Quick Reflection – Gaming Gamification

Quick Reflection – Gaming Gamification

October 30, 2018 0 By JR

Not my 9x9x25 post this week, but I just read Gaming Gamification by Terry, and was about to comment when I thought, ‘hey, I can just blog a quick reflection and hopefully it’ll ping back’. Honestly, I’ve been frustrated with blog commenting systems for a while now. Some require login, some eat my comments, so here…I’m reclaiming commenting.

There is an aspect to this which I was hoping to write about this week at some point, and that was about the freedom the player/user/learner has in interacting and progressing through whatever is in front of them. That could be the world or dungeon, a software menu, an LMS.

Like Terry I hold those classic games very closely to my heart, although I’m more of a MegaMan fan when we go back that far.What I love about those old games is that, like Terry said, they often begin with some kind of tutorial.

Game designers know much better than us how to make learning a progression for one thing. Level one is always a tutorial without you knowing you are being tutored.

I agree with Terry that game designers (at least in some studios) knew how to teach players and scale challenges. That is leaving out the hordes of examples of terrible games from the Atari and NES days (I shudder anytime I think of the water level in the Ninja Turtles game on NES). I can hopefully illustrate through MegaMan that even experienced studios and designers mess with their original design and introduce awful instructional interventions into their games. In the first few games, the levels are tutorials for sure, but they don’t knock you over the head with it. MegaMan 2 for example, has platforming sections that involve moving platforms that will drop you as they go over certain portions of the rail. When these are introduced for the first time, nothing tells you what is going to happen. You enter a screen and are on solid ground while you are able to observe the “lifts”. You can see that as they run over part of the track that they spin or drop.

Lift (リフト Rifuto)[1] is a special platform in the Mega Man series that can be used by players to reach high or distant areas, but contain a gimmick that may cause trouble. They usually appear near pits or spikes. – via MegaMan Wiki

In another level, there are blocks that appear and disappear. When they disappear you fall, which is unfortunate because in that stage that usually means an instant loss. But before the stakes are that high, you again get to observe the blocks’ behaviour. You see that they appear and disappear with specific timing. Again no words needed.

via MegaMan wiki.

The third example I’ll provide here for a positive example is from my favourite in the series, MegaMan X. In the intro stage there is a part where you pretty much have to fall down a hole which at the time feels like an untimely demise. But you land safely at the bottom. The problem is, how the heck do you get out. Nothing tells you what to do, you have to figure it out, and the environment itself provides some clues. You can wall jump!? (Trust me, as like an 8 year old kid at the time this was a HUGE deal).

MegaMan X – Intro Stage

So in this way, game designers really did well in figuring out how to communicate the mechanics of game play to the player. Fast forward from the early to late 90s in this same series of games and guess what happens. Suddenly they get a bunch of designers that figure the best way to do things is interrupt game play to tell you across multiple text boxes, things you used to figure out on your own (and many of them are things that you could do in previous games!).

The helpful game, stating the obvious. The number of times these interruptions stopped the momentum of the character and resulted in having to start the level over again was discouraging because you knew you were going to be interrupted every…single…time.

There are certainly examples of this latter design in other series. Zelda for example started out as a free range no tutorial kind of game, and eventually introduced a character that hit you over the head with obvious statements regularly.

When I consider most of the gamification I’ve come across in learning contexts it’s exactly as Terry mentioned, it’s about the fireworks at the end rather than staying in it for the long haul. The additional note I’d add to his commentary is that the vast majority of designs are of the MegaMan X5 variety, constantly interrupting the learner with less than helpful tutorials. How many times have you encountered screens that won’t let you progress until you do a bunch of meaningless tasks that “teach you how to interact with the elearning thinger”, but ultimately you could have figured out yourself or could have been designed to illustrate that clearly without the hand holding?

Game design is extremely challenging, and if taken on needs to be thought and played through multiple times. A friend of mine was taking a game design class a few years ago. The assignment was really interesting. It had to be related to a sound clip they received, and there had to be different “roles” each player assumed. They brought over the assignment and they work they had completed so far, and we test played the game. We took notes, made minor changes, and played again. We changed other mechanics in the game and played again. We did this at least 20 times. There were a lot of different things we had to work through to inch the game forward. At the end of it, we had a game that was uniquely hers, not a templated box that we just filled with content.

Feature Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash