Game Review: Superfight

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 3.32.38 PMLast Thursday, the Pittsburgh office Zulama team’s game lunch resulted in hilarity. We chose to play the game Superfight with the core 500-card deck.

There are two card types: characters and powers. We came across a wide variety of characters, from a Samurai, to an Emperor Penguin, to a Girl scout. The characters were all paired with equally interesting “powers,” from superglue with a firehose, to a  glitter shooter, to the pope-mobile. In our short two-round game, we found endless amusing combinations.

While there are many ways to play Superfight, we decided to use an individual judging method. In our gameplay, two players from our group randomly chose a character card and a power card. With the other members listening, they debated the outcome of a battle between the two characters for approximately three minutes. By strengthening our reasoning skills, we were able to find logic within the illogical, silly scenarios and present arguments to convince our listeners why certain characters would win in the contest. Once the debaters’ three minutes were up, the listeners had a minute to discuss the arguments and decide the outcome of the battle. After playing, our Pittsburgh team discussed the possible ways to play Superfight, from team to tournament style, in addition to the recommended four gameplay types. There seems to us no one-way to play this game; rather, it can be easily modified to fit any size group or setting.

To create additional challenges, expansion packs are available that include locations and different themes. Who would win if a glitter-shooting Pikachu fought an emotional George Foreman while riding a rollercoaster? I would be interested in seeing the orange deck that specifically references sci-fi and fantasy trivia (Anyone want to see Martha Stewart armed with the One Ring battle Spock who is trapped inside a giant hamster wheel?), or the purple deck that adds an extra something to your scenarios (are you ready for a contest on a floor made of lava?).

There are some power cards that may not be suitable for all classrooms. The game is centered around fighting (some power cards involve “knife throwing,” “armed with nunchucks,” etc.). However, these violent cards can be removed from your deck, leaving the silly power cards to be used, including “afraid of their own shadow” and “drank five energy drinks.” To further remove violence, the rules advocate for changing the purpose of the debate from who would win a battle to who is the funniest or would be a better nanny. You can even decide who might make the better plumber: a racoon who is really good at parkour or King Kong who can fly at the speed of molasses? There are many ways to make Superfight appropriate for any classroom.

With the endless possibilities available with this game, students could make their own versions to enhance their classroom knowledge. How interesting would it be to play a game like this in a History class (In a contest between Alexander the Great and Napoleon, who might win?), or in an English class (Which character is more idealistic: Don Quixote or Jane Bennet?)?

Though it was one of the most amusing games I’ve ever played, as a group, we decided we might not want to play Superfight all the time; location and audience factor into the enjoyment of gameplay. However, we all agreed we would love to play this game in the future and it would be great in an educational setting!

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Escape Room Pittsburgh: Prison

IMG_1226The clock is ticking down. You’re trying to figure out the final clue to unlock the door. Only one more minute, but you’re so close to cracking the code!

Last week the Zulama staff took field trip to Escape Room Pittsburgh, an interactive, immersive puzzle game. Filled with riddles, gadgets, and mind tricks, the main goal is to crack the code that will allow you to escape before time runs out. Left with a choice between the Prison and the Mad Scientist’s Laboratory, we chose to take our turn in the slammer. As you’ll see, some of us were happier about this than others!

IMG_1227Without giving up too much away, the trying to escape the prison was an experience unlike any other! The most important thing was to communicate about all of the clues we were finding. About 55 minutes in, we had the code to unlock the door. But we couldn’t figure out that we needed to type in the last symbol that would have allowed up to escape. Understandably, our group was frustrated, but undoubtedly ready to give the next room a go!

Learn more about the national Escape Room craze here and check our review below!

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Espace Room Game Review

Interview with a Teenager

Interview with a Teenager:

Tips for Communicating with Students about Game Violence

IMG_7964By Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator

Last week I sat down with my sister to talk about video games in education. During our discussion the topic of violence in videogames came up. As a teenager who is often exposed to media of all sorts, including violent media, she had some advice for parents and teachers who struggle with teenage consumption of media.

  1. Open a channel of communication with your student.  In order to do this, parents and teachers must be open to students’ opinions and respectful towards what they have to say.  By inviting them into a supportive environment, you as the parent or teacher will have more room to discuss what the student wants to share with you.  #Communicate
  2. Ask the student how they feel they are doing in the virtual world.  The easiest way to start a discussion is to ask specific questions about the games, shows, or movies they watch.  It’s not enough to ask general questions.  We all know the “how was school today” question can get limited responses, but asking about a specific teacher or favorite class can get discussions going.  Try asking about the most recent level they beat, goal they accomplished, or challenge where they are struggling. #ShowInterest
  3. Be educated about popular games.  It’s important for parents and teachers to know more about a game than just a title.  You must know the context and goal of the game. Two games that have the same goal may have drastically different game play, one game might only be jumping over mushrooms and another might have guns.  Just be educated about different games your student wants to play.  #EducateYourself
  4. Setting expectations is good. Each student needs to learn that there are things expected of them and in order to earn and deserve respect from the outside world, they need to respect themselves. To do this they need to understand that accepting responsibilities for their actions is always best.  So, teachers and parents need to make their expectations known and realistic.  Your student will mess up, but positive reinforcement is best.  #RespectYourself

These are her closing thoughts: “The use of the Internet can be a great benefit and comes with the power of knowledge, “but with great power comes great responsibility” #Spiderman #UncleBen.”


Education, Videogames, and Violence: Should we use games with violence?

Education, Videogames, and Violence: Should we use games with violence?

By Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator

Increasing student engagement in the classroom is a challenge that all teachers face.  One solution is to use videogames in an educational way.  Many games fit nicely into the classroom, such as The Oregon Trail and Scrabble.  Games can be used to review content, like Jeopardy, or to build 21st Century skills, like Minecraft.  They improve communication and collaboration skills, as seen in games like Clash of Clans while also teaching students to explore their creativity and inventiveness in games like Little Big Planet and Epic Mickey.

However, what happens when the educational value meets with animated violence? Games like Assassin’s Creed and The Testament of Sherlock Holmes offer much educationally, but are often questioned for their animated violence. Assassin’s Creed in particular has been praised for its focus on historical accuracy. Players are immersed in time periods and famous events while meeting historical figures. Colleges have even used this game in history courses to show students visual representations of periods they are learning about in class.

The problems arise when you learn that the player is an Assassin who kills throughout the game with a variety of weapons, all of which specific to the context of the game.  For example, Assassin’s Creed III is set during the American Revolutionary War and the hero is a half-Mohawk, half-British assassin.  His name is Connor Kenway, but he was raised in a Mohawk village by his birth name of Ratonhnhake:ton. During this game, he uses tomahawks, bows and arrows, muskets, and other period specific weapons.  Players dive deeply into Native American culture and explore reactions to the Revolutionary War. praises the game saying the game was “the most anticipated title in Indian country in recent years.” They continue in the article, “‘Assassin’s Creed III’: A Critical Success and Cultural Milestone,” to quote others praising the game for its ability to capture the Native American culture and the hero’s passion for protecting the new world.

With all these glowing educational points, can we allow this game to be played in high schools? Common Sense Media says no. During their review of the game, they bluntly say that “[p]arents need to know that Assassin’s Creed III is not only violent and bloody, but you also play as an assassin who must find and kill targets. This might be more disturbing to some parents than games where you shoot aliens to defend earth (Halo) or stave off a military attack (e.g. Call of Duty).” They argue that though it does teach American history, the violence is too graphic for children. Parents, on the other hand, who reviewed the game on disagree. Out of 34 reviews of the game, the average age of maturity to play the game is 11, one year below the average age supported by 141 member reviews (teens and parents). Even more surprising out of 107 reviews, teens feel the average age acceptable to play the game is 12. Many members say that there is an option to turn off the animated blood in the game and that it is possible to play with minor instances of violence, it all depends on how the player plays the game.

While this is only one example of a violent but educational game, we could also consider Apotheon, a downloadable computer game where the player must save the world from the Olympian gods. Along the way, the player must kill countless humans who side with the vengeful gods while being exposed to Ancient Greek art, history, culture, and mythology. In Call of Duty: World at War the player experiences the reality of World War 2 in the heat of battle. In this first person shooter game the player shoots people and throws grenades, though it is still possible to turn off the blood and gore.

So, at what point does the violence outweigh the educational benefit? The same question could be used to discuss movies.  Movies like Hotel Rwanda, Ghandi, and Schindler’s List have been praised for their historical accuracy and profound messages, though the events surrounding the films were violent. Should we stop teaching about wars to protect our children from violence? Should we stop exposing students to famous art pieces, like The Death of General Wolfe or images from the holocaust? Or uncomfortable novels, like How to Kill a Mockingbird or The Hunger Games? At what point can we disallow material from an educational setting based on side content?

Perhaps the defining feature of the violence is the perspective of the viewer. Many games mentioned above are played from a first person point of view, meaning the player looks through the character’s eyes as a actions occur, whereas in movies or art, the viewer is disconnected from the action. Despite these differences, many researchers believe that no matter the perspective of the violence, the violence is still detrimental to students. That brings us back to the main question: Where should we draw the line on education resources that include violence?

Do you think educational games with violences should be used as educational tools and allowed in classrooms? Let us know in the comment section below.




Day in a Classroom: Making

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Day in a Classroom: Making

Sarah Avery, Community Advocate, Educator

Back in January, with the semester drawing to a close, students were hard at work studying for finals, writing term papers, and finishing presentation projects.  Never had I seen students more excited to be doing these things than in Chris Lucas’s classroom at West Allegheny High School.  Mr. Lucas, a Zulama teacher, teaches Evolution of Games and Mobile Game Design to students from 9th to 12th grade.  When I first entered the the classroom, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  As a substitute, I’m used to students being standoff-ish around new people. I wasn’t expecting students to welcome me into their space and be so excited that I experience the games they were building.

In my visit, students were playtesting traditional games (like Chess and Nine Man Morris) they had modified.  Suddenly, pieces could move any number of spaces and a roll of the dice could determine just how lucky you really are. Everywhere I looked, students were collaborating, building, analyzing, and having fun.

An interesting game modification I found was in the game of Chess. The students decided that if a piece takes another piece, rather than just removing it from the board, you flip it over and that square becomes a blank space that no one can land on, so while you play, the board becomes more and more limited, raising the level of difficulty and strategy involved.  Another modification that caused much excitement took place in Nine Man Morris.  The students added a bit of chance to the game by offering the option to roll the dice in addition to traditional moves. However, whatever number you rolled, you must abide by the moves listed in the directions. For example, if you rolled a three, your opponent may take one of your pieces, but if you rolled a five, you revived one of your taken pieces. So, the students had to weigh the risks in addition to thinking strategically about their moves. This led to many loud outbursts of laughter as the hand of fate moved against the players.

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In the later class of Mobile Game Design, the students were much less animated because they were focused on finishing their term individual game design projects.  However, I did get to speak with them about their games.  Many of them were working on debugging their programs. One student had trouble losing lives once his character died.  Eventually, after discussing the issues with Mr. Lucas, the student decided to delete the character and rewrite the code. Though frustrated by his writing error, he admitted that he learned to be more observant and aware when programming. He noted that through his Zulama classes he has learned the skills perseverance, iteration, and resilience in order to solve issues. He has since then begun working with GameMaker, a more challenging game programming system.

Throughout my two hour visit I saw many things, but what everything boils down to is the essence of the Maker Movement. defines the Maker Movement as “a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or virtually any raw material and/or product from a computer-related device.” While this is very long winded and technical, I prefer to define the Maker Movement as the spirit of collaboration on a project to create something that will solve a problem. Simply put, a maker is someone who makes.

From homes to community centers to schools to corporate America, the Maker Movement has grown in popularity.  At Zulama, we support the Maker Movement through our curriculum’s emphasis on project-based learning. Our teachers are riding that wave of technological creativity and ingenuity in the classroom with our students. Exploration and discovery are the best methods of education. Through game design and project based learning, we can utilize students’ natural curiosity to enhance their educational experiences by having them teach themselves, like the student who had to rewrite his code in order to fix his problem. In the past, teachers held the keys to knowledge, but through the Maker Movement and project based learning, everyone holds the keys and collaborates to learn.  Students are actively and creatively engaged in learning through dynamic and authentic experiences in order to investigate, collaborate, and innovate. Learning and creating memories is an active process and teachers who embrace the Maker Movement take full advantage of that by creating interactive projects and games designed to spark interest, enhance understanding, and create a sense of ownership for students’ education.