Have just got myself a copy of Nick Montfort’s “Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction”. He’s analysing interactive fiction – sometimes text adventures, sometimes not – from a narratology point of view, which is quite interesting. Especially the first bit, where he’s talking about the different ‘voices’ in the fiction…. makes me think of the role of the chorus in Greek tragedy… Speaking of things classical, I’ll be speaking at the Classical Association of Canada Annual General Meeting at Memorial University in Newfoundland in a few months – here’s my abstract:
“Why Read About Rome When You Can Build It?” Simulations, Gaming, and Classics
It is no coincidence that a huge number of commercial game titles feature Classical themes. People enjoy these games not least because they are entranced by the subject matter. This is an opportunity for us as educators, but we have to reflect carefully on how to take the advantage. Done well, the incorporation of games can lead to increased levels of literacy, domain knowledge, and critical thinking skills. For distance students in particular, online simulations and games provide a level of immersion that has been demonstrated to improve their learning to a level above that of traditional classroom experiences.
However, sometimes, games and simulations used in a learning context achieve precious little in terms of the resources invested. In this paper therefore I suggest a rationale and methodology for embedding simulations and games in the teaching of Classics. I will also present the design for a prototype of a text-based adventure game written in Latin, for improving students’ ability to read the ancient language naturally.”
My case study regarding the use of Civilization IV in my distance education class at the University of Manitoba has been published by the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for History, Classics, and Archaeology.
A lot of the things you’ll read about Civilization concern its conception of history, progress, its meta-narrative and so on. I just came across a nice piece by Dianne Carr at the University of London that is rather refreshing in its approach, and reminds us that what players get out of a game is not necessarily what its creators put into it…. the piece is called ‘The Trouble with Civilization‘ and I’ve taken the liberty of copying its opening below… you should read it!
“What follows is an exploration of meaning, information and pleasure in Sid Meier’s Civilization III. Various theorists, including Poblocki (2002) and Douglas (2002) have argued that games within the Civilization series perpetrate a reductive folk-history that positions Western-style technologically orientated progress as ‘the only logical development’ for humanity (Poblocki 2002: 168). Such critiques are warranted, but they share a tendency to focus on the game’s rules and pseudo-historical guise, at the expense of its more playful, less quantifiable aspects. The intention here is not to redeem Civilization or save it from its critics. The point is, rather, to examine aspects of the criticism that has calcified around the series to date, and question some of the conclusions that have been drawn.
Given the complexity and volume of information in this game, and the fact that games are played, and re-played, it would be quixotic to pursue a single, definitive account of the meaning of Civ III….”
Latest from the Escapist Magazine is about immersion and getting lost in the game…
“Sometimes, it’s simpler, perhaps even cruder, elements of a game design that really make the difference and fool you into thinking it’s real”
…a sense that any decent game with educational aspirations should try to achieve…
Text adventures have completely dropped off the radar, as far as gaming is concerned, although there is still a hard-core of devotees out there. I always liked playing them as a kid, and as part of my research for the Centre for Digital Humanities at Brock, I’ve been looking at them again as teaching tools.
I now have two versions of the Interactive Fiction aka Text Adventure project in two different classroom settings. One is as a club activity at lunch time at a local high school, the other is formally integrated into a split grade 4/5 classroom. Both have been interesting experiments so far…
I wanted to see if the process of building a game could help foster historical literacy amongst high school students – more on that later. Another teacher I know (the 4/5 teacher) became interested and wanted to see what would happen in her classroom – her students have reading and writing problems, and she hoped that the making and playing a text adventure would help improve her class’s general literacy.
She told her students “we’re going to be making a video game” – to great cheers – “and it’s going to be a text adventure” – to great moans. But as it turned out, her students had no idea what a text adventure was. She has a smart board, a digital white board, installed in her classroom. She loaded up the small demonstration game that we had built and put it on the smart board. Then, as the class read the text aloud, she selected students to go up to the board and type in commands. The kids love going to the smart board, so the chance to do so is a very useful management technique for her. As different kids tried to put in commands, others in the class would offer suggestions, or corrections, to the kid at the board. Pretty soon, the whole class was deeply engrossed in the game.
Today she told the class that the game they would be making would be for a more junior class. This has the advantage that her kids get to feel important – they’re helping the teachers teach the smaller kids! – and it allows her weaker kids not to be embarrassed by their own level of literacy since as a class they’re aiming at the younger kids (and so weaker readers/writers). The kids are mapping out rooms (the adventure will take place in their school), they’re creating characters, and they’re planning out puzzles. The software for making the game is itself probably too advanced for these kids, so we will either take their ideas and put them into the game editor, or else work intensely with some of the more advanced kids (so that they get to stretch their minds too!).
The Escapist Magazine has a great issue devoted to serious games, what they are, and how they are being used to create change in the world…. check it out!
There is a saying about eyes being bigger than dinner plates. Roma Victor perhaps suffers from this. Ostensibly, this is supposed to be a multi player online world that simulates the world of Rome ca AD180. Iron age Europe. An historical MMORPG. Imagine the possibilities!
…sigh. Once you figure out how to download the game (and pay the fee), it takes forever to get setup. It is not an all intuitive what you’re supposed to do – page after page in the community forums on the site are variants of the message, ‘how do I start this game?’ – and then, once you’ve accomplished that, it’s nigh on impossible to get logged into the world. I first downloaded the game back in October, and I still have yet to get inside. I’m trying right this instant, and there were over 3500 updates to download…. perhaps these updates resolve the numerous glitches.
Meanwhile, back in Caesar IV, Tilted Mill have released some bug fixes which means I can now play THAT game. Aside from some anachronisms, this is actually a rather good simulation of Roman urban dynamics. I can imagine using certain missions from this game in my classes – pairing up game play with a study of Pliny’s letters to Trajan about the governance of his province….
“Roma-Victor Patcher v2.2.1, 918 updates pending…”
I used to love text adventures as a kid. I remember playing ‘Adventure’ for hours… I find it amazing that text adventures haven’t made a bit of a comeback these days. My students send text messages to each other for hours (even when they sit beside each other) – surely this is a ripe market? And indeed, there are companies out there making adventures for Ipods etc..
So, in conjunction with the local high school and its archaeology club (how that club came to be is another story, for another time), I’m going to see whether creating an historically-based text adventure can be a way of creating historical literacy. The hand-out I’m giving the kids is below:
-A lonely steam whistle punctures the darkness. You turn, and watch the Prince Arthur slip her moorings and steam away into the night along the Ottawa River. You sigh to yourself. It has been a long journey from Montreal and the offices of the Canadian Illustrated News.
“Go to the wilderness, young Henry! See what is happening in the Dominion’s newest Towns and Cities!” said your editor.
An easy assignment…. But on board the steamer from Union Village to Portage, you began to hear rumours about this village, unpleasant eddies beneath its placid exterior.
“Well Henry, time to see if there are any lodgings to be had in this town” you say to yourself, as the rain begins to pelt down.
A flash of lightening reveals another lonely figure standing on the wharf. It looks to be a girl of about 12. And she’s crying.
You can see a building by the water’s edge.
This project is to create a work of interactive fiction, also known as a text adventure. Before decent graphics, text adventures were one of the best selling games in the industry. They are now enjoying a renaissance, since they can be played on Ipods and other PDAs and handheld computers that can’t handle complex graphics. ‘Text adventure’ does not mean that there are not any graphics or sounds. However, they are used generally to support the action of the text, by providing visual or auditory clues to solve the puzzles of the game.
I’m inviting the PHAC to become involved in this project. I will provide a game generator to help you make the game. There is a very real possibility that we will publish this game on the internet – so if you can make a good game, you will be able to put this on your resume, and it might open up some career or educational doors for you (Algonquin has a three year game design programme, for instance). And it just might be fun too!
What are the parameters?
- The game will begin with the paragraph above (‘A lonely steam whistle…”)
- It will be set in Portage sometime in the last quarter of the 19th century. There are maps and photographs of Portage in the Archives that you will need to consult to construct the game.
- You will need to develop the locations, the tasks (puzzles), the characters, and the descriptions of the people, places, things : the story
- You will need to plan out all of the locations, and use storyboards to work out what will happen in the game
Game development companies usually divide these tasks up, with one or two people providing overall guidance and control. I will act as the producer, providing you with the resources you need to build the game. Other roles are:
· Project Manager: keeps everybody on schedule, and on task
· Level designer: creates the map of the ‘world’
· Lead Writer: creates the overall story
· Writer: writes the descriptions and texts
· Puzzle designer: works with the lead designer and the level designer to work out what the puzzles are, where they will be, and how they are solved
· Programmer: puts the game together so that it may be played.
In this case, the programming will not be from scratch, but rather will use a game editor called ADRIFT. I will provide training in how to use this program.