Motion Physics with Mario…and Portal

This lesson helps students develop a deep and meaningful understanding of motion physics by playing a video game mash-up of the classic Super Mario Bros. and the popular new wave game Portal. You can use the youtube video to give yourself some other ideas of ways the game can be used to illustrate physics concepts in the classroom. This game is a really great way to actually show students these forces at work with familiar and fun characters and games that they are sure to really enjoy.

Learning to “Lose Yourself” with Biofeedback Gaming

In this lesson, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is used to introduce the topic of stress and how it affects students’ lives. YouTube videos are used to explain the science behind the “fight-or-flight” response, and students are shown new biofeedback-linked video games that train players to overcome stress through breath control.

Portal Geometry: Volume

Students develop an understanding of the geometric concept of volume and how it relates to area and surface area using the game Portal 2.

Tetris

The Tetris Effect: Re-Wire Your Mind

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The Tetris Effect:

When the game Tetris was released, it was insanely popular and became an instant classic.  Even the creator of the game himself has said he had trouble finishing the game’s programming because he couldn’t stop playing it during testing!  From the start, the game produced an unforeseen effect on the players’ minds when played very heavily – one that was confusing, somewhat alarming, and ultimately fascinating.

Also known as The Tetris Syndrome, The Tetris Effect occurs when people spend so much time doing a particular activity or pattern of behavior that it inhabits their thoughts, mental images, and dreams.  With Tetris, the players would see the little tetris block formations, or tetronimos, falling and fitting into rows when they weren’t playing anymore.  With other games and activities requiring repetitive behaviors, other similar visual experiences associated with the activity take place.  It is related to something becoming a habit but with real cognitive changes occurring in the brain.

Memory Science:

In psychology, memory is the process through which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved.  There are different types of memory including “declarative memory,” which requires conscious recall.  In other words, some active mental process must occur to recall the information.

Conversely there is “procedural memory,” which is not based on conscious recall but on implicit learning.  Implicit learning takes places when a behavior is learned from repetitive practice.  So procedural memory works when you automatically know how to physically do something without any conscious effort – like tying your shoe, riding a bike, or reading.  Motor skills are developed this way as well as behaviors and patterns of thoughts associated with The Tetris Effect.

Real Studies:

In 2000, a scientist, Robert Stickgold and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School proposed that Tetris imagery is a separate form of memory likely related to procedural memory.  This is from their research in which they showed that people with anterograde amnesia, unable to form new declarative memories, reported dreaming of falling shapes after playing Tetris during the day despite not being able to remember playing the game at all.

A study conducted by Lynn Okagaki and Peter Frensch in 1994 showed that participants who played Tetris for twelve 30-minute sessions (with no previous experience of the game) did much better than a control group in a spatial skills test.  The result of the experiment was that the game had positive effects on spatial skills abilities including mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.

The experience of seeing falling tetris blocks in your mind hours after playing the game can be somewhat alarming, and you might think, “Did I just fry my brain!?”  Playing the game Tetris is very enjoyable for most players, and the somewhat alarming effect of visualizing the game when you aren’t playing it might even have benefits like those described in the studies above.  Overall, it’s a very unique observable scientific phenomenon associated with a popular video game, which is pretty cool.

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Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

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The Future of Prosthetics: Metal Gear Inspired Arms

 

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James Young and Metal Gear Solid

James Young lost his arm and his foot in a tragic train accident in 2012, and he has been adjusting to life with prosthetic limbs ever since. He has received a truly groundbreaking prosthetic from a London designer, that has made his limb look like Snake’s from the video game Metal Gear Solid.  Konami, a Japanese video game developer, teamed up with the innovative designer, Sophie De Oliviera Barata to create the limb.

A whole team of engineers, roboticists and designers produced this piece of technology for the 25 year old. As with most prosthetics, the build is customised to Young’s requirements, and also uses cutting edge and innovative technologies

Young was “carefully selected by Sophie as a candidate comfortable with the idea of an eye-catching alternative limb and who would benefit from the capabilities it offered,” say Konami.

In Metal Gear Solid V, Snake gains an artificial arm after losing it in prelude Ground Zeroes. Although Young’s arm won’t be an exact replica, it will be inspired by the aesthetic of the virtual one, without the many weapons and espionage tools outfitted to it in the game though.

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The Special Features

The arm includes a smartwatch in the wrist. The fingers are controllable, and it also doubles as a phone charger thanks to a USB port. A panel on the outside of the shoulder houses a drone that can actually fly around. The arm is detachable and can light up in various colors, and is controlled by James via commands sent by his shoulder muscles to sensors.  However, this is a work in progress.  

To achieve his goal of having two fully independent arms once again, James is currently seeking funding for a procedure called osseointegration, which will basically involve attaching the prosthetic directly to his bone using titanium. If you’d like to help out, you can donate to James’ cause on his GoFundMe page.

“The Phantom Limb Project was born out of a desire to create something innovative, on the cusp of future technology, which would explore the themes present within the series and more specifically, the themes and ideas referenced in the latest incarnation: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,” the creators said.

“We also wanted to tell an uplifting human story of what it means to be an amputee, to feel phantom pain, to overcome loss and how technology can change our perceptions of ‘disability’. Moreover, the story of how one gamer [...] never let his condition get in the way of his passion.”

De Oliveira Barata designs unique prosthetic limbs. As founder of The Alternative Limbs Project, she has pioneered a field for individualized limbs built to match the tastes and personalities of their wearers.

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A Brief History of Prosthesis

As the amputee coalition eloquently put, “from the ancient pyramids to World War I, the prosthetic field has morphed into a sophisticated example of man’s determination to do better.”

The evolution of prosthesis is a long history, from its primitive beginnings to its sophisticated present, to the exciting visions of the future. As in the development of any other field, some ideas and inventions have worked and been expanded upon, such as the fixed-position foot, while others have fallen by the wayside or become obsolete, such as the use of iron in a prosthesis.

The Egyptians were the early pioneers of prosthetic technology. Scientists recently discovered what is said to be the world’s first prosthetic toe from an Egyptian mummy and it appears to have been functional.

The Dark Ages saw little advancement in prosthetics other than the hand hook and peg leg. Most prostheses of the time were made to hide deformities or injuries sustained in battle. A knight would be fitted with a prosthesis that was designed only to hold a shield or for a leg to appear in the stirrups, with little attention to functionality. Outside of battle, only the wealthy were lucky enough to be fitted with a peg leg or hand hook for daily function.

In 1508, German mercenary Gotz von Berlichingen had a pair of technologically advanced iron hands made after he lost his right arm in the Battle of Landshut. The hands could be manipulated by setting them with the natural hand and moved by relaxing a series of releases and springs while being suspended with leather straps.

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French Army barber/surgeon Ambroise Paré is considered by many to be the father of modern amputation surgery and prosthetic design. He introduced modern amputation procedures (1529) to the medical community and made prostheses (1536) for upper- and lower-extremity amputees. He also invented an above-knee device that was a kneeling peg leg and foot prosthesis that had a fixed position, adjustable harness, knee lock control and other engineering features that are used in today’s devices.

His work showed the first true understanding of how a prosthesis should function. A colleague of Paré’s, Lorrain, a French locksmith, offered one of the most important contributions to the field when he used leather, paper and glue in place of heavy iron in making a prosthesis.

 

Looking To The Future

Today’s devices are much lighter, made of plastic, aluminum and composite materials to provide amputees with the most functional devices. In addition to lighter, patient-molded devices, the advent of microprocessors, computer chips and robotics in today’s devices are designed to return amputees to the lifestyle they were accustomed to, rather than to simply provide basic functionality or a more pleasing appearance.

Innovators such as Sophie De Oliviera Barata are taking the functionality of a prosthetic limb, and adding the personal style that reflects the wearer.  As this field steps into the future, perhaps limbs like the one James Young wears will become a reality for more and more people who are faced with this challenge of replacing a limb.

Video Games and Literary Criticism

In this lesson, students engage with their favorite video games as literary works and write literary analysis essays critiquing and dissecting the literary aspects of their chosen games.

Can a Zombie Outbreak be Caused by a Fungus? The very real science behind The Last of Us

The lesson explores the very real and scary science of Cordyceps, the fungi responsible for the zombie outbreak in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us video game. This award winning video game has taken a very plausible approach to the zombie genre rooted in biology. The mutated bodies of the zombies known as Clickers come from invasive fungi like Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is the closest real-world comparison to the zombie mutations in The Last of Us. This parasitic spore feeds off of ant and spider species until there’s nothing left but the exoskeleton. Spores emerge from the zombified ant and is infectious to other ants.

Students will:

Examine and analyze evidence that explains the occurrence of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

Observe representative examples of Cordyceps

Identify the distinguishing features of parasitic Fungi

Research and present information about a particular manifestation of the cordyceps fungi

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What If? Writing Alternate Histories in Pop Culture

 

 

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By imagining how things could turn out differently, we can sometimes reflect deeply on how things really are. 

There seem to be more and more video games, TV shows, movies, and other media about alternate histories—these are “what if?” style stories that imagine how changes in the past would affect the future. From comic book series like East of West to TV shows like Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (adapted from a Philip K. Dick story), many authors imagine how history would have turned out differently if important events hadn’t happened or had turned out differently. These authors use counterfactuals, a way of thinking that goes against known facts and events, to develop intriguing stories that are somewhat similar to our world but different in important ways.

Alternate histories, works of fiction, still tell us a lot about the world we live in. By imagining how things could turn out differently, we can sometimes reflect deeply on how things really are. Some things we take for granted—our government, the way our society works, or our everyday lives—might have been very different with some key changes in the past. In The Man in the High Castle, the Axis Powers won World War II and divided up America under fascist rule. In video games like Fallout, you have a first-person look at how the future might change as a result of changes in the past. Even comedies like the classic Back to the Future and Hot Tub Time Machine series find creative storytelling opportunities in alternate histories.

 

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In this lesson, you will learn more about alternate histories and will use your solid grounding in historical fact to write creative historical fiction about recent events in pop culture and society. What happens when you follow the chain of consequences from one tiny change in the past to a new, exciting, and possibly frightening future?

 

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