The Binary Scarf – let’s play a game…

Never let it be said that my lessons are boring. In an attempt to keep busy and retain my sanity while the bugs are away at camp, I am going to prepare all my lessons for the coming term (and a but further). The prep that I need to be doing is for the Computing courses for GCSE and A Level (that’s High School & college diploma equivalent if you’re from the US).

I’ll accept that computer science has nerdy overtones to it, so I’m working with it and setting them a term long mystery challenge which will roughly cover every topic in the first half of the course. In a similar way to the random puzzle that GCHQ stuck on Facebook a while back to enhance their recruitment process, I’m trying to give the students some augmented reality games to improve their independent learning ability. Just without them knowing.

The first clue in the puzzle is to learn to decode binary into denary, then translate this into its ASCII equivalent. Simple enough. Only, the first clue is currently being knitted into my school scarf.

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I’m using an excellent online pattern from Knitty for a binary scarf, which I have adjusted so that it holds my message. The trick here is for them to realise that the message is here. They’ll be told to look out for a secret message somewhere at school…

This will lead them onto another clue which will require them to create some programming. The result of this will lead them to a specially built web page which takes them further through the mystery. But I’m not going to give the game away just yet. As they solve it, I’ll write up the game and the clues I’ve left for them.

What’s the point? Well, if they’re up for a challenge, that singles them out as potentially good coders (you need to like beating a problem into submission), and it sets a bit of competition through the ranks. Especially if the kids aged 14-16 are up against the ones aged 16-18.

I’m enjoying the scarf creation too. It’s blindingly simple but relies on me changing the colour pattern constantly so I’m not bored. I’ve already added tassels to the first end which makes it look much more like a scarf, and because it’s knitted in the round, the double layer means it’s going to be really toasty!

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There’s a lot to knit here, so I think I should be able to keep myself amused for a good week!

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Welcome to Munchkinland. We represent the Computer Science Guild!

Oh bloody hell, what have I unleashed?

So yesterday, to give the kids a bit of a break as the exams are in full swing, our after school club became game central. Mainly because they needed some downtime and I’m fed up with them getting teary from overtiredness (expected this time of year, but they don’t need me barking extra orders at them). One young man rocked up with three volumes of D&D player guides and dice while I arrived with a set of Munchkin cards that I’d payed stupid amounts to get delivered in time for yesterday’s geek-fest.

So, Munckin grabs their attention as a quick play option and off we go…. Except they’ve sent me the French version! WTH?!

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But we are resilient geeks, and not only do we have Google translate, but we also have a languages scholar and Mrs B with her GCSE in French from 17 years ago (le sange a dans le table – I remembered more than I realised!). And we made it work. And oh my, it was funny. If you ever want to see people who will do essentially anything to sabotage their best friend’s chances of survival, give a bunch of 13 & 14 year olds Munchkin.

Why Munchkin? For me, it’s the obscure geeky references and it’s a gateway to slightly more in depth games. Because its silly, anyone can play. And if you needed more persuasion, check out these as cards with their occasional reference to Pratchett:

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Now all I need to do is convince LSH to play with it with me over half term! (Not much hope there)

Go to sleep kids, mummy wants to shoot some semi naked nuns

I ought to start this by stating very clearly that I am not a violent person. I deplore physical, emotional and mental abuse when it’s real. However, I do play some more dubious computer games.

In reality, I rescue frogspawn in the garden in case it dries out, I worry about hedgehogs getting chilly and hold doors open for people. In virtual worlds I shoot people in the face. I throw innocent bystanders off cliffs after stealing their clothing. I eat things off the floor.

These virtual worlds have different rules and my moral compass starts to spin the minute I log in and it’s not just violence. I am a n00b.

Take for instance this evening. I took huge pleasure from throwing knives at people’s heads, or shooting them in the face then throwing their bodies over convenient ledges (a tip – when the lady says kill discreetly, she doesn’t mean throw the dead body into the garden and watch the guards freak out before walking through and shooting them all. Apparently, that’s not very discreet and it leads to re spawning earlier in the game).

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Other nights, I choose to spend time throwing fire from my hands and shouting at things til they fall over. (Seriously, if you’re a teacher and your teenage, predominantly male class is being rowdy, try shouting FUS RO DAH! It has pretty much the same effect in and out of game). Not that I play this properly either… Technically, I could quest and get XP, or I could take the moral low ground and eat stuff off the floor and kill random villagers and hand their bodies over to their spouses having put on their clothes.

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So do I play anything properly? Well, sort of. No. Actually, no. I joined World of Warcraft in 2006 as something to do in the evenings. I became a guild leader. It took me four years to reach a level cap. FOUR years! Why? Because I was busy organising hot tub parties outside the other faction’s main cities, running conga lines around the main city and getting married in Stormwind Cathedral (yeah, we did actually did this on our actual first wedding anniversary – our romance knows no bounds).

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I was that moron who always tried to drive up the pit lane the wrong way, just to see if I could. Or ran off the path to see how far the scenery went. It turns out that my ability to get bored inside the confines of a game with specified outcomes, but the ability to not follow the storyline is immense, and I find random stuff to do. Skyrim lets me eat butterflies, WoW gave me real people to giggle with, hell! Second Life allowed me to buy genitals! (For no other reason than I could).

I am that player that the healer lets die because, well, it’s just kinder on the group to let them be dead for a while.

I’m not unpleasant, I don’t rage quit, it’s just that I don’t take it that seriously, because, well, it’s a game. And I’m a grown up.

(Note: whilst I do appreciate playing the odd violent game, I can do so because I am over the age of 18. Because of this, I can differentiate between reality and virtual and the moral differences between the two. Games have age ratings for a good reason and the sooner parents understand this, the better. Beanpole and TinyPants will have to stick to mariokart and just dance for now. If they want CoD, then they will have to settle for James Pond)