Educational games

Straight to the point: every game is educational, but ones are more educational than others and in different aspects.

For instance people can learn a lot about weapons with some realistic shooters, which may be useful for the army and pretty useless in many other cases. If snipers were more realistic players would require to learn some concepts about physics, how wind affects the bullet, etc. Driving simulators may help to learn to drive, this is already happening to some extent pilots use simulators before risking valuable planes. Even Guitar Hero could help to learn to play the guitar (a real guitar), if it was more realistic.

If games were more realistic they would be more complex, arguably less fun, but the point is to have the right learning curve and difficulty ladder, so that it is natural to increase in realism and difficulty step by step. Games like Demon Souls proved gamers like challenges and games like Starcraft proved that gamers can get to be fairly competitive and skilled on games, up to the extent of being considered "proffesionals", and is a game considered to have a quite serious cognitive load.

Without being realistic, games can teach a lot, Theme Hospital is perfect for queueing theory, games like Caesar and Pharaoh give valuable lessons about operations research, and the economy in Eve Online is a simplified version of the real economy, so anything learned there is extrapolatable in a very straightforward way, even if it happens in a completely fictional world (SciFi actually).

Every game is educational, every game presents a challenge to overcome and requires the gamer to learn something to overcome that challenge. A game has to be fun which is a combination of feelings like challenge, power, freedom, achievement and reward. Games are fun and addictive because of this sense of achievement, because the gamers feel they are learning something. Learning is addictive, when a game is mastered and there are no achievements ("official" or self-motivated) left to obtain it becomes boring, usually it becomes boring as hell and the gamer seeks for a new source of challenges, something new to learn and master.

Games are fun as far as there is something new to learn and master. Education is basically about learning. They seem to be perfect allies. Why are educational games a niche full of games that don't seem any fun when compared with the best sellers? On educational games the stress seems to be on the educational part, and not on the game part. A game has to be fun. Educational games are usually constrained by a syllabus, they focus on presenting stuff in a clear and educational way, which is good, but not the nature of a game.

Every game is educational, a point that those making "educational games" seem to be missing, they have to, otherwise their whole model would collapse if every game was an "educational game". The focus is set on trying to make education fun, trying to make a game out of it, but it is from the same old perspective of the knowledge that is to be conveyed, not on the game, the challenge or the use of this knowledge. Paradoxically, educators are meant to make everything easy to understand, not challenging, thus the game becomes boring, with this the game fails as a game, and without emotions the education fails as an aid to learning, because the best way to make something memorable is to attach an emotional load to it, it is well known there is a strong link between emotion and memory.

There is no need to make "educational games", because every game is educational. The point is to make games that are "more educational", therefore the shortest and easiest path is to make "regular games" that are "more educational" than the games we see nowadays. Trying to make a game out of education is (more often than not) failing and a paradox. Some games attempted this in the past to a greater or lesser extent, for instance the Fable franchise explicitly attempted to teach some lessons about morality, which is a complex and subjective matter. However, this is not the norm nowadays.

For instance, something applicable to most games and fairly simple would be displaying some numbers. This would allow the gamers to improve their algebra skills instead of trying to guess which weapon should they pick for which enemies, and the guessing option would still be there for those that don't want to make the numbers. A genre that shows a great potential is strategy games, either real time or turn based. In the case of historic strategy games, like Civilization, this could lead not only to learn knowledge that can be used to beat the game, but also related historical events. Every game has a story, and the story could be part of the history, as simple as that.

Personally, I hope there is a paradigm shift in "educational games" and developers and educators focus on transforming regular games into games that are more educational, because there is a great potential to be untapped down that path, IMHO.

What's your opinion about "educational games"?

Note: Post motivated by an article in mashable.

PS: Bonus: I am improving my English vocabulary with Bioware games, which are not dubbed to Spanish. BTW: Sorry if my English is weird.


Chainmail bikinis make sense, sometimes

In this blog post I proceed to contradict myself since nobody did in a compelling way.

Revealing attires are usual in many games, even Nintendo joined the party with the Zero suit Samus, to some extent revealing attires seem to be a must in fighting games and the smashing bros. were lacking that.

In RPGs this is shocking sometimes, we all know armors are heavy and they are not so relevant for ranged casters that rely on magic, maybe the could even use a spell to create some barrier. But despite of that, wearing a bikini to a swordfight doesn't look like a wise decision. The point is, it could!

In the same way chainmail bikinis may be shocking, I was socked by this picture:

No Caption Provided

Angels are fairly unrealistic on their own, it doesn't make much sense to wear a heavy armor, specially when you are not going to take an arrow in the knee because odds say most arrows will hit the wings, and using the wings to fly is going to be even more impossible with the added weight of the armor.

Is this an isolated case? Not really. Samurais weared very heavy armors, but that's not the case for ninjas, they used swords (and still use them, but the golden age for ninjas is over AFAIK), so an armor is not always the best option. If armors were so great, people would be using them on wars nowadays, but they use ballistic vests, which are probably not that useful in a swordfight, and they are not bikinis, but ninjas don't wear any of those two anyway.

When wearing a cybernetic body as Motoko Kusanagi the joints in this body may move in ways not possible for human (flesh and bones) bodies. The clothes may need to bend in unsual ways, and she may tear intentionally her dress, which makes sense.

When being an elf, or other mythological entity, cultural dressing codes may be radically different, there are still tribes around the Amazon that don't use clothes at all, so that is not that hard to imagine. Casting a magical shield may be easier when clothes are not messing around and making everything more complex.

For Norns it may be hard to find clothes that fit their differen sizes, and considering they are evolved to live in cold weather hot weather becomes overwhelmingly hot.

In a wide range of situations, being comfortable is more important than an armor, we have seen Jackie Chan fighting against people with swords, had he worn an armor the movie would have been more boring, and more important than that, he could not have used the advantage provided by his arts, with precise and effective movements. In the Olympic games of the ancient Greece men would be naked, as that was the most comfortable clothing for sports at that time. As we have seen, a chainmail bikini may be comfortable in a wide range of situations and comfort may be preferable in a wide range of situations as well, including swordfights.

Despite of that, chainmail bikinis are more often than not just fanservice. If you are a fan and enjoy this service: congratulations. If you don't like it I'm sorry for you, but there for sure there are plenty of games that you can enjoy with or without it. All I hope is there will be a great variety of games with and without all kinds of stuff so that everybody can get their cups of tea and enjoy whatever they prefer. There is no need to forbid others what they like as far as they cause no harm or to point and critisize what they like and enjoy, the times of the Inquisition are well over and if there was any God going to get angry with us that would be about what we do in real life, not in games, I think we all can agree on that.

PS: I have made a somewhat short list, basically the post was motivated by the angels, but then I continued, if you can think of more examples where the less clothes the better during a battle please share them with us all.


Apparently turn based games are not fun any more.

I've just watched the trailer for Infinity Blade, and I have remembered a trend I've been noticing for a while with many other games, like Archetype, Nova, etc. The problem is that these games are designed for portable devices with a very limited control set that often comes by blocking a part of a small screen with your thumbs. Not the perfect setup for an action game. However, these are probably the most advanced games for these devices and the ones getting most funding to be made. Why? Well, I guess turn based games are not fun any more.
Turn based RPGs (as many JRPGs from Pokémon to Final Fantasy), tactic RPGs ( Disgaea), turn based strategy or graphic adventures do not get the same treatment. There is civilization revolution for DS with some of the crappiest graphics I've seen in a lot of time. What would happen if civilization V was to be ported to the iPhone? Would the graphics be much worse? Would the gameplay be severely influenced by the fact of being in a mobile phone and not having buttons? How would the gameplay of a game like Heavy Rain be affected by moving all the controls to a touchscreen?
Turn based games are not limited to puzzle games like Puzzle Quest, but for the catalog of games and the budget that seems to be devoted to these games one would think that they are, there is no intention to make any bigger turn based games for handhelds because they are not fun any more, or maybe handhelds are not meant for playing, the user base is not so active and the action games released for these devices are graphically impressive but no big deal.


Messing with space-time

Since Einstein we know space-time is relative and more complex than we thought, and since 3D is not a challenge any more it looks like developers are trying to get the most out of these 4 dimensions. 
Time ago Link would travel back and forth in time to solve puzzles in Ocarina of Time, and   Blinx would claim to be a game in 4D. But those were to some extent isolated cases. Now the whole franchise of Portal, defies the whole continuum idea of space to solve puzzles, while what is up and down is not clear if it does even exist in And yet it moves. At the same time, if I may say so, TimeShift had some time manipulation, but this has been much more laureated for  Braid, which requires handling time in quite unique ways for puzzle solution, and Singularity, which takes this to a faster paced full retail action game to some extent, as when compared with downloadable puzzle games.
This is a new trend and my impression is that developers are just scratching the surface, most probably we will see a Braid 2 game in not too long time, and probably I forgot about many games in this short blog post, so feel free to correct me or add any other relevant titles, feedback is always welcome.


Male and female trend

For sure that makes for a good co-op, and when creating characters that are different for specialization and a richer gameplay gender may be very handy, but I couldn't help to notice that it is becoming a quite important trend and only in few cases it involves co-op gameplay. I wanted to link some games, that's why it is not a short notice in my profile...
Well, since this is a blog post let's try to analyze further. Why is this interesting? Why is it becoming a trend?

  • Two is the minimum amount of people possible for the main character not to be alone and having some depth in the story. The minimum is a special number with a higher likelihood.
  • It gives a good chance for co-op, which is not usually the case but contributes to statistics.
  • Male and female are immediately recognized as different, covering a range of characteristics, them all according to the philosophy behind yin and yang and all that stuff.
  • That also provides sexual tension, romanticism, allows to introduce some love background story without introducing a gay story.
  • When stretched it covers way more games, like Zelda Ocarina of Time (Navy is female) but let's keep it in the most reasonable terms (actually I'm stretching it with Halo, but just a little bit, right?).
And in the end it is to a big extent coincidence, but somewhat odd, I guess. 
Beside of that, some games use this to create a gameplay that uses the secondary character as an extension of the main character, while some games have two fully playable characters and even co-op mode. Do you have any preference wrt this? because for me co-op is a much more preferred feature for the game. Sometimes both options may be combined, I'd like to see how is it done in Hunted.

Are games art?

The question actually is, does art exist?
Since games include all the elements from films and interaction, which also includes the elements from photography and/or painting, music and story telling, people tend to think that it is really hard to define art in any reasonable way setting aside video games. Even in the denial of games being art, there is undeniably a lot of art embedded in games (as in the soundtracks), and then some interactivity that people are supposed to enjoy, and many people probably do so since they spend voluntarily hours on that.

But the whole discussion is completely pointless without a definition of art. Art is, for each person, what (s)he decides to consider art. Thus games are art, for me, it is a more personal enriching experience to play theme hospital and learn about queue theory than staring at the Mona Lisa, and for me it is more emotionally inspiring the personal sacrifice of Karan S'jet than the Barber of Seville.

Art was just the "state of the art" or the top-notch way to express some information. Then some people decided to attribute some added value to some pieces of information and call it art in a mystical way. That is subjective, that means that it is in the eye of the beholder, not in the thing itself. That's why there is no objective definition for art. Art is not objective. Art doesn't exist, people just confer that status to some things.

That's enough writing for something that doesn't exist, for which there isn't even a consensual definition, which makes it fictional and undefined, great. I just hope my taxes are spent on real things and not wasted with the excuse of promoting something they decided to call 'art'.
PS: provenance:  I just saw in penny arcade a post about that, linking to another blog and many things, but nothing new. I replied to a blog post, and then I decided to create this one, because I like this point and I like to keep this argument, and because comments there are over three thousaand! (and nobody will notice anyway). BTW: I'll link any games mentioned in the comments as examples of games with great artistic value, thx.
PD: added assassin's creed for the scenery.


Some psychology behind achievements

There are two different ways people respond to challenges, depending on what do they want to do with their skills

  • Demonstrate their skills, they are interested in proving their performance
  • Improve their skills, they are interested in gaining mastery
This is supposedly learned at childhood, that means culture may have a strong influence in it, and thus Japanese culture may promote RPG games and in the United States FPS may be a more important trend, of course there are other factors that may have a stronger influence in these trends.
Undoubtedly there is a correlation between this personality trait and the style of games that a person may enjoy. Some games reward players for doing something that is just a matter of time, other games reward the player for acquiring a skill.
These skills may be useful in a different context, to start with, most probably the skills acquired playing an FPS are useful for other FPS games, unless there is a sort of overfitting, most probably the skills acquired to use covers (even to walk faster) in Gears of War cannot be used in Halo 3, but at least they are more generalizable than the skills a Fable II character may have, as most probably they won't be portable to Fable III. At the core of games there are some skills and dexterity that cannot be appreciated straightforward but for which chess is often praised and probably more modern (video) games would be too, if they were studied in more detail.
The sense of achievement in modern games varies between people and the reasons that cause this feeling probably depend on the type of game played, but they have to be linked with the capability of the person to abstract the details of the game and in some sense feel as relevant whatever is happening in it, finding some real relevance in something that is only fantasy
The eager for achievements has not been as deeply studied as other related topics, as competitiveness, which require further study too. But even if there are common patterns among people there are probably also important differences as happens with nearly every characteristic in human beings. This means some people have stronger tendency or likes for the achievement porn that may be video games and other activities.
This doesn't mean games should not be played, but they have to be put into context. With the exception of people whose work is related with them, games are just something to spend some time, relax, enjoy and be rested to do something else, something that is actually relevant for your life in a more efficient and effective way, as a consequence of resting before. The same way sleeping is important, leisure time is also important, and in that time people should not be forced to play games, practice sports, socialize or do any specific activity, spare time is spare, the mechanisms that forge personality and cause people to give more or less value to each activity are unknown to a great extent, and, at least as far as they are unknown, a change should not be forced for  the consequences may be very bad.
Games provide a easy way to achieve for those who have a great eager for achievement, and they have a personality fantasy prone enough so that the achievements got from games, very easily when compared with real life, are still rewarding despite of being virtual. But that is good only as far as that helps to achieve in real life. As it usually happens with hobbies, in the beginning they help to rest, they help to get new skills that may be generalized to other aspects of life and they have a positive effect on the person in general. If the person focuses too much on games and the consequences are negative for him or her then it may be an addiction and that would be a problem to solve, which means an additional opportunity to achieve something :)
gl, hf

PS: BTW. If you have a strong eager for achievement as I do, here is a trick to stay on (the real) track, make a ToDo list. Checking a list item may not be as rewarding as watching some cut-scene after completing a campaign in a great game, but it helps to stay accountable. Please let me know if you try and it is useful to you.

The logic of videogames, part 1: the costumes

This is my first blog post, it may be the last one, dunno how much time I'll be willing to spend on this.
Anyway, the logic of videogames may be shocking sometimes, double jumps, invisible walls, all that stuff... this post is dedicated to the clothing decisions. A big tough guy that would reflect a bullet thrown at him with his abs then you are strong enough to wear a heavy armor, not that he needs it, but it would give the sense of how tough he is, and so you will wear it, just because reflecting the bullet with your abs would be outrangeous, so there's the armor as an excuse for the bullet reflecting capabilities.
However, a girl with delicate skin will have to show it, an armor would be too heavy to use it, the more scantlidly dressed the better, for a greater freedom of movements. The more weight the slower she would be, and the chances of being hitted would increment, moreover, an armor would do nothing even the acceleration for the hit would be too painful. Even if you can see how the charecter is hit in fact it's just a model, the freedom of movements makes a punch harmless. It's like a sheet of paper, punch it in the air, it will be harmless, but if you hold it by the sides, as if it were heavier, you will break it.
That's why a loincloth with a bra is the preferred outfit for the nice ladies. So there it is, that's why things are the way they are, it's not fanservice nor anything like that, but pure logic.
PD: I just found a site with many related concepts, like: Stripperiffic, Vapor Wear, Exposed To The Elements and Chainmail Bikini.