Saturday, February 7, 2009

As the Yukili Evolve...on planet Newtonia

The semiotic domain of video games is new to me, but I started to get my feet wet this week playing Spore as a class assignment for the graduate class I am taking. I began playing the game in a frustrated state of mind as it took at least 30 minutes to install the game. After installation, Spore downloaded update after update before I could play. I spent the second 30 minutes alternately thinking "What? There has to be more than this. It's too easy," and "Why can't I get my creature to do this? I don't understand that." I did not read the manual at first. Manuals never make sense to me until I have already seen and touched the product. However, as I progressed through the first hour of play and began the second, I picked up the manual and read the sections that pertained to the stage of the game I was in. The game itself has a built in system for leading the player through each new thing. There are many pop ups that display at the appropriate time. The manual simply added a few things I hadn't noticed. And, I have a feeling I'll look at it again as I get to new stages. (Or maybe I should say IF I get to new stages.)

After hour 1

During the second hour of play, I was pulled into the game. It became more difficult. I graduated from the cell stage and became a creature and walked out of the sea.
The progression through the creature stage is taking quite a bit longer than the it did through the cell stage. More thought about what features my creatures need to achieve different tasks is required. It's as if the game was designed to let the players mess around and learn in the cell stage, but makes them get serious in the creature stage. (And, it probably was designed that way.) Once creature stage ends, I will no longer be able to vary its physical features. The next stage is the tribal stage and there will be different concerns. So, it's important to make the right decisions now, because those decisions will affect how my creature survives during the rest of the game.

After hour 2
In his book titled "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy," James Paul Gee talks about the Design Principle on page 41. I can see why this is so important as I begin to play this game. If I become too frustrated with not figuring things out, I may just give up on the game. And if it is too easy, I will be bored and also give up. It's a fine line to walk between the two. And, I think a successful game (and classroom lesson) finds that line.

Playing Spore reminds me of another simulation I've mentioned on the blog before, Oregon Trail. I have a goal and I have to make decisions that affect my success in achieving the goal. One difference is the quality of the simulation. I loved Oregon Trail, but I never did quite figure out what the right combination of food, tools, etc. was in order to make it. It never connected for me. In Spore, I am already learning how to read the clues around me to make the right decisions.

I also started playing World of Goo which is a delightful game. I will post more about it another time. Meanwhile, here are some screen shots and videos from my experience so far in Spore.

Evolving in the Cell Stage from Heather Dowd on Vimeo.

A Siren Call from Heather Dowd on Vimeo.

Eating Meat from Heather Dowd on Vimeo.