16 October 2010

16th October

Does these matter outside the games?

One question has been thrown around the gaming industry for decades, it has been asked to presidents of companies, critics and developers as well as publishers, we often see forums mentioning this and professional gaming magazines but it's actually never been answered fully because a simple question of;
“What makes a good game?”
has so many links and aspects to it that you can't really answer “It must be fun” and go to lunch. So many people have different views on what makes good games. What made the Halo series good? Bioshock? Pyschonauts? Batman Arkham Asylum? Tomb Raider or Oblivion? We can all probably say one thing that each of the game can add to make it better or change something to improve it; whether it was to keep a character in the story longer or to have less boss battles so close together. I believe that a game appeals much more to a player when they finished the game and feel like they've got something from it. Whether that is inspiration, or knowledge about a topic.

Take for instance Tomb Raider Legend, the storyline was loosely based around the King Arthur myth, but I wouldn't be surprised if a percentage of the fans looked up on Wikipedia something about the myth afterwards, I sure know I did. What was rather awesome was up to that point in 2006, the Tomb Raider games didn't really focus on real myths or Legends (apart from parts of Tomb Raider 4, and Atlantis from TR1). And if you didn't look up the Arthurian Myth, perhaps you read up about the Norse Myth from Underworld, or Xolotl from Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.

Perhaps knowing myths doesn't really benefit people, and perhaps you might think that stories that contain a magical wizard moving stones to Salisbury or powerful enchanted swords at the bottom of lakes might not be for you, but there is lots you can take from games. Returning to Tomb Raider, I know people who really enjoy learning about myths now, I know fans that have been on motorcycle courses, firearm training, a new interest in archaeology, and getting more interested in exercise. It's these parts of games that makes it more awesome. Whether we know it or not we've all at least learnt something from the games that we've played. Recently I've been on a video games Marathon of sorts, in the past two months I've played three Sherlock Holmes games, a Zelda game, three Nancy Drew games, Physconauts, Mini Ninjas, Batman Arkham Asylum, two Tomb Raider games, plus Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (of course). I've found that the Sherlock Holmes taught me more Chemistry then my actual teacher (and that's a scary thought) and the Nancy Drew games incorporate real life facts into the puzzles of the game particularly in The Haunting of Castle Malloy. If we look at the last four Crystal Dynamics games the main storyline has been focused on actual myths, Arthurian, Norse, Atlantis and Xolotl, strangely enough in a recent exam that I had to take for English was on the Arthurian myth as part of the comprehension (and strangely enough Sherlock Holmes was the previous year ) which was good news for my grades.

In Tomb Raider you can argue that beyond the myths it isn't an educational game, and you're right, it didn't start out to be an education game, if it was focused on being purely educational the wolves would be stopping her in Peru to ask her a mathematical questions. But is the series lacking the possibility to be educational? Certainly not. People learn better when they are doing something they love. We all know TR is awesome, you wouldn't be here if you didn't think so and we can all probably say something which the series inspired us to do which has effected our lives; I picked History as a GCSE and A level, as well as writing for a few magazine, I've got a new interest for myths, plus it influenced my choice of where I did my work experience. If games benefit in real life it really depends on how much appeals to you.

At this point some of you might be reading this not understanding how Tomb Raider or games can teach us. Most educational games involve a goal that one of the levels promises you teach you about and forces you not to leave until you've learnt something, the games that I'm focusing on aren't like this. In the learning games the message that you're meant to understand in each level is thrown in your face every few seconds, whereas with the games in this article it's ones that everyone enjoys where we learn some things that might make us want to learn more about. The problem I find with education is that for some of us we've spent fourteen years sitting in a freezing cold classroom trying to focus on another challenging topic that the teacher is trying to explain by handing you text books and expecting a full written essay by the end of the hour, on pain of death. Students understand what learning is, they also don't want games that stress this point especially since games should be a way to escape the world. I don't believe these “educational” games are actual games there're more like...virtual torture simulators, something that you would expect in a modern day Amnesia:The Dark Descent. So how can game developers make games entertaining and still interesting? Having real life facts contribute how to solve some puzzles, or have text on during loading screens. I think the latest Tomb Raider games are ahead of a lot of gaming series on this topic, from reference shots to storyline ideas, character names (like Xolotl) to the different weapons Lara can use, they all refer to different aspects of Mythology.

To wrap up this article I want to draw you're attention to an example, and I'm going to use the newly released Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and more specifically to Xolotl mainly because there is something really cool that I found out. Xolotl is associated with lightening, death and is the God of Fire and bad luck. Remind you of bits of the game? It should do. Lara was on her way to find the Mirror of Smoke but she was ambushed by a local crime lord Vasco (Bad Luck). Vasco accidentally releases the evil God and is killed shortly after. In the cut scenes Xolotl can be seen causing lightening to suddenly emerge (lightening connection). There are also several puzzles involving fire including the “Xolotl Fire Trap” and the level; “Fiery Depth”. And the idea that he wanted to plunge the world into complete darkness might suggest slightly that he was a bit obsessed with death after being imprisoned in the Mirror for thousands of years. Xolotl also aided the dead on their journey to Mitctlan (An underworld in several myths) which links nicely back to Tomb Raider Underworld and the idea that all myths are linked in some way, and it's really interesting to see in which ways they link. Try it yourself if you've got a spare few minutes.

I've also found two videos that relate to video games and learning, the first is from the creators of ExtraCreditz before they got a contract with the Escapist CLICK HERE
And the other is part of a gaming conference that Ian Livingston (CEO of Eidos) presented about education and video games, CLICK HERE.


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