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Archive for July 9th, 2014

clmooc

Last week, the Connected Learning challenge sponsored by the National Writing Project and Innovative Education asked us teachers to consider games and learning. I am no expert in the gaming world, so I turned to Jeff Larkin, a visual FX artist at NetherRealm Studios, a division of Warner Brothers Games.

 

Screenshot from Batman: Arkham Origins for iOS and Android.

Screenshot from Batman: Arkham Origins for iOS and Android.

Here is my interview with Jeff:
(Disclaimer: The answers given here in no way reflect NetherRealm Studios nor WB or WB Games and any of their views.)

What is your job?

I am a Visual FX Artist at NetherRealm Studios, a division of WB Games. Basically, just like in animation or film, whenever there’s a magic spell or an explosion or anything like that, I’m the guy they call.

What kind of training do you have?

I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art & Design (or SCAD). I also have several years experience in the games industry doing VFX and 3D modeling.

What are some advantages, in your opinion, of playing video games?

I think there are a lot of advantages to playing games on many different levels. For me, it’s a stress reliever. Everyone has hobbies and, for a lot of people, it’s video games. For us, it’s the same relaxation, excitement and stimulation as wood working, canoeing, or base jumping might be to different people. Now, there are also a lot of studies that show correlation between playing games and hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, critical thinking, and recently empathy, just to name a few. Like any activity that is primarily stimulating your brain over your body, I believe video games can be a great source of mental exercise.

A majority of the research focuses on the negative effects of video games, such as increased violence and aggression. What is your opinion of this?

I find over and over again that there is very little to back up claims of increased aggression and violence. Instead there’s a lot of sensationalism that tie video games to mass shootings and terrorist activities; and, unfortunately, the general public seems to favor those stories over empirical research. The facts are people have been violent since the beginning of time, and I don’t believe that any increase or decrease in video games, or other media, are going to affect that in a meaningful way.

As an educator, I am looking for ways to integrate the highly motivating video game with teaching and learning. Any suggestions?

The thing I’ve always loved about games is how, when you take away all of the fancy graphics, sounds, and effects, video games are really all about learning. Raph Koster says it best in his book, “A Theory of Fun,” and I’m going to do my best not to totally ruin his work in paraphrasing. Basically, games introduce a system, with rules, that the player must recognize, understand and then exploit to win. This then hinges on a task/reward system that isn’t too unlike assignments and grades. I apologize for being a little esoteric with all that, but basically treating classes and grades like levels and quests for the student, or player) to complete is something that I think education could really grab on to. In fact, I’ve heard of a few classes in some schools that are functioning completely as a role playing game, where the students do assignments and participate in order to level up (ie, get good grades).

Have you created any strong, self-reliant girl characters?

Though my job at the studio is not to create characters for our games, I always make it a point to push for gender equality and to navigate away from easy gender stereotypes to create genuinely meaningful and interesting characters, both male and female. I find myself actively investing in these sorts of social and political causes, and that of course spills over into my work. There’s been more than one occasions where I’ve butted heads a little with my seniors as I push for less two dimensional women in our games, and I’m happy to say that I’m not alone at my studio, nor in the industry.

Anything else you want to add?

I suppose I would only like to add that, like so many other things that constantly find themselves in the middle of controversy, video games are made by people who are just like you and everyone else. We have families, we walk our dogs and buy groceries, we hopefully remember to vote when the time comes, and we, generally, are good people who want the best for those we love and care about. It’s easy to point fingers at entire industries when something happens in the news, but the fact of the matter is that video games and game developers, like many other things, are not inherently good or evil. We don’t sit at our desks dreaming of ways to destroy society any more than a mechanic tries to build evil robots out of your car when you bring it in for an oil change. We love what we do, as artists, and want to share that with the world in the hopes that you love it too.

 

From Injustice Gods Among Us: Black Adam on the left electrocuting Lex Luthor on the right with his lightning attack.

From Injustice Gods Among Us: Black Adam on the left electrocuting Lex Luthor on the right with his lightning attack.

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