April 8 2016 edition

Thanks to Erin Felter, Mark German, Catherine Jhee, Daniel Laughlin, Ed Metz, and Russ Shilling for sending contributions to this issue! Please forward us your news and favorites to the contact information shown at the bottom.

Games and Education

HTC ViveThe HTC Vive became the second commercially-available virtual reality headset last week. The Vive launched with a higher price than the Oculus Rift, but also has a larger play space and includes handheld controllers. What did the press think? They seem largely aligned: start with this review on The Verge. VentureBeat, Kotaku, and the Washington Post also had good reviews. Valve put out an amazing video highlighting SteamVR with the Vive – it is recommended viewing! This trailer for VR game Fantastic Contraption is also pretty great.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge kicked off last week, launching its fifth annual competition along with a new sponsor, the National Geographic Society. The challenge is open to middle school and high school students, and submissions are due by August 15. Check the site or video for more information, then view last year’s winners to get some inspiration!

Last Friday, the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences released its 2017 Request for Applications. Applications are for grants to develop interventions or assessments, or to evaluate technology. Note that this includes the development or evaluation of games for learning!

Can virtual reality relieve pain? Or at least distract you from it? A new study published in Royal Society Open Science found that players using a virtual reality game had increased pain tolerance while playing.

CastARWe’ve been talking about virtual reality the past few weeks, but of course augmented reality technology is also in rapid development. Gamesindustry.biz catches up with Technical Illusions’ Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, creators of CastAR.

iD Tech’s popular summer camps for kids already utilize games like Minecraft and Dota 2. This summer, the camps will be adding the popular game Rocket League to help introduce children age 10 to 12 to STEM subjects.

The excellent site Kidscreen sits down with Alan Gershenfeld of E-Line Media and Michael Levine from the Cooney Center to discuss the use of games for social impact. Gershenfeld’s studio released Never Alone in 2014, an impressive game that shares the culture of the Inupiat people through an engaging story.

Congratulations to Katherine Isbister on her new book, How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. Science Friday talked with Isbister about the growth of powerful games such as That Dragon Cancer, and Her Story.

Game startup ThinkZone conducted a survey of 800 K-12 teachers and 350 administrators to learn more about the way they think of using games for education. Just over half of the respondents believe that games can be “used to teach complex and challenging ideas and topics.”

Coding and Making

Gender StereotypesThe White House held an event on gender stereotypes in media and toys last week, emphasizing the importance of addressing the gender gap in STEM roles. The full video of the event is available; readers of this newsletter will find familiar faces and interesting topics, including littleBits’ CEO Ayah Bdeir.

Zynga.org recently held a Career Day for the third year of its popular High School Game Design Academy, a collaboration with San Francisco Unified School District. The Game Design Academy is reaching over 200 students this year! Zynga employees work with students during the course of the year to help them learn the fundamentals of computer science and game development. Zynga.org’s Erin Felter wrote an excellent piece for Medium on using games as a gateway to computer science.

Non-profit First Robotics is continuing its impressive growth, and in some states the robotics competitions are becoming a sport similar in stature to football or basketball. Website “The 74” examines First and how the organization is looking to state funding in order to reach schools in less privileged areas.

Her Interactive’s upcoming game Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues looks to help introduce girls 5 to 8 years old to the basic principles of coding. Games… coding… you can bet we’ll link to it when it releases!

UC Davis debuted a K-12 computer science curriculum last week, the C-STEM Information and Communications Technologies Pathway. It uses Blockly and C/C++ plus Lego Mindstorms to weave computer science into the mathematics curriculum.

MIT Hydraulic RobotMIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory announced a breakthrough in 3D printing last week, successfully printing solids and liquids together to create a tiny robot that uses hydraulics to move.

Thom Gibson, a middle school math and robotics teacher, shares some of his thoughts on teaching robotics in an interesting video blog on Edutopia.

Curious who will be showing at this year’s White House Science Fair on April 13? Check out the list of amazing student projects!

Last week we reported that sadly, Scratch Cat had disappeared. Or maybe he went on vacation? Well, good news, Scratch Cat is now back from vacation and sharing his trip photos on the Scratch Team Blog.


1979 Revolution1979 Revolution: Black Friday (PC, Mac) – Work to survive the gritty streets of Iran in the late 1970’s, in this narrative game that sets you as a photojournalist in a nation on the verge of collapse. Video.

Disney Crossy Road (iOS, Android) – You knew it was coming! Crossy Road meets Mickey Mouse in this mashup of Disney’s most popular franchises with the insanely popular Frogger evolution. Video.

Genetic Cars 2 (Web) – I couldn’t stop playing with this. It’s not a game, not really. Watch as genetic algorithms running in your browser try to evolve the perfect car for a randomly generated race course. It’s mesmerizing.


The World is TalkingThe World is Listening… But Games Aren’t Talking – Did you miss former GlassLab Game Director Michael John’s excellent presentation at Game Developers Conference 2016? Catch his talk about bringing game design to the world beyond entertainment, now available on GDC Vault.

SPRK: Change the Game with Robotics – Last week was National Robotics Week! Sphero celebrated it with this great video about the fun and inspiration that can come from using robotics in the classroom.

EdCamp 101 – We talked about EdFoo last week, an amazing education unconference. What’s an education unconference? Learn all about throwing your own EdCamp in your community!

The Panama Papers, explained with piggy banks – Everything is more amazing with cute 8-bit animations! Learn about the Panama Papers: what the document leak is all about, and why you should care. With piggy banks.

What is Structural Engineering? – KQED presents an excellent animated Science Spotlight explaining what structural engineering is good for.


Sandbox@MIT – Leaders in media, toys, education, and nonprofits come together to explore play. Cambridge, MA. April 17-19.
Games and Media Summit – A day-long event at the Tribeca Film Festival, from Games for Change! New York, NY. April 18.
Scratch Day – Global network of events celebrating the Scratch programming environment. Worldwide. May 14.
XTech 2016 – The Experiential Technology & NeuroGaming Conference and Expo. San Francisco, CA. May 17-18.
National Week of Making – A US-wide celebration of all things Maker, June 17-23, with the National Maker Faire in Washington DC, June 18-19.
Games for Change – The 13th annual conference for using games for change. New York, NY. June 23-24.
Computer Science Teachers Association conference – CSTA’s annual conference for teachers. San Diego, CA. July 10-12.


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