More

0:00 | Mar 31st, 2017

Released in early February, We Are Chicago is a serious game with serious goals: to put players in the shoes of a teenager amid the problems of Chicago’s South Side. As Aaron you navigate the landscape of gangs, high school, family dynamics, and a pa...Show More

0:00 | Feb 17th, 2017

The game is more than two years old and based on an event from the 90s, but This War of Mine still feels fresh and relevant. This War of Mine drops you in the middle of a city under siege. But you’re not a well-equipped well-trained super-soldier pa...Show More

0:00 | Feb 3rd, 2017

With immigration and a border wall in the news this week, it’s a good time to look at 2013’s The Migrant Trail. Released as a tie-in for Marco Williams’ documentary The Undocumented, The Migrant Trail is a browser-based game where you’re in the shoes...Show More

0:00 | Jan 20th, 2017

Welcome back to season two! We’re slightly shifting focus to social impact games: games that explore social issues like elections, climate change, homelessness, and immigration. Each episode will evaluate the effectiveness of a different game. What...Show More

0:00 | Jan 6th, 2017

Many games put you in the role of someone else. It’s right in the name of at least one genre: Role-Playing Game. We identify with each of these avatars to varying degrees. It’s hard to feel much of a connection with Pac-Man, but Link and Chrono were ...Show More

0:00 | Dec 30th, 2016

Spacewar!, one of the first games to use a controller, ran on the PDP-1 computer.We’ve talked often before about how games can use a GUI to teach you a skill or task useful in real life. But is another angle on this idea true too? Is expertise using...Show More

0:00 | Dec 23rd, 2016

It’s not often there’s breaking news in the world of academic articles on gaming, but a potential retraction of an article is worth talking about. A 2014 study called “Boom, Headshot! Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and A...Show More

0:00 | Dec 16th, 2016

Last week we talked about self-efficacy, particularly how it relates to the high difficulty of the Dark Souls series. But Dark Souls actually goes against lots of advice about the relationship between self-efficacy and performance. It turns out there...Show More

0:00 | Dec 9th, 2016

How good are you at Dark Souls? Or put another way: What’s your perception of your related self-efficacy? The Dark Souls series is hard. Really, really hard. We’re just preparing you: You’ll die often, in new and interesting ways. So why do players...Show More

0:00 | Dec 2nd, 2016

Ben Heck’s clever customization of an Xbox One controller for one-handed use.[/caption]The word “Accessibility” might bring to mind ramps, braille, and other physical world accommodations. Those are important, but the concepts extends to games and ot...Show More

0:00 | Nov 25th, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! If you’re looking for an escape from the post-turkey awkward conversations, check out the conclusion of our series on Discovery Learning. In our previous two episodes, we examined the positives and negatives of discovery learning....Show More

0:00 | Nov 18th, 2016

Discovery learning remains very popular today, BUT! All is not well in the land of self-guided education. Every time the research catches up to discovery learning and starts to question how well it works, the name changes to aliases like problem-base...Show More

0:00 | Nov 11th, 2016

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a 2014 all-around spooky game that doesn’t hold your hand. There’s even a note at the beginning stating that you’re on your own. You’re expected to learn as you go, figuring out not only how complex puzzles work but a...Show More

0:00 | Nov 4th, 2016

Bioshock is one of the most critically lauded games of all time. Released in 2007, today it still holds a place in Metacritic’s top 25 games ever. The game’s story, all about an underwater city that fell victim to a mix of Objectivist thinking and s...Show More

0:00 | Oct 28th, 2016

Instead of examining one game in detail, this week the broader concept of metagaming caught our attention. From Dungeons & Dragons to Tekken to League of Legends, tons of games can be played at a meta level. There’s so much information about games o...Show More

0:00 | Oct 21st, 2016

We made it to episode 10! Double digits! Released in August, No Man’s Sky was one of the most hyped new games of 2016. Promotional materials and press coverage promised 18 quintillion planets to fly your spaceship to, and innumerable things to do on ...Show More

0:00 | Oct 14th, 2016

This week we concluded our three week Arstotzkan travelogue with a look at how Papers, Please handles incentives and emotional impact. The game has an unusually subtle approach to morality and choices, and avoids Mass Effect style extreme polarized c...Show More

0:00 | Oct 7th, 2016

After our discussion of Papers, Please’s lessons in instructional design, this week we found the game’s interesting and sometimes counterintuitive applications of user experience and design principles. There’s friction in almost everything you do in...Show More

0:00 | Sep 30th, 2016

In Papers, Please players step into the shoes of a border control agent faced with increasingly byzantine rules to admit or deny entry into Glorious Arstotzka. Each game-day presents you with new restrictions on what paperwork to check. The difficul...Show More

0:00 | Sep 22nd, 2016

Witness, a cooperative crime-solving mystery board game, is on our minds. In Witness, each player knows different facts about the case. Gameplay revolves around whispering clues to each other in an effort to piece everything together. It’s so clearl...Show More

0:00 | Sep 15th, 2016

Super Mario Maker, a game for the Wii U, could probably support entire books about the approaches and design choices it reflects. It’s a complex level creator for classic side-scrolling Mario games. Anybody can use 72 different pieces in infinite co...Show More

0:00 | Sep 7th, 2016

Brandon introduces Pandemic Legacy and its applications of cooperative learning principles in this week’s shorter “lockpick” episode. Pandemic Legacy is a collaborative board game that takes a serialized approach to gameplay. Players work together t...Show More

0:00 | Sep 1st, 2016

In a smaller “lockpick” episode, we take a look at the new awkwardly named game Mr. Robot: 1.51exfiltrati0n. The game (available for iOS and Android) pretends to be a messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Set in the world of the TV show...Show More

0:00 | Aug 25th, 2016

This week we discuss the UX and Instructional Design potential of Gone Home, 2013’s 12th highest rated PC game on MetaCritic and the 2014 Games for Change Game of the Year. It’s also an excellent walking simulator. Gone Home is available on PC, PS4,...Show More

0:00 | Aug 8th, 2016

In our inaugural episode, we talk about elements of Instructional Design and User Experience that caught our attention in Life Is Strange. The first episode of Life Is Strange is free to play on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Steam. Show Notes & ...Show More