Tag Archives: video games

Pax Part 3 Education Through Play

You must choose carefully the panels that you want to see at Penny Arcade Expo. You’re not going to to find a quiet indie games Q & A to chill out and learn something interesting. Every panel lines up at least half an hour before the doors open. Sara knew which panel she wanted to go to as soon as we got into Seattle. It was called Education Through Play. Since she is a teacher, this was right up her alley. We didn’t know what would be discussed here, but we joked that if we played our cards right, maybe her professional development money could help pay for our hotel.

As PAX Panels went, this one was especially packed. The room must have been filled with at least 400 people. Late-comers were being turned away from the door. The panel had started late because several of the panelists from the east coast had been grounded by Hurricane Irene.

The first speaker was James Portnow, CEO of Rainmaker games and writer of the web series “Extra Credits”. He started talking about how the American Education, which was based on the 19th century Prussian model, could no longer cope with the challenges of today. We all know the educational potential of games. No one has ever had to sit a 10-year-old down to memorize all 150 pokemon. If we could somehow harness this emotional power that games have, we could have a world where the United States is first in Math, Science, and Literacy.

The speech was a barn burner. The audience was on their feet. The question and comments line snaked all the way back to the door. You could feel the energy crackling in the room.

It was then that I realized why so many people had come to Penny Arcade Expo. It wasn’t to see the latest games, It wasn’t to play in the tournaments, it was for validation. Outside of that convention hall, the work-a-day world believes without hesitation that games are frivolous and decadent, and by extension so are the people that play them. Here, everyone was a gamer. Games bring joy and meaning at PAX. Why wouldn’t you want to change the world with that kind of passion?

I hope everyone in attendance at the Education Through Play panel realized just how important they are. The change we’re seeking through video games isn’t going to come from administration or school board approval. It’s not even going to come from passion or good ideas. This change is going to come from the hard work at every level of the education system. It’s going to be the teachers who incorporate the games into their lessons, the IT staff that help them set everything up, the parents who recognize how the games have awakened a passion for learning in their child and demand that kind of instruction as they progress from K-12.

We just don’t know how games will work in the classroom…yet. Next year, I hope to see a panel or even a series of panels focused more on the practical applications of games in education. We can have all the validations we want, but at the end of the day, it’s the individual that brings the bright ideas to the table and creates a new reality. Because as Ken Robinson said, “when kids walk in the classroom and you close the door, you are the education system.”

James Strocel After PAX Prime 2011

PAX Part 1: 5 Easy Ways to Survive Pax Prime

James Strocel After PAX Prime 2011


If I was going to attend only one convention this year, I decided it would be Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington. PAX did not disappoint. It is truly a nerd prom of epic proportions. There were giant displays from all the big publishers, video game tournaments, table-top games, and above all, thousands of fellow gamers to enjoy it all with. That being said, it’s a big convention. If you’re not careful, you could be swept a way in a tide of bodies smelling of old sweat and despair. Here are a few ways to make your PAX experience less zombie apocalypse and more geek apocalypse…whatever the hell that is.

1. Forget Trying To Play Triple-A Titles

Unless you’re a fan of standing in line for 5 hours or more, steer clear of the larger publisher booths. Sure, you get to play Skyrim, but you’re giving up at least a quarter of all your available expo hall time to do it. My friends were only able to play Mass Effect 3 through some drunken blackmail. Just enjoy all the new gameplay videos on the big plasma screens and check out the stuff at the indie booths, which are frankly a lot more interesting.

2. Bring Your Own Food

When dinner time rolls around at PAX, there will not be a restaurant, cafe, convenience store or hot dog cart without a line winding around the block. Make a stop at Costco on the way down to pick up some non-perishables and guard that stockpile like Mad Max. However if you’re like me and you didn’t pack enough, you can hit up the bakery desk at the Cheesecake Factory. The lineup for their restaurant hides a tasty salvation from the lunch rush mobs

3. Do Not Look For Swag, The Swag Will Find You.

It’s easy to get antsy about swag when you arrive in the afternoon and the only program schedule you could find was sticking out of the trash. Fear not. PAX turns Seattle into Tokyo for the weekend. The companies attending are desperate to get your attention and get you telling everyone else about them. You can get swag for playtesting, standing in line, or really pathetic puppy-dog looks. Swag is everywhere.

4. Trust The Enforcers

With over 85,000 attendees, there was no part of the convention center that wasn’t absolutely choked with people. If it weren’t for the professional management and the bravery of their volunteer enforcers, the attendees would have resorted to cannibalism within hours. As a veteran con-goer, I’m more used to a more “populist” form of crowd control. This generally means volunteer management, which means the inmates are running the asylum. Lines are hours long, and they are separated and mooshed together haphazardly in a futile attempt to make them go faster. PAX has none of that crap. They cap their attendance, and their staff is well versed in the art of mob-mancy. So, relax. They will get you to your panel…eventually.

5. Able-Bodied Attendees Seen Taking The Elevator To The 2nd Floor Of The Sheraton Hotel Will Be Punished Through Summary Execution.

The Sheraton was kind enough to give their upper floors to PAX attendees, which sounds nice. There’s also an elevator that skips floors 3-20. Also nice. What’s not nice is when you’re trying to make it back to your hotel room while drunk, hung-over, or sleep deprived and you think you’re going all the way up but SCREEEECH!! Not so fast, Sunshine. Someone was too lazy to take the escalator that was literally 10 FEET OVER from where I just became 10% more nauseous. If you are disabled and can’t take the escalator, I understand, but for the rest of you, show some consideration, okay?





It’s odd that a game like Recettear is my office distraction of choice. It’s the story of an item shop owner in a high fantasy setting, the sort you meet in RPG’s like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. The game’s protagonist, Recette, has to pay off a large debt incurred by her estranged father. With the help of Tear, the loan officer fairy, she starts an item shop selling to the various people and adventurers about town. In this game, I get to take a break from working on products and dealing with clients so I can work with different products and deal with different clients.

Granted, business in Recettear is a lot easier than in real life. Everything is bright and cheery. Marketing is all handled for you, and people just wander in to your shop. All you have to worry about from your competition is the occasional trash talk and maniacal laughter. Your customers pay you in a sparkly tornado of coins. I wish my clients paid me in coin tornados. It would probably make a mess, though.

If you have kids, I would say Recettear is the best way to teach them how to run a business. Unlike those myriad of tycoon games, your customers aren’t simply a bunch of faceless little avatars. They react emotionally to how you treat them, all in their full-screen saucer-eyed glory. Some of them even have back-stories, and the better relationship you have with them, the more of the game you get to see.

So check out Recettear if you want a decidedly adorable introduction to the world of retail. The game can be found on Steam or other fine download services.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. Youth

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was a film that chronicled my 20s perfectly. It was such tough luck that it had to go up against BOTH the Expendables and Eat Pray Love on opening weekend. Now I have to buy up everything Scott Pilgrim from the video game, to the soundtrack, to five minutes on the Scott Pilgrim Suicide Prevention hotline to properly show my appreciation. Thanks a lot, movie-going public.

The story of Scott having to defeat seven evil exes to date his crush should feel familiar for anyone who has had to deal with relationship baggage. As I watched, all these memories came flooding back to me. Playing the Rifts RPG with my friends in rathole apartments, losing at Dance Dance Revolution in Lotteria Cafe, and my hilarious attempts at finding relationships at parties and nightclubs. You have all this energy that in another time would have been used for something real, like fighting a war and raising a family. Instead, you’re stuck burning it all off on sports, video games, or some other cheap distraction. The surreal video game tropes of Scott Pilgrim mirror that fact. Most nostalgic of all was the high pitched whine of self-deception. Trust me, with no job and a useless degree, you’ll tell yourself anything to get through the day.

So here I am at 30, looking back at the last of my adolescence, and I think, what’s different? What have I learned? I met my beautiful wife (thank god) so I don’t have to bother with nightclubs anymore. I can’t stay up until 4 am like I used to anyway. That’ll come around to haunt me once kids are in the picture. I learned that you could love your job, but there was no way it was going to love you back. People might toss you aside to maintain their self-image, but don’t take it personally. If you meet someone that doesn’t do that, hang on to them dearly. Action is a greater virtue than patience.

I’ve probably got dozens of these fortune-cookie aphorisms buried away in gut feelings and subtle hunches. That’s the funny thing about experience. We say we’re free and individual beings, but we still funnel ourselves down the same old paths of life bordered in by our fears and unanswered questions. If we can face down those situations with no easy answers, keep trying to face down the limits of our experience, we just might eventually get to the truth.

Nintendo 3DS Revealed

Within days of releasing the DSXL, Nintendo proves once again that they are not the company to rest on their laurels by announcing the Nintendo 3DS! The secret behind their amazing 3D portable device technology is still a mystery, but this high tech demo gives us a glimpse into the cutting edge of modern gaming.