Monday, September 27, 2010

Emergence and the student learning process and impala rape

The topic of this week's practical is emergent game design or gameplay. Before I continue, it's pertinent that I provide a small insight into the carefully constructed guidelines students follow when immersed in a learning environment. A typical course of action is as follows:

1. Enter room.

2. Select terminal. This selection may be based on having previously used a particular terminal and is therefore habitual, or it may be that students have marked that terminal with a pheromonal discharge, thus alerting other students that this terminal is claimed; approach it your peril.

3. Engage in discussion with nearby students or withdraw all contact. Either is acceptable and in some cases preferable depending on hygiene levels.

4. Log into Facebook. This will occupy anywhere from 10 to 100% of a student's allocated prac time and is a vital component of the learning experience. If they have missed an important event, such as a friend of relative expressing their boredom or the commemoration of a particularly satisfying shit, the student will express hostility, so it's best to allow them adequate face(book) time.

5. Maybe open the practical content, then ignore it, then maybe play a game. This last step is composed of several sub steps that are interchangeable and may or may not occur over the course of a single class (though the ignoring step is considered mandatory).

Right, so there's a short overview of the process. This article will focus on the final step (or substep... dubstep?), 'maybe play a game' and the subsequent and unexpected adherence to the practical content.

Someone mentioned Minecraft. Someone else opened the browser version of Minecraft and the emergent possibilities, er, emerged. Minecraft is effectively a sandbox, sometimes literally, as you destroy then shape the landscape as you see fit. Within the constraints imposed upon the player (the base unit is a block of a fixed size and each structure can be built from these fixed size blocks only), the range of possible outcomes (architecturally at least) is vast.

Within 15 or 20 minutes, houses had been built, caves excavated, mines plundered and impalas raped. Despite that bit about the impalas, it was clear that an opportunity to point out the key role emergence played in an immersive player experience had arrived. Sadly, when the choice to focus attention on either Minecraft or myself had to be made, I didn't stand a chance. Still, I think my point, ignored though it may have been, rang true. Emergence is key to a cult following; provide players with the tools and they will provide the masterworks, ensuring the game you create will live on past relegation to the bargain bin.

That was terribly disjointed but that's what you get (thanks Paramore) when you write an article over a month stretch.

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