Unusability: You don’t want to play it again!

“Unusable games“ sound like a contradiction: Who would want to play a game that doesn’t work? And why are there designers – educators, of all the people with already a reputation for bad game design – that create these unusable games?

If in a game we regret acting like we did, usable games give us a chance to do better next time.
Unusable games force us to repeat the same regrettable action over and over, until we regret playing the game as it is, without alterations of its rules or its narratives to do better.
Its a game-genre about awareness: Stop playing by the given rules, laugh at them – or change them.

Games demand from the player blind trust that they, as a medium, behave in a stable, foreseeable and conventional way. For example a game is usually accompanied by the exciting suspense of who may win in the end; a game that ‘cheats’, by subtly sabotaging this balance in favour of the game, of one player or a group of players, may turn gameplay into a frustrating experience.

So, if given a game the player expects it to be balanced, to be fun, to contain a coherent contextualisation. She expects it to be either culturally and traditionally tethered and proven like chess, or, with contemporary games, created en bloc by a competent and benevolent game designer for her entertainment.


Causality in history: Chrononauts

„Chrononauts is a fascinating, whimsical exploration of time travel, causality, and possibility covering many fascinating and significant events of the last century or so.“

– Andrew Looney

„Chrononauts“ by Anrew Looney (2000) is a card-based game where the players play time travellers able to alter historical events by flipping specific cards, linchpins of the timeline. Those altered events may cause a ripple effect by altering follow-up events, some quite obvious, some funny and nifty: Why would the New York World Fair 1939 have German Cake in an alternate timeline?


Games and the „best way“ to tell stories

Torsten Meyer (thanks!) just sent me a link to a recent interview with game designer Peter Molyneux, published in the „Tageszeitung“, the title translates as „Fable-Gamedesigner Peter Molyneux: A visionary and charlatan“

Molyneux is quite enthusiastic about interactive-adaptive stories as games, but omits other aspects of the relation of „story“ and „game“ resp. „play“ which I think are quite important.
If there’s the question „How can stories in games ever compete with books and movies?“, one may have fallen to an error of categorisation. Stories in games have to deal with similar problems as texts in the digital medium: They are easily seen as simple transfers from previous technical media, but basically the same as before, a linear progression of meaningful – or dramatically arranged – information.

Serious game „Tiebranimes“ to download

Nearly ten years ago I attended a seminar about „Kinderspiel – Kinderspiele: Theorie – Empirie“ („Children’s Play and Games: Theoretical and Empirical Views“), where one possible task was to create a learning game. I was flabbergasted that the three other groups came up with – quite adorable, I have to admit – variations of games similar to „Trivial Pursuit“ for pupils: Roll a die, draw a card, answer correctly and go on. This seemed to me like an unfortunately quite realistic representation of schooling.

Depressed and feeling slightly challenged, I and a co-student went to work on a game suitable for students of pedagogy: It should be usable to give new students an overview on historic and contemporary educators, but also deliver a tongue-in-cheek view on the study of educational science in the cogs and wheels of the university.

So, here’s a serious game about historic educators, where you can cook your fellow students‘ goose while competing for the scarce ressource of books in the department’s library. Testplayers enjoyed the game and found the short descriptions, categorisations and quotes on people like Comenius, Flitner, Socrates etc. quite helpful.

You may now download the card game (german texts, 88 cards, rules, and a nifty box to store the stuff) in 300dpi-print quality. This game was my first attempt on an educational card game, a labour-of-love as well as a proof-of-concept: You know, not all learning games have to work like quiz games!

By the way: „Tiebranimes“ can be read backwards, then it spells „Homework assignment“ in german.

Three learning theories mini games

For my seminar „Games, Play and Education“ I’ve scraped together (via skinning, modding, recontextualisation) three minigames. These should serve as an intro to the three learning paradigms of Behaviourism, Cognitivism and Constructivism and their possible realisation in games via their very different gaming mechanisms.

The 32 cards and the rules can be downloaded as printable PDF (three pages) via this link: ThreeLearningTheoriesMinigames.