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Tuesday, Jul 27, 2010
A multiple choice exam is looking for a sweetspot of a certain percentage passing, not too high and not too low.

The multiple choice question may be one of the most despised games ever conceived. The purpose of a multiple choice exam is to exclude people in a quantitative manner, be it for admission into schools, licensing professionals, or limiting the number of high grades in a class. Assessing a person on their individual merits is a time consuming process, and once a school or class hits a critical mass of students, it isn’t economically reasonable to scrutinize all of them. Let’s say you’ve got 1000 participants and five people reading their results. You can cut time and costs by figuring out a way to neatly get rid of 500 because they scored under a certain amount. A multiple choice exam cannot be so difficult that you exclude an excessive number of applicants. Most law schools, for example, have a minimum LSAT score that you must score below for automatic denial and a high score for automatic acceptance. Applicants in between those scores are then addressed on an individual level and other factors are introduced. The problem with such a system is that to ensure a multiple choice test produces the right number of passing scores, you have to keep changing the questions.


An article by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing explains, “multiple-choice items are an inexpensive and efficient way to check on factual (“declarative”) knowledge and routine procedures. However, they are not useful for assessing critical or higher order thinking in a subject, the ability to write, or the ability to apply knowledge or solve problems” (“Multiple-Choice Tests”, Education.com). It’s for that reason that a multiple choice question is always limited in scope: it can only be about basic knowledge of a topic. The formula is to have two answers that are blatantly wrong, one that is kinda right, and one that is the most right. One instructor during a review session for the BAR pointed out that on average a student will know the correct answer immediately to 25% of the problems, have no clue on 25%, and be able to boil it down to the right and kinda right answer for the other 50%. So the way that you evaluate the difficulty of a multiple choice question is how similar the right and kinda right answers are. A person who can’t boil it down to those two doesn’t know the basic material and shouldn’t pass.


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Monday, Jul 26, 2010
Holly Conrad is a costume designer and an avid gamer. By costume designer, I mean sculptor, engineer, seamstress, and designer.

This week we have a special interview for you. We’ll be doing more interviews as time goes on, talking with people who’re not just gamers, but people who’ve been genuinely moved by their love of games.


Holly Conrad is a costume designer and an avid gamer. And by costume designer, I mean sculptor, engineer, seamstress, and designer. She recently became a minor internet celebrity with her audition video for a Joss Whedon produced documentary about Comic Con, in which she showed off the impressive set of Mass Effect 2 costumes that she’s been creating.


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Friday, Jul 23, 2010
It seems impossible to tell a story within the strict rule set of a competitive online game until you play Left 4 Dead or its sequel.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how giving shooters a real world context could make their violence feel more real and less like mindless entertainment (“Why Do I Cheer For War?”, PopMatters, 9 July 2010). So I was very interested in trying out the Medal of Honor multiplayer beta because the game seems very committed to its realistic setting, separating players into teams of US forces and Taliban soldiers. I was curious to see if fighting against the terrorist group and not just vague “insurgents” would add some kind of poignancy to the common emergent stories of multiplayer shooters.


This did not happen. All poignancy is lost within the strict rule set of a competitive online game. In fact, it’s specifically because it’s competitive that the game part of the experience takes precedent over everything else. While not surprising, this tendency does expose the inherent limitations of storytelling in multiplayer games. You can’t tell a story in a competition; the message gets drowned out. That’s why most emergent stories that come out of multiplayer games are really just “cool moments.” There’s no narrative arc in a match, no rising and falling action, no climax, and it seems impossible to accomplish until you play Left 4 Dead or its sequel.


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Thursday, Jul 22, 2010
The speed run is the essential example of the player exerting her will over the game world, pushing against the limits that the game designers have set.

If someone were looking for an example of how games aren’t art, they might well point to the phenomenon of speed runs. You can see them on YouTube, and I’ve wiled away a few hours of my life watching people blitz through Quake and Mario levels, completing in seconds what I distinctly remember taking tens of minutes. It can be hypnotic, much in the way that watching someone solve a Rubik’s Cube in a thirty second blur of twists and turns can be hypnotic. I’m left thinking, “Wow, crazy. I’d never spend the time it takes to get that good at that!” Juggling iss another good example: when I watch a talented performer juggle a half-dozen knives through the air, I always imagine all the times that she didn’t manage to catch them all before she got to the point where I’m watching her on stage. I’m impressed with, but not envious of, the dedication required for such feats of hand-eye coordination.


You never hear about people bragging about how they can speed read through Hamlet. Aside from certain French art house films, you don’t see races to determine who can blitz through the Louvre in the shortest time. There may be art that happens fast, but seldom do we focus on getting through the art as quickly as possible. Clock-watching is a phenomenon of sport and competition, a way to determine with absolute certainty who’s first and who is last, and thus seems to belong solely to the “game” side of video games, a slap in the face to any artistic ambitions my Xbox or PS3 might have.


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Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010
Coma’s dreams are inescapable ones.

Opening with the barest of instructions on how to “run & jump” scrawled on the wall, Thomas Brush’s Coma is a brief and fairly straightforward flash game that seems more interested in mimicking an experience and setting a tone than anything else.  A minimalistic aesthetic and plot are clarified by another scrawled message a screen or so later, “THIS WORLD IS A LIE”.  Basically, this brief message explains the whole world of Coma.


Coma is a game about waking.  Its surreal landscapes, which are at times serene, at times disturbing, are familiar to the sleeper at the edge of waking.


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