Reading Reflection #3
I felt that Henriksen’s paper on Dimensions in Educational Game-Design to be highly interesting and relatable. To be honest, I avoid educational games like a plague as I feel that they are terrible games and they are not even very effective in teaching anything. For this reflection, I will be talking about Transportation Tycoon Deluxe (TTD), a game I played when I was much younger.
The game is essentially a construction-type game. Set in a randomly generated landscape, players learn, by themselves, to build transportation networks in order to facilitate trade and earn money to become a transportation tycoon. I believe it was meant more as a ludic simulation of real transportation planning but I believe it holds, by nature, high educational value. I will discuss the game using the 8 dimensions that Henriksen mentions.
Content – Participation
The content in TTD is quite minimal. Much of the content that can be learnt has to be experienced through participation in the game. Examples of such content are, Pros&Cons of various transportation channels, Economic progress via globalisation, Management of competition and adversity, etc. It is difficult to list out all the lessons that can be learnt as many of these lessons are learnt subtly. It is unlike typical education where students are provided with information and are expected to remember and understand. In the case of TTD, players will learn through practise, trial and error, how they can manage and overcome the challenges of the game, which become content/knowledge that is applicable to reality. It is like learning a skill through a series of tutorial challenges, where students would pick up the skill along the way, without paying very close attention into the content.
The elements Malone & Lepper present are also relevant. In TTD, Challenge, Curiosity, Control and Fantasy are all very well considered and developed into the game. This can be seen in the open-ended nature of the game which has a slowly increasing difficulty rating.
In this respect, I believe that TTD is strong on content but it relies heavily on participation in the game in order for the content to be accessed and learnt well.
Narratology vs Ludology
In TTD, it is very clear that narration is low as the game is set in a simulation environment with little to no tutorial segment at all. It is very true, what Henriksen mentions that the ludological approach, when applied in TTD, allows participants to experience and explore social/technological/economical processes. Through the gameplay mechanics and balance, players are able to slowly see patterns of actions that would serve to improve the way they play, which in turn, teach them what should be done. Much of this learning is heavily dependent on process. Even following online tutorials and guides, one cannot be good at the game and fully understand the concepts and implications of the game until one practises on it.
Henriksen suggests that narratology and ludology be combined together in order to better facilitate learning. In the case of TTD, I agree that this would help motivate players to play the game further. For such an open-ended game, players may find that they lack the motivation to continue at some points due to the lack of a plot and an end. On the other hand, perhaps the current way TTD is works as well, as it allows players to explore and imagine their own narratives. In the interest of education and learning, I think that adding some narrative would be better.
Endogenous vs Exogenous incentive
TTD uses endogenous incentives. It requires no exploration into the outside world and all the learning occurs in-game. The game design is strong enough to accurately simulate real life transportation considerations such that the player can learn about those without needing to rely on external elements. However, it would be interesting to see how one could incorporate exogenous incentives into TTD. Transportation is all around us. In Singapore, we often complain about our transportation system. It would be interesting to see if we could implement a TTD that augments our real world, such that we can simulate a replanning of the Singapore transportation network. With such an implementation, a player could see how his plans and designs would have a better or worse effect on the nation’s transport infrastructure. By hooking this up with LTA, perhaps there may be a possibility to crowd-source the planning of infrastructure through the use of strong simulative games.
Construction-based learning vs Railroading
TTD is a construction-based learning game as it gives the player a high level of control. It requires that the player create their own goals and objectives and find out their own ways to solve the problems they face in the game. Each player makes his own interpretation of how to get better at the game as they construct their own strategies which can be very distinct from each other. It is completely opposite from the railroading approach type of games as TTD does not even provide any tutorial or narrative to the game. Because of this, the player has a very high level of freedom in the way he plays his game. It is not to say that with a very high level of freedom, one cannot learn the intended content from the game. In fact, there is not definite or correct answer in transportation planning. The exploration of different possible ways is actually a good thing in this game as it allows the player to be creative in solving the problems faced in the game. The only problem that arises is if the player is able to find some sort of exploit in the game that allows him to “cheat” and become very successful in the game, in a way that is completely unfeasible in reality.
Analogue vs Digital
Due to the accurate simulative nature of the game, it is inevitable that the game be digital. What Henriksen suggests, combining digital and analogue could work, in the sense that TTD could incorporate a multiplayer type system where players can look at their designs and critique them to explore different possibilities. However, it would still need to be digital-based in order to maintain its biggest feature of being an accurate and good simulator.
Ingame vs Offgame learning
Much of TTD’s learning takes place in-game as players learn to manage challenges within. Off-game learning could be incorporated if there exists some sort of community or classroom where the player is able to reflect and communicate what they learn, while also having mentors/facilitators give them tips and explanations to improving their game while they play.
Simplicity vs Complexity
I agree with Henriksen in his view that complexity should be viewed as a tool for meeting desired educational objectives. In a game like TTD, where it tries to be an accurate simulation of reality, a high level of complexity would make it more realistic. This complexity should arise simply because planning for transport is dependent on countless factors. This indeed makes the game very difficult at some points, which is what makes most casual players stop. However, this would drive the idea that planning transportation is no simple feat, and those that endure and face success would truly have learnt the right knowledge and skills to excel at transportation planning.
Reflection vs Flow
The game is able to maintain a good flow as the adaptive difficulty scales appropriately at the start. At the later phases, the player will begin to find that the old methods they used would no longer work and they need to try something else. I believe this state of sudden spike in difficulty forces players to pause the game and inspect their plan more, resulting in a phase of reflection. This reflection would then allow them to realize certain things that they can do and work towards a better plan. What I described is merely one way a player could play. Some less reflective player could instead choose to use brute force and trial and error in order to improve and learn. Both are possible. But I think that the game does maintain a good balance between creating opportunities for reflection and maintaining flow.