Educational games are hard. Like…exceedingly hard. I’m not talking about playing. I am talking about designing. Growing up in the 90’s, I was subjected to many “edu-tainment” games.
Most of these were on a scale between “boring failures” (Treasure mountain and that animation math game I failed a test for on purpose just so I could stay in for recess to answer multiplication questions to gain access to animation) and “Fun but rarely actually taught me anything” (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Cross Country Canada).
A rare few were somewhat more successful, such as Egypt II The Heliopolis Prophecy which let the environment and the characters speak for themselves instead of pausing to give a history lesson…most of the time.
Taking the cake of all of these was the Nancy Drew series, which so far have combined learning about a different culture, science or history with fun detective hijinks. They are by no means perfect but have been a source of immense entertainment, especially given that I only discovered them in my 30’s.
I have been eagerly awaiting the next chapter in the Nancy Drew series for the last couple of years or so. Each time I scour the website there is no news to be seen. Imagine my delight when I discovered Her Interactive partnered with a company called The Young Socratics to make a game entirely about discovering the very foundations our modern science is based on.
Okay…so let’s talk The Odyssey.
You, the unnamed and I can only assume amazing protagonist, have picked up a distress call from a remote island in the Caribbean once home to pirates, WWII soldiers and…others, I am sure. The distress call is from a 13 year old girl named Kai. She is certain some not so trustworthy sailors are going to attack and needs your help. You will need to find her and her family but first you must navigate the myriad of safeguards the family has erected to protect themselves from intruders…all based off ancient sciences. ‘Natch.
The Odyssey is aptly named. Not only are you learning about the journey ancient scientists embarked on in their attempt to understand the world, you are also viewing the journey of Kai who is attempting to understand the world around her without the aid of Google to tell her why things work the way they do.
On that level, I admire Odyssey. Here is a child who has almost nothing handed to her. If she has questions about the world around her, her father insists she work it out for herself rather than simply tell her what today is considered common knowledge. Why is the earth round? Is it the centre of the universe? How do you prove that with no space ships to help you see? And so on…
But…that is about where the admiration ends.
I really wanted to like this game. I did. But 70% of Odyssey…is journal reading.
So. Much. Journal. Reading.
And this is coming from someone who normally loves reading journals in her adventure games.
The game is structured as follows: you traverse a certain amount of space. You come across a box. You open a box. You find a series of journal pages. You read them, making note of the yellow highlighted passages which will no doubt serve to help solve the next puzzle. You follow a coloured cable from the box to a station of some sort where sits a puzzle. Based on the journal entries you have found you solve the puzzle. Wash. Rinse. Repeat 50 times
There are two problems with the journal reading:
One is a practical problem. Not everyone learns the same way. Those who learn by reading the written word could easily get this information from a library book rather than spend additional funds on a game. That poses a problem when your medium is one that promotes other types of learning: listening, observing, physically experimenting. I found myself reading those in-game journals over three or four times until I finally grasped what they was trying to tell me.
Eventually it got to the point where I was simply skimming the journals until I saw the relevant highlighted sentence that would tell me how to do the next puzzle. Guilt caused me to go back afterward and read the entire entry.
And yes, I realize I am a woman in my 30’s having difficulty grasping basic scientific concepts. But that’s the thing. I don’t do my best learning by reading. I absorb a lot more by listening and demonstrating. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with learning by reading.
But this is a game. It’s an interactive medium. Players of a game learn through physically experimenting with the environment. They observe. They listen. They play. Reading vital information in a game should be minimal and used wisely, especially in this day and age. Odyssey depends on it.
The other problem is a much larger one: you are not on an adventure. You are reading about the adventures and experiences of another character. Even though you are learning alongside a character through her journals, it is still very much her experience.
I do not want to read about someone else’s adventure. I did not want Kai to tell me how thrilling science was. I wanted to experience it for myself. I wanted Kai’s father to be questioning me. I wanted to be the student.
The glimpses of understanding I had throughout the game were satisfying enough to make me think about the history of the scientific process, but at the same time made it more frustrating. Each of those glimpses showed me what promise this game had. It showed me the creators are passionate about their subject matter. It made me want so much more than what Odyssey offered.
Is it possible to have an educational game in which you make discoveries not through scouring journals, but through your own observation, experiments and a teacher by your side? A teacher who guides rather than lectures?
The truth is I do not know if it is actually possible.
It is a shame. The idea of learning about the history of science without the aid of Google or really any modern technology is so ambitious and interesting. But it is not truly experienced by the player. It is instead experienced by an off screen character. I hope she had more fun with this than I did.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional counselor nor have I studied mental health issues. This blog is based on my own personal experience with anxiety. It is entirely subjective. If you happen to share my experience, that’s great! But please do not take this as objective advice.
Hallo all! Over the last few months I have been kept incredibly busy helping to do the narrative design for an large scale escape room on a train…
A moving train…
An escape room…
On a moving…train…
Needless to say, when the opportunity first came up Errol immediately pushed himself onto the project and I followed suit. We both love the mystery and romance of trains. The idea of being able to design an adventure on one was too good to pass up. Read the rest of this entry
In a very short while, American Gods will premiere.
When I saw the first look trailer, I was giddy. I continue to be giddy. American Gods was a book that changed my life in the best of ways.
Despite the giddiness, I know to temper my expectations. I know this is an adaptation. I know Bryan Fuller will bring his own interpretation of this epic story to the small screen. I know that changes will be made and I will try not to let that affect my own vision of adaptation. I will watch it and I will love it no matter what.
Except in one regard.
A few months ago it was announced that the character of Easter would be played by Kristen Chenoweth.
Kristen Chenoweth is talented. She oozes charisma. She has that southern US charm to win anyone over. In many ways, she is a good choice for Easter.
But she is not Easter. Not to me.
In the books Easter’s first appearance is described by the following:
“She was–not fat, no, far from fat: what she was, a word that Shadow had never had cause to use until now, was curvaceous. Her hair was so fair that it was white, the kind of platinum-blonde tresses that should have belonged to a long-dead movie starlet, her lips were painted crimson, and she looked to be somewhere between twenty-five and fifty.”
And then later on, she describes herself…
“New Orleans was such a mistake–I put on, what, thirty pounds there? I swear. I knew I had to leave when I started to waddle. The tops of my thighs rub together when I walk now, can you believe that?”
Maybe I read too much into it but Easter is a part of what made American Gods so important to me. She was confident and insecure all at the same time. She looked like me. She was a chubbier woman like myself. Unlike myself though, she was completely comfortable in who she was.
In my fantasies I imagined American Gods getting an adaptation dreamed of myself getting cast in the role of Easter. Even before I quit professional acting (which partly had to do with my inability to be a proper weight), I knew this was not a possibility. She had a natural confidence and sexiness that even at the pique of my acting career I had to fight to exude.
When I heard that American Gods would miraculously get the television adaptation so many of its fans desired, I imagined actresses like Christina Hendricks getting offered the role: shapely women who exuded confidence and charm.
Instead we got Kristen Chenoweth…full of the confidence and charm, sure, but very much a skinny woman in a skinny world that would always accept her and would never have trouble finding her place within it. I should not have been surprised. But I was. And I am saddened by it.
I wish it did not bother me so much. I wish I could shake it off and just let it go. But there she is. Skinny Kristen Chenoweth. Accepting a role meant for a shaplier woman while other actresses continue to scrounge for parts relegated to “chubby best friend/co-worker”.
I do not mean this as a sleight to Kristen Chenoweth. I adore her. I understand why she was chosen. Bryan Fuller worked with her before on Pushing Daisies. She is extremely talented. Nor am I mad at Bryan Fuller. It is not his job to appease every fan’s desires. It is his job to bring his own interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s words to the screen.
I am simply sad. As much as we say that every body shape is important and beautiful, there is still not much room for those body shapes to be represented in our media. It is changing, ever so slowly, but the big budget endeavors still play it very much safe when it comes to physical appearance on screen (apart from comedy perhaps).
In my eyes, Easter will always be a chubby (or curvaceous) woman who mattered. She had dimensions and a character arc. She knew who she was and she was never ashamed of that. She went for what she wanted. She made me feel better about who I was.
That is the Easter that I will remember and hold on to. I will of course still watch the miniseries and more than likely adore it. But my Easter remains in the books and she will continue to inspire me when I write. If anything good came from this, it is that small comfort.
I’ve been seeing lots of talk about the Red Bull Mindgamers tournament that happened recently. It’s sparked some interesting discussion but there’s one point in particular that seems to keep coming up that almost warrants its own post.
That point is the competition design did not really feel like an escape room. Either the puzzles were too cerebral or it did not feel immersive enough (To the viewers. According to the players, there was much more story there to follow) or there were too many task based puzzles or a myriad of other complaints. Read the rest of this entry
Oxenfree is the game of my childhood. No, neither of my parents died nor divorced. I was not a rebellious teen who went to beach parties for some underage drinking shenanigans. I did not even dye my hair blue though not for lack of wanting.
But Oxenfree is about friendship and it’s the sort of adventure my friends and I craved growing up. We consumed every episode of X-files the moment they aired and quoted them much to the annoyance of our peers. We loved the idea of secluded islands with rich and tragic histories, big, mysterious houses holding dark secrets from the past, caves full of whispers and supernatural phenomena and a group of quirky friends who must discover the key to solving the mystery. Read the rest of this entry
I am in the midst of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) so naturally I am seeking any method of procrastination I can think of. I have denied myself my beloved Stardew Manor (more on THAT another time) but quick games that I can play for one hour at a time are still fair game.
Enter Sarah Is Missing, developed by Monsoon Lab and recommended to me by my friend Dan the Video Ninja, who has suddenly become my supplier for new and innovative story-driven games.
And yes, this is counting toward my word count. I’M BEING CREATIVE SO IT COUNTS!
Sara Is Missing (or SIM for short, an awesome play on words) is available on PC, Mac and Android. Because of the nature of the game which I will obviously get to I ended up downloading it for Android. If you decide to download the game for yourself and happen to own an Android, I would recommend getting this version. Even without having played the other versions, I know for sure this is the best one. Read the rest of this entry
I hate crafting games. Or rather, I hate crafting games because I suck at them. Yes. I am one of those people.
It’s not limited to digital games either. I was never a lego kid. We had legos. We built little lego towns around our pool during the summers. But my job was never to build the actual houses. It was to build the story of what went on in those houses.
I preferred it that way. Anything I ever built usually took the form of basic boxes. If I was feeling particularly creative I would make room for the hole in the box that would serve as a window/door. It was not an option to make the effort to put in an actual window that the Lego set provided.
The stories my siblings and I made up though were the stuff of soap operas. There were epic and tragic storylines involving orphans and tidal waves (they lived next to the sea/pool after all). I loved it and was even happier I could depend on my other siblings to do the actual building for me.
Whenever we could get our hands on overpriced playmobil I would opt for that instead. Everything was already built and perfect looking. It meant that it was less time for me tediously attempting to build some dilapidated hut.
When the Sims came out it was much the same. My friend Kelsey had amazing houses. She made fun of me because I had square boxes with walls inside.
So when the likes of Minecraft came out, I had no interest whatsoever in it. My friends would beam and expound the virtues of the game. They would tell me that anything was possible, that anything could be crafted, that you could experiment with materials to make anything.
I tried it myself once. I chopped a tree. I hopped around. I made a tool when my friend told me how. I dug a hole. Some monsters came. I stayed in my hole. I never left. I got bored.
I suck at crafting games.
I saw Youtube videos of grand digital cities being built and recreations of famous movies/tv shows. In all cases I was thoroughly impressed and agreed it was a great tool for creativity but remained resolute that this was not the game for me.
Errol got Terraria a couple of years later. Errol loves crafting games. He lives for them. Give him a crafting game and he will become its master within days. Terraria was no exception. When I asked him what it was like he told me it was basically Minecraft in 2D.
“Pass.” I thought but ended up reneging because while I hate crafting games I do love playing with my friends. So I bought it for myself to play online with him and his daughter. I tried single player mode first.
I walked around. I hit some slimy things. I built a hut out of dirt. It stayed up long enough to grow grass. I built a tool when Errol told me how to use it. I mined some stone. I got bored but instead of leaving I joined Errol to see his progress.
He had a castle. It was grand and complex and lit by torches. It had banners on the wall. It had a room full of chests to store the many treasures Errol had crafted or found. He now had a lightsaber as a weapon. I was still holding the default wooden sword.
I suck at crafting games.
I don’t want to suck at them. I feel as though I have somehow failed at being a good member of society because of my inability to picture and experiment with buildings and materials.
I see many of my friends venturing out into the world of crafting games and flourish having never done anything like it before. I see them laughing and exchanging their favourite crafting stories. I see them proudly displaying their designs and am astounded by their technique.
I tried once again to attempt crafting, this time in a Minecraft clone in which we had cheat codes which would allow us unlimited access to all resources and the ability to fly. How could I go wrong with that?
I accidently set a digital house on fire in my attempt at making a fireplace. My friend’s nine year old daughter had to put it out for me and then wonder what on earth was wrong with her mom’s friends.
The closest I came to being somewhat competent at a crafting game was Don’t Starve if for nothing else than the fact that dirt hut is a luxury in that game. Even then, it was rare I would survive alone. We always waited for a server to play with each other.
I can write scripts. I can craft a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. I have comedic timing. I can cook a soup and experiment with the recipe. I can build a jigsaw in a day.
But ask me to make a pretend building and I am stumped. Ask me to make something out of the resources around me and I will be weeping in a corner when you come back to check on me.
I keep seeing ads about Lego and creativity. I see articles calling Minecraft the pinnacle of creativity. And then I wonder if something is wrong with me that I am completely unable to ever go further than dirt huts.
If this were an evolutionary issue, I would have been wiped out by now.
Perhaps someday I will get better at them. Perhaps I will not be left behind by those with so much more talent and/or time. Perhaps whatever is blocking my ability to visualize anything other than simple hollowed out box will dissipate and I can join the ranks of those who love crafting and resource management.
But for now I suck at crafting games and will depend on my friends to carry me through them. At least these franchises have managed to stay separate. There’s too many to keep track of.
I love Halloween. More than love it. Lurve it. I love watching scary movies involving hauntings or exorcisms. I playing spooky games. I love candy. Sure, it all leaves me in a fetal position of terror. But I still love it to bits.
Naturally, when October rolls around my playlist becomes populated with spooky instrumental soundtracks to help get me in the mood even more. My original plan was to post a song every day on Facebook, but then I thought…why not just do it all in one post?!
So I am sharing them here in no particular order! Because most of these come from video games and movies, I am going to post a mild spoiler warning here as I might discuss the context in which the song appears. Enjoy! And comment with your favourite Halloween soundtracks as well! Read the rest of this entry
So there is a new genre of game out there. They are called Walking Simulators. Why? Because that’s what the majority of the game play involves. Walking…and story…and some interaction and minor game play…but mostly walking!
I’ve become a sucker for these games. I mean, I love a puzzler or shooter or candy crusher as much as the next person but sometimes I only have a couple of hours of free time and just feel like getting involved in a good story. Read the rest of this entry
Admit it, you all at one point or another wanted to be in an Agatha Christie murder mystery, complete with intrigue, quirkly/tortured characters and a denoument in a drawing room of some sort. ADMIT IT!
…Okay, maybe that’s only a desire of mine. I may have been binging a lot of Miss Marple, Midsommer Murders and Shetland lately and I have yet to stop jonesing for more.
And yet watching these murder mysteries, I can’t help but notice…many, many patterns. So I feel compelled to write down some basic rules should you find yourself in a murder mystery situation. But I am not talking about the murderer or detectives. I am talking about the poor innocent suspects who often find themselves dead halfway through. And so I present:
The Top 10 Rules to Surviving a Murdery Mystery (feel free to add more!)
- Never utter the words “Oh it’s you” upon turning around and seeing someone you recognize. Death always follows.
- If you get information about a dangerous murderer, do not make a vague phone call to the the police detective and say “Listen, I need to talk to you! It’s incredibly important! But I can’t explain here!”. Death is assured. Instead, rush straight to the police station the first moment you get and announce it out loud to all who can hear.
- Never sleep secretly with anyone. Death will be almost instantaneous.
- Be an obvious suspect. It almost always means you are never the actual killer and guarantees you getting arrested halfway through the murder investigation and safe away from the actual murderer. At the same time…
- Be an obvious suspect, but not TOO obvious. Remember, the more obviously evil you are, the more likely you are to be murdered halfway through, causing the detective to have to rethink his strategy.
- Don’t be too well loved. Being a well known and beloved figure in the community almost guarantees that you are either harbouring a deep dark secret, that someone has it in for you or both.
- Don’t hold any important local events. It doesn’t matter how many years Beet Fest has been going on. These things tend to be murder magnets.
- Dinner parties. Enough said.
- Never utter the words “You’ll have to kill me if you want (blank)”. It does not matter if the thing in question is the last slice of pie, stating this type of foreshadowing will doom you as the next victim.
- Finally, do not rely on the detectives. They may seem like they are making progress, but they are actually just putting in time before a second or even third murder occurs. Instead, invest in a good security system. Secretly.