Playing Games

I didn’t post to the blog yesterday, after a “run” of several weeks. I imagine the universe will now fall in on itself. I did begin wondering though – if the kind of feature that announces “woot – you’ve posted 12 days in a row” was designed by psychologists.

I remember reading an article many years ago that lifted the lid on the most successful video games, and boiled them down to their core drivers – the psychological failings they exploit. Pacman, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Tetris all exploit the need to tidy things up – to make order out of chaos. Where it becomes interesting is watching how different people play the same game, and deal with the various disasters that may be thrown at them.

All of the time management games where you take orders, prepare food, and deliver it to customers exploit similar vulnerabilities, and add on the need to be seen by the imaginary bosses and customers to be doing a good job – in increasibly impossible circumstances.

I don’t play those games, because they seem like nothing more than dressed up “stress simulators”. I can’t see the fun in them. That being said, I have sunk untold hours into games like Kerbal Space Programme, where the world models physics, and you have to work within it’s constraints to achieve mostly arbitrary, personal aims – like landing a moon lander, and getting the crew back in one piece. There is no false timeline involved – it’s about planning, invention, knowledge, judgement, and a little bit of coordination. And yes, I have landed Kerbals on the “Mun”, and got them back in one piece.

Seriously – if you have anything to do with education, you need to show your class Kerbal Space Programme. It’s fun. I saw a chart on the online webcomic XKCD, where the author illustrated his knowledge of orbital mechanics – which remained fairly low all the way through college studying astrophysics, but then shot off the chart within days of starting to launch hapless little Kerbals into orbit.

You get to see their little faces via webcam from the pretend space capsules. You become invested in them. One night, we had a huge “houston we have a problem” style accident half-way to the moon, and I stayed up until 2am building a second rocket to go on a rescue mission. I slept well that night, secure in the knowledge that we had left no imaginary person behind.