Quick project update

This project is doing my head in a little – but in a good way.

The simple premise that I started with – that I want to see how it might be possible to use FPS style games for learning – has twisted and turned all over the place as I have tried to figure out how to accomodate learners who don’t normally play games, how to deal with the issue of violence in games (and what impact this has on learning), what kinds of learning activities might be suited to the FPS genre – initially I was thinking fairly straight forward drill and practice (although what form this might actually take is another matter) and what elements of games actually support learning.

I’ve taken side trips to the world of casual games in search of answers for making games easy and appealing to non-gamers – I think that casual games have a lot to offer but there are still a lot of key differences between them and an FPS style game – most notably in the controls. Casual games seem to work best with just the one controller – preferably the mouse while the FPS game controls may be overly complicated for novice gamers. I still haven’t resolved this issue in my mind yet.

Violence in games isn’t as cut and dried as you might have thought – some studies even go so far as to suggest that it can enhance learning for some gamers. (Not many but some). Action games are most closely linked to violent behaviour in gamers as well.

The application of learning theories to games is an incredibly rich and encouraging field – the more I read, the more it seems that games can do in terms of developing sensori-motor skills (which may be inextricably intertwined with higher cognitive skills like problem solving and decision making), motivation, emotional connection to the material, relevance and much more are all enhanced in a game environment.

Issues of story vs gameplay have been interesting – story appears to be important and separate (but equal) to gameplay elements in making a good game. How this relates to my initial leaning towards basic activities I’m still synthesising at the moment.

I definitely feel that I’m on the right track though and I’m a believer in the teaching power of activities and the rich worlds that games can offer.

The question of drill and practice is one that I’ve instinctively felt is important but I haven’t been able to properly solidify. I’m thinking about language learning here (although there are other scenarios where it could be useful) and the need for repetition.

This is what has drawn me to the world of casual games, the fact that the best of these games have high replayability (or addictive qualities if you prefer) and players are happy to come back to them even when they have finished. It’s not for the story then (most casual games don’t have one) but for the challenge and for the game play elements. The fun, the pretty graphics/sounds/etc, the rewards, the positive feedback and the sense of achievement and progress. I think a high score or fastest game table might also enhance this experience and encourage multiple replays.

This and the accessibility of casual games to non-gamers is why I’ve been floating around this area.

One of the limitations of the FPS that I’m feeling more and more is the general lack of ability to enter text. Typing of the Dead has it but that’s about it. Actually, scratch that – I’ve just done taken a look at this video for English of the Dead – an FPS based language game for the Nintendo DS that ingeniously uses the bottom interface of the DS for learners to write letters on. (Interesting that they don’t just have a keyboard displayed on the bottom screen for learners to use the stylus to “type” the letters with – forcing them to write the characters instead. Clever. (You can try a basic – and non-violent – version of the game here)

Another issue I’ve bumped up against a few times while thinking about this project has been the single-player/multiplayer divide. There are a number of different factors that come to play with these types of games and the multiplayer ones, while highly interesting, just bring too much to the table, so I’ve decided to focus on single-player games for now.
I’m interested in the possibilities of players being able to leave their mark on the game world – for example, someone playing the game on a Tuesday writes a message on a wall for a friend playing the game the next day. (Both separately) – I think this is more of a virtual world kind of thing though.

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