I love video games. Who doesn’t, right? Well, some people, but they’re not technically human anyways.
I recently purchased the Squier Stratocaster by Fender that acts as a controller for Rock Band 3. This is the world’s first real guitar/game controller. Unlike the previous plastic Rock Band/Guitar Hero guitars, this thing is an actual factual guitar that you can plug into an amp with and jam, as well as use as a game controller for Rock Band 3. The guitar has sensors built into the frets that sense where your fingers are pressing down, as well as which strings you are strumming with your strumming hand.
The reason I spent my hard earned cash on this art and science amalgam is that I wanted to teach myself guitar. I correctly assumed that I would be able to use the fact that I love video games to trick my brain into learning a difficult task. Rock Band 3 has so called Pro Guitar Tutorial mode which slowly weans you onto the instrument with increasingly difficult fingering exercises (hold the sex jokes, I’m not talking about summer camp). These exercises are made, like all good video games, to provide the perfect level of challenge and reward so you gradually improve your skill without becoming overly frustrated.
The ultimate goal is to be able to play the songs in the game on expert mode, which is exactly what one would play in order to play the real guitar part in that song! Pretty sweet! I’ve only been playing for a few weeks now, but I am already able to play most of the basic chords and I’m learning some advanced ones as well.
It has previously been discussed on this blog how video games can be used as a tool to teach us new things. This is just one example of how such an idea can be pulled off so well.
My illustrious video game career came to an abrupt halt, or at least a slow C Walk, a year or so ago when a temp agency found me a J-O-B that I D-O-N-‘-T L-I-K-E V-E-R-Y M-U-C-H. Though I am still a man of the people, I don’t really play. How did I go from Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt to Halo 2 and Warcraft 3 Frozen Throne to nil? The same way alcoholics shake their crippling addiction: another addiction; but this time it would not be Jesus who freed me from the controllers’ reins (metaphor in obsolescence due to technological advancement), but rather information (Dan Rather’s information?). I reasoned that while there are spillover benefits in that I can improve hand-eye coordination and communication skills whilst gaming, it is not often, while I am outside the house, that I employ the word “N*#(@%!!!!” 1,343 times per hour while concomitantly twiddling my fingers between my legs. No, indeed, those two things happen at different times.
The infotainment on the many internets as well as books that I have trouble finishing has appeased the region of the human brain responsible for the desire to “Level Up.” I have effectively tricked my brain into thinking that the real world is a game (perhaps a boring one like The Sims) and that by knowing things I have some kind of “Power Up” that those other newbies or noobs don’t, excuse me, n00000000000000bs. While I still have strong and at times desperate cravings for mana, I deem my personality too addictive for even casual or Wii-like gaming (though I have dabbled in Gears of War, Halo 3, Mario Kart, and some internet crap i.e. addictinggames.com).
So it may be my out-of-the-loop-ness that made it interesting to talk to another gamer yesterday: Amongst the disbursing hoards of the Santa Barbara Beer Festival his smart dressing school teacher girlfriend invited me to attend an afternoon house party (kind of like a soiree, only earlier). I should add, the fact that I had a neon pink, “Designated Driver” wristband on did not keep me from stumbling on my way out.
Anyways, beyond sharing with me all his projects and knowledge in the way of home brewing as others were watching inning # 5 of fucking 13 of the Angels/ Yankees series game 2, he showed me a couple games which require nothing to play initially but you can gain a competitive advantage by shelling out some cash. Again, someone else learned how to take advantage of the “Level Up” part of the brain. A very interesting monetization strategy and the games are not half bad. In fact, said Beer Brewing Gamer explained to me that he dropped about 75 bucks between the two games and likewise praised their technique.
Just remember, “The key to victory is the element, of surprise…SURPRISE!” (www.gotfuturama.com/Multimedia/EpisodeSounds/2ACV17/Sound1.mp3)
Battlefield Heroes: Play with a client in your web browser, 3 different unit classes, and fun cartoony graphics. The nice thing about this one is that you can be everything that the elite players are without paying, however, paying money can let you do things like leveling up faster.
BattleForge: This one merges RTS (Real Time Strategy) with a card collecting component. The Beer Brewing Gamer, who, I am sure, would rather be referred to as a Chemical Engineer, said the Magic the Gathering player in him, made him play this one. I didn’t realize they were still gathering. He said that to be elite in this one, you need to shell out money; the most expensive card goes for a whopping 23 bucks. If that sounds like a lot I am sure that the US Treasury has a bailout plan for troubled virtual mythical armies.
Another little delight I found independently is “Jump Gear 2.” With a flash player and you can design your own levels. Microsoft/Yahoo it! (it’s gonna catch on)
Finally, is this educational? I cannot tell, Molecula.
Today, a conversation I had with a comrade (22) at my work ignited me to ponder a career path which I imagine, if followed, could lead someone like me, in fact, me to an Arnold Schwarzenegger style c[u]ming all the time lifestyle. All of sudden I was metaphorically grabbed in the lower cajones region and forced to dwell on all that time and money I spent on Education and Video Games (not after turning to the side to cough, embarrassingly hoping that my semi might pass for a generous flaccid).
Bien sûr, this brain wave doesn’t involve a spin-off from something we were nominally employed to do, no siree to The Bobs! (See what I did there: Olde timey saying mixed with an Office Space reference! … I really have to get some of my lower ribs removed.) My work is at a large evil medical device company which makes large evil life saving products but we were scheming up large evil ‘serious games’ to combat the void left by the large evil K-12 education system. That includes you Kindergarten Cop! Dective John Kimble played by a cu[nn]ing Arnold Scwharzenegger and even your teacher-turned-cop partner Phoebe O’Hara.
Yes, that ‘Serious Game’ term is new to me too, I came (hehe) across it while I was researching: the barriers to entry…, more positive; the lay of the land…, more directed: my potential mode of attack into the video game industry. Speaking to my fellow chronically-under-stimulated-Compañero-de-Trabajo, I brought up my vision of a video game that is equal parts entertainment and equal parts science information, I was thinking knowledge of the human brain (maybe the immune system?). Not only was he interested but he was, as was I, practically foaming at the mouth at the thought of how stimulating that would be.
Understandably, this might not sound that novel but think about the current tradeoff curve for the industry, go ahead, plot “y=-ln(x)+2″and imagine the y-axis is the Learning Quotient and the x-axis is the Gameplay. It’s steep! Can you think back and verify this? You can either learn or have fun, but the learning will be about as fun as your class in high school, minus being high. Notice that if you take the xmax and ymax out to 10 you can see the curve fall below 0. They are so fun people get dumber from the games! Wohoo!! Here I come Calypso!
So much precious youthful brainpower goes into learning facts like, “The largest Tauren tribe, the Bloodhoof Tauren, reside on the top of a cluster of tall mesas known as Thunder Bluff, in the grasslands of Mulgore.” That’s fucking great! Thank you Blizzard Entertainment! Maybe Michael Jackson and I will go vist them one day!! (Your mom’s “too soon.”) To be clear, I don’t condemn the exercise of creating fantastic fictional universes, but as a man of science I hate to see a good mind maneuver its host into a career at Best Buy or worse yet a Psychology Major because, “OMG! I love it, and I it’s really great because I feel like, you could do anything with it.” Building that deeper intuitive understanding is what so many people spend so much time studying to get, and if you could just put that in the form of a video game (which is a natural fit as I see it) … or a supository…
As I now understand it, the role that me and homeslice from work were pinning for is the Game Designer (look at the Roles).
Anyways, I would not divulge how I would start to make my dream a reality and my reality a dream (as Arnold [Cumings] did) but a big part of my point (hehehe) is that it is not everyday you find a job that simultaneously calls upon all of your aptitudes, not if you have a lot of them, and if you hold them dear, especially the creative and the spatial ones. Take now (as I write this), for instance: I get to be random and self referential. This is fun. I get to connect with people but still work independently, use logical reasoning skills, call upon my memory. Awesome. But is my right hemisphere really being utilized? That big ganglia might try to make himself known as I add colons and parenthesis and brackets and italics; as I insert hyperlinks and graphs; banging on the inner walls of my skull like Trick or Treaters locked in the basement. But let’s face it kids, at the moment, there’s no getting out.
I want to make a game that pushes the trade-off curve to the right and puts it right at the 50-50 point, where y=x. Not to say that there are no games like this in existence. Par exemple:
This one is not that much learning and not that much fun but it’s equal parts both.Granted, it’s only learning if you believe in that evolution stuff.
The kind of stuff people in that industry know is not easy, “most job solicitations for game programmers specify a bachelor’s degree (in mathematics, physics, computer science, ‘or equivalent experience’).” I’m taking a class right now, Mathematical Methods of Theoretical Physics and that shit is not to be taken lightly, even by an Asian. But a game designer does not need to be a programmer. I have no idea what it would take to get a hold of those kind of resources but I relish the thought. (Hmmmm, r-r-relish, aghrghghhhhh).