Wednesday, June 3, 2009

VGA ~ 5-4 ~ The Edutainment Theory

[You see what I did there? The people who know what these posts are will automatically know what the title stands for now and I won’t have to explain myself to the garbage that constantly misinterprets the it from now on. I also acknowledge the fact that I cutely drew a direct corollary to video-games with the VGA initialism (Video Graphics Array). Sorry, I’m too egotistical to not mention that. ^_^]

People often disregard the amount of education imparted on the mind by a video-game. In many accounts, one could make the argument that a game’s ability to educate could be a formidable opposition to the vast majority of modern schooling. Of course, I’m not suggesting that games are an exemplary replacement for acquiring knowledge; I am however suggesting that it fills the otherwise cavernous holes in people’s individual academic edification. By the “numbers argument”, it’s still a mandatory necessity that we all experience schooling as it generally is now. This educational experience is defined by having mounds and mounds of acquired human intelligence (gathered across our trivial time on this rock) slammed against our intellectual walls. This in turn will play some part in the definition of our scholastic character, as a great chunk of those things will simply have stick to the damned metaphorical wall.

A great observation I saw from fellow Twitterers regarding the recently revamped E3 conference yesterday was that the “big three” were trying to turn everyone into gamers. I apologize to some for the aristocratic tone, but it’s just how I see things now so I won’t temper it. To those of you that feel that way, don’t worry. Gamers will not lose their individuality through this process of casualization and development, it’s impossible. You know why? It’s because we’re all big nerds first and foremost. We’re not the “frat-mind”, we’re not the technological layman, and we’re far from stupid. Our pleasures are rooted typically in learning and acquiring further insight/experience for ourselves. It’s a personal catharsis that will define only a select few individuals throughout the course of their lives. We’re just simply not created or formed (whichever you believe in) in the same way, so some of us find pleasure in certain things while others don’t. Generally smart people don’t let go of gaming because it satiates that desire as well. Maybe not the same way that reading does, but I’d argue it’s a close second.

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Super Mario ~ By Cody Winn

I commonly hear those age old corollaries when games are touted around for their value this category (it's particularly insulting in mainstream media). It typically centers on that dead horse, “hand-to-eye” coordination. Of course that’s true, but pretending like that’s where a game’s arm reaches its limit is ludicrous and a bit silly on the side. There’s actually a long list of things that video-games accomplish which make nerds what they are:

I - Spatial Awareness
II - Problem Solving
III - General Patience
IV - Inquisitive Nurturing
V - Mental Stimulation
VI - Biological Neural Exercise
VII - Memory Foundations
VIII - Social Engagement
IX - Amalgamated Competent Processes
X - Eternal Enlightenment & Inspiration


The list definitely goes on, especially if one begins to break these categories down into subsets. These were just the ten that rattled off the top of my head when I shook it around for a moment. For the sake of living up to my comprehensive reputation, I’ll briefly comb through all of them.

I – Spatial Awareness
This is acquired in youth and depending how said child spends their time, it can quite literally open up a whole new world. Though we’re all over the place these days, which I could diverge in any direction with, I’ll snap it old school to keep this short with Super Mario Bros. The comprehension that comes with knowing how Mario will and will not jump is a pinnacle of essence no other medium can claim for itself. The kinesthetic response that generates an instinctive corollary between holding the jump button down and simply tapping it is as primal to a gamer as eating a meal for a general person. Games further the abilities of the avatar by giving them environments to operate in. Design picks up here and dictates the competence of a development team’s prowess.

II - Problem Solving
Games all give us rules and an area to exercise certain tools in. We gain a certain degree of discipline and understanding by this process. Games all create problems and conflicts to deal with. From the most superficial and cursory sequences to the most in-depth and cerebral, gamers are privileged with the act of always solving problems at any given time. Some of them even occur on the nano-scale level (i.e. avoiding the damn squares in Geometry Wars). The degree of variation in which we can solve these problems is only surpassed in excellence by the means to which we acquire our tools to solve them. The structure for some games showcase how much this design muscle has atrophied over the years, but it remains a forte games can always access at will. That's got to count for something, right?

III - General Patience
It’s a given that when you encounter problem solving constructs designed to entertain, flexibility is next to a necessity in order to accommodate failure. This is something I’d imagine to be difficult for games to convey now, as they seem to be on some grand pilgrimage to maintain accessibility. Frustration is a novelty in games that’s become a near-dead art. In my opinion, an infuriating game doesn’t necessarily equal bad design; it’s simply a typical given in today’s industry. Gamers seem to have the sole option to returning to fundamental or progenitor titles these days, as titles just don’t cultivate such rigorous play anymore(nor to most adult gamer’s lifestyles). If someone doesn’t learn how to accept failure in their lives, they’re going to be a really screwed up person in the long run. Fucking up is a grand pinnacle of gaining a true appreciation for anything worthwhile.

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I'm not quite sure who did this, but I love it.

IV - Inquisitive Nurturing
Plenty of games also encourage the drive to explore, something not readily available in any other medium. Curiosity is one of the basic necessities of maintaining a healthily learning mindset. Whether it’s actually a built-in feature of the game, or a glitch that leads to further insight of the live-code, most games show the capacity for this. Sometimes the game even rewards exploration, which is another topic in itself. For such titles like Oblivion or Fallout 3, exploration is mandatory for appreciating the scale of Bethesda’s recent releases. The drive has been there since the early days of platforming, when gamers were awarded power-ups, alternate routes, and extra lives for their sheer act of curiosity. Before the days of GameFAQS robbing and mucking up the novelty of this gift, gamers were allowed such a blessing, nowadays it’s damn near a fossil fuel. I don’t care if someone doesn’t even know what two plus two equals, the desire to actually know what it equals is more important than the answer itself; always has been, always will be---the destination is never the goal.

V - Mental Stimulation
Through the use of problem solving and such, it remains a shocking reality that games haven’t gained more ground here than I’d like to think. Very loosely speaking, games tend to opt for the cursory routes and cheap highs, you know---things blowing up and the like. Some titles gain followings however, and it’s usually attributed to how the titles honor their own self-perpetuating source material. Be it God of War or Silent Hill, some titles are just able to communicate from their own world to the player beautifully. It doesn’t have to be, but is usually attributed to narrative-based games. There’s also the literal manifestation of mental stimulation in games (e.g. something like Brain Age), which have their place no doubt, but just aren’t as important to me personally. To look at this in a simpler more and more understandable way, most titles that obey mental stimulation tend to have their own fan-maintained Wiki-pages. Wikias certainly aren’t the final and credible authority here of course, but they do stand as a proof of concept that gamers have been engaged intellectually. Watching them output such information in such a positive fashion is always a plus in my eyes. Can you even imagine what the Internet will be like in just thirty years?

VI - Biological Neural Exercise
Stimulating the mind is one thing, consistently helping it grow is another entirely. The brain is simply another organ in our bodies and without a certain degree of exercise, it won’t amount to much more than a big pink thing in our heads. I guess you bo-bo heads can shove that hand-to-eye coordination crap in here as well, but exploring that even further, all actions in our bodies are dictated by how our brains operate. Whether the player is simply pressing start, or trying to wrap their heads around a convoluted puzzle in the depths of Magmoor, axons and dendrites are hard at work, helping the conscious mind comprehend such acts and feats. Nintendo is probably what raised the majority of us in this area, so kudos to them for that. Luckily, the industry has grown far beyond what Nintendo’s regimented design process usually accommodates. This leaves gamers to choose their own arenas and customize their own cerebral calisthenics down to the most fickle whims (creating yet another problem in itself).

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Mario ~ By Jimi Benedict

VII - Memory Foundations
Have you ever had a multiple memory merger? Yeah, I just made that up, but I’d like to think games are the prime generators of MMM. Usually, this gets lumped under nostalgia, but I think there’s more to it than that. Having a powerful experience relate in one’s mind as if it were an actual occurrence (and who’s to say it ISN’T an actual occurrence anyway?) in their lives is not something to scoff at. The moniker’s ”multiple” tag is not simply meant to convey plural memories, but acknowledge that the memories don’t exist on the same plane of reality. When they actually merge, the lines between such actualities are less distinct and drive gamers to seek out the sort of natural high that it generates. The first time the Cerberus dogs smashed through the windows of the Spencer mansion, it provided a new footstool for gamers to stand on. This is why there’s such a growing schism in fans regarding the Resident Evil series now (they demand that air of unease that was lost, that they REMEMBER). There are many subsets for this category including: muscle-memory, general memory, and the rare eidetic memory. I personally hold this area in high priority, as it’s not only a requirement for creating games, but enjoying them as well. This is a very thorny topic to delve into with any directed point, so I’ll simply state there’s an untapped well developers can key into this arena specifically (not too unlike what I addressed in 5-3).

VIII –Social Engagement
I will do something unheard of on my end and stand up for multiplayer here, as interacting with other people through games is an experience that remains unmatched by anything else. It’s typically through the brutal competition of a title like StarCraft that a gamer will hone individual skills to the degree which will ram the reality of the code to it’s absolute limits. All those insanely competent multiplayer gamers have some degree of familiarity with this. Establishing clever strategies, maneuvers, and techniques are key and the mind being trained to a digital Olympian physique is admirable in any respect (though I personally detest it myself). The other side of this of course is well---THIS. Things like this blog, the internet, and the recently evolved flow of communication that have been established by gamers across the globe all show progressive activism on our part. For all my hatred of associating with people on a day to day basis, I will admit to the beauty of things like the Internet.

IX - Amalgamated Competent Processes
Games very admirably incorporate the three big attributes that appeal to anyone willing to learn: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning. I think people all have varying strengths in these categories, but one will always outclass the other two. Personally, I’m a kinesthetic learner, I internalize information best by actually utilizing it and nothing screams that more beautifully than a video-game, which is why I think a great deal of gamers are of the same type (or can at least tap into their own variance of the ability). Even schools have a shifty way of implementing such mechanics and half the time it isn’t set up to accommodate us all (hence the term “falling through the cracks”). Some people simply can’t listen to lectures for hours on end and be expected to recall it all (or at all). Ironically enough, I have an indirect audio processing system. In other words, if I’m in class, I actually comprehend lectures better if I’m multi-tasking---which is further tied my visual learning ability, usually manifesting itself through artwork---heh (nothing was more satisfying than shutting a teacher up who thought I wasn’t paying attention to them, NOTHING). I’m fortunate enough to be reasonably blessed by all three categories, with one standout natural affinity. Things are wired very differently for us all, and games are a medium in which a certain degree of individual flexibility is possible to facilitate everyone involved, even those that go tumbling through the cracks.

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"I'm Walking on Air" ~ By UndineCD@DeviantArt.com

X - Eternal Enlightenment & Inspiration
At the end of the day, it’s about what we do with our acquired knowledge that will mark what’s left behind long after we’ve perished. Fact of the matter is that games encourage learning, they also inspire…a great deal at that. Witnessing the variety of INTELLIGENT people that come to the table regarding video-games always fascinates me, if for no other reason than they all come from different walks of life. What’s really cool is that they’re all adding to a fairly dry pot. This makes us nothing more than primordial blog-cells, for the future of the entire industry nonetheless. Consider that collectively we’re the “artists” as well, and you should be able to ascertain exactly what I mean with that.

So, I come back to a fundamental question: Can games incorporate or amplify the technique in which they can teach the player? I think that by this point, you should know that I'm not necessarily talking about practical and cursory methods of tutelage. The arena is there for any designer to break ground with; it’s simply just a matter of time. We’ve become accustomed to frivolous priorities (e.g. a game’s “technical visuals") and while growth like this doesn’t deteriorate intellectual process, it slows it down to an almost lethargic rate. This is ironic because the same people who argue for those superficial “necessities” are the first to the table when it comes to bitching about a game being shallow and/or uninteresting.

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Lovestruck ~ By VisualOverdose@DeviantArt.com

I think a big step in furthering “Experiencism” is establishing how oneself is constructed from a cognitive standpoint. How one learns dictates how they interact with the world, let alone the alternate realities presented by modern video-games. It’s very rarely about simply running out and buying a $50 title to go home and pop it in anymore (it never was for me). The process is a overly convoluted and intricate phenomenon from any standpoint. Appreciating it from these multiple angles will help how games are meant to evolve, through us---the other side of the canvas.

~sLs~