Tag Archives: Games

Who owns my games?

One of my favorite games of all time is the puzzle game Peggle. After being introduced to it in 2008, I have played countless times on multiple platforms, including PC, Android, iOS and X-Box (my favorite platform to play Peggle on). Recently, while trying to think of a new game to download to my Android phone, I felt like playing Peggle again. I bought the game for Android years ago, but I was disappointed to find that it was no longer available on Google Play Store. As it turns out, PopCap, the company behind Peggle, retired the game in August. In stead, a new version of Peggle – Peggle Blast – can be downloaded for free. But the thing is: as much as I love Pegge, I hate Peggle Blast. It’s a for-mobile-only, freemium game with lots of in-app purchases and bad gameplay. So, no Peggle for me…

Peggle is an awesome game!

This experience did make me think, though. While Peggle Blast is free, the original Peggle game was not. I paid good money for that game. And I bought the game knowing that I would be able to download and play it on any future Android phone. I don’t know why it’s not available anymore (though, I bet it has something to do with getting people to play the freemium game instead), but it doesn’t feel right. If PopCap doesn’t want people to be able to buy Peggle anymore, that’s fine. But I had already bought it. A transaction was made. I had one more game than before I bought it, and not as much money. I bought it! The game was mine! Wasn’t it?

I’m not sure anymore about who owns my games. Did I pay for Peggle, or did I just pay for the right to play Peggle. And it’s not just Peggle, or mobile games – It’s the whole gaming industry. Most of my X-Box games are located in the cloud. What happens when someone decides to turn that cloud off? And the games I do buy in a real-life, physical store, and I have a physical copy of, can’t be played without having to download a huge update.

The times when I could just buy a game and play it right away is over. Whether a game is bought online or as a physical copy, my feeling of ownership of the games I buy is not as certain as it should be. Most games need to have an internet connection (at least the first time playing it), even if it’s a single-player game. Most games need to be downloaded, even when owning a physical copy. And the games get updated constantly, feel incomplete without purchasing extra downloadable content, and, as was the case with Peggle, can disappear from existence.

There are many technological reasons for why games are changing. The level of internet access allows for games to be larger than what could be fitted on a game disc, as well as a constant string of updates and bug fixes. This of course isn’t all that negative. But financial incentives and the success of mobile gaming are encouraging game developers to create free games with ads, in-game purchases and episodic content, in stead of creating finished quality games for gamers to buy. And it’s partly our own fault. We’ve become so accustomed to things being free that we don’t want to buy even small, cheap mobile games. And the developers see that – and respond to it. So for the future of gaming, I hope people get tired of the freemium gaming model. I want my games back!

 

 

Learning with video games

In the introduction to chapter 4 of Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, “Learning and Literacy”, Mimi Ito writes about “Learning in the wild”. This view of learning argues that the traditional view of learning – that learning involves the passive receiving of information – is outdated. Learning is something that also, and possibly more efficiently, happens in the real world. Ito uses math as an example, and how people can figure out math in real world examples, such as grocery shopping and measuring ingredients.

While I think there is a necessity for traditional learning, I agree with the view presented by Mimi Ito. But I would like to make a case for non-real world, real world learning. By that, I mean the fake worlds of video games. A few weeks ago in class, the subject of learning ethics using the video game “The Walking Dead” came up in discussion. And while I think that this is a great example of using video games in a teaching situation, I feel it barely touches the surface of the possibilities of learning through video games.

But first, I must specify that learning doesn’t have to just be about facts. It’s about building a mental world, with lots of room for facts to be attached to later. As an example, consider the turn based strategy game “Civilization”. The player controls a nation from the dawn of civilization to the modern age. But does that make it a good game for learning history? There are, after all, very little historical facts.

I would argue that a game like civilization, while not presenting a lot of historical facts, allows the player to create a mental image of the history of the world to attach facts to later. First of all, the names of the civilizations and their starting locations, teaches the player about long lost peoples and nations, and their geographical location. Secondly, the technologies the player researches tells a story of the technological development of mankind.

Civilization does not teach history. But when a civilization-player learns about, as an example, the Mongols of the Middle Ages for the first time, he will already have a mental representation of the Mongols in the game: “those purple guys who take over Asia and who are very difficult to have a peaceful relationship with”. This previously unknown people will have already been implemented into the players mental representation of world history.

Mental world-building can happen in a number of games – not just strategy games. And they don’t have to be historically or factually accurate, as long as they create a world for facts and knowledge to be put into.

Mimi Ito writes about participation and learning. Participation, production, collaboration and community organizing can also be vital part of video games in the modern, connected world. People create and learn about architecture through games like Minecraft, and they organize themselves and practice politics through online games like Ark and World of Warcraft.

The Greek and Roman systems of mnemonics focused on creating mental worlds in which to place representations of things that needed to be remembered. With video games, the mental world are built for us. And in stead of being static places, they are vivid, narrative worlds with plenty of space for factual pins where information can be attached and remembered.

 

Minecraft and Motivation

Minecraft is a revolutionary game in that it changes the rules of motivation and goals. All though there might be exceptions, games have always been about reaching a goal. These goals can be a great many things, like reaching the end of the game or beating a high score, be it your own or someone else’s.

Reaching a goal has also been an important part in many of the various attempts to define games. Jesper Juul claims that goal orientation is the inner layer of his three frames of looking at games. Brian Sutton-Smith sees a game as finite, fixed and goal-oriented, and David Parlett suggests that games consists of the two components ends and means, where ends is the idea that a game is a contest to be won (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Tosca 2013, p. 31-37).

The idea of winning a game is usually thought of as reaching the game’s end-state, or finishing the game. This way of thinking is similar to the narrative functions of traditional movies, which are about watching the entire presentation until the end.

The other way we think of winning a game is by performing better than others, or our own previous performances. Both of these ways of winning are dependent on the rules of the game, which define both when the game is over, and how to score points and how many are required to win.

When the player plays a game to reach these external goals that have been set by the game designers, their motivation is external as well. They play the game to beat it, and once the external goals have been reach the game is over (all though, if they really like the game they may choose to play it again).

Minecraft is a game with no obvious external goals. It’s a first-person sandbox-game with no instructions on how to play or what the goal of the game is. Depending on the mode the player plays in, the game is about surviving and building whatever the player wants to build.

Because there are no external goals set in the game one might think that the player would have no motivation to play it. And though it is true that the player might not have any external motivation, playing Minecraft does provide the player with an internal motivation. The player set his or her own internal goals (“I want to build a castle”) which provide internal motivation to play the game in order to reach the player’s goals.

Psychological research has shown that internal motivations for doing something are much stronger than external motivations (Myers, Abell, Kolstad and Sani 2010, p. 171-173). When a person does something for no obvious reason, when there are no external goals or motivations, he needs to justify his actions by creating his own internal motivations. And where an external motivation, like finishing a game by reaching its end-state, disappears when the goal is reached, an internal motivation is long-lasting because an internal goal is both personal and can change to become more complex (as is often the case when playing Minecraft).

What makes Minecraft such a revolutionary game is that it plays on the power of internal motivation for doing something. And because the game is essentially endless our internal goals and motivations can have us playing it for a long time.

This is the end of my essey. So if you will excuse me, I have a castle to build.

 

References

Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Susana Pajeres Tosca. 2013. Understanding Video Games –  The Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge

Myers, Abell, Kolstad and Fabio Sani. 2010. Social Psychology. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education.