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Archive for the ‘video games’ Category

Raising Gamers

Posted by Ad on February 22, 2012

Deseret News had two articles recently about boys and the problems with the way boys are raised in the US, and through osmosis of American ideals via American media throughout the western world.

Article 1, primarily concerning the importance of fathers. Article 2, primarily about sex and violence.

I took an issue with the second article. There’s a lot I agree with, but there’s one thing that the article seems to ignore: the impact of video games on society overall. As video games have become mainstream entertainment, violent crime has gone down significantly. Instead of forming gangs, skating around and spraying stylized text on walls, kids today sit at home, engaged in historical wars, political commentary on modern wars, and the imagined future… of warfare. Among other games, of course.

There’s a huge resource for tangential learning here, tho it must be said that not every boy will be playing the same games, to the same extent, or with the same level of interest. For that matter, games are rated depending on the age they’re deemed inappropriate for. Trying to teach WWII by use of violent video games may be a winning strategy for teenage boys, but would be foolish to attempt on younger students. But the points I’m making is that much like there are documentaries on a wide range of topics, there are games on a wide range of topics.

There’s a game called Osmos that I’ve played. It involves Newton’s Laws of Motion in gameplay modes resembling petri dishes and 2d representations of the solar system. It does all this without never really telling the player the science involved in the gameplay, instead it lets the player experience it himself.

There’s Civilization, a game my cousins introduced me to during the time of the year when soccer and super soaker wars weren’t feasible. Snapshot details of the development of technology and science, the wonders of the world, a simple version of world politics… It’s a game where you run your own empire from the dawn of civilization to 2050 or so.

These cousins also introduced me to problem-solving games by letting me play Monkey Island, a old point-and-click adventure game with one of the most humorous writing in gaming so far. They also introduced me to racing games. We also built castles out of legos and sent hundreds of small plastic men to their calculated deaths. We also ran around in small teams, armed with super soakers, seeking to “kill” the other team.

The Left 4 Dead games, favorites of mine, feature a similar cooperative gameplay as those wars of water. There’s just more things to shoot, more often, and rather than merely seeking to kill the other team, one of the teams seeks to get through what essentially amounts to an obstacle course… while trying to not die. These games are rated 18 and above, so I’d like to see a take on the same cooperative gameplay that the L4D games _requires_ against moderate opposition, in games that younger gamers could play.

Games are a great tool for learning, it’s just a question of finding the right games with the right lessons, without taking the fun out of it. Men want challenges, and I’m sure boys do too. For me and my friends, it’s a challenge to get through a game of L4D at the highest difficulty, a challenge that requires strategy, planning and teamwork. How can’t something similar already have been devised for kids in school? Give the boys a challenge that requires research, planning, trial-and-error, teamwork, building, and a spectacular show. Yes, turn them into Mythbusters.

Games are also competitive. Whether this is SimCity 2000 where you can open a window seeing the size of neighboring cities and seek to surpass them, Left 4 Dead where failure to cooperate can lead to a swift death at the hands of grotesquely deformed formerly human monsters, or board games where learning how the game works is the key to winning; games are competitive. You can even play single-player games competitively, just play against your own high score. Perhaps the failure to engage boys in school is that school isn’t a challenge. Make it a challenge. Give them high scores, let them seek to surpass their own high scores and that of others. Even if they end up with the lowest score in the class, they’ll likely be more engaged than by textbooks. Just make sure to give them diverse and inter-discipline challenges, including such that the less academically inclined can excel in.

My take on the role of games in society and education is that games offer a harmless catharsis, the right games can provide great training for life (eg in co-op games), and that games encourage competition. There are games children should not play, there are games that shouldn’t be played without parental supervision, and there are games that are safe for all game-capable ages.

Of course, not all boys will be engaged by games. Not all children are the same. No two persons are the same. But with games being more and more of a mainstream thing, and with gamification being used to engage people in pretty much everything, kids need to be engaged in learning, both the school stuff and the life stuff. Games are a great tool for this.

Long post. I blame video game writing. It’s often needlessly long (I’m looking at you, stupid Zelda owl).

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Adventure and Wonder plz

Posted by Ad on January 26, 2012

Many games in the Zelda series and Seiken Densetsu 3 (only released in Japan) are among my favorite games ever. Been wondering why that is lately.

My introduction to Zelda was during the snes era, when a friend from school lent me ALttP. I made it all the way to Turtle Rock but couldn’t figure out how to get it. That was then. I found Seiken Densetsu 3 in the days of the internet before console game companies realized their games were just sitting there for random ppl to nab, before Nintendo started with Virtual Console. And it was awesome.

It’s not like I haven’t played other games along these lines, I have vague memories of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma, the Lufias, Romancing SaGa, Bahamut Lagoon, Front Mission, Breath of Fire, EarthBound, Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean II, Super Mario RPG, and of course I know the FFs and Chrono Trigger. Most of these I encountered during the wild wild net period of the console game scene.

But ALttP (and some of the more recent Zelda games) and sd3 stand out. Why? Link is a blank slate mute whereas the sd3 characters are all well characterized with their own stories in the game plot. sd3 goes all over its world to a plethora of friendly and unfriendly locations, while ALttP has essentially one friendly town in the entire game. ALttP is full of minigames. sd3 has tiered equipment. ALttP is an action-adventure puzzle game. sd3 is an action-jrpg. Zelda has block puzzles. sd3 has grinding and element spells. Zelda is single-player. sd3 could be played two-player, and has a three-member party. Many of the aforementioned games have some of these elements, but they didn’t appeal to me nearly as much.

Both games have nice music. Iconic, even. Angel’s Fear might not quite compare to the popularity of Zelda tracks, but it’s repeated and alluded to all over the sd3 soundtrack, cementing it as the central theme of the game. Most of the music is location-based, some belong to or has ties to characters (the Zelda theme we’ve heard ad nauseam was introduced in ALttP), keeping the flow of the game rather than breaking out a rocking battle track whenever a rabite appears and jumping forth and back between an overworld/dungeon and a battle scene. They don’t separate travel from combat the way using random encounters does. They don’t take control away from the player just because a minor enemy shows up.

Both games have a fairly standard snes jrpg look. It’s an unrealistic, cute-ish look that still allows the characters to appear capable in combat. And on that topic, the combat isn’t menu-driven (aside from inventory/spell screens) – it’s action. Yes, there’s some cooldowns between attacks in sd3 – so is there in fighting games like Street Fighter, don’t tell me there’s not action in SF games.

Both games have unobtrusive characterization. In Link’s case, it’s because he doesn’t get much characterization. He’s not very emotive in this game. The characters in sd3 are quite emotive, tho mostly in cutscenes. They were used well imo, not detractingly, not breaking up the game into grinding to the next scene, not a lot of superfluous sprite films. Once you’re through the character intro section and in the game proper, the characterization is kept out of the way of the action, only brought out when needed (or funny).

Both games have friendly npcs that explain the world and offer some services or hints. Interestingly, both games have fortune tellers. Both games had important npc characters, be they Sahasrahla or the king of Forcena, or whatever. They also have prominent bad guy characters, like Jagan and Agahnim (…ish).

Both games have magic and mythology, be this the Triforce, the descendants of the seven sages, and the ruins all over Hyrule; or the Mana Tree, the mana god-beasts, and the ruins all over whatever that world is called. A lot of the world storytelling is done in the world design rather than long cutscenes and monologues (intros don’t count). They have a Mana Goddess in sd3, and later Zelda games established the games’ three creator goddesses.

Both games exist in a medieval-esque era, with peripheral anachronisms. They both feature convenient transportation over long distances. They both let you backtrack (most of the time), whether to grind against easier enemies or to look for treasures and rupees. Both games have a varied world with fairly easily defined or distinguished locations – be they thematically winter-y, mountain-y, desert-y, swamp-y, ruin-y, or whatever.

Storywise, the world is in peril and ONLY YOU CAN SAVE IT. And there’s a legendary sword. And you’re a teenager. As much as I loathe the idea of teenagers being the saviors of a world, for some reason this doesn’t bother me at all in these games. Why not? probably because they’re not as annoying as more recent teenage heroes, and their characterization doesn’t get in the way of _my_ saving the world.

You know, this is all well and good, but the formula for a good game according to this is just:
– great music, with leitmotifs
– no separation of travel and combat, player retains control
– cute-ish look
– action gameplay
– unobtrusive characterization
– friendly npcs
– fortune tellers
– bad guy characters
– magic and mythology
– ruins
– storytelling in world design
– medieval stasis
– anachronisms
– quick transportation
– lets you backtrack whenever
– patchwork map
– the world is at stake
– legendary sword
– you’re a teenager

I think the big thing about it is the feeling of adventure. These games maintain it better than many others. Chrono Trigger does quite well, as does FF6 – but their gameplay isn’t as action-y. Even if CT has a more active battle system than the FFs, it still amounts to standing around, waiting to get hit. Tales and the FFs take you off the map when fighting (random encounters are stupid).

In other words, the ideal Zelda/sd3-like game would be something that instills and maintains a sense of adventure and wonder (as someone somewhere else phrased it). The title screen from ALttP, the intro missions and opening credits of sd3 – they instill adventure and wonder, and then move on to exploration of the world. Xenoblade didn’t do that for me, despite my brother’s insistence that it gets better later in the game.

So I guess I’m asking for more wonder, less tedium, in future games. Can I have that?

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