For lots of gamers, the power of the medium is its ability to place us in the shoes of other people, making tough choices that we’d otherwise never need to contemplate.But how does that message of power and opportunity spread outwards, away from the mostly indie games that address serious issues, and the relatively small number of people who celebrate these noble efforts?
This is one of the first times that a video game’s plot and characters were designed before the programming. [Miyamoto:] “Well, early on, the people who made video games, they were technologists, they were programmers, they were hardware designers. But I wasn’t. I was a designer, I studied industrial design, I was an artist, I drew pictures. And so I think that it was in my generation that people who made video games really became designers rather than technologists.”
Some recent studies suggest that video games, even violent ones, can increase a child’s learning, health, and social skills, and many educators are now looking for ways to integrate them into school curriculums.
With that in mind, we reached out to some game designers who are also educators, or who work in educational software, and asked them to name some of the most instructive examples of games that teach effectively–whether they’re intended to be educational or not.
Dwarf Fortress is barely a blip on the mainstream radar, but it’s an object of intense cult adoration. Its various versions have been downloaded in the neighborhood of a million times… At bottom, Dwarf Fortress mounts an argument about play. Many video games mimic the look and structure of films: there’s a story line, more or less fixed, that progresses only when you complete required tasks. This can make for gripping fun, but also the constrictive sense that you are a mouse in a tricked-out maze, chasing chunks of cheese. Tarn envisions Dwarf Fortress, by contrast, as an open-ended “story generator.” He and Zach grew up playing computer games with notebooks in hand, drawing their own renditions of the randomly generated creatures they encountered and logging their journeys in detail. Dwarf Fortress, which never unfolds the same way twice, takes that spirit of supple, fully engaged play to the extreme
The American Dream shines a hilarious light on our digital obsession with guns, but it also poses the question: why are we still obsessed? In 2016, is the ubiquity of guns in video games holding the medium back? In light of several recent AAA titles suffering from ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ – an academic term meaning a conflict between a video game’s narrative and its gameplay – due to their inclusion of guns, it’s surely a question worth asking.
As the gaming industry matures and becomes an increasingly important form of cultural communication akin to painting or film, work created by both genders becomes ever more important. The Game Center, under the chairship of Frank Lantz, views their mission as primarily cultural and not strictly technical.
It’s easy to see why Undertale spoke to so many people. It’s rare to find a game that so thoroughly embraces nonviolence not just in mechanics but integral themes (though of course there are plenty of games with pacifist routes, from indie offerings like Iji to big fish like Metal Gear Solid). It’s a truly special game. And yes, I know the wave of praise for this game and the ensuing backlash have already both come and gone. Most people have not only heard of it but either played it or seen all the salient spoilers. As much as I liked it, I’d stopped thinking much about it months ago.
Even at that young age, I was crying myself to sleep, praying to wake up as a girl, with no memory of being a boy. Outwardly, I was just your typical roughhousing little boy, I didn’t ask to play with Barbies, I didn’t insist on being called a girl, I didn’t demand girl’ clothes. Those things were much much too scary to ask for at the time. The only way someone would be able to tell something was amiss was if they paid close attention to the way I used to play Super Mario Bros. 2. I used Princess Peach obsessively. I still have muscle memory for her floaty jumps and the longer length of time to pull up turnips, even to this day.
In fact, engagements in which wargames have saved lives — on one or both sides of a conflict — are not hard to identify. Wargaming is widely credited with helping the U.S. Navy prevail in the Pacific during World War II. Admiral Chester Nimitz, who commanded the Pacific fleet, is quoted as saying, “The war with Japan had been re-enacted in the game rooms [at the Naval War College] by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise — absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics towards the end of the war; we had not visualized those.”
The videogame industry is bad at reaching mainstream audiences. It sounds like a cocky Buddhist koan, but one need only search the internet for a few Googles to see the game industry has not coexisted with the mainstream scrutiny and journalistic probing other entertainment industries have known for decades. Whereas film writing began in academic journals, videogame “journalism” and criticism began in enthusiast publications like Nintendo Power, where software companies and publishers kept information about products on a strict IV drip as prescribed by marketing plans. The dynamic hasn’t historically existed for picking up phones, chasing down leads, and taking scalpels to big systemic problems in the industry.