The research game – Part 1
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 a bit about the presentation of science and research in computer games. Currently, science is mostly only a small part of a complete computer game. What about using research as the core feature of a game?
Natural sciences are cool!  Generally speaking, natural sciences are about collecting data and deriving principles from the collected data. Of course, this is anything but simple and a lot of work and preparation is needed to achieve valuable results. Depending on the field of research this can be even quite frustrating and failures need to be expected. Additionally, it is also often about finding a way to perform good measurements: tools and rules need to be developed to ensure the measurement of good and comparable data sets.
From this point of view, natural sciences also require some creative thinking skills. Scientists need to be clever to come up with ways to collect their desired data in order to prove their hypotheses.
Finally, after the right tools were developed and precise measurements are conducted the scientist sits in front of a database and needs to analyze the data gathered in the experiment. This can be the most boring and frustrating but also the most rewarding part of the research process. On the one hand, it’s all about using different methods of proving the data’s significance. On the other hand, it’s also all about proving the hypothesis and deriving a principle from the collected data. It is really rewarding when the collected data proves the hypothesis of a principle to be true and the world’s knowledge was expanded by a tiny bit.
In comparison to real world science, research in computer games is mostly quite simplified and the rewarding part of discovering something new is often neglected. In most cases, research in computer games means spending a certain resource in a tech-tree to unlock new gameplay features. The resource itself is often gathered during regular gameplay and doesn’t require so much of a creativity.
I personally think, implementing research in a more creative way could be really beneficial and even entertaining. Furthermore, it could even encourage players with a non-scientific background to learn more about the particular science presented in the game and maybe to become a scientist themselves. The above mentioned description of the research work provides two main ideas how research could be implemented in computer games.
1) Research is a very creative work. Already several (sandbox) computer games provide the feature of assembling own vessels and constructions in order to explore or expand the game world.
The same approach could be used to challenge the creativity of computer game players to perform virtual research. Depending on the game, the player could be able to construct a research vessel from a broad variety of different measurement tools.
The next step would be to think about the way the vessel can be installed or launched to get the best data as possible. Does the measurement needs some time and the experiment has to stay at the right spot or would it be just enough to bring this experiment for a brief moment to the right spot? How difficult is the environment? Does the vessel need to climb up a rocky slope of a volcano or would just a weather balloon do the job?
On the other hand, it could be also about creating the right environment to observe the behavior of a plant or an animal. In this case, the players would be challenged to construct their own laboratory. Afterwards, they need to collect enough samples for their experiment – a challenge on its own. Where does this species live? How can it be captured?
Finally, the players could be challenged with some environmental influences they need to take into account when constructing the vessel. If the player is not protecting the vessel against a certain influence, then the results might be not as useful as they could be. This could be caused by too high or too low temperatures, corrosive atmosphere or radiation.
2) Progress in the game can be based on successful experiments. Only if the players have proven a certain fact, they will be able to construct more advanced technologies. This would make research vital for the progression through the game.
The challenge to achieve good results would also render the analysis of the data more interesting. It could be a very exciting part of the game when an experiment gets recovered and the player can have the very first glance at the data. Was it a successful experiment?
Finally the analysis of the data should also allow the players to get more insights about what kind of data they have collected. It could be quite interesting to discover some principles after using some analysis techniques. This would give the data an increased importance and it would be more exciting to see the results of an experiment than just to receive a short message about the success of an experiment.
[this article will continue in „Finding of the week #64“]