I first heard of Bret Victor with his Kill Math talks. He is obsessed with nurturing ideas and unlocking creativity with tools that help the creator see what they are doing. This video I stumbled across is incredible. Jump to 3:30 if you are in a hurry.
I was introduced to this game at London’s Science Museum site. It reminds me of the also excellent game The Incredible Machine. It’s a puzzle game where you use various physical phenomena like electricity or heat to make things work.
I just played these two games about a serious subject, sweatshops. Both games are simple 2D drag-and-drop games, relative inexpensive to produce (compared to a 3D game), and they want to teach a little bit about the evils of Sweatshops.
In PlaySweatshop.com the boss fired the old manager and made you (forces you to be) the new manager. He yells at and threatens you to make production quotas, hire kids because they are cheaper, and tells you to find “well endowed” workers because he wants to look at them. Yucky. The graphics are excellent and the gameplay is a tower-defense type game–you hire workers for a certain cost and deploy them along the assembly line.
In SimSweatshop, you are a line worker assembling shoes. You have to put each part in place. You are paid a paltry sum for a 12 hour days work. Sometimes when a big order comes in you have to work longer hours too. And if you don’t meet quota, your pay is docked. To make matters worse, you need to buy your own food and water otherwise you get tired and it’s hard to see what you are working on. The graphics are fair, definitely not as professional as PlaySweatshop.
The remarkable thing about these games is the difference in experiences.PlaySweatshop’s initial impression is much better than SimSweatshop–it looks more professional and more interesting of the two. But PlaySweatshop’s gameplay feels like the standard tower defense game. The evils of sweatshops are conveyed through the boss, threatening to fire you every minute, but is unconvincing because he is so sterotyped. SimSweatshop on the other hand feels like you are a slave laborer–when you get tired your vision of the shoes gets blurry. When you realize you have to buy your own water to drink, you feel indignant. When you are going as fast as you can but you didn’t meet quota, you feel hurt that you only got paid half for all that effort. The next day when you cannot afford to even drink some water and you have to try and work with blurry vision, you feel miserable. What a different experience.
SimSweatshop is a throughly convincing experience of being in a degrading work environment where all the odds are stacked against you. It was by far my favorite.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on Scoot-n-Doodle for the past few months and you must try it, it’s so much fun.
Scoot-n-doodle is video conferencing plus a drawing pad with games for families. Have you ever tried talking on the phone with your young nephew–a one minute conversation is about all you can hope for. It’s so hard to keep them in one place and there is not really much to talk about. With Scoot-n-doodle, you can play hangman, tag, or other games from your childhood. I’ll often play with my nephew for an hour at a stretch—what a difference between a painful 60 seconds of strained conversation to an hour of fun drawing crazy dragons or games of tic-tac-toe.
If you want to play with your relatives but they are far away, try Scoot-n-Doodle. It’s part of Google Hangouts so you’ll need a Google Plus account.
Kosmosis is a Communism themed space arcade game from Molleindustria, designers of the excellent McDonald’s Game parody. You play a space revolutionary and you have to organize your fellow proletariates. An especially intriguing aspect is the way your comrades move automatically like a flock of birds. As your group of comrades grow, the group starts to take care of itself and you can sit back and watch. Read his fun description of the space game as a reflection on America’s capitalistic and war-mongering society. The game is fun too.
- Genre: Arcade Games
- Graphics: 8/10 — Fine vintage look
- Sound: 8/10 — Spooky swarmy sound
- Quality: 9/10 — Nicely polished
- Fun: 8/10
- Overall: 8/10
Arcademic Skill Builders is a website with a few dozen excellent Flash games for teaching math and English Language Arts skills. I played Dirt Bike Proportions, a math game where you answer questions about fractions in order to go faster and beat friends in a race. I was quite impressed with the quality of the graphics, and especially that this game can support network play–you can race against three friends. I would like to see games develop higher level math skills.
- Genre: Networked Arcade Games
- Graphics: 8/10 — Nothing exciting but well made
- Sound: 8/10
- Quality: 9/10
- Fun: 7/10 — It’s pretty fun for a math game.
- Overall: 8/10
The EduGamesBlog lists ten significant serious games. The games cover important social topics rather than academic skills. For example SimCity is the classic urban planning game and Re-Mission helps cancer patients understand their condition. Some of them are online/Flash games, but others are Windows-only downloads which need to be installed.
Flash Math Creativity is a book of programs that use relatively simple math and Flash to create digital art. I bought it years ago, and recently realized that it has a website that illustrates all the programs. Take a look:
Grow Island is a puzzle game. The player deploys different fields of engineering by clicking on a button. The fields can reinforce each other if they are deployed in the proper order. The goal is to find the optimum order to deploy each field.
Grow Island’s puzzle is simple in concept, but very tricky to solve. The feedback is subtle so you have to study it closely and try many times to figure out. You get clues when the different fields combine on the screen in some interest way. For example the machine developed with mechanical engineering combines with the computer to make a robot. That combines with aeronautic engineering to make a flying robot.
- Genre: Puzzle
- Graphics: 8/10 — Delightfully cute
- Sound: 5/10 — Good for the first 30 seconds, then it gets repetitive.
- Quality: 8/10
- Fun: 8/10 — It’s cool when you figure out a good combination and the animations come alive.
- Overall: 8/10