Zachernuk

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July 5, 2009

On the crappy lessons that games teach us – and an Opticks update!

Filed under: bandwagon,flash,Games,Incidental Learning,opticks,youtuber — Tags: , , , , , — Brandel Zachernuk @ 5:34 am

The lessons that we learn from a lot of entertainment can be really, really bad.  I don’t just mean moral or ethical lessons (though Cracked magazine makes light of those to great result), but lessons about how the world literally works.  When every punch is a knockout, and every bullet into a car creates an explosion we do ourselves a disservice.  The defense “it’s not important, because entertainment is supposed to be a diversion from the real world” is often used as rebuttal here, but I think it misses a crucial point.  Movies and books can be a great way to allow people to think about new ideas – what happens if the sun goes dark, whether there could be a space elevator etc. – but games actually let people test some of these ideas out.  What happens when I take a corner in a bus at a hundred miles an hour?  How many crates can I stack on top of each other before the bottom one collapses?

There are countless videos on Youtube of people trying these things out – stacking barrels in Farcry or balancing helicopters on top of other helicopters in Battlefield: Vietnam.  Constance Steinkuehler, an academic in the field of Educational Communications & Technology, asserts that kids in Lineage and World of Warcraft have been unwittingly conducting experiments according to the scientific method in order to understand the world around them!  This behaviour seems to be quite common.  If you look through any forum dedicated to a game you’ll find extensive write-ups of all the units, power-ups and a weigh-in on whether something is worth having or doing.  Http://strategy.diii.net, a site for Diablo II, h0as links to strategy guides which outline the principles of experiment design. A site dedicated to World of Warcraftthottbot.com, calculates the probability of a monster dropping an item to three significant figures!

In one respect, this is a wonderful development.  People are using rigorous, principled methods of investigation in order to understand the worlds they find themselves in.  On the other hand, those environments are not only artificial – video games are necessarily artificial – but worlds with such a feeble resemblance to reality that no relevant knowledge can be gleaned through experimentation.  This is tragic.

This is not an attack on all games, though.  This frustration is aimed at worlds that purport to some degree of realism – racing games where an autopilot takes control when you spin out (Ridge Racer), or momentum values that are tweaked with no justification to make a spacecraft more maneuverable as a game progresses. I don’t think all games have to have Newton-perfect calculations of mass and velocity, but I think there ought to be games that at least try.

Towards that end, here’s another update of what I’ve been working on.  It’s really hard to resist holding off on an update because I’m so close to a breakthrough, but I’ve found that after one breakthrough is made, it always seems ‘close enough’ to the next to hold off again. Consequently, there’s a lot in now that wasn’t in the last build. The list of what’s new is probably less interesting than the thing itself, so here it is:

  • Colour sliders: Now, rather than relying on the colour of a mirror being made on the fly, you can select the colour of all the elements, setting a laser to beam only red light, or a mirror to reflect only yellow light etc.
  • Rotation: Works now.  You click to select a pivot to rotate the selection about, and drag around to place ‘em.
  • Tooltips: Finally, there is a little feedback about what things are and what to do with them!
  • Cirlces: Only work with lasers at the moment, but they are solid, circular mirrors that could be considered to have a “mass”.  One day.
  • Polygons: These do work with beams and lasers, but do some silly things with beams (when you point the beam on to an angle less than 180º) . These could also be considered to have mass one day.

What’s next?  Remote loading and saving (I’m going to need some help with PHP for that), and then Box2D!  I’ve been messing around with some ideas for games that could actually use this engine, and I’ve come up with one idea, which I’ve sketched out on my Flickr page, but that’s as far as it goes right now.  When I have more, I will show it!

1 Comment

  1. [...] it’s an uphill battle to get an interactive sketch working and interesting. The work I did on Opticks was a gruelling lesson on how important it is to have a firm understanding of math – not just how [...]

    Pingback by Voronoi Sketches 1: Glitchfest « Zachernuk.com — July 12, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

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