Finding of the week #58

Game Breaks

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about playing computer games for a short period of time in order to recharge some energy between exhausting tasks.

If you really have to focus on a certain task, it’s easy to loose concentration after few hours of working. At this point, it’s often useful to make a short break in order to regain some energy and to keep the concentration high. In best cases the break should have no correlation with the task and allow the brain to relax a bit from the original task.

Playing computer games could be one of the very helpful options to allow the brain to completely stop thinking about the main task and to recharge some energy. The highly immersive environment of video games allows the player to focus on the gameplay and to stop thinking about the original problem he was working on. Playing a game for 10 – 15 minutes can be really refreshing and help to get back a clear view on the task, because it allows to gain a bit of a distance to the problem.

However, the game shouldn’t be a real time investment in any case. It should just help to completely switch off and think about a completely different situation. In this case, going on a raid or instance run in an MMORPG would be the wrong approach because this would take too much time. On the other hand, I’m not only talking about so called „casual“ games like Bejeweled or Angry Birds.

The best possible game should allow the player to jump right away into the action without too many preparations. On the other hand, the gameplay should be also quite „short“ or allow an easy stop so that the player isn’t in danger to get lost in the virtual world.

The first example I like to present is the round-based strategy game „Civilization V“ (Civ V). In Civ V the player leads a nation from prehistoric times to the future and tries to achieve one of several victory options. The gameplay of Civ V is almost like chess: once the player has done all his decisions, he ends the turn and the other nations get their turns. Each round can be seen as a complete game session because every round has a clear beginning and a clear ending. This would allow the player to play a few rounds and easily finish the game break, because all actions are done once the end of a turn is reached.

The next example are action-adventures like „Diablo III“. This option is a quite risky one, because it’s very easy to get lost in the game. „Just one more group …“, but with enough discipline, these games can work just as well. The gameplay doesn’t need much preparation. Once the player has started the game, he can jump right away into the next group of evil monsters. Furthermore, the game has no clear ending–it’s more about killing an infinite amount of enemies and collecting new equipment. This endless flow of action can also be easily separated: the player just can make his way through one level and then stop playing without missing anything.

The last example I like to mention are racing games like „DiRT 3“ or „Assetto Corsa“. The good thing about these racing simulations is, that they take place on finite race tracks. Additionally, it is pretty easy to set up a race and drive around the race track or race against computer controlled opponents. Furthermore, these realistic driving games require the complete focus of the player to keep the car under control. This immersion catches the player immediately and completely disctracts the player from the original work. On the other hand, once a short race is finished and the results are displayed, the player gets immediately out of the immersion, but feels more refreshed and can start working again on his original task.

As a result, playing for a few minutes the right computer game could be quite refreshing and even improve the work performance. The intense gameplay allows the player to completely switch off from the exhausting work and regain some energy. Once a short game session is finished, the player can return back to work and even might have a completely different view on the task.

Finding of the week #57

Happy Easter

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I approach the search for Easter Eggs in a completely different way.

Exploring the virtual game world is one of the key methods of interacting with a computer game[1]. Explorers try to discover most of the facts about a game world during their gameplay. Additionally, they try to move beyond the normal path of a player in order to discover interesting features most players probably have missed.
Explorers are mostly focussed on interacting with the virtual world. They like to climb up the highest mountain or explore the deepest cavern. Following the normal approach of the game and aiming for the best outcome isn’t the direct goal of an explorer. It’s more about discovering all the wonders and enjoying every component of the virtual world.
However, it’s not just about exploring the world, it’s also about exploring the game and every feature of it. Explorers like to combine different actions in the game world to discover different outcomes. It’s mostly like permanently asking the question „What if …?“.

On the other side, following the gameplay of an explorer can be also very rewarding for computer game developers. Explorers are digging deep into the game mechanics, the storyline and the virtual world. They’re also appreciating the design work of the developers and they even notice small features most players probably might overlook. But especially these features make the world live and breath and can cost a lot of time during the design process. Furthermore, explorers are also seeing the „end“ of the world and appreciate when the boundaries of a level seem to be very consistent with the game world. In the end, explorers are enjoying every part of the game thus exhausting the creative result of the developers.

Game developers even found a way to thank these players for their thorough exploration of the game world and enjoying their content: they started to implement small but very meaningful features into the game world. This approach is almost like giving an additional gift to the explorers, because they feel rewarded when they discover a well hidden wonder that might leave them in awe.
These special special features even don’t need to be very complex. It just can be a group picture of all the developers, a small reference to another game or movie or even a game community meme, which will be identified immediately. In most cases, these special features aren’t directly related to the game world and are often a bit ironic.
The location on the other side needs to be a very special and often way off from the normal path a player should take. Explorers are then able to discover well hidden and „cool“ relics in the game world when they explore every corner of the level.

The special characteristic of being nice and little goodies which are well hidden in the game world might have caused the name these special features have received. They’re called Easter Eggs.

Happy Easter and good luck discovering every corner of your very own level!

Happy Easter

Happy Easter

[1] Bartle, Richard (1996): Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs,, retrieved on 2014/04/19.

Finding of the week #56

Understanding art with games

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the problem of understanding art. Games can be used to simulate real world facts, but can they be also used to enhance the understanding of art?

I’m always seeking for new or good applications of computer games to enhance the education. Computer games do have a high potential of keeping the motivation high and they also easily allow to visualize different outcomes.
In order to target a certain learning outcome, computer games can be tailored for this specific purpose and directly cover the learning content. Computer games that fall into this category are also referenced as serious games.
However, games don’t need to be designed as a serious game to have a good educational effect. Regular computer games with a pure focus on the entertainment can be used to illustrate specific knowledge as well. Cooperative games like World of Warcraft can enhance the team training[1] outcomes and simulation games like Kerbal Space Program can be used to demonstrate the specific knowledge[2] they’re simulating.

Taking advantage of simulation games is often a good way to enhance the demonstration of specific knowledge because these games do have a good visual presentation of the outcomes. Furthermore, simulation games rely on the laws of the natural sciences and thus are able to use the appropriate formulas for calculating the results.
Understanding these formulas is often the main learning goal and thus simulation games become a good visual enhancement to understand the presented facts. Learners can try out what will happen if they manipulate a certain variable and thus foster their understanding of the specific knowledge.

Although there’re no clear formulas for team training or similar social skills, taking advantage of cooperative games can be very useful. Players need to collaborate in these games to succeed. This often can be done if they establish a general understanding of the common goal and their specific role in their group. Establishing this understanding is mostly the key factor for a successful teamwork.
Cooperative games create a virtual world where players can get used to understand the connection between the common goal and their specific role. Additionallly, goals and roles are often well defined in computer games and thus it’s much easier to develop a basic understanding for the own role. The ability of the own integration into a group can be finally transferred to real world teamwork.

However, there’re some learning goals that are much more complicated to be represented and demonstrated in a (serious) computer game. I’m referring to the understanding of literature and art. Of course, there can be a certain interpretation of a text or a canvas, but often this can vary from the personal standpoint and/or from the personal experience. In this case, there aren’t any formulas which will return a clear result.

Although there might be no clear result, computer games could still be used to tackle the understanding of literature and art. Computer games could offer a certain interpretation or could evoke some questions about the work. These results of playing the game could lead to a deeper look into the work and/or to another point of view of approaching the topic of the work. In the end, this could help the learners to think more deeply about the work and to develop a completely own understanding.

Finding of the week #55

Try out a planned space mission

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I like to present NASA’s good strategy of increasing the popularity of a planned space mission: they were collaborating with the developers of Kerbal Space Program to develop a custom addon to the game.

NASA is currently planning a new challenge in space flight: the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) [1][2]. The main goal of ARM is the investigation of an asteroid by astronauts. In order to allow astronauts to fly up to an asteroid and to take some samples of it, it’s necessary to bring or redirect an asteroid into the reach of human space flight.
The idea is pretty simple: an asteroid will be captured by a robotic mission and afterwards propelled into a stable orbit around our Moon. After the asteroid is captured by the Moon’s gravity, a manned mission will be launched up to the asteroid to allow a thorough investigation and to enable the option to return back some samples.

Unfortunately, NASA’s space flight activities are pretty expensive and thus needing the support of the people. Support often can be only given, if an understanding of the work is established. Additionally, NASA and space agencies in general are all the time searching for future workers, who are deeply interested in the exploration of space and who like to work in the field of space science.
In order to gain a higher popularity, NASA is very active on social media services and also tries to involve people in the work by creating special social events to allow in-person experiences at NASA[3].
Now, NASA found a new partner to collaborate with. The partner already provides a good service to develop a better understanding of space flight, is entertaining and already used by many users.

The partner I’m writing about is Squad, the developer of Kerbal Space Program (KSP). KSP is a computer game that allows its players to develop an own space program [4]. The player can assemble rockets and space crafts from a broad variety of different components and launch them into virtual space. Moreover, the space simulation game helps its players to understand the basics of space flight because everything in the game is based on real world physics. Players can start to learn orbital mechanics by playing the game [5][6].
Altough the game is still in development, it has already achieved a huge popularity among space interested players and computer game players in general.

Since 1st of April, the popularity of KSP is now also used by NASA to increase the popularity of their ARM project. The developers of KSP have implemented in collaboration with NASA the ARM mission into KSP. KSP now allows players to rendezvous with asteroids and to investigate these space rocks. Additionally, KSP now offers new components in the Vehicle Assembly Building which are mostly inspired by NASA rocket components. This even includes a component that can attach an asteroid to a rocket and finally allow the player to redirect the asteroid to a different orbit.

In the end, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. KSP receives more attention, because it’s now possible to simulate an upcoming real world space mission. NASA’s popularity will also increase, because their project is now also offered to the broad variety of already existing KSP players, who might start spreading the word about the next huge challenge in human space flight. Moreover, by playing the ARM, players will learn more about the upcoming challenges for NASA in order to redirect an asteroid. This knowledge could on the one hand lead to more applicants at NASA and on the other hand to more people who appreciate the science and engineering of NASA. Finally, the KSP player itself now has more components and options to play around during his gameplay. Furthermore, KSP has received an additional amount of realism due to the new and authentic components.

As a conclusion, computer games like KSP help players to understand the way orbital mechanics work. Additionally, it will increase the interest of the players in the work of space agencies and maybe inspire them to start a career in one of the fields of today’s space companies.
In the end, I hope that other space agencies will understand the great potential of computer games, too. It would be very interesting, if not only NASA but also ESA and Roscosmos would join the club of virtual space flyers in order to spread the word about their work.

And maybe, after gamers were inspired by computer games like KSP, it could be also a gamer who finds the solution to a real world problem because of the creative way gamers are approaching difficult things–like redirecting an asteroid.