SORS - Science & Videogames Are Great Together
It should have been obvious. Keep pushing Dinghy Dog until he bites me, and then I can get some of his hair so I can complete the hangover cure and get Guybrush back to normal size.
I chose Monkey Island 3 (because it’s awesome) but I’m sure everyone has their own example of lateral thinking required whilst gaming.
Most, if not all, video games encourage experimentation and lateral thinking. They have to, because they thrust players into unknown worlds, against unfamiliar opponents (in dog suits) or puzzles, and it’s up to the player to navigate through these to beat the challenges and complete the game.
A more recent example – fighting enemies in Destiny, you look for precious ‘headshots’ to deal more damage against foes. Before long though, you realise some enemies (and bosses) have different weak-spots, and the only way to find these is through trial and error.
It is this inherent mechanic of asking questions, exploring and assessing the game environment that brings video games so close to the realms of science, because at its heart, that is what science is all about.
Every scientific study you read about started with a single question and was then expanded through a series of further questions and experiments before the results could be evaluated and written up.
It is because of these similarities that I believe video games could be a perfect addition to any education system, in any country. This is a topic I could write a lot on, and probably will, but in a future blog post. What I wanted to talk about here was the reasoning behind Science: Gamed’s first game, SORS, and why it is like it is.
A game based on real science, for everyone
What drove me to make SORS was the enticing idea that instead of having to make an ‘educational game’ to include real science, could I make a game that is based on real science, but is targeted at the general games market? Could this game potentially be used in classrooms because it embodies scientific principles, whilst also being enjoyed in homes because it’s also just a fun game anyone can play?
The power of games lies in their ability to create environments that encourage curiosity and, above all, failure. Thus games can introduce players to topics that, in everyday life, they wouldn’t think of exploring (such as, say, Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy ;)). The game then acts as the training wheels as the player feels their way around this topic in an environment that encourages failure and, crucially, allows the player to go at their own pace.
This area of thought is not new, but is still developing. Portal has been used in classroom environments because of the playground it offers and how it can be used to teach physics. Sim-city has been used in the classroom to teach a whole array of topics. These commercial games turned out to be useful in the classroom context. Why? Because they happen to provide a great learning environment that encourages curiosity and failure, backed up with solid mechanics inspired by the real world.
The key principle is that if a game exploring a topic is enjoyable, then that enjoyment could spill over and spur the player on to learn more about the topic, outside of the game. What makes the above commercial games useful in a classroom setting is that they provide an environment that inspires, asks open questions of players and is fun, rather than simply providing facts for them to learn.
I have tried to emulate this feeling with SORS. Although it is by no means as open-ended as Portal or Sim-City, it still encourages the player to ask questions (how can I quickly tell if someone has this disease? Is there a quicker way to enter things in the console? What happens if I side with the hacker?) and does not punish failure too harshly.
Additionally, if the game is fun to play as well, hopefully people who aren’t in education will still play it and get interested in the science it contains, and will go and read more about it out of interest. It’s not just people in education who can be inspired to learn more about the world.
There is a danger that a game trying to achieve this will fall limply into the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ category. Perhaps, but it’s worth a shot, because I believe that ‘fun’ games have a great potential to inspire a desire to learn, in both educational and leisure environments.
Or to put it in the words of Dinghy Dog:
“I’m here to make sure you have fun fun FUN!” (& a gimpy laugh).