I have been glancing through the following two books: “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”, by Jesse Schell, and “Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design” by Adams and Dormans.
Here are some insights that I have gained after reading a little (not thorougly). I am mostly finished glancing through Adams and Dormans. I have quite a bit reading left to do in Schell.
Insight 1: A simple model of game design
I started out reading in the book to the left: “The Art of Game Design”. When compared to the other book, I find that it provides the gentler introduction for a complete beginner such as myself. It discusses various definitions of the term “game” in an entertaining fashion, and it provides a useful simple model of game design.
I took the model from Schell and adapted it for use in education (click to enlarge):
A model with some similarities can be found in Adams and Dormans (p. 276). Of particular interest to me is the notion that the game generates an experience in the player’s mind.
Insight 2: A working definition for the terms “game” and “gameplay”.
Since there appears to be little consensus within the field regarding definitions, I take the opportunity to state my own working definitions of the terms “game” and “gameplay”. I have been inspired by what I have read in the aforementioned books.
In my opinion, a “game” is a machine that produces gameplay. Then, what is gameplay?
In my opinion, “gameplay” is a process in which the attention of a player is converted into choices for action in a way that generates an experience in the player’s mind.
Insight 3: The distinction between “emergent” and “progressive” games appears to be important
At some point, I switched over from Schell to Adams and Dormans. There I found an interesting discussion about two classes of games, named “emergent” and “progressive”, respectively.
The class “emergent games” appears to include games such as Civilization and chess, where the playing pieces and their interactions are what makes the gameplay “emerge”. This can produce a wide range of complex game states out of a surprisingly simple setup. Such games tend to have great replayability. Adams and Dormans include examples of an analysis tool called “Machinations”, which seems great for abstracting the mechanics of emergent games and improving them by simulating their gameplay on a computer. Anyone who would like to design their own version of a “Puerto Rico”-style game would in my opinion benefit greatly from mastering Machinations.
The other class, called “progressive games”, appears to include games such as “Zelda” and “Monkey Island”. These are games in which the designer appearently makes the player complete certain tasks in succession or semi-succession. Such games appear well suited for controlling the player’s experience, which could be useful for telling stories.
There are hybrid games that utilise elements from both classes.
Insight 4: When viewing education as comprising of game-like activities, the progressive ones appear to have the upper hand
After some reflection on past experiences as a student and my current occupation as a teacher, it appears to me that the activities of education include both emergent and progressive elements.
Take for instance the following game in mathematics, called The Fraction Machine
In this game, the student must solve 10 problems about fractions. When the 10th problem is solved, the student receives an automatically generated report displaying whether he or she answered correctly. Then the student can try again, optionally choosing another difficulty setting.
This appears to be a progressive game. The student is must complete one task before proceding to the next in order to reach the final goal. There is no emergent gameplay from an initial set of pieces and their interactions.
Then one can ask: How is this game different from a typical classroom activity where an instructor tells the students: “Now please complete every problem on page X” or “Please read pages X-Y, then answer every question on page Z”?
Typical classroom activities are progressive. If the activities themselves are not of particular interest to the students, things tend to get boring quickly.
One can find activities in education with similarities to emergent games. In mathematics instruction, one can ask the students to explore various matematical structures, i.e. “Find as many mathematical patterns as you can within a 10 x 10 table containing the numbers from 1 through 100.” Any activity in which you give the students a few mathematical “playing pieces” along with small set of rules describing what they are allowed to do with those pieces has the potential for being an emergent game.
In my experience, when viewing education as comprising of game-like activities, the progressive ones appear to have the upper hand. The question then becomes: Does it have to be that way?
Could student motivation be increased by replacing some of the “progressive game-like” activities with “emergent game-like” activities?
Could we improve the students’ motivations for engaging in “progressive game-like” exercies that we know to be necessary, by adding game mechanics from popular progressive games that generate experiences in the students’ minds? If so, how and where to start?
These are questions that I will pay attention to in my further reading.