Make good choices

I’ve decided to assign all the game-related posts here with the label of ludo. The word ludo is likely related to the words, luden and lusory that you can learn more about from my first-games related post in this series.

Ludo is the name the Danes call the game that Canadians would call Sorry… unless those Canadians were The Dream Warriors, and in that case they would call it Luuuuuudi… lulululu luuuuudi…

Speaking of previous posts, remember when I told you that The Game of the Goose was one of the world’s first board games? Evidently, a thousand years before its known existence, Indians were playing something very similar called Pachisi.

Now Ludo or The Game of the Goose are not very good examples of games that can be used for educational purposes. They are not even particularly interesting games. The only people who like to play these Candyland-like racing games are small children. My theory is that they like it only because they haven’t figured out that no amount of magical thinking is going to change the outcome of the game once it starts. The cards or the dice determines who wins and who loses and there is no way for a parent to (legally) intervene if it is apparent that said small child is not emotionally able to handle losing.

(This is why we buy Hoot Owl Hoot! for our friends’ small children instead of Candyland).

Sid Meier, the (Sarnia-born!) game designer of Sid Meier’s Pirates and Civilization, is thought to have said “a good game is a series of interesting decisions.” Now, I don’t believe Meier believes that interesting decisions is the only characteristic that defines a game, but I do agree with him — games with meaningful and interesting decisions, lead themselves to become be games.

“It’s easier to look at it as what is not an interesting decision,” says the legendary creator of Civilization. If a player always chooses the first from among a set of three choices, it’s probably not an interesting choice; nor is a random selection…

… Interesting decisions are persistent and affect the game for a certain amount of time, as long as the player has enough information to make the decision – when early choices can ruin the game experience down the road, developers need to present them in a fashion appropriate to that…

Systems that allow for branching can be quite powerful. They form the fundamental mechanic behind simple quizzes: if you choose the right answer, you are awarded a point and can move to the next question in the series; and if you choose incorrectly, you are given an opportunity to try again, or to proceed to the next scenario but just without a score.

Quizzes – built from branching scenarios – can be a useful and powerful means to help the reader recall with what have just been read as well as provide formative assessment on their current understanding.

Branching scenarios can also provide enough mechanics to power text dungeon crawlers. Here’s a simple prototype I made using eCampus Ontario’s H5P Toolkit:

Branching systems also make possible the genre of games/writing called IF or Interactive Fiction. I have played several IF games and I believe they exist as this wonderful space in and between game and story and they expand the way we think about and appreciate text in games.

I know that there have been a number of librarians who have created library-related educational experiences using Twine, one of the most accessible IF systems. I hope to join their ranks shortly. It’s time to level up.

I just need to choose to do so.

The Untitled Game of the Goose

No, not that Goose game

I am an aspiring game designer in the same way that so many people are aspiring writers. I have been meaning to design games for several years now but despite my good intentions, I haven’t found a way to sit down and do the work.

I have done some self-reflection on why I fail to start particular projects. My conclusion is that I am prone to suffer from analysis paralysis. For example, despite wanting to grow a vegetable garden for many years, it was only until I signed up with a local gardening subscription program that prescribes all the major decisions for me, that I was able to move from intention to action. 

To overcome this inertia around game-design, I am going to use what has almost always worked for me in the past: I am going to write a series of blog posts on games and try to develop simple prototype to showcase in these posts.

My intention is not to develop one, singular and epic, amazing game but to create many tiny games that will hopefully improve in their design over the course of their creation. Years ago, I remember listening to a game designer once advise, “Your first 99 games are going to be terrible so you are best to get them over with as soon as possible.” While I didn’t make use of this advice, I kept these words tucked away for future use. I love that this game designer’s simple directive is a distillation of the oft-told Ceramics Assignment story.

My goal is not to become a full-time game designer.  What I am hoping for is a better understanding of how I can create well-designed games for play and learning at home, in the classroom, and in the library. 

But where to start?

Well, let’s try the beginning.

What’s the first image that comes to mind from the words, board game?

My children’s mega-game: Candyland + Chutes & Ladders + Snakes & Ladders + Busytown

Chances are, you thought of something that looked like one of the boards above.

Candyland, Sorry, and Snakes and Ladders are all ‘racing games’ that are variations of ‘The Game of the Goose‘ – a game that has been around since the end of the 15th century.

Game of the Goose Board

A version of the game was given as a gift by Francesco I de’ Medici of Florence to King Philip II of Spain sometime between 1574 and 1587. In June 1597 John Wolfe enters the game in the Stationers’ Register, as “the newe and most pleasant game of the goose”.

Game of the Goose from Wikipedia

I have played many, many, many Game of the Goose Game variations with my children when they were young. Yes, these games were boring for me but my children loved playing them. As we played together, I experienced a not-insignificant-amount of pride and joy watching my children slowly mastering the adding and subtracting of numbers. While I will always recommend playing such games with small children over making them do worksheets (*shudder*) there is no getting around the fact that these games are boring to grown ups.

And you might be thinking, how could such a boring game been so well-played for so much of history?  

The answer to that question is, is the same answer to why adults (used to) gather together and play the children’s game of BINGO: gambling

I found that historical tidbit as well as other lovely historical insights into this game from this episode of the podcast, Ludology.

Traditionally, game of the goose games are played with two dice, although they can be designed to be played by flipping a coin, as this game board that I found in Villains Beastro illustrates:

Over the course of my life, I have made quite a few ‘Game of the Goose’ board games. When I was in my elementary school years, many of my independent study projects were a combination of a racing game board and Trivial Pursuit, which was all the rage at the time.

Years ago, I imagined the ‘presentation deck’ as a potential game board. I couldn’t figure out how to turn my own slides into a game, but I did create a game board using Prezi and movement cards from our Candyland set and I pitted half my talk’s audience against each other for prizes.

I will share with you the last Game of the Goose Game I made. I made it some weeks ago when I was suffering from a particularly bad bout of paralysis and thought I would try to solve it with a little game theory. I took a bunch of index cards and cut them up. On each strip, I wrote down something I had been meaning to do – both pleasant (play the video game version of Walden) and less pleasant (spend 25 minutes cleaning the garage) and arranged them on a board. When I found myself spending more time weighing what I should do next than actually doing something, I rolled a die and let fate dictate my next action.

Keeping in the spirit of my self-imposed challenge, I spent part of this morning trying to make a Game the Goose prototype using the H5P Toolkit.

It has proven to be a little bit of a challenge because the framework lacks the ability to easily import a dice mechanic into a presentation format.

While I’m happy that I was able to come up with a movement mechanic for this one-person game, I don’t believe the end-product is a particularly fun experience. Still, here it is for your enjoyment:

Like so many other aspects of our lives, working on the game has felt like three steps forward and two steps back.

But I am trying not to forget that this still means progress.

And most importantly, it means learning.

Choose your quarantine character

Choose your quarantine character:

I have decided that the character that I am going to embody for this quarantine is an advocate of games.

You may notice that I did not use the word gamer to describe this role. The reason why I do not call myself a gamer is because to do so would suggest that the world is made up of gamers and non-gamers. I don’t believe that such a division exists. I believe we are all Homo ludens.

Homo Ludens is a book originally published in Dutch in 1938 by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga. It discusses the importance of the play element of culture and society. Huizinga suggests that play is primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture. The Latin word ludens is the present active participle of the verb ludere, which itself is cognate with the noun ludus. Ludus has no direct equivalent in English, as it simultaneously refers to sport, play, school, and practice.

Homo Ludens from Wikipedia, April 10, 2020

Let’s re-read that last line again: … Ludus has no direct equivalent in English, as it simultaneously refers to sport, play, and … school??

When I first read the above, the inclusion of school in that list threw me. But then it reminded me of something that I read some time ago from Marshall McLuhan’s work, The City As Classroom (1977):

The book begins with this:

I would like to bring your attention to this directive: “Look up the root meaning of the word ‘school’ (schola < Greek σχολή).

The root word of schola is… leisure.

Huh.

I used to be adamant that one could not make a proper educational game to be played in a school or library setting because such games would be mandatory and I abided by the definition of games by Bernard Suits:

Playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles

Lusory attitude from Wikipedia, April 10, 2020

As James P. Carse in Finite and Infinite Games puts it, “Whoever must play cannot play”.

I have done a lot of reading about games since I took this particular stance. And in that time, I have become much more open to the educational potential of not only games but toys, puzzles, and above all, play.

“We should keep in mind that the Greek word for education, “paideia” is rooted in the words for child and play: “pais” and “paidia“… Huh. How about that.

As I try to best embody the character of as advocate of games, I hope to share what I have learn as I work and play from home.

I think it would be most apt, to start by sharing the slides and notes of this work of Sebastian Deterding, called Paideia as Paidia.

Just a heads up – there is a lot of Greek philosophy in this presentation.

But there is also this: