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Games: what, how, and why [Jul. 24th, 2007|08:29 am]
I'm not sure I've ever pimped Greg Costikyan's essay I Have No Words & I Must Design on game design here on my blog.

It has some really great thoughts on what exactly games are, and on what makes them good. If you have any interest in games, you should read (or re-read) it.

I'll also add the bullet points from a couple posters and talks I've given on why serious games are good for learning:

  • Soft failure: we learn by making mistakes. In a game, you can make mistakes without negative consequences.
  • Topsight: exploring the dynamics of a system by playing with it gives you a holistic understanding of it that is hard to acquire otherwise.
  • Engagement: experiencing a subject in a game is more interesting and involving (i.e., fun) than being told about it in a presentation or text.
  • Practicing Surprise: games can surprise you, and let you practice dealing with the unexpected.

When educational games use these strengths, they can be awesome. When educational games suck (and sadly, they so very frequently do), it's generally because they have failed on one or more of these points. Heck, sometimes regular games fail on these points (or something related) and it causes them to suck.

[User Picture]From: k8cre8
2007-07-25 04:54 pm (UTC)
I love that article. I have been sending it, largely in vain, to try and help the EthicsGame.com people understand what I mean when I mean "Game."

There are a few (largely mediocre, not much to recommend) books on why games are good educational tools out there, I've been hunting for my list, but, I think it got et by the "killed harddrive" dingos, curse them. My list had the handful of decent ideas and research summarized, so as to not have to wade through the books again. At any rate, the gist matches your list, and points out that failures are useful learning experiences in themselves. (i.e. when I do X, bad thing Y happens? I won't do X next time.) In the context of ethical decision making, I've been trying to argue, to minimal result, that along the gradient of options available, the negative consequences from choosing the less ethical options are much more valuable than getting the "right" answer.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-07-25 05:22 pm (UTC)
I think the biggest mistake that bad educational games typically make is not letting the players do the wrong thing.

Once we tested out this exercise where you're supposed to evacuate an island, and it turns out that in the end, the hurricane misses the island completely. LAME! I felt totally ripped-off, and that's what I took away from it: not anything about the teaching objectives, but the feeling that it was pointless and a waste of time because my decisions didn't matter.

Y'know, it might make the ethics game really interesting if the instructor secretly took one group or player and had them play it backwards: try to do the least ethical thing in all situations. Because the contrast is valuable, right? At the end of the semester you can compare the good strategy and the bad strategy and say "wow, look how much better the good strategy was".

Or invert it, sort of like Gloom: design an ethics game where you win by having your characters do the most rotten, unethical things possible in those situations...
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[User Picture]From: k8cre8
2007-07-25 08:03 pm (UTC)
Exactly! I've been trying to convince them that they need to make it possible for the student to make enough bad decisions that the outcome is jail. And the closest we got is some flavor text that the player "Avoided the orange jump suit." In this game, even if one group did the "least" ethical thing, the contrast wouldn't be nearly as illustrative. Of course, the goals in the "main" game aren't every clearly stated (i.e. is the object of the game to be the most ethical, or to make the most money? Those aren't the same thing.) so, is the "counter strategy" to make the least money, or the least ethical decisions? I think it would be more fun if you could tip it on it's head, and make some colossal mistakes, or have the mistakes compound to a big mess.

Granted, they've said they don't want to make the options unethical (which I've disagreed with), so much as "less ethical than this choice, given this ethical decision making model." (The game is trying to expose the students to the different ethical theorists and their approaches to making a decision at the same time it is trying to teach a blended approach to ethical decision making.)

Anyway. You've heard most of this before. It's one of the reasons it was hard to let go. They've got a golden opportunity to make a good game, and they've mostly made a toy. And, the sad thing was that Neal and I had designed it as a game to begin with. Oh well.
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[User Picture]From: madbodger
2007-07-26 02:20 am (UTC)
Many educational games fail because they attempt to trick the player or
offer "motivation" that isn't. My favourite story about this is a game,
where if you get the right answer, the man swims across the river. But
if you get the wrong answer, the man gets eaten by a crocodile partway
across. Guess which the school children would rather see.

I'll also mount my soapbox and state categorically: "When the harder
levels of a game consist solely of the same game, only faster, the
game designer has FAILED. We're human, we already KNOW that
computers are faster than we are. Don't rub our nose in it."

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