Sword and Sworcery

I loved this game.  It exemplifies for me the strip-bare-and-put-back-with-deliberation-only-what-is-essential-to-the-experience principle.  In one sense, the game is no more than a traditional quest game.  You move your character around an imaginary landscape, find things, solve puzzles, slay a beast or two and eventually triumph.  Sorta. What is different is how the action—you know, finding things, slaying, etc—is actually secondary.  Yes, the quest drives you and the game forward, but the quest itself only creates momentum, it is not the core of the experience.  This game inverts the typical relationship between game mechanic and aesthetics.  Normally, the aesthetics are window-dressing on the mechanic, which is the heart of the game.  In this case, the aesthetic experience is primary and the mechanic is merely a way to move you through that experience.  Several observations on the design of this game:

1. Discovery.  When you start, there no real explanation of the game.  A couple of ‘tap here’ instructions and that’s about it.  You don’t get any background story, you don’t have to make any decisions, you don’t have to explore and understand a bunch of pop-ups, inventories, levels.  You don’t even know if your character is a male or female or what your mission is.  Your learning about the game occurs entirely through doing, exemplifying the volley ball principle.  Learning about the game, rather than being a burdensome preliminary to playing it, becomes an integral part of the game.  Who am I? Why am I wandering around here? What am I supposed to do?  The strange narrator, far from explaining anything, creates a sense of mystery, suggesting you, the player, are somehow the subject of an experiment.  A quiescent existential angst pervades the entire game, charmingly.

2. Game minimalism.  The game is spare.  Much of the accoutrement associated with quest games is eliminated or greatly reduced.  There are no level based special powers, or special magical objects. Although you do pick up objects, this mechanic is only rudimentary.  There is no complicated inventory, you don’t go to shops to barter, you don’t have to acquire particular sets of things.  There is no complicated inventory of weapons or tools. The objects in this game (basically a key here or there) are intermediate missions, serving only to create momentum in the game; that is, to keep you moving through the landscape, to keep the experience going.

3. Interface minimalism.  Other than the menu screen, which is itself spare and evocative and sets the tone, there are only three view modes within the game.  First, the primary virtual world screens, in landscape mode.  By removing all clutter, entirely, the screen shots are like paintings.  There are no meters, icons, text, information/status display. Nothing: just a simple, and often beautiful, image.  The second view is battle mode, entered by turning the iPad to portrait orientation.  Here again, simplicity wins out.  There is only you, two buttons (shield and sword), whatever creature you are obligated to battle and, in the upper left represented by a row of stars, your life level.  Finally, there is the dialogue view, accessed by tapping a tiny, single triangle in the upper right corner of the primary view.  These views are not overlapping, do not interfere with each other.  Each distills only the essential elements, creating for the designer a unique canvas against which to deliberately create the core experience associated with that view.

4. Using aesthetics to create an emotional landscape.  Most quest games are primarily cognitive: it’s about figuring stuff out, essentially a big puzzle.  Find this, solve that, etc.  These games are fun, but don’t typically provide much in the way of a range of emotional experience.  In most quest games, the visuals create a world but not a feeling.  And in most quest games, the audio has the same cheap, action-heightening effect as cheesey soundtracks from 1940s horror films.  Or worse, incredibly monotonous, repetitive, bubbly electronic music that merely fills aural space.  In Sword and Sworcery, the aesthetics take center stage.  Though using only simple bit graphics, screen shot after screen shot is simply gorgeous.  I often just stopped playing and gazed at the screen image.  I often happened upon a screen that I wanted to show other people: isn’t that beautiful?  And like good art, the images are evocative.  They provoke feelings of desolation, loneliness, wonder, peacefulness, dread.  The soundtrack, conceived before the game and the actual inspiration for the game, has an epic quality, again ranging in emotion from peaceful, to lost, to frenetic, to angry to triumphant, but always beautiful (yes, headphones are a must).  Together, the visuals and the soundtrack create a landscape of emotion through which a player moves.  This is not merely a bonus, value-added to the basic game mechanic.  When I finished the game, it was the aesthetic experience I remembered, not the game itself.  The game is merely a vehicle for taking a player through this emotional landscape.

5. Combining the aesthetic experience with the core skill of the game.  There are actually very few skills a player acquires in this game.  The mechanics are simple.  Mostly tap and move, simple battle skills, solving a few puzzles. Not much.  But there is one tool or ‘special power’ the character has, the ‘song of the sorcerer.’  This is a state you enter in which you perceive and interact with the landscape differently.  When you enter this mode, the music becomes interactive and as you solve the puzzle, sounds are generated.  For example, you may ‘play’ trees in a forest or a set of waterfalls as a pipe organ or chorus of flutes.  This integrates your activity into the aesthetic experience, making you an active participant: you have the feeling that you created that beautiful chorus of booming, reverberating pipe organs.  I had a pronounced tendency to linger at these points.

Sword and Sworcery has received endless exuberant reviews (all more eloquent than my discussion, links below), all highlighting how, in some ways, this is not a game in the traditional sense, but an experience.  The retro- and hipster ethos of the game, rich with a sense of irony, doesn’t take the game itself seriously (and is often quite funny).  The irony of the irony, though, is that the game exemplifies a relatively novel and powerful approach to game design that zeroes in with surgical precision on creating a complex, aesthetic and emotional experience in the player and highlights, dead seriously, a whole new technology of player engagement.

http://wireless.ign.com/articles/115/1157373p1.html

http://www.destructoid.com/review-superbrothers-sword-sworcery-ep-197381.phtml

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/reviews/2011/03/walking-on-water-ars-reviews-superbrothers-sword-sworcery.ars

http://toucharcade.com/2011/03/23/superbrothers-sword-sworcery-ep-for-ipad-review/

http://www.slidetoplay.com/story/superbrothers-sword-and-sworcery-ep-ipad-review

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-03-24-superbrothers-sword-and-sworcery-ep-review

Down to zero: being deliberate with buzzers and bells

I favor minimalist designs.  Strip everything out and put it back in only very deliberatively with a clearly defined purpose and rationale.  Be stingy with stimuli. And when I say everything, I mean everything.  Here is some logic for putting things back in:

1. Design around doing not seeing and hearing.  Remember Tommy? Stimuli—graphics and sound—as a first principle should be reduced to only those things that the player interacts with: representations of their actions and the target of those actions.  Games are skill based—whether the skill is manual dexterity, sensorimotor coordination or cognitive skills (strategy, puzzle games).  The heart of engagement with the game is the acquisition and deployment of a skill(s).  Though there are many reasons to add in additional interface elements, by starting with only those elements that engage the actions and skills the player will acquire, we see the game at its most stark, naked core. Put another way, for every element added to a blank screen, what will the player do with it? How is it an object of player skill?

2. Let the game take place in the player’s head. Novelty and discovery are powerful reinforcers.  Presenting only the minimal elements required for the basic interaction lays the groundwork for internalization of the game.  As players recognize the skill involved in the game, play around with it and explore, they come to understand the game through discovery, engaging the game in increasingly more elaborate and sophisticated ways as they develop skills and ability to manipulate it.  This process doesn’t happen on the screen, but in players’ heads.  The game is in the player, not the device.  Less is more.  A minimalist approach facilitates this discovery and internalization.

3. Make the game invisible.  I have a bias here: I hate rules.  And I hate game meters, pop-ups and all these other game ‘mechanics.’  I think of this as the volleyball principle.  There are two ways to learn volleyball: elementary school gym class where you are taught the rules, maybe different types of hits and then herded around on the court in a comical imitation of a professional volleyball game with prepubescent midgets: learning a form.  Then there’s being on a beach, drinking a beer and being invited to hit the ball around.  Eventually, someone may explain how to do certain hits, maybe even the rules, but the experience centers around hitting the ball—and the joy, discovery and skill development that comes with that.  Which do you prefer?

So a game that is cluttered with lots of meters, pop-ups, rules—though it may appeal to some people—detracts from hitting the ball around.  More importantly, much of what is accomplished with meters and rules, namely important constraints that make the game challenging, can actually be integrated into the minimal elements that constitute ‘the skill.’  For example, why do you need a meter telling you that you are running out of energy? Why not have an avatar that simply diminishes, (a) indicating without the clutter or artificiality of a meter that something is going wrong and (b) building this constraint into the skill itself, making it part of the central process of discovery and acquisition rather than imposing it as a factor extraneous to and distracting from the core of the game. Fundamentally, such meters and rules extrinsic to the basic skill of the game splits attentional processing, requiring mental multitasking.  Forced multi-tasking can be fun and challenging, but even if this is the intent, there are probably better ways to accomplish it than a clutter of meters.

Obviously, rules and constraints are critical to good games.  But it is perhaps equally critical that (a) they arise and come into play as players’ investment in the game deepens and (b) they are integrated in the basic skill development of the game rather than as an extraneous constraint that interferes with discovery around the core skill.  That is, the rules shouldn’t detract from the fun of hitting the ball around.

4. Make aesthetics functional. That statement may seem contradictory as aesthetics in the mind of many are precisely the window-dressing on some mechanic, by definition not functional.  However, aesthetics create experience.  They are intertwined with acquiring and developing the core skill of the game. The general presentation of video games seems to fall into two general camps: those that are striving for re-creating a virtual or simulated reality and those that strive for a style (not mutually exclusive).  Both can potentially contribute profoundly to the experience of the game and both, can equally, be no more than pinball bells, buzzers and lights a-flashing, extraneous and distracting, at best adding nothing, at worst diminishing the value of the game.  Following from the above ideas, in designing a theme or visual presentation for the game, discovering and developing the core skill of the game creates an experience for a player.  How can visuals enhance or be integrated with that core experience?

The real world is complex and stimulating.  In bringing richness of experience to video games, it is not the virtual world itself, with all its bells, lights and buzzers that is important but the players interactions with that world.  An environment can be defined by those elements that an organism (person, player, cat, fish. . . ) can interact with: if you can’t grab it, pull it, push it or in someway manipulate or use it, it simply isn’t part of your environment in any meaningful way, just extraneous noise to eventually be filtered out by an active, efficient brain.

Lessons from the Pinball Wizard

Roughly speaking, video games were first introduced commercially during the waning reign of arcade games, chief among them pinball.  Smacking a steel ball around on a tilted table, without any adornment, can get pretty dull pretty fast, unless you’re a cat, and maybe even then.  So pinball makers designed incredibly elaborate, multi-sensory environments for you to smack the ball around in. . . buzzers, bells, lights, sirens, ramps, multiple balls. . . stimulation galore.

Enter pong.  That little blip translating slowly across the screen. The little line grandiloquently called a ‘paddle.’  Dink. Wait. Dink.  Thus was born the penis-envy of the video game world: stimulation envy.  On one hand, video games could do what mechanical arcade games could not, at least not very well—create an alternative reality.  A video ping-pong game. A video tank fight.  But the video game was a poor—very poor—cousin to the real world it was simulating.  So for the next several decades, the driving force behind video game design and development has been largely, well, getting a bigger and better one.  More realistic games, better graphics, more bells, whistles, lights, sirens and ramps, more fantastic worlds, more realistic action, culminating in multi-million dollar console games that are entire worlds unto themselves.  But how much does size matter? Or is it how you use it?

Tommy (aka, the pinball wizard), was a pinball genius precisely because he could not perceive all the bells and whistles (he can’t hear no buzzers or bells, don’t see no lights are flashing. . . ).  Similarly, though our real world environment is rich with stimuli, part of the challenge of neural function is filtering a good portion of that out.  Have you ever been so engrossed in a task that you don’t notice things you normally would, like a grumbling stomach, music or tv that gets completely blocked out, a person talking to you?  Much of the stimuli in video games is often completely extraneous, put there to make the game more interesting, stimulating, but contributing little to nothing to the actual game mechanic.  The beauty of pong is that it distilled the action to its essence (unfortunately, a fairly dull essence).  In current games—I’m thinking more phone and tablet based games—there seems to be a divergence between games that adopt the pinball ethos (crazy, sensory overloading bells, buzzers and lights a flashing) and those that adopt a minimalist, revisioned ‘pong’ ethos.  This is more than a mere aesthetic choice—it is not a superficial, decorative frame around the game mechanic.  It is the canvas upon which the game is painted.  The interface is the guts of the mechanic, not the other way around.  In the next blog post, I’ll argue for minimalism, at the very least as a design process, regardless of how big the final product ends up.

FoldIt II: Human and machine heuristics, veering off the beaten path

Returning again to the FoldIt game. Here’s the computational problem: finding the solution is really really hard. Okay, more precisely, there are multiple gazillion different potential solutions to be tested and even with uber-fast computers, to examine the entire ‘search space’—that is, test every last possible solution to find the best— would take more time than any of us have. Much more. So. This means in reality only a small subset of possible solutions can be tested. Think of the possible solutions as represented in a multidimensional space. What areas of this space should be explored?

Enter heuristics, or ‘rules of thumb’ used to guide selective searching within an impossibly large space of solutions. So computer algorithms are designed to search only solutions that could, possibly, make some sense. They are also designed with particular rules for selecting the next possible solution depending upon the results of the last, resulting in a ‘trajectory’ or sampling method through the search space. Here’s where it gets interesting. Humans show a much more varied set of search strategies and skip around a much larger range of the solution space, even venturing into ‘ridiculous’ territory where the solution clearly couldn’t be correct, areas a smart machine would avoid altogether. And yet. . . in this merry dance through the solution space, sashaying through ridiculousness, the humans arrived at a better solution than the machines. What’s brilliant, is that the different heuristics developed by humans can be deployed to machine algorithms, possibly giving the machines a leg up and tightening the competition a bit for future rounds.

What’s interesting here is that heuristics function as a sort of filter, a lense through which to view the world, a way to reduce the complexity of the world and see only those aspects of it that are meaningful and actionable. Such filtering of the world and information is critical for efficient processing, whether machine or man. But it’s a double edge sword. Such filters and heuristics can be thought of as habit. Given any random space of stimuli or information, we apply heuristics, based on previous experience, and see the world (or process information) in a habitual way. Though such habitual ways of seeing and thinking increase efficiency, they can also function as blinders. These habits, or ways of seeing the world, are programmed into machines: heuristics. Aspects of the world outside of one’s habitual view often become essentially invisible. That’s what happened to the computer algorithms; certain regions of the solution space were effectively non-existent. People also acquire heuristics, or habitual ways of seeing and thinking, over long years of experience. In FoldIt, though, most of the players had no heuristic way of viewing the search space as it was entirely new to them. Critically, they were not taught all the rules and methods instilled in software algorithms. They came to the task, and the search space, free of habit, free to roam the entire space, even those ridiculous regions essentially invisible to machines.

It’s tempting to muse on the superiority of the human mind, but that may be missing the essential challenge faced by both man and machine: time is of the essence and more often than not you have to reduce the computational load by trimming the world and/or solution space down to manageable sizes: without having the opportunity to evaluate what you are cutting out. Think about that for a moment. Carefully.

Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1997 (unless you think IBM cheated), but the computer was processing 200 million possible positions per second. I am absolutely certain Kasparov’s brain was not doing that. Kasparov filtered the game space—and the vast number of possible move sequences— through his experience, knowing in advance, as it were, those regions of ‘move space’ that need not even be considered. Deep Blue lacked these exquisite heuristics and applied brute computing force to the problem. Even if Deep Blue won, it lost big points for efficiency. It’s doubtful it could have survived any sort of evolutionary challenge. IBM dismantled it as a mercy killing.

So in Foldit, once again we seem to have human idiosyncracy and intuition seeing the world in unusual but, as it happens, remarkably efficient ways. And, ultimately, teaching machines to be more efficient. I wonder, though, whether human genius and efficiency is self-limiting. As FoldIt players get better and better at the game and become more and more expert, will they themselves develop more entrenched heuristics, ways of seeing and approaching the problem? Will the solutions to some proteins elude them because they fall in a part of the solution space that has become, over time, invisible to them? And if so, will newer players, free of the blinders of habit and heuristic rush in and develop alternative heuristics and find those recalcitrant proteins hiding in the solution space safe from both computer algorithms and seasoned FoldIt players? I really don’t know. It will be very interesting to see.

A last thought: the one thing that might save human players from becoming locked in habit and blinded to parts of the solution space might be social interaction. Something computers don’t have. Yet. Social interaction provides a way out, a way to not become mired and blinded by one’s own heuristic algorithms. I think there lies the fundamental difference between man and machine and, in my estimation, the computational power of the FoldIt players.

Integrating mind and machine. . . not really sci fi

The tagline of this blog, ‘game design: integrating mind and machine’ is admittedly a bit pompous and vainglorious.  It conjures images of cyborgs or, worse, raises the spectre of Kurzweil’s singularity hypothesis, a day when machine and human intelligence meld (I’ll avoid discussion of this).  What is meant here is considerably simpler.  The experience of playing a video game, or for that matter interacting with any technology, is already an integration of mind and machine.  The point in this blog is to recognize this explicitly and to take into account how the mind (or brain) component might dictate design on the machine side.

At risk of pointing out the obvious, a game exist in two places and forms: in the world as an object and in the player’s head.  You can’t have one without the other.  Every aspect of the game in the world is inert and meaningless until it is processed by a player’s brain.  It is the brain that that makes a bunch of otherwise meaningless pixels into a perception of an object or a world of objects.  It is the brain that attaches significance to these perceptions—as clues, things to avoid, things to seek, reward.  It is the brain that acquires a set of actions to emit in response to these stimuli.  And, most importantly, it is the brain that assigns motivational salience to stimuli in the game, bringing the game to life.  The brain, not the graphic artist, animates the game.

Game design focuses primarily on the machine. . . what’s the mechanics, what kind of graphics, what constraints, menus, levels, motivators, reward, challenges, game flow, aesthetics. . . basically creating a set of objects that brains like to engage. And notably, designers are quite good at this.  But games are expanding beyond entertainment, expanding beyond the traditional gamer crowd and trying to infiltrate a lot of nooks and crannies of our lives, so-called gamification.  As this happens, many of the tricks of the trade—the objects that have worked so well in the past—may falter and new design principles may have to emerge to tailor game design to all those different nooks, crannies, audiences and purposes.   Deriving principles and ideas by focusing on the game ‘in the players head,’ that is, the neural and psychological processes that bring a game to life and make it meaningful to an individual, seems like a reasonable place to start.  It’s probably no more humble than cyborg design, but imminently more human.

FoldIt (part I): From trauma to awe, an (ex-) graduate student’s perspective

Okay, I have to say from the outset, I haven’t actually played this game.  My doctoral thesis involved folding proteins.  Literally.  I’d grow vats of bacteria to express my darling little protein (little known fact: bacteria in vats form an evil borg-like collective consciousness bent solely on making graduate students routinely trudge into lab at 4 a.m. anyway.) Then, I’d purify this protein.  Many liters of stinky bacteria and several days later, I’d end up with about 500 microliters of protein (a thimble would be like a bucket, for comparison), which  I’d immediately destroy.  Actually, I’d denature it so that it unfolds. Same thing, sorta. I’d then dole my beaten protein out into tiny, drop size dialysis buttons and drop it into various solutions to find the environmental conditions that would resuscitate it, which is to say, cause it to fold back up into the nice, functional protein it once was.  In those rare conditions where the protein didn’t just turn into useless globs, I was left with the task of putting franken-protein through various tests, all of which gradually, over a long period of time, told me absolutely nothing useful.  Don’t ask the purpose behind all this, I have repressed it deeply.  All I know is the mere words ‘protein folding’ give me a quiet shiver of heebie-jeebies.  I’ll need therapy before I can approach this game without heart palpitations and an impending sense of doom.

Which is precisely why I appreciate the remarkable accomplishment of this game.  A little background: proteins are the basic building blocks of life.  While DNA may be the blueprint, proteins are the workhorse molecules that constitute the bricks, mortar, timber, levers, pulleys, transport system, communication system, and, well, the list goes on.  From muscles to enzymes to immunoglobins to channels to receptors, it’s all about the proteins.  Fabulous little things.  And more remarkably, they are made entirely from amino acids—only 22 different ones—strung together into long chains.  The remarkable power of proteins arise because different sequences of amino acids ‘fold’ into three dimensional structures, creating all the various little molecular machines and tools life depends upon.  And few things in modern biology are as important as the structure of these little molecular wonders.  It’s their shape that allows them to latch onto and destroy a virus, allows them to respond to medication, allows them to transmit signals through the brain.  And it is often mis-shaped versions that lie at the root of many diseases and disorders.  It’s hard to overstate the importance of figuring out the shape of these molecules to modern science.

Unfortunately, it’s also a major headache.  You can’t see a protein. No one can. Ever. (well, not yet anyway). It’s just too small.  So to figure out what these molecules look like, scientists form them into crystals (often a major challenge itself, and sometimes not possible) and then bombard these crystals with high-powered x-rays.  These x-rays, in turn, scatter when they hit the crystal and create a defraction pattern on a collection device.  Some poor sap of a graduate student, then, has to take this incomprehensible pattern of dots and ask “what kind of 3-dimensional molecular structure repeated in a crystal would interfere with x-rays and cause them to scatter in such a way as to create this incomprehensible pattern of dots?” (eg., of incomprehensible pattern of dots below). This requires computer algorithms and all sorts of fancy mathematics from historical characters such as Fourier, Ewald, Laplace and lots of talk of space transformations and so on.

(aka, x-ray defraction pattern)

Obviously, it’d be simpler if you could just look at the sequence and deduce from the order of the amino acids what the folded structure of the protein would be.  As it happens, scientists and all their computer algorithms have been notoriously bad at this.  Basically, they just get it wrong more often than not.  Enter FoldIt.  Nevermind all the excruciatingly complex mathematics, physics, chemistry.  Make it a game.  Forget the graduate students, let people from all walks of life with no scientific training whatsoever solve the problem.  And they did (well, they solved some recalcitrant structures).  It’s hard to overstate how profound this is.  Perhaps with the exception of obscure theoretical physics and arcane multi-dimensional mathematics, few subjects are as complex and opaque as the rules by which electrons and proteins tethered in a chain decide to arrange themselves to be energetically happy.  And yet individuals with (at least initially) no whiff of understanding of this complexity managed to do what has eluded many of the brightest minds in modern science.

What lesson to draw from this?  Not that scientists are stupid, certainly.  Scientists working in this field are some of the brightest, most talented minds around.  Neither a vague assertion to the power of ‘crowd sourcing.’  That’s too facile and fails to explain anything.  The magic is not in the numbers (indeed, only a small percentage of players actually contribute to the structure solutions).  What I think this speaks to the type of intelligence that is deployed in exploring a ‘solution space’ of immense proportions.  What, in short, I find remarkable about FoldIt is the way in which it highlights the difference between machine and human intelligence.  Exploring this idea and its implications will be the subject of the next blog.

On a personal note, writing this is bringing about catharthis.  I’m wondering if I can use FoldIt to defeat my arch-nemesis from graduate school: the C1b region of type-7 adenlyl cyclase, a treacherous chain of 95 amino acids that dragged me into the lower rings of dissertation hell. Hm.

Edugaming: knowledge transfer or knowledge generation?

At the August Serious Games conference, educationally oriented games hogged the spotlight, whether teaching kids math, training sailors safety techniques or virtual role-play to train corporate personnel.  The emphasis lay in imparting some knowledge or skill to players.  Consistent with this, the most touted virtues of video-game-as-medium are their (1) motivational capacity and (2) interactive nature: make learning fun and engaging the learner.

Much of what I saw, however, recapitulated traditional models of teaching and training, implementing fundamentally a push process.  That is, the basic model is still to take content and push it into a subject’s head:  the video game as a glorified textbook or training film.  These projects may, done well, represent a significant improvement over the traditional methods. (From the world of corporate training). However, I am not sure they reflect the revolutionary potential of video games in education, which lies not in one way information flow— finding interactive, game-based ways of stuffing knowledge into a player’s head— but in the potential for games to create knowledge and provide dynamic channels of information flow between students, teachers, administrators, content developers and educational researchers.

Scattered among the more traditional, push designs were projects that highlight the power of video games to radically shift learning from knowledge transfer to knowledge creation.  Zoran Popovic from the University of Washington discussed the FoldIt game in which players with no scientific training or background successfully tackle one of the most vexing challenges in modern biochemistry: solving the 3-dimensional structures of proteins.  Donald Brinkman from Microsoft talked about the JustPressPlay project, in which the challenges of helping incoming freshman adjust to university life is made into a game.  Importantly, they are not taking a ‘how to succeed in college’ curriculum and merely putting it into a game format.  Instead, they literally make a game out of students’ real life activities.  The game stimulates non-game behavior and learning; that is, the educational content is not strictly encoded in the game but arises as the game promotes new learning from real-life experiences.  Data arising from the students’ as they play form a critical information stream in the reverse direction, allowing the game and it’s content to be dynamic and fluid.  Alan Gershenfeld talked about Gamestar, in which students don’t play but design games, the idea being that designing a game around content requires mastery of that content.  More fundamentally, it demands that the students assimilate information into their own cognitive framework in order to apply that knowledge to a creative process.  Finally, Zoran Popovic talked about a strategy of releasing different versions of the same math game and tracing players activities within an ‘error space’ to discern which game variants facilitate learning (a paper describing the more fundamental technology).  Again, this critically reflects a reverse information flow and the generation of knowledge: collectively, students map out optimal learning pathways.

The common thread in these diverse projects is a fundamentally different notion of learning: it is not simply a transfer of knowledge, but the generation of knowledge.  This is what video games can do that no textbook or training film can do. This, I believe, is the revolutionary potential of video games.